The ultimate decision on whether a human rights treaty should be ratified rests in most countries with the Parliament. Ratification renders the international human rights norms guaranteed in a treaty legally effective in the ratifying country and obliges it to report to the international community on measures adopted to align its legislation with treaty norms. For parliamentarians to fulfil their obligations as guardians of human rights, it is essential that they are fully familiar with the country’s constitution and the State’s human rights obligations and are provided with adequate resources. This section contains the content of human rights in Indian Law and international obligations in which India has agreed to follow.

Human Rights in Indian Law

The Constitution

The constitution of India is distinctive for its commitment to provide full political, economic, social, and cultural rights to all its citizens irrespective of caste, creed, religion or race. The significance of India’s constitution is also immense for its mixed policy adoption on liberal and socialistic norms of governance. The idea of the welfare state enshrined in the spirit of the Indian constitution’s Preamble is another significant feature of Indian democracy. Since its independence, many acts, laws, and amendments have been passed to initiate, enhance and guarantee the peoples’ rights. Examples are the Panchayati Raj system, Right to Information Act and Right to Education. However, there are several resultant limitations concerning the level of implementation of these rights. There continues to be violation of human rights and non-implementation of socio-economic programs.

The Protection of Human Rights Act

The Protection on Human Rights Act was passed in September 1993 by the Indian Parliament. The Act was passed to provide an independent and autonomous National Human Rights Commission, State Human Rights Commission in States and Human Rights Courts for better protection of human rights in India. The National Human Rights Commission is an autonomous statutory body which main task is to protect and promote human rights in India. The Commission is in line with the Paris Principles, a set of international guidelines for national human rights institutions. It should act as a national monitoring mechanism for human rights and serve the Indian public as a means to be protected from human rights abuses. The Human Rights Act define human rights as “rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India”.

International Obligations

The International Bill of Human Rights

The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (1966), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966).

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on the 10th of December, 1948 consists of 30 articles and establishes international norms on human rights in which every human being is entitled. The declaration is not a legally binding document, but builds the foundation of several international treaties, regional and international human rights instruments and national constitutions and laws. After the Second World War, the United Nations Charter reaffirmed “faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person” and committed all member states to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is an expression of this reaffirmation, and today it stands as the most important document in human rights philosophy and practice. The two first articles secure that all human beings are entitled to the rights, and that they under no circumstances should be violated.

Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. Article 2: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinctions of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty”.

The following 27 articles states the basic human rights, including the right to life, freedom of speech, protection of the law, freedom of though, conscience and religion, while the last article holds that no member state may use the Declaration as a means to destruct any of the rights set forth in the document. In the Declaration’s preamble, all States commit to proclamation that

THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction”.

India was one of the 48 original member countries adopting the Declaration. As a result, India must follow the 30 articles in the document, and work to protect and promote the human rights. Furthermore, the Declaration has formed the basis of two covenants which are both legally binding documents, respectively the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) were first set forth in 1954. However, it was a long process before the two covenants finally entered into force in 1976. India has ratified both treaties, which means that the country has obliged to follow the rights established in the document. The ICESCR commits its parties to work toward the granting of economic, social and cultural rights to individuals, including labour rights and rights to health, education, and an adequate standard of living. The covenant is monitored by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The ICCPR commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial. The covenant is monitored by the Human Rights Committee.

India ratified both the ICESCR and the ICCPR in 1979 and is thus committed to follow both covenants. Through ratification of international human rights treaties, Governments undertake to put into place domestic measures and legislation compatible with their treaty obligations and duties. India did this in 1993, through the Protection of Human Rights Act. Where domestic legal proceedings fail to address human rights abuses, mechanisms and procedures for individual complaints or communications are available at the regional and international levels to help ensure that international human rights standards are indeed respected, implemented, and enforced at the local level.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG)

The MDGs from 2000 consist of eight goals in which the member states of the UN, including India, have pledged to meet the goals by 2015. The MDGs are not legally binding, but international goals in which the member states should strive to achieve in a common global effort. The MDGs are as follows: reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than one dollar a day and who suffer from hunger; achieve universal primary education for all boys and girls; reduce child mortality by two thirds; reduce the maternal mortality rate by three quarters; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases; ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.