PUCL Bulletin, March 2001

NHRC Observes Human Rights Day

The 52nd Human Rights Day was observed by the National Human Rights Commission on 10 December 2000 in New Delhi. Justice J. S. Verma, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, in his address, said that human rights violations result basically from inequalities, which exist within the nation and worldwide. To remedy this policies of equity and justice were required and also transparency in the working of public functionaries. In a democratic country the people were sovereign and the political sovereignty of the people must be given due respect. 'Human Rights for All' had been the ethos of Indian culture throughout the ages. What was required was action to realize these human rights.

The Guest of Honour of the occasion and Magsaysay Award winner, Ms. Aruna Roy, said that in poor country where there were basic inequalities in distribution of wealth and opportunities, the need to enable people to exercise their rights was very important. "Human Rights is a very lonely battle and Delhi is very far from where actual violations and atrocities take place". Ms. Roy observed that in a country like India, political and civil rights should go hand in hand with social and economic rights. Speaking about minimum wages, she said that this was an important aspect of economic right but there was very little awareness amongst the people of the country about this right. Most unfortunately, many State Governments still did not ensure payment of minimum wages despite the Supreme Court directions in this regard. The authorities found loopholes to get around these directions and thus this right remained a dream for most and especially the backward.

For the poor to have control of their economic and political rights, the right to information was absolutely vital. There should be transparency in the functioning of public authorities for only then could accountability be assured. She emphasized the need to change the face of government - it must be a people's government, which enshrined human rights at the center of its policy and actions. Condemning certain recent attacks on human rights activists. Ms. Roy said that human rights must be seen in the collective contest as well and that the National Human Rights Commission should ensure that the good work being done by such activists and organizations was not undermined by governmental authorities who sometimes wished to see special interests protected.

She asserted that there should be strong penalties imposed on the violators of human rights and called for the scrapping of provisions of immunity for security personnel, even those working in combat areas.

Dr. Sudarshan, who is widely known for his work among the tribals, spoke of the numerous problems being faced by them. Unscientific management of forestlands, displacement due to mega project, land alienation and distorted perceptions about their life styles were all major causes resulting in their exploitation. In his view, there was need to strengthen constitutional guarantees to empower and to enforce their rights.

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