I am honored to address this distinguished gathering. I congratulate the Bar Association of India and Law Asia for bringing together leading minds in law and public policy in India, Asia Pacific and from around the world.
It is a matter of pride for the nation that last October, India has been re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN’s top human rights body from the Asia Pacific category.
The emphatic and conclusive win with the support of 188 out of 193 votes confirms India’s standing in the international community and its commitment to a human rights regime.
This is the third time that India has been elected to the UNHRC having served successful three-year tenures between 2011-2014 and 2014-2017.
As we remind ourselves of the journey made so far, we must not lose sight of all that which is yet to be accomplished.
Developments, domestic and international, have brought human rights issues to the center stage yet again.
The emerging challenges of human rights have shown that it is not just south Asia, the Asia pacific or the neighboring regions, associated in the popular imagination with a people languishing at the cusp of development, facing urgent human rights crises.
It is equally, though differently, a serious cause of concern in Europe as well as the United States.
India’s commitment to the preservation and protection of human rights continues to be unequivocal.
A signatory to several international instruments such as the UN Human Rights and International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966; International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1966; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979; Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989; and the Conventions on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Racial Discrimination, Forced Labour, and Equal Remuneration, India has constantly strived towards bringing its laws in line with its international commitments.
The contribution of the Indian Supreme Court as a vanguard of human rights in the country has pushed the envelope in constitutional and rights jurisprudence in the country.
Since the Emergency, the Indian Supreme Court has emerged as a relentless protector of the rights regime, setting an example for the top constitutional courts of the Asia Pacific Region.
As the sentinel qui vive, the Indian Supreme Court, has fought to secure inalienable, human rights to our citizens.
The jurisprudence of the Court in expanding the scope and ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution of India—the right to life and personal liberty—is a standing testament to the Court’s role as a fierce guardian of human rights.
I am delighted to learn that the 1st LAWASIA Human Rights Conference hosted stalwarts from the Supreme Court of India.
India as a developing nation is focused on achieving second-generation human rights, to borrow the Supreme Court’s phraseology.
The Czech jurist, Karel Vasak’s proposition of three generations of human rights contemplates progressive realization of rights by the State. While first generation rights are largely civil and political in nature, second generation rights are economic, social and cultural in nature. The right to social security, housing, health care are a few examples of these rights.
The Government of India in the last four years, keeping in mind its role as a welfare state, has initiated several schemes to secure these rights.
A joint initiative of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development, the ‘Beti Bacchao Beti Padhao’’ I would think, is foremost in achieving this goal.
This is being implemented through a national campaign and focused multi sectoral action in all States and Union Territories to improve CSR
I believe it will also address women empowerment at a systemic level.
A holistic approach striking at the root of social constructs that proliferate discrimination against the girl child is at the heart of this initiative. This is being implemented through a national campaign and focussed multi sectoral action in 100 selected districts low in CSR, covering all States and Union Territories. I believe it is foundational to enable the girl child with an education and to address women empowerment at a systemic level.
Another noteworthy scheme in this direction is the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana.’ An initiative to secure financial inclusion to bring about affordable and easy access to financial services to weaker sections and lower income groups with the effective use of technology, this scheme, at its roots, is directed at achieving the right to social security.
These are only a few of the schemes of the Government of India that are directed at securing second generational human rights to the citizens of the country. Of course, this is a continuing process and emerging challenges have to be dealt with holistically and convincingly.
I am confident that in the coming years, the Government of India through the effective employment of efficient means of technology will be able to address issues arising out of the fulfillment of these rights.
Today’s world is witnessing an unprecedented wave of terrorism and extremism resulting in needless violence.
This violence is one of the worst forms of violation of human rights. Such violation of human rights has no place in a democracy because democracy essentially is about protection of fundamental rights of each individual. Ironically, some activist groups tend to adopt a paradoxically ambivalent attitude on human rights.
They either defend or maintain silence regarding the violation of human rights by the violent groups and are ready to condemn law- enforcing, peace-promoting, firm action by the State. This dual stand is untenable.
Violence or terror in any form and perpetrated by any one against any individual or group should be condemned and dealt with firmly as per the laws of the land.
Coming back to the intersection of law and human rights, I cannot help but state with immense happiness, as a student of the law, that the Supreme Court has made great strides in human rights jurisprudence in the country.
Some of the leading members of the bar are present in the audience and their contribution to the development of human rights in our country cannot be ignored.
Law is a tool for social change and our constitutional courts are through the innovation of public interest litigation addressing a myriad of issues concerning the rights of citizens in the country.
The combined efforts of the Government of India and the constitutional courts have contributed to the achievement of the constitutional goals.
However, we also need to constantly remind ourselves that the framers of our constitution had clearly demarcated the powers and functions of the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.
The delicate balance between all the three wings should be maintained at all times and nobody should encroach into the domain of others. Wheels of democracy will run smoothly as long as each wing functions within its demarcated domain and not overstep into other’s jurisdiction.
I am certain that this Conference has provided a platform for us to collectively reflect on what measures can be taken institutionally as well as individually to address human rights concerns and challenges. The sessions on Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights and New Technology and Human Rights have been very enriching.
These are areas where nation-states are treading uncharted territory and I am confident that the discussions during this conference have elevated the discourse related to these areas.
Before concluding, I would like to once again express immense pleasure in presiding over this momentous initiative by LAWASIA in conjunction with the Bar Association of India.
I am confident that the debates, deliberations and discussions during these two days will help formulate fresh ideas and challenge existing perspectives in the approach to human rights advocacy.
I extend my heartfelt felicitation to LAWASIA and the Bar Association of India, the delegates, and dignitaries present at this international human rights conference.
I congratulate the organizers for the successful conduct of conference and hope subsequent editions of this conference are held annually in the region to foster the spirit of respect for all human life and our natural environment.