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National Human Rights Commission (NHRC): Structure, Powers, Composition and Limitations

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is an important topic to be studied for the UPSC Civil Services Prelims exam as well as for Mains GS Paper II. In this article, we have provided all the important details about the background, establishment, powers, and functions of NHRC.
Jul 23, 2020 15:02 IST
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National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

"The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened." -John F. Kennedy

To safeguard the Human Rights of every individual in the country, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was established on 12 October 1993. NHRC is an independent statutory body constituted under the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993 as amended by the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006.

It is the watchdog of human rights in the country, i.e. the rights related to life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Indian Constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India. NHRC has its headquarters in New Delhi. 

What are Human Rights?

➨ As per the UN definition, Human rights are inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. These rights are entitled to all humans without any discrimination.

➨ Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.

History of NHRC

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948. Every year Human Rights Day celebrated on 10 December, which is the anniversary of the UDHR. 
  • NHRC was established in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted for the promotion and protection of human rights in Paris (October 1991) and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 December 1993.
  • This act also authorized State Governments to establish the State Human Rights Commission.

Structure of NHRC

NHRC is composed of a Chairman and seven other members. Out of the seven members, three are ex-officio members. The Chairman and members of NHRC are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister.

Members

Appointment Criteria 

Chairman 

Retired Chief Justice of India

Member 1

Retired Judge of Supreme Court of India 

Member 2

Retired Judge of any High Court of India 

Other Two Members

Individuals practical experience in the matters of Human Rights

Ex Officio Members

Chairpersons of the below national commissions:


National Commission for Minorities

National Commission for Scheduled Castes

National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

National Commission for Women

Appointment and Removal of Members of NHRC

The Chairman and the members of the NHRC are appointed for 5 years or till the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier. They can only be removed on the charges of misbehavior or incapacity if proved by an inquiry conducted by a Supreme Court Judge.

Functions and Powers of NHRC 

  1. NHRC holds the power to investigate grievances related to the violation of human rights either suo moto or after receiving a petition.
  2. It has the power to interfere in any judicial proceedings involving any allegation of violation of human rights.
  3. It can visit any jail or other government-controlled facility to see the prisoners' living conditions and make recommendations on them.
  4. It can review the protections provided for in the constitution or any human rights protection legislation and can recommend effective remedial steps.
  5. NHRC also undertakes and promotes research in the field of human rights. It works to spread human rights literacy among various sections of society and promotes awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, media, seminars, and other means.
  6. The Commission takes an independent stance while, for the time being, giving advice on the defense of human rights in the constitutional parlance or in the statute.
  7. NHRC has the powers of a civil court and can grant interim relief.
  8. It also has the authority to recommend payment of compensation or damages.
  9. It can recommend to both the central and state governments to take suitable steps to prevent the violation of Human Rights. 
  10. NHRC submits its annual report to the President of India who causes it to be laid before each House of Parliament.

Limitations of NHRC 

  1. NHRC cannot take any action against violation of Human rights by private parties
  2. The Recommendations made by the NHRC are not binding.
  3. NHRC cannot penalize the authorities that don’t implement its recommended orders.
  4. The NHRC has limited jurisdiction over cases related to armed forces
  5. The NHRC cannot hold jurisdiction in the following cases:

- Cases older than one year. 

- Cases that are anonymous, pseudonymous, or vague.

- Frivolous cases.

- Cases pertaining to service matters.

Important Topics Related to Human Rights and NHRC 

UPSC exam pattern is well known for over-lapping subjects and asking distinctive questions based on static as well as the current affairs. Below is a list of topics that should be covered while preparing the NHRC topic.

➨Arbitrary arrest and detention

➨Custodial Deaths

➨Child labor

➨Violence and discrimination against women and children

➨LGBTQ community rights 

➨SC/ST, disabled people, and other religious minority issues

➨Labour rights and right to work

➨Manual scavenging

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