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Human Rights Day 10th Dec, 2002

National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi, India

NHRC Home Page

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Speech delivered by H.E. The President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

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Statement of Justice Shri J.S. Verma, Chairperson

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Message of the UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan




Speech Delivered by H.E. The President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

at the Human Rights Day Function held at Vigyan Bhavan, NEW DELHI, 10th December 2002


"Empowered Human Life"


I am indeed delighted to participate in this function to mark the Human Rights Day. I congratulate the National Human Rights Commission for having organized such an important function.         I have been visiting various states and meeting children and people of all walks of life including those who have been affected by communal clashes, poverty and un-employment.  Is the perception of human being different when looked from an individual, national or global angle?    The future wars are rarely going to be between nations.      But it will be between nations and smaller groups. There will only Proxy wars.   Today,  human rights are being attacked in such proxy wars beyond humanitarian levels.  

Today’s world in 21st century is being haunted by the international terrorism which is worse than the Kalinga War and Second World War for the reason that it subjugates fear and insecurity   in   the   entire   human   community.  We   have   been
 repeatedly witnessing such human rights violations: during the WTC attack, during the Moscow theater siege, during the Indonesian Bali hotel attack, during an attack on the Indian Parliament and also during several attacks on various places in India.   Though they may not be visible to the world, it takes away precious lives, leaving children orphaned and enormous pain to the families.   Also, during several plane hijacks and more so while mightier countries declaring wars unilaterally ignoring United Nations.  What are we doing, the great creations of God?  Is it possible to realize a society in which enlightened standard human being is a reality?   Kalinga war waged by the Emperor Asoka brought death to three lakhs of  people and millions  injured. But it gave birth to ahimsa dharma.    Second world war resulted in nuclear warfare,  killing millions of people but gave birth to United Nations.  Code of war ethics and human rights in war was evolved symbolizing the elevation of human civilization standards and concern for fellow human beings.  Unlike conventional wars, where war ethics have been defined in Geneva convention, in proxy wars, code of conduct is not in sight. But innocent human beings do get caught in the crossfire and die. Will the planet earth at any time see a no-war situation at least in future? It is indeed a big question.  With this background can we evolve the creation of an enlightened standard human being?   

A.  Standard Human Being  

            The evolution of human society has followed the path from agricultural society to industrial, information and the present day knowledge society.  In agricultural and industrial society, humans and machines  dominated the warfare.  In the information and knowledge society, intellectual capacity would dominate.  Intellectual domination is represented by ideologies, principles and faiths.  Whenever they cross paths between individuals, societies and nations, the human rights are violated.  The suffocation and loss of human rights by the present generation of people due to the backwardness induced economic status or pushed down by caste differentiation or frustrated by denial of timely justice  at affordable cost is the right cauldron from which revolution will start giving birth to standard human being.   When the child is empowered by the parents, at various phases of growth, the child gets transformed into a responsible citizen. When the teacher is empowered with knowledge and experience, good young human beings with value systems take shape. When individual or a team is empowered with technology, transformation to higher potential for achievement is assured. When the leader of any institution empowers his or her people, leaders are born who can change the nation in multiple areas. When women are empowered, society with stability gets assured. When the political leaders of the nation empower the people through visionary policies, the prosperity of the nation is certain. When religion transforms into a spiritual force the people become enlightened citizens with value system.  The road map for graduating into a standard human being will have to include

a)  education with value system,

b)  religions graduating into spirituality

c)   removal of poverty and economically strong nation

d)  responsible judiciary & human rights


I believe, a standard human being can be created when all these four elements are properly combined.   

a. Education with Value System

            The best part for a person is his or her learning period in school childhood.  The prime learning environment is 5th to 16th years' of age. Of course at home, love and affection are imparted. But again most of the time in a day is spent in preparing school's homework and study, eat, play and sleep. Hence the school hours for children are the best time for learning and need the best of environment and mission oriented learning with value system. During this stage, they need value based education in school and at home for them to become good citizens. This reminds me the echo from Bestolozzy, a great teacher's saying, "give me a child for seven years. Afterwards, let the God or devil take the child. They cannot change the child." For parents and teachers, school campus and home have to have an integrated mission: education with value system. If the child misses the value based education of 25,000 hours in the school campus, no government or society can establish a transparent society or a society with integrity. Up to the age of 17 years, the father, the mother and the teacher lead a child to become an enlightened citizen.  If the child misses the period of learning for the reasons as it is today, the nation loses an enlightened citizen.

b.  Religion Transforming Into Spirituality: Universal Mind

I would like to recall an incident which happened four decades ago. As you all know, Prof Vikram Sarabhai is the visionary of space programme in the country. He is well known for his cosmic ray research area that led to evolving the space research programme for the nation. Both Dr Homi Bhabha and Prof Vikram Sarabhai were looking for a site to establish space research station in the equatorial region. These two great scientists visited a number of places. Thumba in Kerala was selected by the scientific community for space research as it was near the equatorial region and was ideally suited for ionospheric research in upper atmosphere apart from study of atmospheric structure. When Prof Vikram Sarabhai visited Thumba, the locality had series of villages and thousands of fishermen folk were living in that area. It also had a beautiful ancient church, St Mary Magdalene Church, Pallithura and a Bishop's House. Prof Vikram Sarabhai met many politicians and bureaucrats to get the place for the work of space science research. It did not move further because the nature of the place. He was asked to see the Bishop of Trivandrum, at that time in 1962, His Excellency Rct Rev Dr Peter Bernard Pereira. It was a Saturday when Prof Vikram Sarabhai met the Bishop. The Bishop smiled and asked him to meet him the next day, ie Sunday. In the morning Service, the Bishop told the congregation, "my children, I have a famous scientist with me who wants our church and the place I live for the work of space science research. Dear children, science seeks truth by reasoning. In one way, science and spiritualism seek the same divine blessings for doing good for the people. My children, can we give the God's abode for a scientific mission?" There was a chorus of 'Amen' from the congregation and the whole church reverberated. Subsequently, the big event took place in 1962. His Excellency Rct Rev Dr Peter Bernard Pereira, the Bishop of Trivandrum, took the noble decision to dedicate the church in recognition of the national goal for the establishment of the Indian Space Research Organisation at Pallithura, Thumba. That was the church where we had our design centre, started rocket assembly, design of filament winding machine for FRP product and the Bishop's house was our scientists' place. Later, the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) led to the establishment of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and multiple space centres throughout the country.

            When I think of this event, I can see how enlightened spiritual and scientific leaders, all converge towards giving reverence to the human life. New church and new schools were established in record time. Of course the birth of TERLS and then VSSC gave the country the capability of design, development and produce world class huge rocket system and subsequently, India has the capability of launching geo-synchronous, sun-synchronous and meteorology spacecraft, communication satellite, remote sensing satellite thereby provided fast communication, weather forecasting and also locate water resources for the country. Today, among us, Prof Vikram Sarabhai is not there, Rev Dr Peter Bernard Pereira is not there, but those who are responsible for creation and make the flower and blossom will themselves be a different kind of a flower as described in the Bhagwat Gita: "See the flower, how generously it distributes perfume and honey. It gives to all, gives freely of its love. When its work is done, it falls away quietly. Try to be like the flower, unassuming despite all its qualities". What a beautiful message for all generation of this nation, on integration of minds and universal mind. Above all we see a great scientist and religious leader transforming into a spiritual force and spread to the young: good human beings do live in our country.

c. Removal of Poverty through vision for the nation


People, who are economically or socially in the lower strata,  are vulnerable to human rights exploitation by those who are in the higher strata. One way to reduce this exploitation is to narrow this divide.  In our country, about 300 million people are below the poverty line.  After five decades of progress, the aspirations of people are rightly mounting that India should become a developed country.  This is the second vision for the nation.  How can we prepare ourselves to this challenge?  India has to be economically and commercially powerful with  near self-reliance in defence. Our target should be a GDP growth of 9-11% annually and that the people below poverty line to be reduced to nearly zero.  This would also include providing of sufficient employment opportunities to the physically and mentally challenged.  How are we going to achieve this? Technology Vision 2020 is a pathway to realise this cherished mission.


Five mega projects to transform the nation to a developed country

            The Technology Vision 2020 consisted of 17 well linked technology packages in the core sectors.  We have identified five areas where India has a core competence for an integrated action: (1) Agriculture and food processing  (2) Reliable and quality electric power and surface transport  for all parts of the country.  (3) Education and Healthcare (4) Information and Communication Technology  (5)  Strategic sectors.  

            These five areas are closely inter-related and if well done would lead to national, food, economic and security.  A strong partnership among the R&D, academy, industry and the community as a whole with the Government departments will be essential to accomplish the vision for a developed India.

d. Majesty of Human Rights and Judiciary  

Every citizen in the country has a right to live with dignity; every citizen has a right to aspire for distinction. Availability of a large number of opportunities to resort to just and fair means in order to attain that dignity and distinction, is what democracy is all about. That is what our Constitution is all about. And that is what makes life wholesome and worth living in a true and vibrant democracy. At this point, I would like to remind all of us that at social levels it is necessary to work for Unity of Minds. The increasing intolerance for views of others and increasing contempt about ways of lives of others or their religions or the expressions of these differences through lawless violence against people cannot be justified in any context. All of us have to work hard and do everything to make our behaviours civilised to protect the rights of every individual. That is the very foundation of the democratic values, which I believe is our civilisational heritage and is the very soul of our nation. Judiciary and safeguarding human rights are the guardians of civilised life. Wherever life exists in our planet, no life can be allowed to be devalued by anybody. The system cannot be a mute witness to this inhuman act.


Human Rights : Does it mean Reverence for life.  Empowered mechanism of human right protection through creation of standard human beings would ensure survival of a prosperous democracy. Judiciary is an important component in making the role of the standard human being effective.  Judiciary is not simply making judicial pronouncements or enforcing law in a case. Judiciary is the whole process of interpreting the social, political, economical and human rights to ensure that that wholesome life with dignity and distinction is sustained. In this effort, National Human Rights Commission becomes the eyes and ears and an impartial authority and work hand in hand with judiciary.

            The edifice of natural justice to protect the human rights today stands exalted. , high on a pedestal that the whole world looks up to. The fundamental and over-riding importance of the system cannot be overstated and the need for constantly maintaining its purity not forgotten. There cannot be any erosion of values, corrosion of quality or any cobwebs in the procedure. The majesty of human rights has to be maintained with magnanimity and magnificence. Empowered National Human Rights Commission therefore become inviolable role model, the perfect incorruptible ideal of a civilized society. That is what we have to strive for, attain and sustain. My best wishes. May God bless you.



Statement of Justice Shri J.S. Verma, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission on the Human Rights Day, 10 December, 2002 at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. 


H.E. The President of India,

Distinguished Invitees,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Children,


            The Human Rights Day is not an occasion merely to celebrate, but also one of stocktaking to assess the progress made in protection of human rights of the human family in the global village, and in the promotion of the human rights culture.

             The National Human Rights Commission has now completed nine years of its existence and entered the tenth.  It is an appropriate occasion, today, to reflect on its efforts, so far, for the protection of human rights in the country, with a view to prepare the agenda for the future in that direction.

            The vision and the mission of the NHRC may be summarized with reference to the opening remarks in the Concluding Observations in the Annual Report (1999-2000):

 “Those who strive for the promotion and protection of human rights can never be satisfied with their endeavours.  The struggle to ensure respect for the dignity and worth of the human person knows no end, whether in this country or anywhere else in the world.


Despite this elusive quality, however, the tireless pursuit of this objective is essential to the creating of society of equity and justice, a society in which peace can prevail, in which all of its people, in all of their diversity, can feel included in the great adventure of nation-building. 

The distinguished thinker, Mahbub-ul-Haq, once observed:


It is true that we may never be able to eliminate all social and economic injustices or to provide equality of opportunity to all people.  But we certainly can take a few practical steps to make our society a little more compassionate, a little more humane.


In each of the succeeding years since it was established, this, in essence, has been the effort of the Commission”.

 The significance of the formative years is, that they determine the basic structure and foundational strength of the institution, upon which would depend the strength and structure of the future edifice. This period shows how the institution has evolved, from initial skepticism to one of credence and hope for the people.  The increasing credibility of the Commission can be gauged from the fact that many of those who criticise it, when in power, rush to the NHRC for protection, when they lose power and become victims, suffering or apprehending violation of their human rights. It is also significant that inspite of the seeming opposition to the Commission’s views, and resistance, at times, to its recommendations, the concerned authorities rely on the Commission’s recommendations for improving their performance, and on its visible presence for refuting criticism of their actions, within and outside the country. 

 It is well known that the Commission’s interventions in the aftermath of the Orissa Cyclone in 1999 and Gujarat Earthquake in 2001, and its monitoring of the relief and rehabilitation work, helped considerably in the measures taken by the concerned Governments to ameliorate the suffering of the victims. The Commission’s intervention, with directions and recommendations made in relation to the Godhra train burning incident on 27 February 2002 and the incidents that followed in Gujarat, are seen as providing a much needed healing touch to the victims, and alleviating the situation in the State. The general demand of the civil society for the faithful implementation of the Commission’s recommendations is evidence of public faith in the credibility of the Commission, and its role in protection of human rights in the country.

 Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen

             The NHRC has, during the last few years, laid emphasis on the economic, social and cultural rights, alongwith civil and political rights, on the premise that all rights are inter-related and inter-dependent. Apart from working for the eradication of bonded and child labour, rights of the child, women, dalits, minorities and other marginalized groups, the Commission has also undertaken projects in other fields, such as, public health, right to food etc., Workshops and Seminars on HIV/AIDS, nutritional deficiencies, access to health care, tobacco control etc. have been conducted, yielding useful recommendations for implementation by the Government. The Commission has been engaged in Prison and Penal reforms and training of personnel to sensitize them to human rights.  A Workshop to discuss the important issue of  population control and the needed strategies, is to be held soon.

             Even though the statute (Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993) under which the Commission has been constituted needs extensive amendments, which the NHRC has recommended to the Government of India in March, 2000, the Commission without waiting for the outcome thereof, continues to discharge its obligation of working for the better protection of human rights, by a purposive and expansive interpretation of the existing statutory provisions. The Commission’s interventions in Orissa and Gujarat, after the natural and manmade calamities, were, because of the appreciation of the extent of its role in the prevention of violation of human rights or abetment thereof.  Similarly, the limited scope of the Commission’s jurisdiction over the armed forces, has been made effective by interpretation of Section 19 of the Act in conjunction with the other laws governing the conduct of all public servants.  Read with the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act, burden has been placed on the user of force to rebut the culpability and to justify the action, in case of any disappearance or death during custody.  In other words, the rule of law is the lodestar for interpretation of the statute.

 Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

             The Commission believes that its role, in essence, is of a catalyst to improve the quality of governance in the country, upon which depends the protection of human rights.  The responsibility of the State is to protect human rights and the State is accountable for all the violations within its jurisdiction, not only those attributable to the State agents, but also those relatable to the non-State players. The emerging principle of human rights jurisprudence has been applied by the Commission in determining the State responsibility.

            In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the global frenzy tends to overtake respect for human rights. Any mention of human rights evokes in some, a degree of intolerance, inconsistent with the democratic values.  This is on account of lack of proper appreciation of the rule of law, and the need to combat terrorism under the rule of law, lest the effort be counter productive. The message needs wide dissemination in the current mood. 

The UN resolutions, including the Security Council resolution 1373 of September 28, 2001 condemn terrorism, and emphasize the need for combating it, under the rule of law, consistent with international standards of human rights.  In our own country, Article 20 (protection against expost facto penal laws, double jeopardy and testimonial compulsion) and Article 21 (protection of right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution are non derogable even during an emergency.  Article 359 makes this express provision.  This is in accord with Article 4(2) of the ICCPR. Respect for human dignity is preserved at all times.  The Commission, in substance, emphasizes this aspect in all its interventions, since human dignity is the essence of human rights. 

            It is worth recalling the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan’s recent observation:

 “A genocide begins with the killing of one man not for what he has done, but because of who he is.  A campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ begins with one neighbour turning on another.  Poverty begins when even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education.  What begins as a failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends as a calamity for entire nations.”


            In the Human Rights Day Message, this year, the UN Secretary General has re-emphasized the commitment to the rule of law.  He says:

“... we must be guided by one clear principle beyond any other: respect for the international rule of law.”




“... is the most effective tool to fight criminality and terrorism, and the best guarantee of safety, security and freedom for us all.” 


Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I must acknowledge on this occasion, with gratitude, the tremendous support the Commission has received from the civil society: the lawyers, doctors, academia, NGOs, other experts, Special Rapporteurs and Special Representatives, all eminent persons who have contributed greatly to the success of our efforts.  The readiness with which this support has been made available to us, has given great impetus to our efforts.  Their number is so large that it would be unfair to name only a few, for want of time.  This support is invaluable, more so, because it is mostly voluntary and honorary.  On my own behalf, and on behalf of the Commission, I take this opportunity to thank all of them, and to say how much we value and cherish their support.


Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, and

Dear Children,           

I have deliberately saved my reference to today’s children for the end. I do so for the lasting impact of the Last Word.  The Commission believes that if we care for the children, they will take care of the future of the  nation.  The majority of our population comprises the youth, of whom forty percent are below the age of fourteen.  This vast potential when fully realised, is our bright future.  The right to development is the most basic human right of every child, and education is the most effective tool for human development.  That right of the child must be honoured and respected the most.  The Commission firmly believes that the future of human rights, peace and development depends on the child of today. The Commission, therefore, wholeheartedly welcomes the participation of children in today’s function. Presence of the children here, is not merely symbolic, it is also a message that without their active participation no programme relating to human rights is meaningful.  

            I thank all of you, for your presence, participation and attention.


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Message of the UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan on the occasion of Human Rights Day, 10 December 2002


            “Few periods in history have brought a grater sense of a seismic shift in the workings of international relations than the present one -- in the interaction between states and between peoples alike.  Globalization, the spectre of international terrorism and the increasing recognition of the universality of human rights are all part of this shift.  To manage it, we need a vision that can help bring about a new equilibrium.  That vision must respect human rights, confront the threat of terrorism, and draw as never before upon the resources and legitimacy of multilateral cooperation.  That confronts us with a complex challenge, but one in which we must be guided by one clear principle beyond any other: respect for the international rule of law.

             One of the most outstanding legacies of the last century was the development of a body of international law -- humanitarian, refugee, criminal and human rights law – which, taken together, properly understood and effectively implemented, serve to protect the individual from injustice, from arbitrary treatment, and from assaults on fundamental security.

             All too often, these laws are not honoured, all too often; domestic laws are subverted to provide a cloak of legitimacy for breaches of fundamental human rights, or infringements on civil liberties. 

            Yet the strength of the rule of law lies is its universal relevance and application – in its grounding in the fundamental human rights of all people.  It applies equally to the strong and the weak.  Its application is the duty of states large and small.   It is the most effective tool to fight criminality and terrorism, and the best guarantee of safety, security and freedom for us all. 

            On this Human Rights Day, I appeal to all Governments, communities and individuals to recommit themselves to the universal application of the rule of law.  Let us ensure that we never take this precious legacy for granted.  Let us nurture, develop, strengthen and defend it.  On this Day, let us rededicate ourselves to that mission.”

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