Media role in promoting human rights culture important: Balakrishnan

Former Chief Justice of India, Justice KG Balakrishnan, on Thursday appealed to and urged the media to play a more active and significant role in promoting human rights culture across all spectrum of society.

New Delhi: Former Chief Justice of India, Justice KG Balakrishnan, on Thursday appealed to and urged the media to play a more active and significant role in promoting human rights culture across all spectrum of society.

Delivering the inaugural address at a workshop on "Media and Human Rights: Issues and Challenges" at the Indian Law Institute here, Justice Balakrishnan said he was particularly concerned about the lack of information and awareness among the citizens of the country about their economic rights, and said the media would do well to focus on this issue more actively.

"The aim of this workshop and other activities conducted and promoted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is to sensitize all stakeholders, including the media, towards human rights issues," said Justice Balakrishnan.

He also spoke about the need for protecting child and gender rights, and making all sections of society more aware of what they were entitled to as per these rights under the Indian Constitution and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

As far as the protection of child rights was concerned, he talked about malnutrition and the need for the country to take steps to reduce it.

With regard to gender rights, he made a specific reference to Sections 164A, 164B,354A, 370, 372 and 375 of the IPC. He said these Sections contained detailed descriptions of how law enforcement agencies were to respond to victims of gender discrimination and violence, and also what steps could be taken against the latter if they did not follow the instructions given in these Sections to the letter as per the laws of the land.

Thanking the media and non-government organisations for being the "antennas" of society in highlighting human rights violations, and bringing them to the notice of the NHRC, Mr. Justice Balakrishnan said that the NHRC has been able to take "suo moto" action in most of these cases as a result.

"We have dealt with more than one lakh complaints last year, and about 99,000 so far this year. We have taken 300 suo moto actions last year thanks to the media and NGOs, and we will continue to take suo moto actions as and when they arise. However, the NHRC needs more teeth and more funds to discharge its functions more effectively. This is not to say that it is not being able to do so now," the former Supreme Court chief justice said.

"I would also appeal to the media to verify facts related to a case or cases before reporting on them. This will help the NHRC to perform its role more positively. The NHRC is a recommendatory body and the government respects the recommendations made by it," he added.

The inaugural session was also addressed by JS Kochher, Joint Secretary (T and R) of the NHRC.

Kochher sought to define human rights culture and need for promoting it, and sensitizing all stakeholders towards human rights issues.

He said human rights culture was an environment where people and citizens felt secure about their lives, and their right to liberty, where they were not afraid of the police, not afraid about false cases being registered against them, and assured that they would be protected by the law from anti-social elements.

This culture was not just about safeguard of civil and political rights, but went much beyond in terms of scope, he added.

He also spoke about the NHRC initiatives on the issue of protecting the rights of bonded labour in India, as also the rights of people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes communities.

Dr Manoj Kumar Sinha, Director of the Indian Law Institute, who delivered the opening remarks at the workshop, spoke about the several activities of the NHRC and the responsibility that it had given to the ILI to promote awareness of human rights as per directives enshrined in the UN-sponsored Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of India.

He said that the role of the media in safeguarding and promoting human rights is contained in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as also in the Indian Constitution. By Ashok Dixit.

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