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Human Rights Quarterly 26.2 (2004) 542-547
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In 1993, the Parliament of India passed the Protection of Human Rights Act.1 The main purpose of the Act was to create the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)—a proclaimed independent governmental body statutorily charged with ensuring that every individual's constitutional rights are protected by the Indian state.2 As a means of accomplishing its mission, the Act empowered the NHRC to depose witnesses, conduct discovery, evaluate evidence, issue reports and recommendations, and ask the central government and/or the judiciary to enforce its opinions.3 There are currently three members of the NHRC, three ex-officio representatives, a Secretary General, and a Director General.4 The NHRC is chaired by former [End Page 542] Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court, A.S. Anand.5
In contrast to Parliament or the state's bureaucracy, the NHRC carries an air of legitimacy among the public and it has, at times, criticized the central government and various state governments for not doing more to protect human rights.6 Perhaps the most well known report from the NHRC involves the 2002 Gujarat riots.7 In early 2002 vicious riots broke out in the western state of Gujarat; most of the thousands of victims killed or brutalized were Muslims at the hands of Hindu nationalist-fanatics, although certainly those within the state's Hindu community also suffered loses as well.8 In the months after the riots, the state and central governments launched investigations; the NHRC too conducted its own investigation, as did numerous domestic and international nongovernmental associations.9 As part of its findings, the NHRC condemned the police for not adequately protecting Muslim communities that came under attack.10 It also criticized the state government for politicizing the riots and fanning communal tensions.11 And when several Hindus accused of murdering a group of Muslims at the Best Bakery Shop were acquitted after key eyewitnesses during the trial recanted what they originally saw,12 the NHRC intervened and asked the Supreme Court to investigate whether the defendants should be re-tried outside of Gujarat and whether those charged had intimidated the witnesses.13 The investigation is still pending.14
The work of the NHRC, however, has been multi-dimensional. In 2002, the then-Chairman of the NHRC, Justice J.S. Verma, launched an academic project seeking to bring together those who, through writing, would promote the protection of human rights in India.15 Justice Verma's efforts resulted in the publication of the inaugural Journal of the National Human Rights Commission, India, a scholarly publication whose contributors make up some of the country's most renowned rights-based activists. This [End Page 543] significant volume is divided into three sections, each of which will be the subject of this review essay.
Section One is entitled "Human Rights: New Dimensions." Justice Verma himself is the first contributor, and he argues that as the world has economically globalized, so too must there be a "globalization of human rights."16 Citing the UN Charter's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1995 and 1996 Human Development Reports, as well as the views of prominent academics, diplomats, and political figures (e.g., Amartya Sen, Kofi Annan, Mahbub al Haq, and Elie Wiesel), Verma contends that the disparities that exist between the peoples and nations of the world have reached a critical breaking point, thus mandating that all countries work together to promote human rights for every individual. He points to several specific policy areas—lack of health care, illiteracy, gender discrimination, environmental degradation, and poverty—as issues where wealthier states have a moral obligation to help poorer states deal with these crises.17 But Verma is quick to emphasize that poorer states, too, have a responsibility of their own; for example, he lauds India's creation of the NHRC and notes that this institution has been at the forefront in protecting individual liberties and rights...