January 27, 2011

life in general: human rights: a facade of action

Human Rights Watch has just released a World Report (downloadable here) highlighting events in about 90 countries with every country covered in a separate chapter. Out of three thematic essays accompanying the report is one titled "A facade of action" that I found very insightful.

I want to connect what this essay says with what a three-judge bench of India's Supreme Court remarked earlier this month on 20 January. A newspaper reported, "The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday pulled up social activist Teesta Setelvad, who has been fighting for Gujarat riots victims, for approaching an international human rights body raising the issue of protection for witnesses. The court, which was seized of a law suit seeking transfer of cases from Gujarat to another state, expressed its displeasure on Setelvad’s move. “We do not appreciate that other organisations interfere in our functioning. We can take care of (them) ourselves and cannot get guided by others. It is a direct interference in our functioning. We do not appreciate it,” a bench of justices DK Jain, P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam said. Setelvad-run NGO, the Centre for Justice and Peace (CJP) had sent a letter to the Geneva-based office of the high commissioner for human rights, associated with United Nations, giving details of the proceedings in the Godhra riots cases. When Harish Salve, who is assisting the court in this case, drew the judge’s attention towards Teesta’s letter, an anguished bench told her counsel Kamini Jaiswal that CJP chief seems to have “more faith in foreign organisations than this court”. “It seems that witnesses would be protected by these organisations,” the bench remarked, adding if such letters are written then the court would pass the order without hearing the contentions of the CJP”. “If you send such letters then we would hear the amicus curie and pass the order (without hearing you),” the court warned. "All the cases are being monitored by us, we do not like any correspondence of her with foreign agencies’’, the court added. We do not appreciate letters sent to a foreign country. We do not approve of such a letter. Tomorrow, you will report these (SC) proceedings to them. This letter shows that you have more trust in them.”"

I think if Indian court judges are confident that they are doing their job properly then why have any apprehensions of any international human rights body being updated with any detail of any court case in India. This betrays arrogance on the part of Indian judiciary and is very unfortunate.

I connect with what the writer of the essay "A Facade of Action" in the Human Rights Watch's World Report, which I refer to above, says, "In last year's World Report, Human Rights Watch highlighted the intensifying attacks by abusive governments on human rights defenders, organizations, and institutions. This year we address the flip side of the problem-the failure of the expected champions of human rights to respond to the problem, defend those people and organizations struggling for human rights, and stand up firmly against abusive governments.
There is often a degree of rationality in a government's decision to violate human rights. The government might fear that permitting greater freedom would encourage people to join together in voicing discontent and thus jeopardize its grip on power. Or abusive leaders might worry that devoting resources to the impoverished would compromise their ability to enrich themselves and their cronies.
International pressure can change that calculus. Whether exposing or condemning abuses, conditioning access to military aid or budgetary support on ending them, imposing targeted sanctions on individual abusers, or even calling for prosecution and punishment of those responsible, public pressure raises the cost of violating human rights. It discourages further oppression, signaling that violations cannot continue cost-free.
All governments have a duty to exert such pressure. A commitment to human rights requires not only upholding them at home but also using available and appropriate tools to convince other governments to respect them as well.
No repressive government likes facing such pressure. Today many are fighting back, hoping to dissuade others from adopting or continuing such measures. That reaction is hardly surprising. What is disappointing is the number of governments that, in the face of that reaction, are abandoning public pressure. With disturbing frequency, governments that might have been counted on to generate such pressure for human rights are accepting the rationalizations and subterfuges of repressive governments and giving up. In place of a commitment to exerting public pressure for human rights, they profess a preference for softer approaches such as private "dialogue" and "cooperation.""

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