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Published in the 16-31 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORTS

J&K HR commission fails to deliver

By Wajahat Nazki

The Milli Gazette Online

Srinagar: Struggling for survival, the J&K State Human Rights Commission is caught in a cobweb of crisis. After the PDP-led coalition government took over, it was expected that the much talked about ‘healing touch’ and ‘Peace with dignity’ slogans would have some positive impact on the commission. On the contrary, the commission is going through the rough times unable to provide succour to the victims of violence in the troubled state.

Among the multiple problems faced by the commission, which was set up in 1997 to protect the human rights in the state, is the dearth of technical staff. The original Act of 1991 armed the commission with absolute powers for appointment of technical staff, but the Act was amended in 2002 and the government took away all such powers. Due to the paucity of funds and the government apathy the commission has not been able to carry out its statutory functions laid down under section 13 of the Human Rights Protection Act. Elaborating the problems faced by the commission its chairman Justice A. Mir said that presently the commission was working from a rented accommodation in a hotel in Srinagar which doesn’t have enough space. Construction work on the commission’s own building was suddenly stopped .The commission does not have accommodation for housing its regional office at Jammu and the chairman is operating from his private residence.

Govt interference, cries SHRC

Srinagar: J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) accused top functionaries of the state government of interfering in its functioning. The Commission attacked deputy commissioners of Kashmir for initiating fresh inquiry on its recommendations in cases of human rights violations. "This amounts to diluting SHRC’s position," the Commission said in its 2003-04 report released here on 14 April. "The functioning of the Commission becomes redundant and the recommendations observed in breach. The tendency has the effect of diluting SHRC’s position, which, if allowed, will terribly tell upon the reputation of the state," it said. 
The state government needs to issue a circular asking the deputy commissioners not to sit on judgments regarding the SHRC findings, it added. Alleging that deputy commissioners were intervening in its working, the Commission said it was disappointed to place on record its anguish for the attempt to brush aside its recommendations in cases relating to ex-gratia relief and compassionate appointment by some officers by starting fresh inquiries on and about SHRC’s recommendations. 
The SHRC also mentioned a few cases wherein officers have "blatantly contradicted" its findings. The government has been informed of such cases, but still the practice goes on," it said. The report also alleged that officials of the Commission were being transferred without consulting the SHRC chairperson. 


People in the state are increasingly feeling distraught about the working of the commission. "Their reports on events here have been one-sided and biased. Rather than making an objective assessment about human rights violations, the reports generally are based on half-truths, distortions and sometimes outright falsehoods. For too long now these reports have gone unchallenged." comments Mubashir Rasool who lost his brother to bullets.

"The state human rights commission here exists on paper only. Its status at best can be described as being a ‘spineless’ organization. By having a showpiece commission in place the government is doing more harm than good to its image in the outside world, especially when human rights as an idea and movement is slowly taking hold around the world. Full respect for human rights according to the changing world policies is an absolute necessity," said Danish, a student.

Justice A M Mir, a retired judge, is the chairman of the commission. While disagreeing that the commission is an ‘eyewash,’ he admits that it has not been able to work up to its potential due to certain factors which he says have been pointed out to the authorities long ago without getting any response. As regards the causes for the commission’s malfunctioning, Justice A M Mir shifts the entire blame on the policies and attitude of the state government towards the commission. Lambasting the state government for keeping the commission in a state of financial crisis and inadequate support, he said that nothing tangible or worthwhile has been done to provide even the basic facilities to the commission by the government. Moreover, the government was not even cooperating in implementing its recommendations, he added.

Besides, in view of the increasing number of complaints from Jammu division, the commission had approached the government for opening its regional office at Jammu for hearing complaints from far-flung areas like Doda, Udhampur, Kathua, Rajouri and Poonch districts. However, the government response to the proposal was still awaited and this has resulted in the piling up of the complaints from Jammu Division, said the chairman.

The commission was unable to undertake and promote research in the field of human rights due to inadequate funds. Neither could it spread human rights literacy among various sections of society through publications, media, seminars and other possible means. It could not even encourage the efforts of NGOs and institutions working in the field of human rights due to its limited funds. The commission he said, was also facing acute shortage of manpower as many sanctioned posts were still lying vacant more than two years after its creation. The proposal for the creation of additional posts was still pending with the government.

Citing the government’s frequent interference would erode the autonomous character of the commission, Justice Mir said that this amounted to diluting SHRC’s position. This includes attacking the deputy commissioners who initiate fresh enquiries after the release of the commission’s recommendations. "The functioning of the commission becomes superfluous when such things happen. This tendency if allowed to prevail will tell upon the reputation of the state," Justice Mir said.

Despite its limited material and human resources, the commission has been trying to justify itself by catering to as many cases as possible. The chairman said that in 2001-2002, out of the 474 cases received by the commission 246 were decided. In 2002-2003, 373 were decided against 482 received. Similarly in 2003-2004, 575 cases were received and 455 decided. In 2004-2005, he said, 376 cases were received and 299 were decided.

Interestingly, this year’s report hasn’t pointed any direct fingers to the government and experts who have seen the report believe that this time round it has been deliberately ‘re-formatted’ to cover up the facts and they see a definite government interference in the working of the commission. This, however, is vehemently denied by its chairman. He argued, that the commission does not work at the behest of any politician or any particular party and the few mistakes in this year’s report were ‘inadvertent’. The most important thing, he says, is the data which the commission has provided and they are enough indicators as to what is the truth.

However, human rights activists feel that the data given by the SHRC of the rights violations in the state are far from reality and the government really needs to pull up its socks if it has to come clean before the international community on the human rights issue. "The commission is in place more out of convenience than principle. Paying lip service to the human rights issue won’t do. The protection and promotion of human rights should be adopted as a cause to respect human dignity and the present government should be committed to uphold the fundamental rights of the people. Moreover, it is high time to do away with special powers like Armed Forces Special Powers Act to provide some relief to the people in the state," said Tahir, a human rights activist.

Justice Mir agrees. "There is no reason for the government to continue with such laws which give a free hand to the security forces across the state. The violation of human rights increases manifold on account of these laws. More so, the government has sufficient laws already in place which can be used whenever needed,” he said.

With all the loopholes and limitations, the human rights commission in J&K is a bird without wings. If the state government is really sincere and feels concerned to provide relief and assistance to the people, it would review its policy towards the commission.
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