Commonwealth countries should adhere to UN human rights mechanisms, says CHRI report

June 23 | South Asia Monitor

A new report on human rights under the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), calls for Commonwealth countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to strengthen the special procedure mechanisms of the world body.
The ‘Easier Said than Done’ (ESTD) report, released by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in New Delhi, highlighted the performance of Commonwealth member states UNHRC and contrasted their pledges and voting patterns on human rights issues with conditions in the country.  
In its recommendations, the ESTD Report urged Commonwealth member states to strengthen the special procedure mechanisms of the UNHRC, provide access on requests, and guarantee their independence and impartiality. CHRI further encouraged Commonwealth member states to comply with their reporting obligations to treaty bodies and submit pending reports on time.
Describing the importance of the report launched, Wajahat Habibullah, Chairperson of the CHRI Executive Committee, said: “This report is simply a kind of a reminder and that is why it is important. It is important that this is documented and taken on record, but it is also more important that those who are concerned with human rights know that these are in fact commitments of those Commonwealth countries because then, these countries can hold themselves accountable.”

The report was launched for the first time in India, although CHRI has tracked the performance of Commonwealth countries at the UNHRC since the first ESTD report in 2007.
In keeping with the previous editions, this edition of the ESTD report summarises and analyses the performance of 11 Commonwealth member states in the 40th session of the UNHRC – Australia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Fiji, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Africa, the Bahamas and the United Kingdom.
The primary objectives underlying the ESTD report are to depict a clear picture of the Commonwealth countries’ performance in the UNHRC, track thematic developments in the Council along with shifts in the foreign policy approaches of member states in the area of human rights, highlight institutional and human rights concerns in the Council and explain discrepancies in the pledges and the corresponding voting behaviour of the member states in the Council.
“The report is not doing a comparison of human rights records of different countries, rather it holds up a mirror to a country about this,” explained Aditi Patil, Research Officer, International Advocacy and Programming Team, CHRI, at the launch event.   
Speaking at the event, Y.S.R. Murthy, Executive Director of the Jindal Global University’s Centre for Human Rights Studies (CHRS), stressed on the importance of honouring all voluntary pledges and commitments made by India at the time of its election to the Human Rights Council.
Referring to India’s review under universal periodic review third cycle, he expressed deep concern about 98 recommendations made by the UNHRC which were merely “noted” by New Delhi. He pointed out they included, among others, important recommendations relating to torture, abolition of death penalty, human rights defenders, violence against women, child labour and child marriages.
Stating that India actively participated during the 40th session of the UNHRC, the ESTD report said that despite its pledges to cooperate with special procedures, New Delhi has a total of 21 visit requests and reminders pending.
“In its pledges, India also committed ‘to cooperate with treaty monitoring bodies and engage constructively with them in the context of fulfilling its human rights obligations’. However, it has three reports pending from CCPR (Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), since its last submission in 1995, CESCR (Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination),” it stated.
The report also pointed out that India ranks 147th out of 149 countries on health and survival of women and 142nd out of 149 in terms of economic participation of women.
It also cited the Indian Home Ministry’s latest annual report which reveals that about 111 deaths were reported in 822 incidents of communal violence in the country.
“India committed to ratify the UNCAT (UN Convention against Torture) in its voluntary pledges and signed it in 1997 but has not ratified it yet,” the report said.
“It has not passed a single domestic anti-torture legislation to comply with this pledge despite a significant number of custodial deaths.”
The ESTD report was very harsh on Pakistan saying that the country “is yet to extend standing invitations to all thematic special procedures, and is only one of the two Commonwealth member states at the HRC to not have extended standing invitations to special procedures, the other being Bangladesh”.
“Pakistan has treaty body reports pending: CAT (Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Human or Degrading Treatment or Punishment), CCPR, CRPD (Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities), CESCR (Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child).
As for Bangladesh, the ESTD report said that lapses have been reported with regard to that country’s compliance with special procedures and reporting obligations under treaty monitoring bodies despite its voluntary pledges.
“It (Bangladesh) has not extended invitations to any thematic special procedures. It has treaty body reports pending against it with CAT and CERD for over 15 years,” it stated.
Stating that Bangladesh has pledged to take active measures to promote gender equality and attained the goal of political empowerment of women, the report, however, said that the South Asian nation sill ranks much lower in the areas of economic participation, educational attainment, and health and survival of women.
“Violence against women and girls continues to remain a cause of concern in the country,” it stated in a damning comment.
“Freedom of expression remains a challenge in light of the passage of the DSA (Digital Security Act) 2018, which contains sevral restrictive provisions from the earlier ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Act and is an attempt at legislative muffling of free speech. Journalists, atheists, bloggers, and activists have been targeted and physically assaulted over the years.
While releasing the ESTD report June 21, CHRI also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) for close collaboration on human rights issues.  
The proposed collaboration includes internships, fellowships, researcher mobility programmes, joint research, joint workshops, collaborative summer/winter courses for emerging scholars, students and staff, and collaborative executive education courses.
CHRI International Director Sanjoy Hazarika said that the partnership would enable a closer connect between academia and human rights defenders as well as encourage scholarship and research in a critical area that was of increasing relevance but coming under extensive pressure, worldwide, from both state and non-state actors, including corporate.
CHRI was set up in 1987 as an independent, non-partisan, international non-governmental organisation mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth. Through its reports, research and advocacy, CHRI draws attention to the progress and setbacks to human rights in Commonwealth countries.