Why NHRC-India’s Accreditation Has Been Deferred By UN-Backed Body For 2 Years In A Row

NHRC-India's accreditation was held back last year after concerns over lack of transparency in appointments and political interference in the body's functioning

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Members of the Kuki-Zo community are attending a protest against the violent clashes that began last year between the Meiteis and the Kuki-Zo ethnic groups in the northeastern state of Manipur, in New Delhi, India, on May 3, 2024. Photo: Representative Image/Getty Images

The Geneva-based United Nations-linked Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) has deferred granting accreditation to India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for the second year in a row, potentially affecting India's ability to vote at the Human Rights Council and some UN General Assembly bodies.

While this year’s report from the committee is not out yet, last year’s report criticised NHRC-India for its lack of transparency in appointments, lack of gender and minority representation, and the “conflict of interest” in the use of appointment of police officers to look into human rights abuses. It had said that the NHRC has failed to create conditions required to be “able to operate independent of government interference”, according to a report by The Hindu.

What are the minimum standards that NHRIs must meet?

The United Nations strongly encourages all states to establish or strengthen a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in compliance with the Paris Principles. These principles set out the minimum standards and responsibilities that NHRIs must meet in order to be considered credible and to operate effectively. The six principles are “broad constitutional and/or legislative mandates that cover all human rights; independence; an array of human rights promotion and protection responsibilities; a pluralist representation; adequate funding; and responsibilities to cooperate, consult and interact with UN bodies, regional organisations, other NHRIs, other statutory bodies responsible for human rights promotion and protection, and human rights NGOs.”

Countries that are fully compliant with the Paris Principles receive an “A” accreditation and those that are “partially compliant” receive “B” accreditation. India’s NHRC had an “A” rating until 1991 and was due for a review last year. 

Why has NHRC-India not been granted accreditation in the last two years?

India’s NHRC and state bodies India retained its “A” rating in 2006 and 2011. 

Re-accreditation was delayed once in 2016, when the Sub-Committee for Accreditation (SCA), the body that conducts reviews, flagged the lack of diversity and political appointment of NHRC personnel. Amnesty in 2023 found that recruitments to the NHRC continue to “act as de facto extensions for former government servants or parliamentary members associated with the ruling political party.” At the time, three out of five members were from the ruling party; only 20 per cent were women members, with no representation from other marginalised groups, a report by The Hindu stated.

When India managed to regain its accreditation in November 2017, it was the “first time in accreditation history that a country got back this status solely by proposing and committing to comply with the Paris Principles fully,” Amnesty noted in its report. 

However in 2023, the body yet again questioned the representation within the NHRC. At the time, three of six positions remained vacant, while only 95 out of 393 staff positions within NHRC were held by women. Further, when Justice Arun Kumar Mishra was appointed as the chairman, Amnesty noted that he had delivered several judgments in favour of the government and against marginalised populations. 

The Commission also “has not taken sufficient action in protecting the rights of marginalised groups,” and it “did not provide sufficient information with regards to how it implements its full mandate to monitor, promote, and protect the rights of everyone,” the sub committee noted last year, according to a report by Article 14.

What do human rights activists in India say?

Ahead of last year’s review, civil society groups including Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders among others, made a submission to the GANHRI Chairman, expressing concern regarding the “commission’s lack of independence, pluralism, diversity, and accountability.” Once their accreditation was deferred, these groups hoped that both the government and the NHRC took it in the “right spirit” instead of questioning the intent of those offering criticism.

Ahead of this year’s review as well, the aforementioned civil society groups strongly urged the GANHRI-SCA to amend the current ‘A’ rating of NHRC over the body’s “failure to comply with the Paris Principles and address the deteriorating human rights situation in India.”

Providing reasons for the same, the groups noted how the NHRC failed to take “meaningful and timely” action on the rising ethnic violence in Manipur which erupted in May 2023, the communal violence in Haryana’s Nuh in August 2023, and the human rights violations during farmers’ protests in February 2024, the misuse of Foreign (Contribution) Regulation Act and the Citizenship Amendment Act that was made operational from March 2024. They also called attention to how numerous human rights defenders languish in detention without trial under various draconian laws including the UAPA – Muslim student activist Umar Khalid, Kashmir human rights defender Khurram Parvez among others.