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Who is defending the defenders in India: Human Rights

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Reports have come in of an attack on Tribal Rights Activist and leader Soni Sori. Reports suggest that oil paint mixed with chemicals was thrown on her face by unknown assailants. This attack, which has left the activist in intense pain, and other reports of intimidation of persons such as lawyers and journalists working in the Jagdalpur area raises the question of the safety of human rights defenders and shows that there isn’t enough being done by the State machinery to defend the defenders.

Human rights defenders are those who work to protect or promote human rights. The State has an obligation to protect human rights defenders from violence, and also to create an enabling environment for them to work in. The phrase ‘human rights defenders’ been used increasingly since the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders was adopted in 1998. Though the Declaration is not a legally binding document, the roots of the State’s duty to protect the defenders can also be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India has ratified. These rights can also be derived from Indian Constitutional law, particularly the celebrated golden triangle of Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

We often refer to these defenders using many phrases such as ‘activists’ ‘monitors’ ‘development professionals’ etc. It is not necessary to be a person being paid to do full-time human rights work, to qualify as such defender, and many other professionals may be doing work that is strongly allied with rights of a human. For example journalists, doctors, teachers, or even engineers may, in the course of their work, promote or protect the human rights of people, and as such they are human rights defenders.

Further, it is not necessary to be correct to qualify as a human rights defender. For example, the criticism of a Human Rights Defender to a particular development project may not be legally correct. However, this does not and should not disentitle them to the protection of the State against violence and reprisals. The reason for this will become clear when we examine the role human rights defenders play in a society.

These Defenders face problems, in many parts of the world, and India is not an exception. Often the work being done by human rights defenders brings them in conflict with vested interests such as the land mafia, the mining lobby, or other corporations. A case in point is the story of Satyendra Dubey, an officer in the Indian Engineering Service, who lost his life due to exposing corruption in a highway construction project.

At other times, the advocacy done by them requires them to be critical of the State action including in areas where there is considerable unrest. Given that human rights essentially are rights that people hold against the state (most civil and political rights) or rights that the state is required to nurture (most social and economic rights), it is not surprising that the criticism of State action forms a large part of the work done in human rights advocacy.

This gives room for propaganda that human rights defenders or NGOs are ‘anti-development’ or even ‘anti-national’. It leads to them facing the wrath of more draconian security legislations, or attacks on them by vested interests. It is very easy to make the mistake of thinking ‘Why should we use state resources to protect those who are critical of the State? The obvious answer, is that the State may not always be correct.

Given the great power state and corporate entities enjoy, their ability to make mistakes if unchecked is also correspondingly large. A hard reckoning of the work done by human rights defenders shows that they act as an essential check and balance on the State, and throw light on existing state-industry nexus, to protect the rights of people.

The State derives its legitimacy from an implicit contract with its citizens, which necessitates a mechanism to check that the State adheres to this contract, and this is a function carried out by the human rights defenders. In this sense, human rights defenders are necessary for a healthy functioning democracy.

The Whistle-blower’s Protection Act of 2011 addresses some of these concerns by protecting those who expose corruption by public servants. India, however, needs a comprehensive legislation to protect the rights of these defenders.

Cases of harassment that is faced by RTI Activists, LGBTQ Activists, as well as Human Rights Defenders who work for the rights of Tribals and Scheduled Caste Persons has been documented  by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, as well as the National Human Rights Commission. The gravity of these hurdles faced can extend from harassment, illegal detention, custodial torture, to grievous hurt or murder (including what is known as ‘RTI killings’). In this environment, it becomes difficult for human rights defenders to do their work without fearing for the physical safety of themselves and their families.

While there are general laws that can be (and are) used to protect these defenders, but those working for the enactment of a special law argue that the role of the law is also to play a certain ‘normative, expressive and educative’ function. By this, they mean that a special law to protect human rights defenders will also confer legitimacy on the work that they are doing, and create an enabling environment where they may do so peacefully.

Of course, the enactment of a special law is not adequate to ensure the protection of human rights defenders. It has to go hand in hand with better law and order, better legal services in areas where these defenders work, transparency in governance, toleration of dissent by the State machinery, and continued proactive action by the Focal Point for the protection of Human Rights Defenders, at the National Human Rights Commission.

This focal point is involved in providing assistance to such Rights defenders, and following alleged violations of their rights. Although there has been greater collaboration between the NHRC and Human Rights defenders, much needs to be done to ensure that defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment.

This article was first published at Kafila.org. Srishti Agnihotri is a lawyer appearing in Trial Courts and the Delhi High Court, and has been involved in research and advocacy on women’s rights and child rights. She completed her Masters in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame, USA.

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India to Launch Electronic Intelligence Satellite Soon

In January, the space agency launched a defence imaging satellite Microsat R for the DRDO

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TESS, rover, NASA, mercuryKeplar, NASA
TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is shown in this conceptual illustration obtained by Reuters on March 28, 2018. NASA sent TESS into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. VOA

India on April 1 will launch an electronic intelligence satellite Emisat for the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) along with 28 third party satellites and also demonstrate its new technologies like three different orbits with a new variant of PSLV rocket, ISRO said on Saturday.

According to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a new variant of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket will first put the 436 kg Emisat into a 749 km orbit.

After that, the rocket will be brought down to put into orbit the 28 satellites at an altitude of 504 km.

This will be followed by bringing the rocket down further to 485 km when the fourth stage/engine will turn into a payload platform carrying three experimental payloads: (a) Automatic Identification System (AIS) from ISRO for Maritime satellite applications capturing messages transmitted from ships (b) Automatic Packet Repeating System (APRS) from AMSAT (Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation), India – to assist amateur radio operators in tracking and monitoring position data and (c) Advanced Retarding Potential Analyser for Ionospheric Studies (ARIS) from Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) – for the structural and compositional studies of ionosphere, the space agency said.

The whole flight sequence will take about 180 minutes from the rocket’s lift off slated at 9.30 a.m. on April 1.

The 28 international customer satellites (24 from US, 2 from Lithuania and one each from Spain and Switzerland)- will weigh about 220 kg.

OSIRIS-REx, NASA, Asteroid bennu
Satellite To Conduct Biological Experiments In Space, Plans Space Kidz India. VOA

“It is a special mission for us. We will be using a PSLV rocket with four strap-on motors. Further, for the first time we will be trying to orbit the rocket at three different altitudes,” ISRO Chairman K. Sivan had earlier told IANS.

The PSLV is a four-stage engine expendable rocket with alternating solid and liquid fuel.

In its normal configuration, the rocket will have six strap-on motors hugging the rocket’s first stage.

On January 24, the ISRO flew a PSLV with two strap-on motors while in March, it had four strap-on motors.

The Indian space agency also has two more PSLV variants, viz Core Alone (without any strap-on motors) and the larger PSLV-XL.

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The ISRO selects the kind of rocket to be used based on the weight of satellites it carries.

The ISRO will also be launching two more defence satellites sometime in July or August with its new rocket Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV).

In January, the space agency launched a defence imaging satellite Microsat R for the DRDO. (IANS)