How are human rights defined in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 ?

In terms of Section 2 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (hereafter referred to as Act), “human rights” means the rights relating to life,liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed under the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforced by courts in India.
“International Covenants” means the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 16th December, 1966.

The commission shall, perform all or any of the following functions, namely:-
(a) Inquire, on its own initiative or on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on his behalf, into complaint of:-
(i) Violation of human rights or abetment thereof; or
(ii) Negligence in the prevention of such violation by a public servant;
(b) Intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human right pending before a court with the approval of such court;
(c) Visit, under intimation to the State Government, any jail or any other institution of the State Government, where persons are detained or lodged for purposes of treatment reformation or protection for the study of the living condition of the inmates and make recommendation thereon to Government.
(d) Review the safeguards provided by or under the Constitution or any law for the time being in force for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation
(e) Review the factors, including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend appropriate remedial measures;
(f) Study treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommend for their effective implementation;
(g) Undertake and promote research in the field of human rights;
(h) Spread human rights literacy among various sections of society and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, the media seminars and other available means;
(i) Encourage the efforts of non-Governmental organizations and institutions working in the field of human rights;
(j) Such other functions as it may consider necessary for the protection of human rights.

While inquiring into complaints under the Act, the Commission shall have all the power of court trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and in particular the following matters (a) Summoning and enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath
(b) Discovery and production of any document;
(c) Receiving evidence on affidavits;
(d) Requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office;
(e) Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents;
(f) Any other matter which may be prescribed

The Commission has its own investigating staff headed by a Director Investigation for investigation into complaints of human rights violations. Under the Act, it is open for the Commission to utilize the services of any officer or investigation agency of the State Government.

The autonomy of the Commission derives, inter-alia, from the method of appointment of its Chairperson and Members, their fixity of tenure, and statutory guarantees thereto, the status they have been accorded and the manner in which the staff responsible to the Commission including its investigative agency will be appointed and conduct themselves. The financial autonomy of the Commission is spelt out in Section 32 of the Act. The Chairperson and Member of the Commission are appointed by the Governor on the basis of recommendations of a Committee comprising the Chief Minister as the Chairperson, the Home Minister, the speaker of the Assembly and the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly as members.

The Commission while inquiring into complaints of violations of human rights may call for information or report from the State Government or any organization subordinate thereto, within such time as may be specified by it; provided if the information or report is not received within the time stipulated by the Commission, it may proceed to inquire into the complaint on its own; on the other hand, if, on receipt of information the Commission is satisfied either that no further inquiry is required or that the required action has been initiated or taken by the concerned Government or authority, it may not proceed with the complaint and inform the complainant accordingly.

The Commission may take any of the following steps upon the completion of an inquiry.
(1) Where the inquiry discloses commission of violation of human right or negligence in the prevention of violation of human rights by a public servant, it may recommend to concerned Government or authority the initiation or proceedings for prosecution or such other action as the Commission may deem fit against the concerned person or persons;
(2) Approach the High Court concerned for such directions, orders or writs as that Court may deem necessary;
(3) Recommend to the concerned Government or authority for the grant of such immediate necessary relief to the victim or the members of his family as the Commission may consider.

They may be in Oriya, English or Hindi. The complaints are expected to be self-contained. No fee is charged on complaints. The Commission may ask for further information and affidavits to be filed in support of allegation wherever considered necessary. The Commission may in its discretion, accept telegraphic complaints and complaints conveyed through FAX or by e-mail. Complaints can also be made on mobile telephone number of the Commission.

Ordinarily, complaints of the following nature are not entertained by the Commission.
(a) In regard to events which happened more than one year before the making of the complaints;
(b) With regard to matters which are sub-judice;
(c) Which are vague, anonymous or pseudonymous;
(d) Which are of frivolous nature;
(e) Which pertain to service matters.

The authority/State Government has to indicate its comment/action taken on the report / recommendations of the Commission within a period of one month in respect of general complaints.

Since its inception, the Commission has handled a variety of types of complaints. Lately the major types of complaints have been:
In respect of police administration
Failure in taking action
Unlawful detention
False implication
Custodial violence
Illegal arrest
Other police excesses
Custodial deaths
Encounter deaths
Harassment of prisoners; jail conditions
Atrocities on SCs and STs
Bonded labour, child labour
Sexual harassment and indignity to women, exploitation of women
Numerous other complaints which cannot be categorized, have also been taken by us.

Inquiring into complaints is one of the major activities of the Commission. In several instances individual complaints have led the Commission to the generic issues involved in violation of rights and enabled it to move the concerned authorities for systemic improvements. However, the Commission also actively seeks out issues in human rights which are of significance either suo-motu, or when brought to its notice by the civil society, the media, concerned citizens, expert advisers. Its focus is to strengthen the extension of human rights to all sections of society in particular, the vulnerable groups.