The National Human Rights Commission came into existence with the Protection of Human Rights Act 1999 which was subsequently amended in 2012. Human Rights have been defined therein as rights and freedoms referred to in Chapter II of the Constitution which include protection of right to personal liberty, protection from inhuman treatment, provisions to secure protection of law and protection of freedom of expression.

Section of 3A of the Act elaborates on the functions of the Commission which are inter alia to; promote and protect human rights, review the factors or difficulties that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights, submit to the Minister any opinion, recommendation, proposal or report on any matter concerning the promotion and protection of human rights, prepare reports on the national situation with regard to human rights in general, inform the Minister of situations of violation of human rights and advise on ways in which such situations can be ended and publicize human rights and efforts to combat all forms of discrimination by increasing public awareness.

Section 3B of the Act sets up the Human Rights Division of the National Human Rights Commission which  has as functions to enquire into any written complaint from any person alleging that any of his human rights has been, is being or is likely to be violated by the act or omission of any other person acting in the performance of any public function conferred by any law or otherwise in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public body and where it has reason to believe that an act or omission such as is referred to has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur, of its own motion enquire into the matter.

Section 11 of the Act puts an obligation on the Commission to submit not later than 31 March in each year to submit a report on its activities and those of its Divisions during the preceding year to the President who shall cause same to be laid before the Assembly and may, at any other time, submit a special report on any matter which, in its opinion, is of such urgency or importance that it should not be deferred until submission of the annual report.

According to section 2 of the Act, “Minister” is defined as the Minister to whom responsibility for the subject of human rights is assigned. It is apposite to note that as per the current list of Cabinet Ministers, the subject of human rights has not been assigned to any specific Minister. This clearly shows a complete lack of consideration given to human rights. It would be interesting to know both from the Government and the Commission how the latter is expected to fulfill its statutory obligations, under section 3A of the Act, towards the Minister to whom the subject of human rights has been assigned there being no such Minister.

The United States Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2015 for Mauritius was published few days back. The following is the highlight of the report: The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government; but enforcement was inconsistent and sometimes politically motivated, resulting in the appearance of impunity. The report goes on to state that there was at least one report the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing referring to the death of Iqbal Toofanny. Referring to the arrest of Pazhany Thandrayen, attorney at law, the report mentions that our Constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always respect these rights. The report then mentions the allegations made by two French businessmen against Pravind Jugnauth, Roshi Bhadain and Ravi Yerrigadoo to the effect that the latter held them against their will in the country for three weeks. These are damming facts mentioned by the US Country Report and we have not heard a single word from the National Human Rights Commission. The Commission has wide powers and functions under the law and it is the institution that has the responsibility of protecting Human Rights in the country. Yet, it remained a silent by stander in front of these obvious breaches of Human Rights. The staff of the Commission is paid out of tax payers money and they should be accountable for each cent they receive as salary/allowance.

The US country report makes mention of drawbacks of the Commission  like the country  not having an ombudsman to represent prisoners and  they being allowed to submit complaints to judicial authorities and the National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) without restriction; however this mechanism was reportedly inactive, the NHRC having the authority to investigate allegations of police abuse and referring such cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the NHRC not taking this course and the fact that the Commission last released a report in 2013. The report, however, mentions that the NHRC had adequate resources. So, the Commission cannot hide behind the excuse that it does not have adequate resources to function properly and efficiently.

Last year, I personally wrote to the Commission to complain about the increase of arbitrary arrests and the abuse being made by the police of provisional charges. I was received by the Commission and informed that my complaint is receivable and that a meeting would be arranged with the Chairperson upon his return from an official mission. One year has elapsed and I am still waiting. Perhaps, the Chairperson has not yet found time out of his international obligations. But, the Commission cannot turn a deaf ear to members of the public complaining that there is seldom any follow up of their complaints. It has also been reported that alleged victims of police brutality have been treated like accused parties by the Commission.

Unless it is not to our knowledge but as far as I can recollect, the Commission has neither submitted to the Minister any opinion, recommendation, proposal or report on any matter concerning the promotion and protection of human rights nor has it informed the Minister of situations of violation of human rights and advise on ways in which such situations can be ended pursuant to section 3A of the Act. Basing ourselves on the assertion of the US Country Report that the Commission last released a report in 2013, the latter would be in breach of section 11 of the Act, which puts an obligation to submit a report on the activities of the Commission and its Divisions not later than the 31 March in each year.

If the National Human Rights Commission cannot fulfill its statutory obligations, if we have to rely on another country’s report to know about the Human Rights situation in our country and if reports from foreign jurisdictions highlight blatant shortcomings of the Commission, we can only ask ourselves, has the National Human Rights Commission become a white elephant?

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