The apex court has played a very important role in the protection and promotion of human rights in India, Supreme Court judge Hima Kohli said here on Saturday.
She was speaking at the 11th Justice P N Bhagwati International Moot Court Competition on Human Rights at New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth University.
"The Supreme Court of India, being the highest court of the land, has played a vital role in preserving, protecting and promoting human rights in India. Over the years, several landmark judgments have been pronounced to strengthen and amplify the very definition of human rights," Justice Kohli said.
Supreme Court and human rights
Speaking about some such impactful decisions, she mentioned the case of Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of India (1978) where the petitioner had challenged the denial of a passport to her.
"The seven-judge constitution bench declared that the right to travel abroad is an element of the right to life and personal liberty, and this right could not be curtailed without following the due process of law," the judge noted.
In recent years, the judiciary has been at the forefront of protecting citizens' rights, particularly in cases relating to civil liberties, environmental protection and gender justice, Justice Kohli said.
"Just last month, on February 2, in the case of P Vs Union of India & Anr. (2023), the Supreme Court exercised its extraordinary constitutional powers to help a young woman who wanted to abort her late-stage pregnancy, by arranging for the delivery of the baby at AIIMS, Delhi, and with the consent of the mother, directed that the child be given for adoption to a couple registered with the government-run Central Adoption Resources Agency (CARA)," she said.
The judgment brought to the fore the importance of protecting the human rights of women and their reproductive rights, and also that of recognizing the rights of unborn foetuses, Justice Kohli said.
Human rights violations
Human rights violations take place in many forms including arbitrary detention, torture, extra-judicial killings and discrimination, and these rights are of utmost importance in times of crises such as armed conflict, natural disasters and pandemics, she said.
Such crises often lead to the displacement of large sections of the population, increased violence and violation of human rights, she noted.
The present century has witnessed the rise of authoritarianism, global threat of terrorism and rapid technological advances that have all posed challenges to the protection and promotion of human rights, Justice Kohli said.
"Though technological advancements are meant to promote, rather than undermine human rights, misuse of artificial intelligence, facial recognition and unauthorized collection of biometric data, exploitation of social media platforms have raised serious concerns about privacy, surveillance and discrimination," she added.
India's commitment to human rights
"When administrations and authorities use excessive power and deploy repressive measures including censorship, surveillance and extra-judicial killings to silence dissent and undermine human rights, it is essential to hold them accountable for their actions and preserve the citizen's right to privacy, right to a fair trial and right to free expression. This is where courts step in," the judge added.
India's commitment to human rights is not just limited to the Constitution and its domestic laws but the country is a signatory to several international treaties and conventions that recognize and protect human rights, Justice Kohli noted.
The right to free speech and expression is yet another precious fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution and the courts have played a vital role in interpreting and enforcing this right, she added.
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