OHCHR’s Damning Silence

Needs a New Approach to Speak

 The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is facing a crisis of its own making. In its website, the OHCHR states “As the principal United Nations office mandated to promote and protect human rights for all, the OHCHR leads global human rights efforts speaks out objectively in the face of human rights violations worldwide”.

Instead of speaking out, it has shown a preference for silence. The position of the OHCHR sits uneasily with that of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who once again reiterated on 9 March 2010 his intension to establish an expert panel to advise him on “setting the broad parameters and standards on the way ahead on establishing accountability” for alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka during the conflict between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This is welcome.

In contrast, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay has failed to adequately address grave human rights violations in Sri Lanka, not least in the final days of the war with the LTTE. While Special Procedures mandate holders issued various statements, High Commissioner Navi Pillay issued only one statement on 13th March 2009 but said nothing more until the end of the war on 19 May 2009 when worst violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law took place. Her statement on 4 March 2010 at the ongoing 13th session
of the UN Human Rights Council that “Sri Lanka should undertake a full reckoning of the grave violations committed by all sides during the war” was too little, too late. The High Commissioner has also said nothing on the detention of quarter of a million internally displaced persons by the Sri Lankan authorities and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders in that country even after the end of the war.

The mandate of the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin, who highlighted the conditions of the IDPs at the end of a three-day return visit to Sri Lanka on 29 September 2009 is different.

Stunningly, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights failed to condemn the coup d’etat in Niger by the military led by Major Adamu Haruna on 19 February 2010. The African Union condemned the coup and the Economic Community of West African States suspended Niger on the
ground that it had "zero tolerance" for any unconstitutional changes of government.

The failure to condemn the coup d'etat in Niger is not an isolated event. When General Sonthi Boonyaratglin ousted Thaksin Shinawatra's government, put most Cabinet Ministers under incommunicado detention and formed “Administrative Reform Council” in a bloodless coup in Thailand on 19 September 2006, the then High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour failed to condemn the coup. It might not be a mere coincidence that after the Asian Centre for Human Rights issued a press statement on 22 September 2006 castigating the High Commissioner for its failure to condemn the coup that the OHCHR issued a statement on 25 September 2006 stating that “The forcible and unconstitutional replacement of Thailand’s freely-elected Government on 19 September, the establishment of martial law, the abolition of the 1997 Constitution, the dissolution of Parliament and the Cabinet as well as the disbanding of the Constitutional Court, have raised important human rights concerns”. When the Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights subsequently met the officials of the OHCHR in eneva, he was told that the OHCHR was verifying facts from the regional office in Bangkok and therefore could not express its concerns earlier. This was despite that national and international media had already televised the deployment of the tanks on the deserted streets of Bangkok after the military takeover.

The recent killings of indigenous tribal peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) of Bangladesh that began on 19 February 2010 expose this worrying trend of the OHCHR. The killings have very negative implications for the peace process. The violence was the worst violence since the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord of 1997 with the insurgent Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, and the violence has the potential to undermine the Peace Accord or worse see a return to violent conflicts. Clearly both the killings and a return to conflict have serious implications for human rights enjoyment. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon found the killings in the CHTs
sufficiently important to express concern. Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice President of the European Commission was equally concerned, stating on 26th February: “The EU is aware of allegations that the incident involved army personnel and labourers employed by the army” and called upon the Government of Bangladesh “to ensure that the perpetrators of these shameful acts are brought to justice.” The OHCHR said nothing. Why does “commission” of human rights violations in the CHTs by the Bangladeshi security forces in league with the illegal plain settlers merit the attention of the UN Secretary General and the EU High Representative on Foreign Affairs, but not the OHCHR?

The High Commissioner’s statement on the latest massacre of hundreds of villagers in the sectarian violence around Jos in northern Nigeria which appears to be a clear case of “omission” on the part of the Government of Nigeria is welcome but not sufficient to address its damning silence on grave human rights violations across the world.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay must develop new approaches to enable the High Commissioner to be in a position to respond to the grave human rights violations in the world. Nobody is suggesting that the OHCHR should respond like an NGO. But it does not speak well of the High Commissioner or the OHCHR when regional inter-governmental organizations and international community condemn certain grave human rights violations or coup d’etat and the High Commissioner/OHCHR maintains its damning silence. The High Commissioner must be seen to be leading the international agenda on human rights issues and add a voice, among others, to that of the UN Secretary General.

The UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 establishing the UN Human Rights Council provides that “the Council shall review its work and functioning five years after its establishment and report to the General Assembly”. Many ideas for the review to be held in 2011 are already floating around. The ideas, amongst others, include the establishment of an Office of the President of the Human Rights Council and further to make the OHCHR just another UN agency. The prospect of the OHCHR turning into a UNDP type agency - with its mandate of engagement with the government at any price - is a troubling thought. Irrespective of the ideas floating around on the review of the Human Rights Council, Navi Pillay must take the leadership before it is too late.

(The author is the Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights. Thearticle is sourced from www.achrweb.org

Human Rights Education in India

Dr. (Mrs.) Johani Xaxa &  Dr. B.K.Mahakul*

Human Rights are the rights, which every human being is entitled to enjoy and to have protected. The underlying idea of such rights- fundamental principles which must be respected in the treatment of all men, women and children, exists in some form in all cultures and society. The contemporary statement of those rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration covers two broad sets of rights- civil and Political rights and Economic, Social and Cultural rights. These two sets of rights aim to give all people ‘ freedom from fear and want’. The protection of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human society is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. It is the responsibility of the Government to protect the human rights as the highest aspiration of the common people, proclaimed by the declaration.

The covenant on civil and political rights recognizes the right of every human person to life, liberty and security of person, to privacy, to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and from torture, to freedom from slavery, to immunity from arbitrary arrest, to a fair trail. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to freedom of expression is to be protected. Under this provision, the individual has to enjoy the right to liberty of movement, includes the right to emigrate, to peaceful assembly and to freedom of association. The second covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to work and to free choice of employment, to fair wages, to form and join unions, to social security, and to adequate standard of living conditions for their people. These rights implies that all governments are expected to try progressively to improve the living conditions of their citizens. For example, they should try to guarantee the right to food, clothing and medical care, protection of the family and the right to social security, education and employment. They are to promote these rights without discrimination of any kind.

The foundations of a modern democratic state are strengthened by the existence of human rights and their enjoyment by the individuals. Human Rights in fact ensures dignity of the ‘human beings’, which are the lifeblood of Democracy. The quality of democracy would therefore depend to a large extent on the degree to which the rights are available to the individuals.

Human Rights can be regarded as the civic counterpart of the political power, which is vested in those who govern the state. There is the power of the people and the power of the state arising from human rights. The power of the people is otherwise called “Lok Shakti’, which is developed by the propagation of human rights among the people, and their enforcement by the people. The ‘Lok Shakti’ is more powerful than the ‘Raj Shakti’ in a true democratic country. In fact the whole movement of human rights is a people’s movement.

Therefore the Human Rights are essentially not merely to fulfill the biological needs of mankind, but far the dignity of the individuals as well. Without recognizing the concept of human rights, no polity can be democratic one. The Indian Constitution like any other democratic country, recognizes the concept of human rights through its preamble, besides the chapter on fundamental rights and the Directive Principles of state Policy are an expression of the fundamental human rights of their individuals in the form of civil liberties and democratic rights respectively. These rights are essential for the fullest development of the human personality and for human happiness. Undoubtedly, the concept of human rights has always been regarded as the backbone of every democratic set up. The defence of human rights is considered as a condition necessary for the growth of democratic organizations at the grassroots level, which ultimately strengthens people’s confidence and faith in the functioning of democratic institutions. In a state, the government is the “ official reservoir of ‘coercive powers’. Hence these powers of the state are to be restrained in order to prevent it from becoming arbitrary and tyrannical, by approving the very concept of human rights. In the last two decades or so, a large number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are voluntary organizations of the people, have grown allover the country.  The functioning of NGOs represents the civic counterpart of political power. These organizations are important as promoters of civil liberties. Their work is aided by other important institutions, such as the independent judiciary and free press. Particularly in the recent years they have played a vital role in defence of human rights. The defence of human rights from outside by other agencies could be successful provided; it should be defended from within the individual. Hence it becomes important that awareness about human rights by each and every individual is indispensable for them and society as well. The human rights are of paramount importance for full realization of human dignity and for the attainment of the legitimate aspirations of every individual.

After the Second World War, it was cleared that the United Nations was founded two objectives, the first was to prevent war in the future and the second was to protect and promote human rights. The Charter of the United Nations gave due recognition to the importance of international co-operation in dealing with economic and social problems and to the need of safeguarding basic human rights (Article I (a) of the Charter of the United Nations (Article 55 is more emphatic in this respect).  And thereafter, in order to make them even more specific, two conventions- one on civil and political rights and the other on Economic, Social and Cultural rights were passed by the United Nations in 1966. Thus the entire gamut of human rights is contained in the Universal declaration of Human Rights and the two conventions. To educate and to make aware of those rights, United Nation’s declared a decade from 1995 to 2004 as ‘ decade for Human Rights Education’.

Human Rights Education

The United Nation’s decade for Human Rights Education is based upon the provisions of the international human rights instruments, with particular reference to those provisions addressing human rights education, including Article 26 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights, Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 10 of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against women, Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, Paragraphs 33 and 34 of the  Vienna Declaration and Paragraphs  78 to 82 of its programme of Action.

In accordance with those provisions, for one decade from 1995 to 2004, human rights education shall be defined as training, dissemination and information efforts aimed at the building of a universal culture of human rights through imparting knowledge and skill and moulding of attitudes and directed to:

  1. The strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  2. The full-development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity.
  3. The promotion of understanding, tolerance, gender equality and friendship among all nations, indigenous people and racial, national, ethnic, religious and linguistic.
  4. To enabling of all persons to participate effectively in a free society.


The objectives of the decade for human rights education shall include:
The assessment of needs and the formulation of effective strategies for the furtherance of human rights education at school levels, in vocational training and formal as well as non-formal learning,
The building and strengthening of programme and capacities for human rights education at the international, regional, national and local levels,
The coordinated development of human rights education materials,
The strengthening of the role and capacity of the mass-media in the furtherance of human rights education,
The global dissemination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the maximum possible number of languages and in other forms appropriate for various levels of literacy and for the disabled.

Principal Actors

The following are the principal actors of the human rights education:

(1)        Government
(2)        National Human Rights Institutions,
(3)        National Non-governmental Organisations,
(4)        United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
(5)        United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights- in consultation with (UNESCO) United
Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation,

(6)        United Nations Human Rights Treaty monitoring bodies,
(7)        United Nations specialised agencies, involved in human rights educational activities, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Labour Organisation (ILO), the office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Voluntary (UNV) etc.
(8) Other International Organisations including Intergovernmental and Non-governmental Organisations active in the field of human rights.

Target Groups

The target groups who receive the human rights information/education shall public in general include the women, children, the aged, minorities, refugees, indigenous people, persons in extreme poverty, persons with HIV infection of AIDS and other vulnerable groups. Special attention shall be given to the training of the police, prison officials, lawyers, judges, international civil servants, development officers and peacekeepers, non-governmental organizations, the media, governmental officials, parliamentarians and other groups that are in a particular position to effect the realisation of human rights.

The School, Universities, Professional and vocational training programmes and institutions should be encouraged and assisted in developing human rights curricula by incorporating into formal education at the early childhood, primary, secondary, post-secondary and adult-education level.

The Civil Society including governmental organizations workers and employers organizations, labour unions, the mass-media, religious organizations, community organizations should be encouraged and assisted in developing and delivering such non-formal programmes, with the help of Governments and international donars and progrmmes.

Human Rights Education in India

In a developing society like India, where around twenty-six per cent of the population is living below the poverty line and around thirty-five percent of the population is illiterate and a large number of men and women are living a life of degradation and destitution, misery and suffering. Vast sections of Indian people continue to lead an undignified and uncongenial life. Most of the fundamental human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Indian Constitution have remained on paper and this compels many to re-think about India’s commitment and seriousness of these issues.

For the dissemination of human rights information or education, the Government of India has constituted a coordination committee, under the Chairmanship of the Home Secretary comprising of Secretaries of other ministers and department.  When the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was set up in September/October 1993, the Coordination Committee requested it to draft a national plan of action fort human rights education. Ths task was over in 2001, when the National Action Plan for Human Rights Education was finalized. The plan focused on strategies for human rights awareness- raising and sensitizing specific target groups such as, students, officers in the administration of justice etc.

Civil Society as well as the National Human Rights Commission is involved in the implementation of human rights education programmes. It was also reported that the secondary and higher education sector have undertaken certain activities relates to human rights education which includes the preparation of curriculum, revision of tax books and the development of a number of training modules for teachers in English, Hindi and local languages by the National Council of Teacher Education. The University Grants Commission also made provision of financial assistance to Universities and Colleges for the development of specific courses in human rights. The Indira Gandhi Open University also included human rights as a subject in its curriculum. The government and non-government agencies organize human rights workshops; human rights seminars for the academicians and officials to disseminate human rights information.

The above steps have been taken by the Indian Government towards formal education on human rights.  But in a country like India, where less than half of the population is illiterate, especially the vulnerable population is far away from such formal education.  Hence, human rights education must not be limited to formal schooling.  Many people live far away from any administrative centers and many more never attend school.  These people includes refugees, minorities, migrant workers, indigenous people, the disabled and the poor, are among the most powerless and vulnerable to abuse.  Such people have every right to know their rights.  Only by working in collaboration with these vulnerable groups can human rights educators (Government and Non-Government Agencies) develop programmes that accommodate their needs and situations.  The techniques of popular education music, street theatre, documentary films, comic books, alternative media, and itinerant story tellers can help to connect human rights to people’s lived experienced.

Human rights education does not mean only to learning about human rights that is information about its history, documents and implementation. It also means education for human rights understanding and embracing the principles of human equality and dignity and the commitment to respect and protect the rights of all people. The ultimate measure of human rights education is how people live their daily lives. To uphold their rights, the concerned citizens must start with human rights education in small places, close to home. On 60th anniversary of Universal declaration of Human Rights, stressing the need to disseminate knowledge, and awareness about human rights among the stakeholders, President of India, Smt. Prativa Patil, said that those people, who know their rights, stand the best chance of realizing them. She also asked the media and the NGOs to play an active role in this sphere. If human right institutions, civil society, government, media groups, Parliamentarians, the judiciary and opinion makers work in union and with dedication, the task of ensuring enjoyment of human rights by all will translate into reality.


D. B. Rao, ‘United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education’ Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi, 2004.

C. K. , Pathak, ‘ Human Rights Education’, Rajput Publications, New Delhi, 2004.
M. A. W. Chisti, ‘ Human Rights Education’ South Asia Politics, Vol. 3, Issue-, New Delhi, 8, December 2004 pp. 39-42.

Nancy Flowers, ’Human Rights education: What? For whom? And Why? Legal News, & Views A Social Action Trust Publications, Vol.13, No.6, June, 1999.

R. M. Pal, ‘State of Human Rights Education in India’, Mainstream, Vol. XXXVII, No. 39, New Delhi, September, 18, 1999.

B. N. Arora, ‘Human Rights: Continued Denial of Right to Life’, Mainstream; Vol. XLIII, No.51, New Delhi, December 2005.

Sonu Trivedi,’ Human Rights under Democracy’ Mainstream, Vol. XLI, No.52, New Delhi, December, 2003.

* Reader, Department of Political Science & Public Administration,  Sambalpur University, Jyoti Viahr:  768019 (Orissa)
**Lecturer, Department of Political Science & Public Administration,  Sambalpur University, Jyoti Viahr:  768019 (Orissa)