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CHRI Posts of The Week

"The Government of India has taken two important steps to increase transparency in public affairs. On 10th January, 2014, a Committee of Secretaries approved a policy requiring all Ministries and Departments of the Central Government to put their proposals for new Bills and amendments to existing laws on their websites for people's comments before finalizing them. Read the policy document here. The new policy requires special efforts to be made to consult with people in general apart from talking to special interest groups. A 30-day period is required to be set aside for this purpose. Further, the people's views must be made attached to the Cabinet Note accompanying the draft Bill when it is sent to the Union Cabinet for approval. These views must also be shared with the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee when the Bill is referred to it for detailed consideration. This is an important step towards implementing Section 4(1)(c) of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) which requires every public authority to make all facts and figures public while formulating important policies or decisions.

The second is regarding transparency with the status of mercy petitions pending before the President of India. After Mr. Pranab Mukherjee assumed the office of the President of India, he initiated the good practice of disclosing the status of clemency petitions pending before his Secretariat, on its website. Strangely this initiative was withdrawn and two decisions to reject clemency petitions followed in complete secrecy. After civil society's criticism of this retrograde move, the President's Secretariat has restored the status update on all pending mercy petitions. This webpage may be accessed here.

Bhutan has joined the community of nations that have enacted national level right to information laws. On 5th February 2014, the National Assembly of Bhutan gave its approval to the Right to Information Bill which was being discussed for more than a year. The list of countries with RTI laws has probably reached a 100. CHRI provided technical advice on two occasions to civil society and policy makers in government to strengthen the contents of the Bill. In January 2014, CHRI resourced and moderated a panel discussion on the Bill organized by QED, an independent think tank based in Thimpu, days before the National Assembly stamped its approval on the Bill. Read the story here.

After years of persistent campaigning by our partners - Transparency Maldives (TM) and their partners have been successful in getting the access to information Bill approved by the Parliament in Maldives on 29th December 2013. The Press Release is available here. This will be a important step for establishing a regime of transparency in the Maldives. CHRI has been closely associated with the RTI campaign in the Maldives. For more information about this campaign on RTI in the Maldives, the same is available here.

Ghana laid down the Right to Information Act on 12th November, 2013 before the Parliament. Since 2002 the civil society in Ghana have demanded for the enactment of this strong law that guarantees people's access to information from Public bodies in Ghana. The text of this bill is available here. Please find the critique of the bill made by CHRI, Delhi.

On the occasion of Human Rights Day, CHRI acknowledges the recent initiatives taken by Sri Lanka, new Chair of the Commonwealth, to address concerns related to its human rights record. Establishing a Presidential Commission to investigate cases of disappearances during the war from the Northern and Eastern Provinces, the on-going nationwide census to assess the loss of life and damages to property due to the nearly three decade long civil war, setting up a National Inquiry on Torture with Commonwealth assistance and the Cabinet's nod to the Witness and Victim Protection Bill, are all encouraging steps.

However, CHRI wishes to remind the Commonwealth and the international community that Sri Lanka has a poor record when it comes to real accountability. Previous commissions and investigations have been plagued by government interference and failed to achieve meaningful results and are mostly seen as a government ploy to delay effective criminal investigations. Sri Lanka's Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) failed to fix responsibility for war crimes and its recommendations remain largely unimplemented. [Read more...]

Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid, BPS-22 retired officer, was appointed as the Chief Information Commissioner by the government on Friday for three years under Section 24 of the Law with immediate effect. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Governor signed the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013. The CIC’s appointment is a step forward towards making the RTI Act effective. Similarly, according to another official handout, the Provincial Government constituted a committee to identify and select two members of the Information Commission in line with Section 24 of the Act. The law makes K-P the third province to have implemented the RTI as a law.

A two-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court ruled that disclosing a Post Box number should be adequate for the purpose of Section 6(2) of the RTI Act which requires an RTI applicant to provide his/her contacts details to the Public Information Officer while seeking information. The Court held that an applicant disclosing a Post Box number should not be compelled to disclose any further contact details. However if a public authority has any difficulty contacting the applicant through the Post Box No., the applicant may be asked to provide other contact details. The Court directed that the contact details of the applicant must not be disclosed on the public authority's website in order to avoid possible harassment. It is true that numerous RTI users have been attacked physically or harassed mentally for seeking information that vested interests would prefer to keep under wraps, but resorting to other measures is pointed out in CHRI's analysis of the judgment.

"The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), has uploaded the second set of guidelines for implementing the proactive disclosure obligations under Section 4(1) (b) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The guidelines are an outcome of the Task Force that was set up in April 2011. The new guidelines focus on disclosure of information about crucial social development programmes implemented at each State Level. These guidelines would apply from the village panchayat up to the Secretariat at each level. The DoPT has sent the guidelines to the Chief Secretaries of all the states seeking their active involvement. CHRI, other Civil Society Organizations and senior government representatives were part of this Task Force making these guidelines. The guidelines are accessible here. CHRI invites all its readers to circulate these guidelines among their networks."

In Ghana, the Right to Information Bill was laid before Parliament on 12th November 2013. It provides for a legal framework for people to exercise their right of access to information held by government agencies as enshrined in the Constitution. Edward Doe Adjaho, Speaker of Parliament referred it to the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for evaluation before the House is furnished with a report on it. The Cabinet had approved the Bill in June 2013. Since 2002, there has been a struggle for a Right to Information law, but it has not yet seen the light of the day. Alban Bagbin, the Committee Chairman has said that the Bill is a priority, but it still needs scrutiny and consultation. The passage is not guaranteed this year. Amidst all this, the Northern Regional Coordinator of the RTI Coalition has expressed her reservations upon the manner in which the Bill has being handled in the past. She pointed out the lack of will reflected in the agenda by the government even though they had promised the passage.

The Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) is demanding the removal of the provision pertaining to criminal offence in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Right to Information Act, 2013. The organization has welcomed the acknowledgement of the citizen's right to access information held by public bodies by enacting a legislation, but they are maintaining reservations on the provision relating to the punishment which will be given for the misuse of information acquired under the Act mentioned above. The provision containing implied threats for the possible misuse of information. In addition, KP RTI Act, 2013 does not include the Peshawar High Court within the definition of a public body, which needs to be revisited. Apart from these two inconsistencies, the implementation mechanism envisaged by the law is a strong one.

Sierra Leone passed their Right to Access Information Law on 29th October, 2013, making them the 62nd country in the world and 20th across the Commonwealth to pass this important piece of legislation. The law was passed on the first day of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit in London, paving the way for Sierra Leone's admission as a full member of the OGP. Human Rights Watch reports that The Right to Access Information Act in Sierra Leone establishes a right to access government information and requires all parts of government to adopt and widely disseminate a plan for making records publicly available. As a country that has emerged from conflict and committed itself to the path of democracy, this is a welcome step in building transparency, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Today is the last day of the Commonwealth's Committee of the Whole meeting. The Committee of the Whole sets the agenda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next month in Sri Lanka. CHRI urges it to reconsider establishing a Commissioner for Human Rights. A Commissioner for Human Rights is an essential prerequisite to a renewed, relevant and sustainable Commonwealth.

CHRI also urges governments to endorse a rights-based approach to development, to ensure that the post-2015 development framework is effective, transparent and inclusive and includes rule of law, access to justice and equality indicators.

Equality and non-discrimination are core Commonwealth values and we urge governments to express a Commonwealth position of zero tolerance to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. CHRI urges governments to address violence against LGBT people and be proactive in protecting the rights of those that work on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Lastly, CHRI also urges governments to give serious consideration to establishing a Commonwealth Expert Group on Policing. Police reform within the Commonwealth will significantly further the realisation of declared Commonwealth values in relation to access to justice.

CHRI also draws the attention of the Commonwealth to the crackdown on democratic freedoms in Uganda.

See CHRI's submission to the Committee of the Whole and Commonwealth Heads of Government 2013.

On the occasion of eighth anniversary of adoption of Central Right to Information Act, 2005, Access to Information Team of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has brought out a Rapid Study on "The Use of Right to Information Laws in India". This is the first time in India that data from official records is used to get a comprehensive view on the working of the RTI Act in India. The Report can be viewed here.

The RTI (Amendment) Bill 2013 has been referred to a Standing Committee, which published an advertisement inviting comments from the populace to include their voices in the deliberative process. CHRI urges Rajya Sabha Chairman to immediately withdraw the advertisement which unreasonably restricts the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression by seeking comments on amending the Act only in English and Hindi. Rather the move must be to recognize the linguistic diversity and permit people to submit their views in any of the official languages recognized in Schedule Eight of the Constitution of India, which would uphold the right to equality. To further democracy, the right to discuss and debating their views and comments on the Bill would be secured by this measure. Further, the time limit must be extended for making these submissions by atleast a month. Creating an opportunity to exercise this right must be the mandate of the House.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has issued a statement on her mission to Sri Lanka. CHRI welcomes the comprehensive statement which touches on several concerns CHRI has raised in the past and continues to raise. The High Commissioner while welcoming the Government's post-conflict efforts, towards reconstruction and rehabilitation, said, "It is important everyone realizes that, although the fighting is over, the suffering is not." She was disturbed by a number of human rights issues on the island, chief among them, the military's involvement in civilian activities, the limited willingness to investigate enforced disappearances and mounting religious violence. In light of the widespread harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, especially heightened before and after her visit, she warned that the Government was heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.

In a ground breaking development the Working Group on Human Rights> in India and the UN (WGHR) have released a publication containing a tool designed to effectively enable the monitoring of human rights recommendations made to the Government of India during the UN Human Rights Council's latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR is a process whereby all member states of the United Nations (UN) face a comprehensive peer review of their domestic human rights situation and are asked to make specific commitments to improve that situation.

On June 3, 2013, the Central Information Commission in India passed an order bringing six national parties under the purview of the Right to Information law. Most political parties were unanimous in opposing this move which was lauded by the general public in India. Now, the Cabinet of India has approved the decision to amend the Act to keep political parties out of scrutiny under the RTI. CHRI opposes the government's move to amend the RTI Act. Here is what CHRI Director Maja Daruwala has to say about this:

"There should be no curtailing amendments to the Right to Information Act. The Right to Information has been called the Oxygen of Democracy. In India it is known as the 'Jadu Ki Chari', the magic wand that has improved governance, exposed corruption and drawn citizens into taking charge of their own democracy. Unfairness and injustice have been exposed. Access to Information has brought a sea change in official functioning. The default position is moving from secrecy in all things to openness in the public interest. This has helped thousands to gain their entitlements. Overall, a guaranteed right to information is reducing power relations between governments and people. Government must not resist this. It must do nothing to create hurdles in processes that deepen democracy and act not to protect privilege but act only in the public interest."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will visit Sri Lanka from the 25 to 31 August. In preparation for this visit, CHRI would like to publicly announce its support for a letter written by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development to the High Commissioner urging her to consult widely with diverse civil society groups, but encouraging her, in so doing, not to overlook the dangers that may face those that cooperate with her. The letter requests the High Commissioner to adopt tangible practices aimed at reducing the likelihood of reprisals against people and organisations that collaborate with her. At CHRI we strongly support this letter and in the lead up to the High Commissioner’s visit we wish her well and hope that there will be effective and safe dialogue between the United Nations and civil society organisations within Sri Lanka.

CHRI's Prison Reforms Team is conducting a workshop on the Prison Visiting System for Non-Official Visitors (NOVs) from Jodhpur Division and Nagore district of Rajasthan on August 2-3, 2013. The workshop is being co-hosted by Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), Rajasthan Directorate of Prisons and the District Administration of Jodhpur. The aim of this workshop is to impart the necessary knowledge and skill to designated prison visitors to aid their prison reform work. An effective visiting system can ensure better prison conditions and can tackle problems like overstays and overcrowding through an accountable oversight mechanism intended to aid the prison administration. NOVs are people from the civil society appointed by the government to facilitate this.

CHRI, as part of the Tanzanian coalition Haki Na Usalama Forum (Justice and Security Forum), have released a statement calling on United States President Obama to reinforce security recommendations to the government of Tanzania as part of his current visit. At the 2011 review of Tanzania as part of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the United States recommended that Tanzania "vigorously prosecute security force personnel that violate the law", ensure "strict control of security forces by civilian authorities" and guarantee that these forces also receive human rights training. The Haki Na Usalama Forum are calling on President Obama to reinforce these recommendations, and, as Tanzania accepted them as part of their UPR review, stress that the recommendations should be implemented before the next review of Tanzania in 2016. CHRI believe that these recommendations could be met by either establishing an independent authority to investigate alleged violations of the law by the police and defence forces, or to strengthen the powers of the Commission on Human Rights and Good Governance's powers. Either way, the body should have strong powers to investigate and make binding recommendations to the police and state prosecutors to either prosecute or discipline police officers and to compensate victims.

Recently CHRI participated in a workshop regarding police standard operating procedures for the East African Community (EAC)> states. CHRI and partner organisation, the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum, have drafted four police procedures for the region on: stop and search, arrest and detention, use of force and public order management. These procedures are aimed at improving and harmonising police practices in these key operational areas, and have been drafted in consultation with police experts from the five relevant police services and with civil society from the region. These procedures will now be discussed at the national level of each of the EAC states, before moving forward towards adoption by the EAC.

CHRI, with local Kenyan partners, the Usalama Reforms Forum, finalised a series of public and police awareness materials on the new system of police accountability and oversight in Kenya. The new system has been established in accordance with the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and subsequent new police legislation, and includes a new independent body that investigates allegations of serious misconduct by the police. The materials include: an overview of the police accountability mechanisms; flowchart of the process when a complaint is lodged about the police; public posters on how to make a complaint about the police; posters for police stations; pamphlets for the public concerning their rights; and a pocketbook for the police. The materials can be found here.

CHRI’s police team held meetings with key stakeholders in the Maldives recently in continuation of its advocacy for better policing. Specifically, we held meetings on strengthening the police complaints system which is currently under review, an initiative led by the UNDP involving the police and the Police Integrity Commission. We also held meetings in relation to our regional study on Women in Police covering Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and the Maldives. The study is aimed at making recommendations on improving the working conditions and growth opportunities for women in service. With the assistance of the Maldives police, CHRI will be conducting a survey among women in service (approx. 300 out of total strength of 3500) and holding focused group discussions and interviews over next two months. For more details, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Media freedom has recently been under attack in Uganda. On 20 May 2013, police raided the offices of two newspapers, Monitor Publications and Red Pepper Newspaper. The police also blocked broadcasts of two radio stations, Dembe FM and KFM, both housed by Monitor Publications. Since then, the two radio stations remained off the air and the two newspapers were unable to publish material in print. There were also reports that journalists and human rights defenders demonstrating against the media siege had been harassed by police authorities. This media clampdown was reportedly a part of attempts by the police to obtain information on a leaked letter recently published in the country's media.

CHRI condemned the attacks on media freedom and released a press statement urging the government of Uganda to respect freedom of expression and respect the rights of media workers and human rights defenders.

Today it was reported that the outgoing Internal Affairs Minister called off the media siege and ordered the police to vacate the media houses so normal operations could resume. CHRI continues to monitor the situation in Uganda and urges authorities to uphold their human rights obligations.

The commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) organized a two-day training of trainers (ToT) program in collaboration with Sangarsh RTI movement Jammu on J&K RTI ACT 2009 at Institute of Engineers, Gandhi Nagar.

The purpose of the ToT was to prepare trainers and encourage the use of the J&K RTI Act. Over a period of two days, representatives of CHRI and Sangarsh RTI movement explained to the participants all the provisions of J&K RTI ACT and rules. The explanation was followed by discussion on the questions and issues raised by the participants. On the basis of trainin, the participants prepared RTI applications in a drafting exercise for a practical understanding of the act. The workshop was attended by people from all walks of life such as academia, students, senior citizens, and government servants.

Bangladesh's human rights record was put under the spotlight on 29 April 2013 at the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. During the hearing, the Government faced questions from member states and presented its national report documenting its implementation of the recommendations flowing from the last review in 2009. In its submission, CHRI recommended the Government of Bangladesh to strengthen its national human rights mechanisms, issue a standing invitation to the Special Procedures, decriminalize consensual same-sex activity and adopt measures to fight impunity, especially by law enforcement officials. The national report and summary of stakeholder submissions can be found here.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) expresses serious concern at the continuing lack of response to victims of rape by the Delhi Police. Rape of the five year old girl in Gandhi Nagar, Delhi, is only most recent in a series of instances where police refuse to file complaint of missing child and rape. Latest criminal law amendment 2013> provides for up to 2 years imprisonment for refusal to register such complaints. CHRI calls on the administration to hold the police chief responsible and ensure immediate and strict action against the errant police officers.

South Asia Right to Information Advocates Network (SARTIAN) is a Community of Right to Information Practitioners anchored by CHRI and supported by ANSA-SAR. The purpose of the network is to promote regular interaction with each other across the region. SARTIAN develops relationships and solidarity among advocates, media, and civil society, through discussions, experience sharing, and collective action.

It started off as an email discussion group among RTI practitioners of South Asia. This core group developed into a strong network with years. We would request all of you to join our group to participate, discuss and know about the latest developments in Right to Information in South Asia.

On 11 March, Rwanda officially became the 11th country in Africa and the 94th country globally to adopt a comprehensive Access to Information law. Four years after the Access to Information Bill was first introduced, FOI activists and other stakeholders welcomed the Prime Minister's decision to gazette the law, passed by Parliament in December. Alongside the ATI Act, the government also gave its assent to a new media law and the Media High Council Act. It is hoped that the three laws will together help to build a more robust access regime and a less hostile environment for journalists and human rights defenders. [Read More] Read the ATI act here.

Jammu and Kashmir government is set to change its police law. A draft bill was made available on the government’s website on 15 February 2013 but only two weeks were allowed for eliciting comments from the public. CHRI, together with local civil society groups, raised serious objections to many of its draconian provisions and its failure to comply with Supreme Court directives on police reform. A strong public demand for an inclusive and consultative reform process ensued, resulting finally in the government extending the consultation period by a month. Other CHRI article can be accessed here.

Following the tragic gang-rape and death of a young woman on a bus on 16 December 2012, public demand for increased safety in the capital has prompted the Delhi Police and government to implement several measures for women's safety. These include: 1) establishing fast-track courts for cases involving violence against women; 2) hiring more female police officers; 3) installing more CCTV cameras in public places and public transport; 4) deploying plain-clothes officers on vulnerable bus routes; 5) increasing the number of PCR vans and help lines. A three-member Committee of jurists has submitted holistic recommendations to the law yesterday. Read the full text of the recommendations here.

In a recent decision in the case of BPSC vs Saiyed Hussain Abbas Rizwi and Another decided on 13th December 2012, the Supreme Court has held that as per Section 8(1) (g) of the RTI Act, 2005, disclosure of the names and addresses of the subject experts (interviewers) cannot be disclosed because they are likely to be exposed to danger. CHRI has prepared an analysis of this decision. In its analysis CHRI has maintained that such a conclusion can be arrived only on the basis of material facts and that the BPSC has failed to place any such material evidence before the Hon'ble Court.

A Right to Information activist working to expose irregularities in the mining sector in Orissa has received death threat and has not been provided security. It is worth recalling that on November 19, 2012, the Supreme Court expressed concern over the incidents of killing and attacks on RTI activists and whistle blowers in the country but refused to issue direction to the Centre for their security, saying that "law and order" is a State subject. The petitioner had brought to the notice of the Court that almost 22 activists have been killed and steps were required to be taken to provide security to such persons. Click here : HT, OI, CHRI, for relevant news items and CHRI’s previous email alert on similar issue.

CHRI has filed an intervention petition in the review of the judgment of Namit Sharma vs Union of India 2012 (8) SCALE 593 sought by the Union of India. In the intervention petition CHRI has highlighted, among other things, that due to lack of statistical data about implementation of Section 12(5) and 15(5) of the RTI Act, the judgment was rendered in abstract and that the judgment inappropriately interprets the term ‘eminence in public life’ as it appears in Sections 12(5) and 15(5) of the Act. Today the review petition is scheduled for hearing.

CHRI has revised and updated its RTI User Guide on RTI Act-2005. The new RTI user guide contains an updated fee and cost rules applicable for public authorities amenable to States and the Central Government, a flow chart of appeal and complaint procedure related with an RTI application, the address all the Information Commissions etc. It will help the RTIA users to learn how to draft RTI application, appeal and complaints whereas the success stories of RTIA mentioned in this guide describing role of RTI in improving the level of transparency and standard of governance. The new User Guide is expected to encourage the readers to make a purposeful use of the RTIA. The pdf version of the user guide can be accessed here.

It was reported that on 13 November a journalist in The Gambia, Abubacarr Saidykhan received death threats outside his compound gate from unidentified men in an unmarked vehicle. This threat comes just weeks after Abubacarr Saidykhan and another journalist, Baboucarr Ceesay received death threats by email in October.

In September, Abubacarr Saidykhan and Baboucarr Ceesay had been arrested and charged with ‘conspiracy to commit a felony’ and ‘incitement to violence’, based on their request to the authorities for permission to peacefully protest against the executions of death row prisoners in August this year. These charges were later dropped, reportedly on the orders of the President. The death threats by email were sent soon after the charges were dropped.

The impunity for violence against journalists, human rights defenders and government critics in The Gambia is worrying and CHRI remains concerned for the journalists’ safety. The Gambia’s human rights obligations require that it investigates allegations of threats of violence and CHRI calls upon the government to ensure the safety of journalists, human rights defenders and government critics.

In a meeting of the Council of Ministers held on November 01, 2012 the Union Government decided to withdraw its 2006 proposal to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 (Act). These amendments had provisions for restricting disclosure of file noting only to social and development related issues. File notings reveal the reasons for official decision. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has always maintained that citizens must have right to hold public functionaries accountable for their advice. Click here for a more detailed discussion in the latest issue of Frontline magazine.

In collaboration with our partners, the Council for Social Justice and Peace, CHRI held a one-day consultation on 3rd November in the state of Goa on a new Police Act for the state. The main aim of the consultation was to mobilize civil society groups to advocate for a wide public consultation process before a new police law is passed. The need is urgent – the Goa Chief Minister recently announced that a new Police Act will be passed by March next year. While a draft Bill was written in 2008, there has been no wide public consultation on it. The example of a successful consultation process from the state of Kerala was highlighted in the consultation. Please read the article in The Hindu, TOI and Navhind Times for more information.

CHRI was invited to participate in a symposium organized by Transparency Maldives to promote the Right to Information, at the Transparency Kurumba Maldives Resort on the 23rd of October, 2012. The key focus of the event was to create awareness among policy makers, public officials, civil society and media, and advocate for passing the RTI bill in the country. Experts were invited from around the world to impart information about the importance of establishing a robust RTI law as per international best practices. Senior officials from relevant state institutions also participated in the discussions. A new RTI Bill was submitted to the Majlis in the country in November 2009, which has since been pending with the Social Affairs Committee. For media reports, click here : Minivan News & Haveeru Online

It is reported that two lawyers in Cameroon, Alice Nkom and Michel Togue, have received threats of violence and intimidation since 18th October 2012. These two lawyers are representing clients charged with homosexuality. The threatening messages warn both the lawyers to not get involved in the high--profile cases of their clients.Same-sex conduct is criminalised under the Penal Code of Cameroon, and as a result, this law has served to entrench homophobia and prejudice based on sexual orientation. This stigma is also faced by those that defend the rights of persons accused of homosexuality.CHRI calls on the government of Cameroon to promptly investigate the threats received by these two lawyers; ensure their protection; and guarantee that fair trial rights and due process safeguards of persons detained and facing trial for their real or perceived sexual orientation will be respected.

CHRI made a presentation on the right to privacy and its implications for the right to information at the 7th Annual Convention on the Right to Information Act organised by the Central Information Commission in New Delhi on 12-13 October, 2012. Mr. Shahsi Tharoor, MP chaired the panel discussion. Mr. A N Tewari, former Chief Information Commissioner, Mr. Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, Indian Express and Mr. K T S Tulsi, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India were also on the panel. Click here to access CHRI's presentation on the right to privacy and RTI.

44 persons including two police officers were killed since the beginning of the strike in the platinum mine in South Africa. On 16 August 2012, 34 miners were killed and 78 persons were injured by police who opened fire on protesting miners in South Africa. The strikes in Marikana, which illustrated the systemic fault line within the political economy of South Africa, ended after the income for the miners were risen by 22% on 18th September 2012. The South African government ordered an inquiry by a judicial commission to look into the incidents. This commission which was appointed by President Jacob Zuma began its procedure at the Rustenburg Civic Centre on 1st October 2012. The task of this inquiry is to find out the role of: police; the management of the platinum mine ‘Lonmine’; the labour unions; and government in these incidents within four months. However on 3 October it was reported that the Inquiry was postponed as families of victims failed to appear before the inquiry due to lack of adequate notice. As a result the Inquiry has now been postponed to 21 October. It has been urged that the Inquiry should take place in a fair manner.

CHRI is conducting its fifth ‘South Asia RTI Learning Programme’ from the 7th till the 16th of October, 2012, in New Delhi, India. This Programme, hosted by CHRI, is being supported by Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (FnST). Participants from different civil society organizations belonging to four countries, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are going to participate in this event, which will include discussions on the history of the Right to Information in India, the basic principles of a good RTI law, and presentations by the participants on the status of RTI in South Asia in their respective countries. Among other things, they will also be participating in the 7th Annual RTI Convention organised by the Central Information Commission (CIC).

Right to Legal aid : The Supreme Court recently in its two judgements upheld the right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner as constitutional right available to all accused persons by virtue of Articles 21 and 22(1) of the Indian Constitution. While upholding the death sentence handed out in the of case of Ajmal Kasab vs. State of Maharashtra the apex Court held that it is the duty and obligation of the magistrate before whom a person accused of committing a cognizable offence is first produced to make him fully aware that it is his right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner and, in case he has no means to engage a lawyer of his choice, one would be provided legal aid at the expense of the State. [Read More]

On the occasion of the International Right to Know Day (September 28), CHRI has published its findings as a rapid survey on the ‘Status of Work in the Information Commissions in India, in the aftermath of the Namit Sharma v UOI Judgement of the hon’ble Supreme Court of India’. The survey shows that more than a quarter (28.5%) of the 28 Information Commissions have halted work in the aftermath of the Apex Court’s judgement. Moreover, most of the State Information Commissions that have done so, have not publicly announced this on their websites. The findings are crucial as the judgement has become a causal factor in the halting of dispute mechanism of an important fundamental right, the people’s Right to Know. To know more, click here. For the survey table, click here.

On September 20, 2012, CHRI facilitated the first meeting of a Working Group for the Kerala State Police Complaints Authority. This Group is an initiative facilitated CHRI, in partnership with the Kerala State Police Complaints Authority. The main aims of the Working Group are to bring the Complaints Authority, the police leadership, and civil society representatives together on a common forum to act as a support and resource for the Complaints Authority, and also to enable open and frequent communication between the police, civil society, and the Authority. The meeting was full of rich discussion on issues of police accountability and new ways to strengthen the Authority. It is hoped this unique initiative will further develop the Authority's oversight role.

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India has directed that only retired judges of the Supreme Court or retired Chief Justices of the High Courts must be appointed as Chief Information Commissioner of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions, constituted under the RTI Act, 2005. The court has also held that that each case before the Commissions must be heard by a two-member bench, one judicial expert and one non-judicial expert. Among other things, the apex court has ruled that all Information Commissions are bound by the doctrine of precedents vis-a-vis the High Courts and the Supreme Court and also the larger benches of the Commissions. Click here for the judgment. For media reports, click here : The Hindu, Domain-b, Times of India and The Statesman.

The General Administration Department of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir has notified the new ‘Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Rules, 2012’. These new Rules replace the RTI Rules of 2010, which contained a considerable amount of detail on implementing the RTI Act in the State. The 2012 Rules do not contain guidance on several vital matters like procedure to be adopted in case of non-compliance of the State Information Commission’s orders and functioning of Commission Secretariat. The reduction of application fee from Rs.50 as per the earlier Rules, to Rs.10 as per the new Rules, however, is a welcome move. To view the Rules, click here. For media reports, click here : Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir

CHRI and CIVICUS urge the Commonwealth to address the deteriorating human rights situation that prevails in the Kingdom of Swaziland. The situation on the ground, and the government of Swaziland’s habitual response to dissent, do not indicate its willingness to abide by the fundamental political principles and democratic values of the Commonwealth.

In a joint statement, we urge that the country be brought under the scrutiny of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a high level group that deals with serious or persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s values.

After nearly four years of its enactment in December 2008, the dormancy of The Freedom of Information Act in Malta will come to an end very soon, with a vast majority of its provisions entering into force in a few days time. Out of the 48 provisions of the law, 39 will be brought into force form 1st September, 2012. This has been made known by means of a Legal Notice published in the Malta Government Gazette. This is welcome news, as even after the enactment of the transparency law, the citizens have not been able to make any use of it till now. For a media report on this issue, click here.

The Government of India has notified a new set of Rules combining the Rules relating to fees and costs payable under the Right to Information Act and the appeals procedure before the Central Information Commission which were notified in 2005. The new set of rules makes a few substantive changes in the applications and appeals procedure. For example, an RTI applicant will be required to limit an information request to 500 words and pay for postal charges in excess of Rs. 50 for receiving information. A letter of appeal filed with the Central Information Commission may be returned to the appellant if it contains filing deficiencies described in the new Rules. Click here for the new RTI Rules. Click here for related media reports: The Hindu, Hindustan Times.

On Monday 30 July, the government of Tanzania indefinitely banned MwanaHalisi, a weekly Kiswahili newspaper. The Acting Director of the Information, Youth, Sports and Culture Ministry reportedly accused MwanaHalisi of publishing seditious material, and used the powers under The Newspapers Act (1976) to ban the newspaper. This legislation creates seditious offences and gives the Minister of Information broad powers to prohibit publication of newspapers. While international standards allow the state to put reasonable limits on the freedom of expression, we express concern that legislation such as the Newspapers Act is used to restrict newspapers that are critical of the government.

CHRI, together with Article 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Committee to Protect Journalists, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Legal and Human Rights Centre, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition and the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Tanzania have released a statement on this matter.

CHRI attended the 5th National Conference of Women in Police held in Thrissur, Kerala from 25-27 July, 2012. It was hosted by the Kerala Police. The overall theme of the Conference was 'Women Police - Making a Difference", and the sub-themes were a) Women Police and Social Development; b) Professionalism and Capacity Building; and c) Global Perspective of Women in Police. The Conference was attended by women police of all ranks, from the IPS level to the constabulary, representing all states and UTs of India. CHRI was invited as one of the few civil society organisations and experts on policing. Members of the Police Reform team attended the Conference, and participated in breakout sessions. The recommendations that emerged as a result of two day long discussions are available on the Conference website, here, and key highlights include the creation of a Women and Child Desk in each police station, the formulation of a National Policy on Women in Police, open recruitment and open promotions for women, and a general push to increase the number of women police. In addition, CHRI will be assisting to create and maintain an online network of women police of all ranks in the form of a Facebook community. The community is open to all Indian women police, and can be viewed here.

The Cabinet of the State of Uttar Pradesh in India, has approved the decision to exclude the anticorruption agency Lokayukta from the scope of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Government of the State justified this major decision saying that since the Lokayukta is an investigating agency, there is a need to keep its secrecy intact and any disclosure of on-going investigations could prove detrimental. This move is being seen as one of the many attacks being launched against the transparency regime by the very system which the RTI Act seeks to transform, according to well known RTI activists in the country. To read more, click here.

According to a recent Report by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), only 30% of the Participating States in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) have pledged to substantially enhance their legal frameworks for the right to information (RTI), a core pillar of government openness. 44 of the 55 Participating States have so far submitted their Action Plans, which are at the heart of the OGP as a movement for greater government transparency in the world, as they map out States’ OGP commitments. Only 13 Plans include a pledge to engage in serious RTI law reform. The remaining 31 either do not mention RTI or propose only minor improvements. This is when an assessment of the RTI frameworks in those 31 countries, done as part of the RTI Rating, suggests that many of these countries have serious shortcomings in their laws. To read the report, click here. For a list of Commonwealth Countries participating in the OGP click here.

Non-production proves to be one of the biggest hurdle in the path of justice and requires urgent redressal. Recently, Thane Central Prison witnessed a shortage of police escorts as the Mumbai Commissionerate stopped sending police escorts and the entire burden fell on Thane Commissionerate. As a result, more than a thousand undertrials missed their court productions. [Read more…]
CHRI’s Prison Reforms Programme recently concluded a study in Alwar District Prison of Rajasthan on court production trends of undertrials. The study reveals that 72% of all non productions are a direct result of shortage of police escorts. The study also reveals that, though, in a day, approximately 65 prisoners need to be escorted out of the prison and back, only 11 guards are made available by the police. Various courts, all over India, are taking note of such cases of non-production due to shortage of police escorts and are asking the governments to urgently address the issue. [Read more] If adequate escort staff is appointed then one major obstacle would be removed from the path of realizing justice.

CPDI (Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives), recently conducted a nationwide research study to determine responsiveness of public bodies to information requests filed under the Right to Information laws of Pakistan, namely ,under Article 19-A of the Constitution, Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and Section 137 of Local Government Ordinance 2001. A total of 54 information requests were submitted to Federal, Provincial and District Government Departments, for providing copies of the contracts of the development schemes and projects carried out in the financial year 2010-11, along with the details of the utilization of these funds. Only 2 departments provided the requested information, while 25 information requests fructified only after the intervention of office of the respective Ombudsman. 27 information requests did not yield any result at all. The study highlights the need for stronger RTI laws in Pakistan and mechanisms for its compliance. Click here to view the study.

CHRI partners in Kenya, Release Political Prisoners Trust (RPP), launched the first guide to the new police laws in Kenya entitled “Your Guide to the National Police Service Act, National Police Service Commission Act and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority Act”. The booklet, which will allow the public to understand the new policing system easily, was written by our East Africa Access to Justice Programme Officer and is published in both English and Kiswahili. RPP and CHRI however remain concerned about the slow implementation of the new laws, with the National Police Service Act not yet becoming operational. For more information see here.

The International Coordinating Committee on NHRIs’ (ICC) accreditation process is an important mechanism to hold NHRIs accountable and assess their performance. Every four years, based on such an assessment they are given ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’ status and may be able to enjoy privileges at the Human Rights Council accordingly. The South Africa Human Rights Commission is up for review at the next session of the Committee’s assessment body between 19 and 23 November 2012. This is an important opportunity for civil society to report on the performance of the commission. These reports are due on 15 August 2012. For further details please click here.

CHRI recently won a case before India’s Central Information Commission requiring the Department of Energy (DAE) to disclose a Cabinet Note attached to the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011. CHRI had a sought copy of the Note approved by the Union Cabinet for tabling the Bill in Parliament. The DAE argued that the Cabinet Note could not be disclosed as the Bill had not been passed by Parliament yet. Conventionally, the views expressed by the Departments in a Cabinet Note are labeled secret and not disclosed to the public. The Commission frowned on this practice and ordered that the Cabinet Note be made public because the Bill had been tabled in Parliament and there was no public interest served by maintaining secrecy. [Read More]

Recently, the order passed by Uttar Pradesh state information Commission indicates that convicts and undertrials have equal rights as other Indian citizens to file an RTI and request information regarding facilities of jail available to him.

The information commissioner Brijesh Kumar Mishra observed that the RTI Act is a guaranteed right under section 19 of the Indian Constitution which aims to ensure transparency and accountability of public authority and its functioning. [Read More]

CHRI is concerned about the shrinking civil society space in Uganda, in particular for LGBTI human rights defenders. A recent workshop for LGBTI human rights defenders in Kampala was intercepted by the police. Similar action was taken earlier this year, when a workshop on LGBTI issues was also shut down by the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity. Meanwhile, the Ugandan Parliament is currently considering the Public Order Management Bill, legislation that would severely curtail the right to freedom of assembly. These actions reflect a pattern of suppression against human rights defenders in Uganda. CHRI calls on the Ugandan government to honour its human rights obligations and respect the work of human rights defenders. CHRI and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation sent a letter to the Commonwealth Secretary-General on this matter.

CHRI resourced a workshop on the Emerging Challenges in the Implementation of the Right to Information Act organised by RTI Club Uttarakhand at Dehradun on 24th June 2012. Close to a hundred RTI users and activists participated in this workshop and interacted with serving and former members of the Uttarakhand State Information Commission. Seven RTI activists were given awards for the most impactful use of the RTI Act. Click here for photos of the event. Click here for news clippings of the event : Amar Ujala | Dainik Jagaran | Garhwal Post | Sahara | The Tribune

CHRI welcome the Inspector-General of the Uganda Police Force’s decision to establish an internal unit to investigate complaints of human rights violations against the media. There were 100 recorded assaults against journalists in 2011, with most complaints being against the police. CHRI also urge Uganda to establish an independent body to oversee the police, and investigate complaints of serious misconduct, similar to the new Kenyan body. The recent interference of the police with a gay rights workshop highlights the need for an independent body to ensure accountability for police actions. See related articles here and here.

The Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan met on May 25 2012 at Islamabad to discuss on a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to strengthen mutual cooperation on criminal matters and put the process of releasing each other’s prisoners on fast track. The Treaty will facilitate mutual assistance in investigation, prosecution and other judicial documents including execution of warrants to speed up trial. Both sides welcomed the release of prisoners and fishermen with their boats since the last meeting of Home Secretaries in March 2011 so that the fishermen and the civilian prisoners who have completed their sentence, and whose nationality status has been confirmed by the respective Governments are released without delay. It was decided that those prisoners, whose nationality status could not be confirmed either due to lack of information or due to the physical disabilities of the prisoner concerned, would be transferred to charitable institutions in India and Pakistan pending confirmation of their nationality status. MLAT has already been signed with Bangladesh, a drafting process with Nepal has begun and signing such a treaty with Pakistan is expected to improve trans-border movement of those accused of crimes including terrorism.

CHRI welcomes the move by the Rajasthan State Legal Services Authorities who have proposed the amendment for the Regulations of Rajasthan State Legal Services Authorities (1999) to increase remuneration of legal aid lawyers. Poor and unchanging standard of fees since 1999 has been an obstacle for effective representation by legal aid lawyers.

Notification passed by the Rajasthan State Legal Services Authorities on March 20, 2012 (Jaipur) in exercise of powers conferred under section 29 A of the Legal Services Authority Act (1987) proposed the amendment of regulation 22. It states that if services of legal practitioner cannot be arranged in honorarium manner, the concerned Committee or District Authority may appoint a legal practitioner and pay the following fees: [Read More]

This evening India’s human rights record will be reviewed for the second time by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council. All UN member states have to undergo the UPR and India was one of the first countries to be reviewed when the mechanism became operational in 2008. The Indian civil society coalition (which CHRI is a part of), Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN, (WGHR) has prepared an analysis of India’s response to the previous UPR recommendations, which can be found here .
WGHR has also prepared a detailed report on the human rights situation in India which can be found here.
CHRI’s submission for India’s UPR can be accessed here.
Another joint submission by CHRI and CIVICUS can be found here.
All submissions made to the UPR, including India’s National Report and the Summary of Stakeholders Information can be found here.

In a quest to improve the law and order situation in Punjab province, Pakistan, Inspector General Habib-ur-Rehman called upon his officers to adopt ‘aggressive policing’ rather than routine policing. Such an approach includes zero tolerance to corruption, a zealous hunt for criminals ‘at any cost’, and long work hours among other things. While recognizing the need for urgent action on police reforms, CHRI expresses concern over the potential for misuse of such an approach and stresses the need for finding solutions to tackle crime within the constitutional framework of the country. For more details, please see “Will aggressive policing win public confidence?,” Daily Times, 19 May 2012.

The problems of excessive and arbitrary pre-trial detention and inadequate legal aid for indigent criminal defendants are among the most serious issues undermining confidence in criminal justice systems worldwide. In that regard, the new Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems adopted by the United Nations (UN) Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice during its 21st session in Vienna, Austria (23-27 April 2012) is a move welcomed by CHRI. This is the first international instrument on legal aid which addresses the rights of the poor and marginalized and entrenches elements of a fair, humane and efficient criminal justice system. The resolution will be adopted by the UN General Assembly in Dec 2012. [Read More]

On the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), (May 17), CHRI recognises that the criminalisation of same-sex conduct in most Commonwealth countries contributes to the stigmatisation, violence and abuse faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. CHRI calls for the repeal of such laws and calls upon States to safeguard the rights of LGBTI persons in accordance with international human rights standards, including the Yogyakarta Principles. CHRI commends the hard work of activists across the Commonwealth working to improve the realities of LGBTI people. On this occasion, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights- Navi Pillay- has published a video on homophobia and transphobia. Watch the video here. The High Commissioner emphasises that the rights of LGBTI persons are not special rights, but rights that are universal and enshrined in international law.

The State Security Commission of Delhi was established last year in complete secrecy. Last week , the Commission had its first meeting. The Commission is chaired by the Lt Governor of Delhi and consists of the chief minister, the leader of the opposition, police commissioner and civil society as members of the commission. In its first meeting, a lot of burning issues like crimes against women, installation of CCTV cameras for better crime detection and the matter of blind murders and unidentified bodies were flagged by the members. [Read More]

The Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism that reviews the human rights record of all UN member states, will conduct its 13th session from 21 May to 4 June 2012. Amongst the 14 countries to be reviewed three Commonwealth countries: India, South Africa and UK, will face review in this session. A tentative timetable for the 13th session can be found here. Documentation on countries undergoing review can be accessed here.

On the eve of the seventh anniversary (12th May) of the passing of the Right to Information Act, by the Indian Parliament CHRI has released the report of a rapid study of 29 Information Commissions established across the country. The report contains an assessment of the constitution, membership and working of the Information Commissions against seven parameters. Click here for the executive summary and full report. For Hindi Click here.

CHRI welcome the recent passage of two key pieces of legislation in East Africa. In Uganda, the Parliament passed the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture Bill, which criminalizes torture as defined under international law. The Bill now needs to be signed into law by President Museveni. The East African Legislative Assembly also passed the East African Community Human Rights Bill, which, among other things, establishes a human rights commission for the East African Community. However CHRI note that, although the passage of legislation is critical, states must also ensure the new laws become operational quickly. In Kenya, the critical National Police Service Act, became law in 2011 but has yet to become operational. This is a major impediment to the police reform process in Kenya.

Under India's Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the disclosure of two reports relating to siting and safety evaluation studies of nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), which is constructing these power plants at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu had earlier denied access to these reports on grounds of national security and breach of commercial confidence. The CIC held that NPCIL had not demonstrated how disclosure would harm these interests. It also stated that the larger public interest warranted greater transparency in nuclear energy matters as they were deeply connected with issues of public health, safety and environment. The CIC permitted NPCIL to blank out proprietary details relating to the reactor design provided by suppliers, with the condition that reasons would be provided for such deletions. NPCIL was also directed to publish all such reports in future within 30 days of receiving them before setting up any nuclear power plant. CHRI assisted the appellant in this case. Click here for a detailed report of the case. Click here for the CIC decision.

Ariful Sheikh saw his mother Kajal Rekha's face for the first time after April 15, 2011. He and his grandparents finally returned home to Murshidabad on Sunday, April 29, 2012. On Sunday afternoon Ariful's mother Kajal Rekha Bibi reached Krishnakanj police station in Nadia district along with her husband and her daughter. Ariful was handed over to his parents at the police station. The boy was ill and frightened after spending such long time in prison and being away from his family.
[Read More] Video Link

The Maldives may withdraw from the Commonwealth if a bill tabled in parliament on Sunday is passed. Members of two parties comprising the coalition government presented the bill for consideration after calls were made to the government by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (GMAG) to strengthen the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI). The CNI was established to investigate allegations of a coup d'etat precipitating the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed in February.

CHRI participated in an international conference on the Criminal Justice System: Towards a Systematic Approach held in Karachi, Pakistan, from 27-29 April 2012. Organized by the Hamdard Law University, the conference brought together different perspectives from across the Asia-Pacific on lessons for strengthening democratic functioning of the criminal justice sector. Ms. Devika Prasad, senior program officer with the police reforms program, presented on police accountability in India whereas Ms Sugandha Shankar, project officer, prison reforms program, highlighted strategies for dealing with the malady of pre-trial detention. The conference underscored the common challenges facing India and Pakistan and stressed upon the value of such exchanges.

The G77 countries, are demanding the deletion of a key paragraph in a document relating to the Rio Declaration on Sustainable Development that emphasizes transparency, people's access to information, access to justice and public participation, in environmental matters. Civil society actors are lobbying hard for retaining paragraph #58 in the Outcome Document related to Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration as it is crucial for securing environmental justice for all. 42 members of the G-77 group are also members of the Commonwealth. A decision on this issue will be made by the international community when they come together for the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil, this June. The Access Initiative (TAI) has launched a campaign to keep paragraph #58 intact. CHRI has already registered its support for this demand. If you wish to register your support as an individual or organisation to this initiative, please send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is happy and relieved to know that five year old Indian boy Ariful Shaikh and his grandparents have been released at the border between Bangladesh and India today. Sentenced to two months in prison for irregular border crossing, Ariful and his old grandparents have been in Kushtia jail of nearly 1 year while awaiting release orders.

Maja Daruwala, Director Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative expressing relief that the old grandparents and 5 year old were now reunited with their family said: " We are very happy for the family. We would not have been able to get this far without the help of BLAST in Bangladesh, Masum in West Bengal and the media that drew attention to the dreadful facts of Ariful's case. [Read More]

Five-year-old boy, Ariful Sheikh, from Murshidabad district of West Bengal who has been languishing in the Kushtia jail in Bangladesh for the last 10 months with his grandparents are likely to be released on 29th April at the GEDE Check Post of Nadia district of West Bengal in India. [Read More]

On 25 April, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke out against recent moves in a number of countries that have curtailed the ability of non-governmental organizations to operate independently and effectively, including by restricting their funding. She went on to say that a "dynamic and autonomous civil society, able to operate freely, is one of the fundamental checks and balances necessary for building a healthy society…"

A recent report released by OpenCorporates shows how more than 40 developed and developing countries around the world keep information about their companies and corporations virtually inaccessible to the general public unless they pay for it. In some countries comprehensive information about a company may not be available despite fee payment. All countries surveyed are members of the 55-country Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiated in 2011 in order to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Malta, South Africa, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago and the UK are the Commonwealth countries included in the study. [Read More]

Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman of the governing council of the National Human rights Commission of Nigeria, was summoned by the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) on 11 April 2012, over his comments on extra-judicial killings during his speech as the keynote speaker at the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents. NPF asserted that the figures mentioned by him have been "highly exaggerated and therefore untrue". An NHRI should be able to highlight key human rights concerns without interference and intimidation. CHRI is deeply concerned and calls on the NPF to desist from encroaching on freedom of expression or using of intimidation to curb the independence of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria. [http://www.peoplesdaily-online.com/opinion/editorial/34731-odinkalus-needless-invitation]

CHRI are participating and presenting at a two day workshop on establishing independent oversight of the police in Kenya. As part of the overall police reforms process in Kenya, a new Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) is being created. The workshop, which starts today, is organized by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, and will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the effective establishment of the IPOA in Kenya. CHRI are presenting on policing oversight processes in India, highlighting lessons Kenya can learn from the Indian experience.

The Central Information Commission in India in a recent landmark decision held that reports of all panels, experts, committees, and commissions set up by the Government by spending public funds, should be made public. The appellant , under the Right to Information Act,2005,sought a copy of the report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel ("WGEEP") prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. The Ministry denied access on the ground that it was only a draft report and had not yet been finalized. The Ministry also held that disclosure at this stage would adversely affect the economic interests of the nation. The Commission refused to buy this argument. As the report dealt with matters of major public concern- namely, the preservation of the sensitive ecology of the Western Ghats, people had every right to participate in the framing of the policy. So they have a right to know its contents. Click here for a detailed report. Click here for the Commission's decision.

"The country which faces police vacancy to the tune of over 5 lakh personnel deploys three cops to protect its one VIP as against availability of merely one cop for 761 lesser mortals."

CHRI has filed an appeal with the appellate authority with respect to refusal of information sought by a Right to Information (RTI) application on frivolous grounds by the Police Department, Alwar District. The RTI was filed to obtain information on the respective number of deployments of police personnel for VIP Duty and police escorts for prisoners in Alwar District of Rajasthan. [Read More][BPRD Data]

The UN Human Rights Council has appointed Pablo de Greiff as the first UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence of serious crimes and gross human rights violations. This mandate begins on May 1st and involves collecting information on national situations, transitional justice mechanisms and identifying good practices. The Rapporteur is to emphasise the value of a systematic approach when addressing serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law. The Human Rights Council resolution calls on the mandate to implement a gender sensitive, victim-centred approach.

The Public Grievance Commission of Delhi Government would now also function as the Police Complaints Authority. Four officers have been appointed on an ad hoc basis as members of the body. According to reports, the Delhi government had earlier taken prior approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs for extending the role and responsibility of the PGC by a resolution of February 27, 2012. This body in effect forms a separate department under the Public Grievance Commission of the Delhi government. It is important to note here that the guidelines provided by the Supreme Court in the Prakash Singh Case regarding the composition and independence of the commission have totally been ignored in setting up this Authority. [Read More].

Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has raised concern about proposed amendment in Right to Information Act (RTI) Act through Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill 2011 introduced in Lok Sabha last September. In a letter addressed to the PM, Mr Gandhi has referred to section 8 of the Act stating that existing provisions of the Act are more than adequate for protecting sensitive information about nuclear energy facilities. CHRI has provided inputs about the proposed amendments to Mr. Gandhi. The letter can be accessed here.

CHRI has recently proposed that a Committee on Legal Aid for Prisoners (CLAP) be constituted in the Correctional Homes of West Bengal to monitor the legal assistance provided by the state’s duty counsels and retainer lawyers to prisoners. The proposal to integrate this monitoring mechanisms into the legal aid activities in other states has been backed by Justice Prabha Sridevan who has sent the proposal to several high courts.

CHRI advocates for early access to effective representation for arrestees and prisoners, and hopes that legal services to that effect are made practically realizable at a pan India level through the effective functioning of Legal Aid bodies. [Read More]

The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is being reviewed at the International Coordinating Committee on National Human Rights Institutions this week. In this context, two prominent CSOs in Malawi, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), have released a Press Statement strongly commending the work of the Malawi Human Rights Commission- both in the execution of its constitutional mandate and in the protection of and investigation of human rights abuses in Malawi. http://www.malawivoice.com/2012/ 03/27/malawian-civil-society-commends-the-work -of-the-malawi-human-rights- commission-mhrc-50476/

Dr Kwaku Agyeman Mensah , Minister in the Ashanti Region of Ghana underlined the need to deal with badly behaved police officers who violated the rights of the arrested persons in a police-public meeting organised by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in Kumasi recently. The aim of this gathering was to promote police accountability by creating awareness amongst the masses about the rights of people arrested. Read More http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/ regional/artikel.php?ID=232644

Freedom of Information activists have been coalescing for Freedom of Information Legislation. During a National Conference on Freedom of Information held on 15th March, organised by the Society for Democratic Initiative, Minister of Information and Communication urged his audience that the Bill will eventually be finalised and passed. Full news report can be accessed atchttp://www.freedominfo.org/2012/03 /despite-uncertainty-sierra-leone- foi-activists-organize/

CHRI remains deeply concerned about the plight of human rights defenders in Malawi as highlighted by the recent arrest of the Chairperson of the Malawi National Human Rights Commission- John Kapito, a vocal government critic. In an oral statement to the Commonwealth Forum of NHRIs (CFNHRI), CHRI emphasised that those working to promote and protect human rights should not be penalised by governments. CF-NHRI has also released a statement calling on the Malawian government to protect human rights defenders and to conduct prompt investigations into any reported abuse against them.

Last Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the outcome report of the Universal Periodic Review on Uganda. Local NGOs reported that the government accepted recommendations to enact anti-torture legislation. Uganda already has a draft anti-torture bill, which is the product of over six years of work. Enactment of such legislation is critical in ensuring that Uganda meets its obligations under international and regional law and the Constitution of Uganda. See our letter to MPs and media article requesting the Parliament to enact anti-torture legislation as a priority.

CHRI welcomes the recent Delhi High Court’s directions on how to treat juvenile delinquents when they are arrested for criminal offences. This was in response to the impleadment application filed by International Bridges to Justice (India) Trust in the public interest litigation based on information obtained through RTI that over a year as many as 114 juveniles accused were transferred to observation homes when they were declared juvenile by the Justice Board. In the case of young offenders, no proper enquiry is made either by the police while taking them into custody or by the Magistrate while remitting them for remand or even by the Jail Authorities while admitting them. [Read more]

The latest statistics available from the Supreme Court's report on vacancies and pending cases, the apex court has now run up a backlog of 56,383 cases — the highest figure in a decade. The situation is similar in the country's 21 high courts (42 lakh) and the subordinate courts (2.8 crore). If the cases pending in various tribunals and other quasi-judicial bodies were also added to the grand total, the arrears in lower courts would well cross the figure of 3 crore, which is alarming, to say the least. (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20120313/edit.htm#6) [Read More]

India opens up further to international scrutiny by welcoming the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial Killings next week. The visit comes after years of requests by UN experts on extrajudicial killings. CHRI appreciates the government’s decision to permit the visit especially at a time when unlawful killings are not uncommon in the country. The report prepared by the expert will not only criticise such occurrences, but will also contain recommendations and suggestions on what could be done to improve the situation.

On 9th March, the Indian Express published an Op/Ed by CHRI Director Maja Daruwala, in which she calls on the Government of India to vote in favour of accountability in Sri Lanka at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council. To read the full story: click here.

Torture in custody, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by law enforcement agencies continue unabated in Bangladesh, noted Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2012. Rapid Action Battalion remains the main unit responsible, although violations are increasingly being committed by other law enforcement agencies too. Against this, the South Asia police reform team is currently in Bangladesh to hold meetings with various stakeholders on the need for police reforms. In particular, CHRI is working closely with the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh to revive debate around the Police Ordinance 2007 and build pressure for replacing the still existing 1861 Police Act with modern police legislation.

The UNCAC Coalition, composed of more than 300 civil society organisations committed to fighting corruption and promoting human rights worldwide, condemns the establishment of UNESCO – Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences. In their letter addressed to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Chairperson and the Executive Board, UNCAC Coalition has urged them to make a final decision to cancel the UNESCO-Obiang Prize at the 189th session of UNESCO’s Executive Board and to reject any other Obiang-endowed prize. Read More

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Satark Nagarik Sangathan (SNS) organised a panel discussion on “People’s Right to Information: Indian and International Perspectives” at the India International Centre, on 5th March, 2012. [Read More] [Download Dr. Solomon’s Report]

On 9th March, the Indian Express published an Op/Ed by CHRI Director Maja Daruwala, in which she calls on the Government of India to vote in favour of accountability in Sri Lanka at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council. To read the full story: click here.

Commonwealth Secretary-General (SG) Kamalesh Sharma spoke to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday. The SG’s strong stance against discrimination based on sexual orientation was welcome. He also committed to reinforcing Commonwealth efforts to combat impunity and police brutality and continuing work on prison reform.

Today, between 5:00-8:00 pm Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and Satark Nagarik Sangathan (SNS) would organize a panel discussion on “People’s Right to Information: Indian and International Perspectives” at India International Centre. The panelists include Information Commissioners and academia from abroad. They would throw light on the importance of the right to information and the challenges and breakthroughs made in implementation of the RTI laws in their countries followed by an interactive session where the other participants could make comments/raise questions/relate experiences on RTI and building a culture of transparency and citizens participation in a democratic framework.

The Bihar State Government’s recent move to finally implement the 2008 Bihar Open Prison Rules to run an open prison in the district of Buxar is undoubtedly a welcome progress in the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners by helping them socialize and adjust with the outside world, aiding them in providing for and living with their families. To Read Full Story Click Here

Commonwealth Secretary-General (SG) Kamalesh Sharma spoke to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday. The SG’s strong stance against discrimination based on sexual orientation was welcome. He also committed to reinforcing Commonwealth efforts to combat impunity and police brutality and continuing work on prison reform. Unfortunately, the SG was silent on Sri Lanka and the dire need for accountability for alleged war crimes committed at the end of the war in 2009 – an issue expected to come up at the Council in the coming weeks.

At least two people were reportedly shot dead in Tanzania by police last week during a disturbance associated with a public demonstration. Earlier this month, 16 prominent human rights activists were arrested in Dar es Salaam on the grounds of unlawful assembly. These recent events put the spotlight on policing of public demonstrations in Tanzania and raise serious questions about both the use of force employed by police and the use of their discretion to limit the fundamental human right of Tanzanian citizens to publically assemble and protest. Please read CHRI’s analysis here.

The Bahamas House of Assembly, on Feb. 20, debated on the amendments proposed by Attorney-General John Delaney for a freedom of information bill. The latest amendments provide for the appointment of an Information Commissioner, who will also act as data protection commissioner and restrict use of the law to Bahamian citizens and permanent residents. A copy of the latest bill can be accessed here

The Bahamas House of Assembly, on Feb. 20, debated on the amendments proposed by Attorney-General John Delaney for a freedom of information bill. The latest amendments provide for the appointment of an Information Commissioner, who will also act as data protection commissioner and restrict use of the law to Bahamian citizens and permanent residents. A copy of the latest bill can be accessed here

CHRI concluded a two day workshop on the 14th and 15th of February 2012 at the State Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Jaipur on the Prison Visiting System for Non-Official Visitors (NOV) to strengthen prison oversight. The main focus of the workshop was to educate NOVs on their rights and duties regarding visits to the prison. [Read more]

CHRI concluded a two day workshop on the 14th and 15th of February 2012 at the State Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Jaipur on the Prison Visiting System for Non-Official Visitors (NOV) to strengthen prison oversight. The main focus of the workshop was to educate NOVs on their rights and duties regarding visits to the prison. The workshop dealt with the NOV’s perceptions about prisons, prisoners and their duties of observation, complaint and follow-up. The NOVs from three divisions of Rajasthan - Jaipur, Bharatpur and Ajmer - had an opportunity to present their problems and difficulties before the resource persons who included R.K. Saxena, Retd. I.G. (Prisons), Rajasthan, Dr. Upneet Lalli, Deputy Director, ICA, Chandigarh. Maja Daruwala, Director, CHRI and Omendra Bharadwaj, D.G.(Prisons), Rajasthan. Discussion on the difficulties faced by prisoners in court production, provisions for health and basic amenities in sub jails, the crucial need for appointment of a Board of Visitors, as well as innovative prison models in the country figured prominently in the workshop. One of the highlights of the workshop was a visit to the Jaipur Central Jail to give the NOVs practical knowledge on the dos and don’ts of prison visits. The concrete outcomes of the workshop were a commitment on the part of the DG (Prisons) to issue ID cards to NOVs to facilitate prison visits, on the part of CHRI to improve interaction between the Jail Officials and the NOVs, and NOVs better understanding of prison administration and their own responsibilities, and their readiness to lobby with the Jail Minister for pressing jail reforms.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has released a report that examines attacks on the press across the world in 2011. The report analyses issues including censorship, cyber-crime laws and sexual violence against journalists. It also contains country reports that document the threats, violence and other risks faced by media workers. This includes evidence from Commonwealth countries including Cameroon, the Gambia, India, Malawi, Pakistan, Rwanda and Sri Lanka. Click here to read the report.

The United Kingdom is seeking to revise its Freedom of Information Act, 2000 through a consultative process open to the people. The period for submitting comments on the implementation of the FOI Act has concluded and the Justice Select Committee will hold its first hearing on the subject on 21 February, 2012. Several civil society advocators of transparency and academics will submit evience before the Committee. A detailed memo containing key implementation issues was publicised by the Committee as part of the post-legislative assessment of the FOI Act. The full story along with associated documents is accessible at: here

On 14 February, a Ugandan Cabinet Minister, accompanied by police, raided and shut down a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Workshop, declaring the meeting illegal. The actions of the Minister come despite the Government’s ostensible opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill re-tabled in parliament only days The Bill prescribes the death penalty for “serial offenders”, and jail sentences for family members and landlords who fail to report homosexuals to the authorities. Homosexuality is criminalised under the Ugandan Code. CHRI urges the Government to comply with its obligations under international human rights law by initiating measures to decriminalise consensual same sex adult conduct and desist from suppressing freedoms of association and movements of all Ugandans.

Our East Africa police reform programme officer, Sarah Mount, participated in a key seminar with members of the respective East African Community police forces earlier this month. The seminar, facilitated by the UK National Policing Improvement Agency, discussed harmonisation of police standard operating procedures in the East African Community. CHRI are the leading human rights organisation assisting EAC Secretariat (Peace and Security Department) with this harmonisation process. The initiative was hailed by both the EAC and British as critical in the EAC integration process See

HC upholds fine on one for refusalThe High Court of Bangladesh on February 8, 2012, upheld a September 8, 2011 Information Commission verdict, fining a government official Tk 1,000 under the Right to Information Act, 2009 for refusing to provide information. The writ petition was filed by Mohammad Golam Mostafa, health and family planning officer in Araihazar upazila of Narayanganj, challenging the commission's decision to fine him, saying that he was not aware of the RTI Act as it was a new law; and he could not provide the information in 30 days as he took time to consult with the higher authorities. The HC ruled that any responsible official is bound to furnish information to anybody within the stipulated time as per the RTI Act. The official concerned neither can wait for an approval from the higher authorities nor waste time for any bureaucratic tangle for providing information, the court said. The two-member bench, observed that the Information Commission is a quasi-judicial body and every public servant is bound to comply with its orders and instructions. Full Story

CHRI conducted a joint workshop in Dehradun with the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) on the 4th of February. The workshop brought together the police leadership, representatives from the Police Complaints Authority in Uttarakhand, and vested members of civil society on a common platform to discuss people’s concerns with policing and police accountability in the state. While admitting the shortcomings of the police, the DGP of Uttarakhand attributed these fallacies on the unrealistic expectations of the people from the department. He said that the perception of the police is that of crime fighters while in his view, the police are actually peace builders. CHRI hopes that the police department and the Complaints Authority will be able to work cooperatively to combat accountability issues in the state.

Even as we tirelessly debated and agitated over the Lokpal Bill and related issues such as grievance redress, whistleblower protection and judicial standards and accountability in 2011, the Government of India very quietly introduced amendments to the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Government introduced The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill (NSRA Bill) in the Lok Sabha in September 2011. The Bill seeks to establish a legal framework for strengthening radiation and nuclear safety in India. However, it adds a new exemption to Section 8(1) of the RTI Act about nuclear safety matters and recommends the exclusion of an unspecified number of yet-to-be-established nuclear safety agencies from transparency obligations by placing them in Schedule 2 of the RTI Act.Full Story

The issue of foreign nationals in Indian prisons and illegal detainees is acquiring uncomfortable proportions. While the recent discovery of a video showing Indian BSF guards torturing an alleged Bangladeshi cattle smuggler has created spirals of tension at the India-Bangladesh border , many Bangladesh prisoners, referred to as Jaan Khalash prisoners, continue to be illegally detained in the prisons of West Bengal in spite of having served their sentence.Full Story

The National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously passed a historic bill for the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission on December 21, 2011 which had been pending for the past one year. The bill was presented in front of the Pakistan Senate for approval at the end of January. The Senate recently blocked the bill and has referred it to the house committees on human rights and law and justice for a thorough examination of the draft in order to ensure that the proposed institution is independent and free from political interference. Please hyperlink the url to the word (recently).Full Story

In a recent judgment, the Allahabad High Court quashed two notifications dated 7.6.2009 and 25.3.2008, issued by the State Government which excluded certain works allotted to Confidential Section-I of the Government of U.P and the operation unit and the Maintenance, Security and General Administration Unit of the Civil Aviation Department of the State Government from the purview of the RTI Act. The court held that section 24 (4), on the basis of which the notifications had been issued, does not give any authority to the State Government to issue such notifications, that is to say, what can be excluded from operation of RTI Act is certain 'organizations', established by the State and not the 'works'. The judgment also says that as the operation Unit and the Maintenance, Security and General Administration Unit of the Civil Aviation Department of the State Government, neither being intelligence nor security organisations established by the State Government nor having been notified as such, cannot be exempt from the RTI Act. Full Story

Our East Africa police reform programme officer, Sarah Mount, is participating in a learning programme with members of the respective East African Community police forces next week. The learning programme is facilitated by the UK National Policing Improvement Agency and will discuss harmonisation of police standard operating procedures in the East African Community. CHRI are assisting the EAC Secretariat (Peace and Security Department) with this harmonisation process. In particular, CHRI are providing advice on relevant international standards.

Central Information Commission (CIC) has come up with its annual report for the year 2010-11. The report highlights, inter alia, the status of implementation of RTI Act, the initiatives taken by CIC on proactive disclosure and publicity campaigns via print and visual media for raising awareness about the Act. As per the report, a large number of Public Authorities did not submit their annual filing which create difficulties in properly analysing implementation of the Act.Instances of rejection of RTI applications have gone up with most applications being rejected for unspecified reasons termed as “others”. Rejections in this manner have increased by as much as 24% compared with the previous year. This trend would be detrimental for RTI regime since grounds of rejecting RTI applications have been provided in sections 8(1), 9, 11 and 24, any other reason is against the letter and spirit of the Act. Full Story

India is to undergo its 2nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council this June. The Government of India has just released the first draft of its report on India’s human rights situation. Interested parties can make comments on the document by Friday, 20 December, before the report is finalised and sent to Geneva for consideration at India’s UPR. To see the draft and comment on it, please click Here

The Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar’s recent statement on the destiny of prisoners, is a matter of extensive concern for all those working on prisoners’ rights. The Bihar Government has taken an unprecedented move, termed as the “Civil Consequences of Crime”. The Chief Minister has been quoted in the media to have said, "Before committing a crime, a person now needs to keep in mind that not only would he be punished, but would also face other consequences later on and deprived of various facilities Full Story

Last week, the Chief Minister of Karnataka spoke out against 500 policemen who used political pressure to get plum postings and transfers. This reveals the extent to which the police-politician nexus is entrenched and internal channels of transfers and postings long eroded. This is happening even when a safeguard is in place. The Police Establishment Board is an internal police body that brings transfers and postings back into the hands of the police. The state government needs to send a strong message that the Board cannot be bypassed any longer. Full Story

In a recent decision on an appeal the Central Information Commissionruled that citizens have a right to know the appointment procedure of Supreme Court Judges. While referring to the Preamble of the RTI Act, the Commission mentioned that ‘it cannot be anybody’s case that the change in the procedure of (appointment of) judges should happen completely outside the notice or the knowledge of the citizens of India and that (they) should not be given an opportunity to articulate their views. The objective of the RTI Act is precisely to help create an informed citizenry (which) can hold the state and its instrumentalities to account.’

According to Article 124(2) of Indian Constitution, Judges of Supreme Court are appointed by the President of India in consultation with the Judges of Supreme Court and the proviso further provides that in case of appointment of a Judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of India shall always be consulted by the President. However, the Supreme Court of India has held in a judge’s case [Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association Vs UOI reported in 199(4) SCC 441 and Special Reference 1 of 1998 reported in 1998 (7) SCC 739] that opinion of collegium of Supreme Court Judges for the appointment of Judges of Supreme Court shall be binding on the President of India. This collegium system of appointment obscures the deliberations that are made among the Judges and the President of India and the citizens do not get to know the entire deliberations.

CHRI has recently concluded a study titled ‘Undertrials- A Long Wait to Justice’ on one of the Multiple Oversight Mechanisms – Periodic Review Committee, or Avadhik Samiksha Samiti, in Rajasthan. Oversight mechanisms ensure transparency of the prison institutions and realization of the legal rights of the individuals behind bars. The mandate of the Committee is to monthly review the trial status of a large number of undertrials awaiting finalization of their trials. Every committee comprises duty-holders from the government, police, prison and probation departments headed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of the district who can take necessary action towards recommending release on bail, effective production before the court and ensuring fair and speedy trial.

The study examines the actual periodicity, membership and attendance, procedures for case selection, evaluation and action vis-à-vis the mandate of the Committee. The study is based on the analysis of the information acquired by RTI requests filed in 33 Central and District Jails across Rajasthan (59 Sub-jails included). With a report on the study, CHRI will soon launch its publication series ‘If Liberty is Paramount…’ committed to unveil the numerous difficulties prisoners encounter in accessing justice.

The military government in Fiji has lifted the state of emergency that was imposed in 2009. It has also announced it will repeal the public emergency laws in place that curtailed the enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009 for its failure to abide by the values of democracy and human rights. Prime Minister Bainimarama also announced a new constitution would be drafted this February and promised elections would be held in 2014. While welcoming this move in a recent statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over ongoing intimidation of critics by the Fijian government.

The start of the year saw the celebration of the Police Week in Bangladesh where PM Hasina handed out bravery medals to select personnels of Bangladesh Police and the Rapid Action Battalion. This occasioned a debate around police reforms in the English press with several experts advocating for the passing of the Police Ordinance 2007 in order to replace the still existing Police Act 1861. Embodying modern day policing principles, the Ordinance is an important starting point for transforming policing culture from a force into a service. For this, CHRI argued not only for reviving the Ordinance but more importantly for holding public consultations to garner suggestions and concerns from the public at large on several provisions of the Ordinance. The full article can be found at here.

"CHRI's ATI Programme has been advocating for greater transparency in the working of Public Private Partnership Projects (PPPs) in India. As part of its strategy we did a test request to find out the status of audit reports relating to PPPs. The findings can be accesed here."

In a recent response to the PIL petition of Daljit Singh, an undertrial prisoner from Amritsar central jail, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the state home secretary to furnish information regarding undertrials who have not been produced before trial courts in the last three month. To Read more Click Here

"The Government of India introduced the Whistleblower Bill in Parliament in 2010 in order to create a statutory regime for disclosure of wrong doing in public authorities and also for protecting whistleblowers. The Bill was discussed in detail by a Parliamentary Standing Committee. CHRI submitted several recommendations to the Committee aimed at strengthening the Bill. The Committee accepted several recommendations made by CHRI and other individuals and organisations in its report . In December 2011 amidst the fierce debate over the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill (anti-corruption Commissions Bill) the Government tabled amendments to the Whistleblower Bill. CHRI has analysed the amendments and made recommendations for further strengthening the scheme for whistleblower protection. The is likely to be taken up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) during 2012."

On 19 December 2011, the UN General Assembly, on recommendation by the Third Committee, adopted 63 resolutions and took nine decisions in favour of human rights. They include a new Protocol to the Child Rights Convention, resolutions in favour of human rights defenders, women and political participation, the girl child and people with disabilities. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training was also adopted. For more click here

A recent report by the ALPH Consultants and Advocates, an Islamabad based research consultancy, highlights the poor quality of police response to gender-based violence in Pakistan. More than 62% of the investigation officers quizzed for the study acknowledged that they were not trained to investigate GBV cases. 66% of them recommended that women victims of violence should not visit police stations and resolve their complaints outside the police stations.

The Constitution Unit at University College of London (UCL) has published an interesting report, called ‘Town Hall Transparency’. The report assesses the impact of Freedom of Information (FOI) on local democracy and government in England. According to the report, most of the queries for information related to the public interest come from NGOs and Media houses, while the common citizenry’s queries are more about issues of personal interest. Nevertheless, the FOI law has helped in increasing the public understanding about decision making process at lower levels and it has made local councils more open and transparent. The full report is available here.

Mohammad Waqar Saleem, a Pakistani national, has spent 6 years in Alipore prison in Kolkata without being able to avail his right to Consular Services. The aggrieved mother has appealed to the Prime Minister, the Union Home Minister and the UPA Chairperson and the West Bengal Chief Minister drawing their attention to the delay in Trial. Consular Services, in the case of persons arrested or jailed outside their own country, are advanced by the consular representative from the embassy by visiting the national, to correspond and converse with him regarding his legal representation. Full Story

CHRI participated in a three-day regional Knowledge-sharing Workshop on Sub-regional Human Rights Mechanisms organised by UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Center Bangkok in collaboration with the O.P. Jindal Global University, from 8-10 December 2011, in Sonipat, India. The workshop aimed at facilitating an exchange of knowledge about regional human rights bodies, examining the ASEAN experience in establishing AICHR and envisioning a similar sub-regional human rights mechanism for SAARC countries.

A contempt petition has been filed against the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh for its failure to implement the Supreme Court directives on Police Reforms issued in the now five year old Prakash Singh judgment. Further, a new police legislation has been drafted by some police officers in complete secrecy and in the absence of any public consultation.

"CHRI conducted a 3-day training of trainers on the J&K RTI Act for civil society and media representatives in Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir. The workshop was attended by more than 65 participants. The resolution adopted by the participants identifying implementation problems and possible solutions is accessible here. Some snapshots of the workshop sessions are accessible here."

CHRI conducted a survey on Prison Visiting System (PVS) in various jails across Rajasthan to gauge the ground realities vis-a-vis efficacy and knowledge of those appointed as Non-Official Visitors. The data is under analysis. PVS is an external oversight mechanism that plays an important monitoring role in safeguarding prisoners’ rights. Comprising of a Board of Visitors for each prison with Official and Non-Official Visitors, it inquires into prison conditions like overcrowding, health, food, water, sanitation, punishments, remission, and the status of special groups under-trials, women, juveniles and the mentally ill. For more information on PVS, Full Story

Commonwealth Must Work for the Practical Realisation of Rights:

This human rights day, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) regrets to reiterate that there continues to be serious distances between the Commonwealth’s soaring proclamations on the value of human rights and their actual realisation. A third of the world’s populations live in the 54 countries of the Commonwealth and many of them face dire poverty. Poor governance, widespread and entrenched corruption as well as routine abuse of power impunity ensure that remedies and redress for rights violation remain out of reach of most of the population. Full Story

The 11th Informal Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Seminar on “Regional and National Human Rights Mechanisms” took place in Prague, Czech Republic, from 23-25 November 2011. CHRI participated in this seminar that facilitated a dialogue on regional and national mechanism-building in Asia and Europe. The seminar saw participation from government officials, academics and NGOs from 48 ASEM partners. For more information Click Here

As part of Human Rights Week, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and the Human Rights Network of Uganda (HURINET-U) are celebrating and promoting the right to freedom of expression. This freedom is under threat in Uganda at the moment as the Parliament considers the Public Order Management Bill 2011. This Bill, if passed, will severly limit freedom of expression, speech, assembly and association – all fundamental rights that are enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda. CHRI, UHRC and HURINET-U have all condemned the Bill and advocated for Parliament not to pass it: You can access media article and submission.

As of December 2011 more than 90 countries and overseas territories have adopted laws to provide access to information to people. While some restrict the right of access to their citizens only, others take a more liberal approach by guaranteeing right to information to foreigners with or without conditions attached. CHRI has compiled a list of countries that guarantee access to information to any and every person along with the relevant legal provisions. About 50% of the countries studied have taken the liberal approach. CHRI believes that RTI, being an internationally recognised human right, must be equally available to all persons in all countries irrespective of their nationality.

Bail not Jail
Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the principle of ‘bail (being) the rule and jail an exception’ and granted bail to 5 accused in the 2G scam case on 23rd November 2011. The Supreme Court disapproved the trend of prolonged judicial custody and stated that indefinite detention is not in the interest of justice. The court was also of the opinion that bail could not be denied on grounds of public opinion. CHRI has been advocating for the liberal implementation of the bail provisions to check pre-trial detention and considers this judgment to be a positive step and sincerely hopes that ‘bail not jail’ principle is extended to the common man. Full Story

The World Justice Project recently released its Rule of Law Index 2011. The Index ranks 66 countries from all regions and income-groups using statistical measures for accountable and open government, security, fundamental rights and access to justice. The performances of 16 Commonwealth countries are reviewed, including Australia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Canada, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda and the UK. Click here to access the Index.

Workshop on “Policing in Conflict”: 24-25 November, Islamabad

Poor policing lies at the heart of the deteriorating security environment in Pakistan. Reform of the police must therefore also lie at the heart of the peace process. But what are the challenges confronting the reform process in Pakistan? What are the factors impeding effective policing? How effective has been the police response to security threats? To address these questions, CHRI organised a two-day workshop in Islamabad in collaboration with Individualland and the CPDI.

CHRI reached out to 125 members of Goan civil society through three workshops held in various parts of the state from 15-19 November. In addition to increasing legal literacy, the focus was to engage in discussion around the Goa State Police Complaints Authority with the objective of strengthening it and gaining useful feedback on how to improve the Authority’s procedural and operational framework. Among other things, complainants expressed a need for independent investigators, time limits on adjudication of a single complaint, and improved implementation of the Authority’s final orders. Full Story.

Access to Information programme of CHRI just concluded its annual ten-day South-Asia RTI learning programme with participants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan. The programme took place in Delhi and Gujarat. Full Story

On November 12, nearly 1500 Undertrials at the Alipore Correctional Home went on a hunger strike demanding speedier trial or release on bail. Most of them have been behind bars for years. Also in many cases, actual trials are yet to begin. When produced in court, their custody is extended to the maximum of 15 days owing to frivolous adjournments, lawyer’s conveniences and lack of police escorts. This mirrors the all-India situation. CHRI strongly advocates for effective production of the accused and guaranteeing fair trial rights to persons behind bars..

The full story can be found at Here

India, South Africa and the UK are the Commonwealth countries that are scheduled to be reviewed in the first session (13th session) of the second cycle of UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review. These countries will be reviewed between 21 May 2012 and 1 June 2012. The deadline for civil society submission of information on India and South Africa is 28 November 2011. The deadline for submissions on UK has passed. In the months that come civil society working on these countries are expected to advocate around issues that concern them and persuade other States to raise these issues in the review. Click here for more information.

There is widespread dissatisfaction with Kerala’s Police Complaints Authorities, as discussed in workshops with complainants and civil society organized by CHRI in Palakkad and Cochin (Kerala) on 12th and 14th November 2011. Excessive delay, failure to communicate with complainants, weak procedures, and insufficient capacity are some of the glaring problems. It is crucial for the state government to prioritise the strengthening of the Authorities through both policy and legal changes. Read More>>

"Civil society organisations and elected representatives in Pakistan are debating reforms to their Freedom of Information law. Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan requested CHRI to prepare a note on legislative competence of Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures to pass laws governing people's right to information. CHRI has accordingly prepared a note and is disseminating it for wider debate and discussion in Pakistan."

The Nigerian senate has proposed a bill that aims to criminalise same sex marriage. The Same Gender Marriage Prohibition bill 2011 penalises same sex partnerships as well as any individual or group that witnesses, aids or abet such a relationship. Local and international activists are calling on Nigerian law-makers not to pass this bill that threatens the human rights of the lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, as well as those who defend their rights. Adult same sex conduct is already criminal in Nigeria, and this draft bill will increase stigmatisation, and harassment of the LGBTI community in Nigeria while encouraging more violence against them. CHRI advocates for the decriminalisation of same sex conduct and in August 2011, together with other human rights organisations, released a statement of action that calls on the Commonwealth and its member states to repeal legislation that criminalises adult same sex conduct.

CHRI welcome the passage of The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) Bill 2011 by the Parliament of Kenya. CHRI contributed to the content of the Bill, in collaboration with The Usalama Reforms Forum. CHRI is one of the founding members of this key Kenyan security sector forum. Specifically, CHRI made recommended amendments to the Bill, some of which were adopted into the body of the Bill. The IPOA, once established, will provide independent oversight of the police in Kenya. This is a critical step in the police reform process in Kenya.

CHRI has prepared an analysis of the RTI Rules applicable to the Rajasthan High Court and the Subordinate Courts to find out the anomalies where the rules are not in consonance with the Right to Information Act, 2005 (Central RTI Act). Proposals for amendments have been provided in the analysis so that the RTI Rules of RHC and the Subordinate Courts could come in consonance with the Central RTI Act.

Some of the important areas highlighted in the analysis include very high application fees which might discourage potential applicants from filing applications; compulsory use of prescribed application forms and requirement of details not prescribed in the RTI Act; absence of transfer of applications provided for in the RTI Act; absence of adequate modes of fee payment; levying of fee for admitting first appeal and other new grounds for denial of information.

The entire analyses have been published in a booklet form and the summary of all recommendations have been put at one place in the last part of the booklet.

Release & Repatriation of illegally detained Bangladesh Nationals In May 2011, CHRI sent a letter petition to the Calcutta High Court seeking immediate release of all Bangladesh Nationals who have completed their terms of imprisonment, yet remain in prison, pending their repatriation. CHRI also asked for streamlining of the process of repatriation/push back so that such situations do not arise in future. The Chief Justice took suo moto action and treating it as a PIL issued notice to the Central & State Governments. Times of India and Indian Express

The Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report – A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform, compiled for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2011, was kept a secret due to pressure from certain Commonwealth states. After public outcry and criticism, the report was first leaked by the media, and then posted online in full by the Commonwealth Journalist Association. The 106 recommendations aimed at making the Commonwealth more effective and relevant made little headway at CHOGM 2011. Developing Commonwealth countries such as India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Uganda reportedly worked towards weakening the report’s recommendations. Only 30 of the 106 recommendations were adopted while 12 were set aside for further consideration and 11 were rejected. Strong recommendations such as the proposal for a Commissioner on the Rule of Law, Democracy and Human Rights, were sidestepped and put on the backburner. Read the Commonwealth Eminent Persons’ Group Report, A Commonwealth of the People: Time for Urgent Reform at: here

Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration, recognised the crucial role of transparency in the adoption and implementation of sustainable development policies. Rio 2012 is being organised to follow-up on the commitments made by States Parties in 1992. CHRI joins the international FOI community in demanding that governments live up to their promise of instituting measures for guaranteeing people access to information. Moving from Principles to Rights contains abackground paper and specific recommendations prepared by The Access Initiative (TAI) and Article 19 in this regard.

A new Police Act for the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has been drafted and is making the rounds at the offices of the Home Minister and the Director General of Police. Without public consultation, however, the very people whose lives and liberties will be so fundamentally affected by such a law are being ignored. CHRI urges the Home Minister and the government of the day to put up the Draft Act on its website and initiate a participatory consultation process across the state.

Holding an open consultation would generate enormous good will and confidence that would hold both the government and the police in good stead and help eradicate some of the seething discontent with policing as it stands today. Read More>>

Fast-tracked or side tracked?, Maja Daruwala, Director, CHRI and Madhurima Dhanuka, Consultant, CHRI writes that administrative fallacies have undermined the success of the fast track courts which have failed to fulfill the purpose for which they were formed - speedy disposal of cases relating to undertrials and to bring down the colossal rate of pendency in courts in a time-bound manner. Read More>>

The biennial meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, held last week in Perth, Australia, was a disappointment. Many key recommendations were blocked or not adopted, including the proposal for a Commonwealth Commissioner for the Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law, the decriminalization of homosexuality and the issue of Sri Lanka being the host of the 2013 CHOGM. In fact, out of 106 recommendations made by the Eminent Persons Group for Commonwealth reform, only 30 were adopted without reservation. Nevertheless, there were some positive steps taken, notably the agreement on the reform of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG,) as well as commitment and support for improved food security, greater action on climate change, the Millennium Development Goals, free trade and the conclusion of the Doha Round. Only time will tell however, how effectively these recommendations will be implemented in the Commonwealth. Read More>>

CHRI organised a brainstorming workshop on RTI and Policing with civil society groups and RTI activists in Srinagar on 01-02 November, 2011. Information disclosure provisions mentioned in the criminal procedure code and the special laws empowering armed forces were discussed in their relationship with the Jammu and Kashmir RTI Act. Participants discussed possible interventions to make the police more transparent and accountable in the State. Click here to access news coverage of the workshop. Read More>>

On the occasion of International Right to Know Day this year Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability- South Asia Region (ANSA-SAR) and the World Bank Institute’s (WBI) Access to Information Programme released a publication “ The Power of Using the Right to Information Act in Bangladesh: Experiences from the Ground”. This work documents fifteen narratives of citizens and communities that have used RTI to hold government to account and improve their living conditions. These stories also highlight the impact that CSOs have made in spreading awareness about the processes of seeking and obtaining information and helping people to use it to claim their entitlements. The publication is available at: This Link>>

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the Royal Commonwealth Society urge for reform , rights"With just one day until Heads of Government arrive in Perth for the leaders’ retreat, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) are urging leaders not to lose sight of the values of the association and to fully support the bold reform agenda set by the Eminent Persons Group. To not do so, say both groups, will send a very clear signal that the entire association is moving swiftly toward impotency and utter irrelevance".

The CHRI and RCS recognise a growing dissonance between the stated values and action of the Commonwealth, but the EPG report is a document that offers an opportunity to harmonise word and deed once more. Read More>>

 

The Parliament of Kenya should urgently consider the proposed Independent Policing Oversight Authority Bill 2011 (IPOA Bill) after the recent allegations of extrajudicial killings by police officers. The IPOA, once enacted, will have the power to investigate complaints made about the police, investigate matters at its own initiative, audit internal investigations carried out by the police and make recommendations for appropriate redress. Under the proposed Bill, the Authority would also be required to investigate all deaths or serious injuries that occurred in police custody.

 
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