Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Who’s Human Rights?

I was recently in France at a Seminar on Human Rights. The focus of the conference was to examine the current trends in Europe and Asia regarding the criminal justice systems. And how can the effectiveness of the respect and protection of Human Rights in the Criminal Justice Systems be evaluated? What rights must be observed in pre-trial procedure and detention? In what stages of trail are human rights violations more likely to occur and how can these vulnerabilities be addressed. Is the number of prisoners increasing? How effective are the existing measures for social reinsertion? Are his/ her rights as a citizen diminished in prison? Hence the main objective of the seminar was to discuss ways of better protecting human rights in the various stages of criminal justice systems. With specific focus on identifying trends on how individual rights are being protected in two continents; find common priorities in meeting international human rights standards on pre-trial, trial, post-trial as well as sentencing /punishment. And then formulate recommendations for relevant institutions at a national level, regional and inter-regional level. I was invited to be a keynote speaker on the plenary day. And I am quite certain that I was perhaps the only person from the police profession therefore probably had a different perspective. The conference was over flowing with eminent lawyers, judges, non profit organizations, academia, and other human rights activists. I posited some basic questions before the participants which have been agitating me for all these years and assumed a sense of urgency in current times of brutal terror attacks.. Here is the one question I posited before the august gathering- “Who is looking at the rights of the victims”? For the victim/s is suffering in innumerable ways. Be it by loss of life or his possessions; children getting orphaned; dependent families their earning members; country losing precious resources; investors their hard earned life savings; aging parents their most loved ones; and in assault on women, permanent scars of rape on their mind and body? And what about the endless wait for the prosecution and the trials? Accused is mostly on bail and in serious cases may be in jail. But so are the victims and the witnesses. Sometimes delayed trials help the accused to wear out the victims. And at times the accused too lose by delayed trials. But the fact is that in every case there are victims and victims. The accused with muscle and money power is open to hire expensive legal support while the victim is dependent on the over worked government prosecutor. Undoubtedly there are issues of rights on both sides. But how can we ignore one at the cost of the other? Who is speaking for the victim created by the accused? The same police who are always under pressure to deliver, despite huge constraints. The accused has a right to be quiet; defended, medically cared for; legally protected; safely lodged; even educated and reformed; to the extent that he can study and take an examination and qualify for the UPSC examination. What about the good cops who are exhausted, tired, ill equipped, most of the time no money to travel and dispose off the corpses.---When we want the maximum out of the police for the protection of human rights of the accused, (which they must), who will address their right to appropriate resources; legal support; forensics, better availability of information technology; laws, training, fitness; departmental support, material support, newer skills; their security; modern weaponry; living conditions; family and their children needs; their future? I am in no way proposing lowering of standards of human rights of the accused. They must have a right to all humane treatment and legal defense for us to remain a civilized society. All I am asking for is for how long will we continue to ignore the hapless victims who are left to themselves, scarred, injured, maimed, orphaned, deprived, impoverished, neglected, isolated, defamed? Who is going to walk the talk, legislate and implement victim’s rights? We need a more comprehensive approach to human rights and human responsibilities. We cannot just begin and end with the accused. We have to address the serious issue with that of the Accused+ Victim. In order to do that we have to dissect all the criminal justice and social processes which are impacting our trust in the justice systems? The A+V+CS, i.e. Accused +Victim +Civil Society is looking for speedy and effective justice. All three are, ‘we the people’. And amongst us are the accused and victims. But we as a society are also the resource providers as also problem solvers. We need to put out heads together to take these issues head on and strike a careful balance. Any thinking forum which ignores holistic comprehension of human rights may just be aggravating or postponing the problem while believing it is solving it.