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Minorities & rights

Published : Jan 28, 2011 00:00 IST

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Two books that will empower activists and hopefully alleviate, if not eradicate, legal illiteracy wherever it might exist.

IN the realm of human rights, knowledge is very much power. Every day new issues crop up which demand ingenious legal remedies beyond the ken of the run-of-the-mill lawyer. Together these two erudite works will go a long way to empower human rights activists. They would help in resolving the imaginary conflict between minority rights and human rights. The rights of minorities as collective entities are recognised in the Constitution of India (Articles 29 and 3) and in the United Nation's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 27). India is a party to this covenant and over the years successive Attorneys-General have appeared before the Human Rights Committee established by the covenant to defend before it India's record on the observance of human rights such as it is.

On December 2, 2010, a Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices D.K. Jain, P. Sathasivam and Aftab Alam, took strong exception to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) moving the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva on the Godhra riots. The court's reaction was justified if an international forum is activated on a matter pending before the court. But none, not even the court, has any right to object to recourse to international fora for redress of violations of human rights. The remark What is the business of the international body was therefore utterly wrong. The state of human rights in Britain is vastly superior to that in India as is the legal equipment and understanding of the House of Lords. No exception is taken there, however, if a citizen who loses a case before the highest court, the House of Lords, moves the European Court of Human Rights and secures a favourable verdict, for example, in the famous Sunday Times case.

Sadly, in India the claims of nationalism win over those of human rights while the very concept of minorities' rights is challenged by some. That is why the BJP strongly advocated replacement of the Minorities Commission by a Human Rights Commission though Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani were members of the Janata Party government which set it up. Now both bodies perform independently and fitfully: a minority which oppresses a dissenter or heretic violates his human rights.

The law and its practice have moved far beyond the ken of many and it keeps growing. Two recent offshoots are international humanitarian law and international criminal law. The volume on international human rights covers the Supreme Court might note international protection of human rights as well. For good measure, the role of non-state actors, the impact of terrorism and environmental degradation are also covered. So are human rights and poverty in the global economy. Violation of human rights is an international wrong and a legitimate concern of the international community. Essays on the topics are written by acknowledged experts. They will empower the activists and hopefully alleviate if not eradicate legal illiteracy also wherever it might exist.

The volume on political participation of minorities goes beyond the usual studies on legal rights. It covers the basic reality political empowerment. That can come only with political participation of minorities in public life, actively and over religious or regional divides. The volume is published under the auspices of the European Centre for Minority Issues and the Centre of International Studies of the University of Cambridge. Here again, contributors of essays on diverse aspects are scholars of recognised competence. Particularly instructive is Emma Lautschner's essay on minority participation in the international reporting and monitoring process.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jan 28, 2011.)

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