Wisdom from Without: J.S. Verma

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Human Rights in the UK

For all our histories, faiths and civilizations, it was unanimously resolved at the World Conference in Vienna in 1993, that it is the overarching task and responsibility of all nation States to ensure ‘all human rights for all’: civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights. Tranquility in the global village depends upon all these rights, which are bound together by a seamless thread.

It is well known that human rights though ‘universal’ are not universally recognized and honoured. This aberration has to be overcome.

Such is the magnitude of the task that if equity and justice are to prevail, governments, national institutions and civil society must work in unison. If human rights are to be promoted and protected, which is possible, governments, national institutions and civil society must ensure all their activities are underpinned with a dedication to the promotion of not just peace, but development.

It is for this reason that the newly established national human rights institutions (NHRIs) must be strengthened, as it is this that can facilitate the promotion of socio-economic rights. As has been shown in similar jurisdictions that follow the common law regime, such as India, such an endeavor can substantially strengthen the human rights culture.

The common purpose uniting the Indian Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission has strengthened the status of socio-economic rights in particular. In the modern day, rights extend beyond merely life and liberty, to the rights of development; through co-operation, these rights have become justicable by guiding judges’ decisions.

The recent constitutional changes in the UK, such as the Human Rights Act 1998, has given the country greater scope to benefit from a common endeavor between its government, national human rights institutions and civil society. But the Human Rights Act alone falls short. The UK too could benefit from such a development of socio-economic rights, using them as principles to guide judicial decision-making. And stronger NHRIs can help to achieve this.

Moreover, in India state responsibility has been held to extend to the protection of the basic human rights even of non-citizens – and a strong British national human rights institution could ensure this principle of the Human Rights Act is maintained, whatever the rabble rousing of some conservative politicians and tabloids.

The British tradition of recognizing rights commencing with the Magna Carta means it is well equipped to cope with the transition to a stronger and better expanded rights tradition. Despite vested interests, a changing British constitution must engage to ensure that ‘all human rights for all’ really can apply.

-J. S. Verma

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The writer is a former Chief Justice of India & Chairperson, NHRC of India