Human rights

The article is written by Tejaswini Kaushal, a student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. This article deals extensively with the concept of human rights and its violations around the world in the historical as well as the contemporary context. 

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.

Table of Contents


Every person is endowed with basic human rights the minute they are born. These rights are unalienable and ubiquitous. These rights are not granted by the law but are inherited by all humans on account of their humanity. Human rights are not a new notion and have been taken up in several historical texts such as the Vedas, Manusmriti, Arthashastra, and other scriptures that discuss human rights. Individual rights have been asserted in numerous written texts such as the Magna Carta (1215), the French Declaration of Man and Citizens (1789), and the US Bill of Rights (1791). In the twentieth century, the United Nations was founded in 1945, following World War II. After three years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was given to the world in 1948, with 30 Articles granting international validity and recognition to human rights. Human rights are now emphasised in a variety of international agreements, treaties, covenants, and state legislation. 

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Presently, there is a near-universal agreement that all people, regardless of status, are entitled to some basic rights. Certain civil freedoms and political rights are endowed to them, the most basic of which is the right to life and liberty. Throughout all our activities, human rights articulate the need for peace, justice, impartiality, mutual respect, tolerance, and human dignity.  When we talk about rights and liberties, we’re expressing the premise that all individuals are subject to respecting morality and justice as well.

To defend human rights, one must guarantee that individuals are treated decently and humanely. Violation of the most fundamental human rights, on the other hand, involves denying persons their moral entitlements. Disregarding human rights, in some ways, involves treating individuals as lesser mortals and inferior to other members of society, unworthy of respect and decency. Genocide, torture, enslavement, rape, genital mutilations, forced sterilisation, medical experimentation, and deliberate starvation are only a few examples of “crimes against humanity.” Limiting the state’s unfettered authority is an essential component of international law since these policies are occasionally applied by states. The concept of nondiscrimination and the belief that some basic rights apply universally underpin the legislation across countries prohibiting different “crimes against humanity”.

Types of human rights violations

Human rights breaches are committed by states either directly or indirectly. Violations might be committed by the state on purpose or as a consequence of the state’s failure to prevent the violation. Various players, including the police, judicial ministers, attorneys, government officials, and others, can be involved when a state violates human rights. Physical violence, such as police harassment, is one type of violation, but other rights, such as the right to receive a fair trial, can also be infringed without the use of direct physical violence.

When there is a disagreement between people or groups within a society, the second form of violation occurs: the state’s failure to protect individuals from human rights violations. The state is complicit in the abuses if it does nothing to intervene and safeguard vulnerable persons and groups. When lynchings happened often across the United States, the state was unsuccessful in protecting black Americans. Because many of those involved in the lynchings were also state actors (such as the police), this acts as an example of two sorts of breaches occurring simultaneously.

Forms of human rights violations

  1. Caste-based discrimination and violence

The caste system in India is possibly the world’s oldest social structure. It is a complicated system of social groupings based on ceremonial purity. A person is regarded as a component of the caste into which he is born and stays a member of that caste until death, albeit the status of that caste may change through time and between locations. The four major varnas, or main caste categories, have been used to characterize this more than 2,000-year-old structure in traditional learning. The Brahmins i.e the teachers and the priests are listed first. Then come the Ksyatriyas i.e. the fighters and rulers, then the Vaishyas i.e. the merchants and traders, and then the Shudras i.e. artisans and labourers. Lastly, the “untouchables” or Dalits, who are typically given jobs too ritually filthy to deserve membership in the conventional varna system, make up a fifth category that exists outside of the varna system.

Despite its formal prohibition in 1950, the phenomenon of “untouchability”—the imposition of societal disadvantages on people based on their caste—remains very much alive in rural India. Different facilities are provided for separate caste-based neighbourhoods, reinforcing “untouchability.” If they get anything at all, Dalits usually get the worst of whatever resources are available. The state authority provides power, sewage facilities, and water pumps in upper-caste sections of numerous villages, but neglects to do so in the segregated Dalit sections. Medical services and superior housing facilities are only found in regions of upper-caste settlement, as are basic utilities like water taps and wells. Civil rights of individuals get majorly restricted in the following domains owing to the caste dynamics in India:

Caste impacting marriage

Strict bans on marriage or other forms of social connection between castes are frequently used to impose stringent societal values of purity and contamination. While economic and social indices other than caste have grown in importance, permitting intermarriage among upper castes, major societal obstacles to marriage between higher and lower castes exist in many nations. This generally triggers violence between communities and may also lead to honour killings in severe cases.

Caste impacting labour

One of the core aspects of many caste systems is the allocation of work based on caste, with lower castes often relegated to duties and vocations regarded as too filthy or polluting for higher-caste populations.

Slavery and debt bondage

Poor pay for manual scavenging, agricultural work, and other low-caste jobs sometimes force families of lower castes into bonds. In most of the nations affected, the absence of enforcement of appropriate legislation outlawing debt bondage permits the practice to continue uninterrupted.

Disparities in caste and socio-economic status

Low literacy and lack of access to health care and education are common problems among lower-caste communities. Caste-based employment is perpetuated and its hereditary character is maintained through a lack of formal education or vocational training, as well as discrimination that effectively excludes them from many sorts of employment opportunities accompanied by the non-enforcement of protective legislation.

Access to educational opportunities

Low literacy and high dropout rates among lower-caste communities have been defined overly simplistically as inevitable results of underdevelopment and widespread poverty. However, these rates are partially due to low-caste children’s desire to support their family’s salaries via labour. Moreover, the biassed and abusive treatment that low-caste children experience at the hands of their instructors and other pupils is more subtle and less well-documented but is a major factor impacting the education of these children.

Land availability

The majority of Dalit abuse victims in India are landless agricultural labourers, who constitute the backbone of our country’s agrarian economy. Despite decades of land reform laws, more than 86% of Dalit households are landless or near landless today. Landowners frequently possess very little. In rural places, land is the most valuable possession that affects a person’s level of life and social standing. Lack of access to land renders Dalits economically vulnerable and majorly dependent on upper and middle castes for monetary assistance. Subsequently, their dependence is abused by upper and middle caste landlords, allowing many crimes, like begar, to go unpunished.

Political rights and political representation

The Union formulated a policy of “reservations,” or caste-based quotas, as an attempt to correct historical injustices associated with low-caste status. The constitution reserves federal government positions, seats in state legislatures, the national legislature, and educational institutions for scheduled castes and tribes to provide for proportional representation in national and state affairs. However, this policy has not yet been effectively applied and the representation of the lower castes in the mainstream functioning of a nation is still skewed. 

Physical and economic punishment

The utilisation of social and economic factors is a key weapon in maintaining Dalits’ low status in India. For refusing to perform various caste-based activities, Dalits are physically assaulted and threatened with social and economic exclusion from society. Any attempt to change village practices, oppose the social order or seek land, higher salaries, or political rights is met with violent and economic reprisal by those who stand to lose the most, i.e. the upper castes. Dalit communities as a whole are harshly punished for individual violations. During social boycotts, Dalits are deprived of communal land and jobs, Dalit women are majorly targeted, and the law to protect their rights is rarely implemented.

Communal and ethnic violence 

India has more ethnic and religious groupings than almost any other country on the planet. There are eight mainstream faiths, 15 languages spoken in diverse dialects across 22 states and 9 union territories, and a large number of tribes and sects, in addition to the well-known 2000-odd castes. Three ethnic or religious wars have recently risen to prominence: two happened in the states of Assam and Punjab, while the third, the more well-known Hindu-Muslim conflict, is still ongoing. The Assam problem is essentially ethnic, the Punjab problem is mostly religious and regional, and the Hindu-Muslim conflict is primarily religious.

Ethnic conflict in Assam 

Assam has received the most recent attention in the three disputes discussed. Since India’s division in 1947, there have never been so many people slain or displaced as a result of ethnic or sectarian conflict. It caused tens of thousands of persons to become victims of the mob violence which claimed thousands of lives, displaced lakhs of people, and drove a considerable number of people to flee the state for safety. Three culturally distinct groups have clashed in Assam: the Assamese, the Bengalis (both of which include Hindu and Muslim portions), and the tribals, who are small communities. This has majorly been a result of a large influx of migrants into northeast India, adversely impacting the natural habitat, livelihood and self-sufficiency of the local communities of the area. These conflicts had resurfaced in recent times during the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) controversy.

Hindu-Sikh conflict in Punjab 

Since August 1980, rising sectarian tensions between Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab have resulted in violent conflicts. Punjab had the greatest per capita income at the time of the conflict. It was the epicentre of India’s Green Revolution, which benefited the affluent Sikh peasants the most. Sikhs are the majority in Punjab, while Hindus are the minority. Demand for greater radio time for religious broadcasts over government-controlled radio and a separate legislative act for Sikh gurudwaras were raised. Although religious symbols were used to mobilise Sikhs, and the separatist slogan of Khalistan (a sovereign state of Sikhs) was raised, the Sikh charter of demands had strong political and economic components.

Hindu-Muslim conflicts 

History has put the greatest shadow over Hindu-Muslim relations of all the religious and ethnic conflicts in modern India. The partition of 1947 was the most crucial contemporary period in this history. Despite the fact that a Muslim sovereign state of Pakistan was founded amid horrific communal strife, virtually as many Muslims remained in India for varying motives. The division did not resolve the Hindu-Muslim conflict. Rather, it worsened the status of Hindu-Muslim relations in India, causing perpetual tension to exist between the two groups. Even 75 years after independence, the situation persists. Riots and conflicts between Hindus and Muslims continue to take place across the nation.

Violation of freedom of speech and expression

The spirit of free speech is the capacity to think and speak freely, as well as to learn from others via publications and public debate, without fear of being regulated or suppressed by the government. The first requirement of emancipation is freedom of expression. It is believed that the freedom to express one’s opinions, thoughts and feelings acts as the guardian of all other rights since it has a prominent and crucial position in the hierarchy of liberty.

The right to freely express one’s thoughts by words, writing, printing, photographs, or any other methods is known as freedom of speech and expression. In recent years, it has become commonly understood that the right to free expression lies at the heart of a free society and must be safeguarded continually. The uninterrupted flow of speech through an open medium is the primary principle of a free society. The freedom to communicate one’s thoughts and beliefs without impediment, and especially without fear of punishment, is crucial to the growth of a community and, eventually, a state. It is one of the most basic fundamental rights protected from government restriction or control.

In India, Article 19 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression to all citizens of India. It consists of the freedom of the press, the right to silence, the right to report and broadcast, as well as the right to be informed. It is a qualified right and is subject to certain restrictions to ensure it doesn’t violate others’ fundamental rights or the security of the state. Freedom of speech can be curbed to the extent that it does not adversely impact the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, maintenance of friendly relations with foreign states, decency and morality, or cause a contempt of court or defamation. It is essential to protect and uphold these rights to improve the democratic structure of our country and improve the accountability of the state actors. In case the right to free speech and expression is curbed without any reasonable explanation, it may cause repression of constructive criticism and the establishment of an autocratic government.

Violence against women

Discrimination and violence against women are widespread in India, limiting educational achievement and earning capacity, as well as having substantial economic and societal consequences. With increases in the occurrence of domestic abuse during the lockdown, COVID-19 has highlighted the fault lines of gender equality. Men and boys should be educated about gender issues through social programmes, and community-level platforms such as Self-Help-Groups (SHGs) should be enhanced to give information on women’s safety, sexual and reproductive health, and family planning options. There are several dynamics that gender plays with other social and economic factors:

Dynamics of gender with caste 

Women from lower castes are at the bottom of the class, caste, and gender hierarchies. They always endure the burden of abuse, discrimination, and physical violence since they are largely illiterate and constantly paid less than their male coworkers across the world. Landlords and police frequently utilise sexual assault and other types of violence against women to repress rebellion and destroy dissidents in the community. In comparison to women from upper castes, lower-caste women face greater barriers to reproductive and physical health care, education, and sustenance income.

Dynamics of gender with poverty

Women are at a substantially higher risk of poverty for a variety of reasons:

  • Even though they have the same qualifications and work the same hours, women are paid less than males.
  • Women are divided into low-paying jobs, and women’s occupations are low-paying. Teaching, child care, nursing, cleaning, and waitressing are examples of “pink-collar” employment that often pays less than positions in male-dominated sectors.
  • Unpaid caring takes up more time for women than it does for men. Women are more likely than males to look after children, the elderly, or handicapped members of their families. 
  • Women are more likely to shoulder the burden of child-rearing expenses. When parents do not live together, women are more likely to shoulder the financial burden of raising children.
  • Pregnancy has a greater impact on women’s employment and educational chances than on men’s. The financial costs of pregnancy are higher for women than they are for males. Unplanned and mistimed pregnancies, in particular, can cause women to lose their education and prevent them from obtaining and maintaining stable jobs.
  • Domestic and sexual abuse can lead to poverty for women. Domestic or sexual violence can result in the loss of a career, declining health, and homelessness. Many Indian women, particularly those from low-income families, are victims of intimate partner violence perpetrated by current or previous spouses or love interests. Poverty and gender inequality are thus mutually reinforcing in terms of infringing on women’s legal rights.

Violation of child rights 

Across a majority of nations, a proportion of the total children end up being denied their rights, especially the girl child. Millions of children throughout the world are being held back by a range of hurdles that prevent them from fulfilling their full potential, from a lack of access to school to security and safety to safe water and basic sanitation. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has been ratified by over 190 nations, making it the most widely-adopted human rights convention in history. However, just because the treaty exists does not guarantee that children’s rights are always respected. The following are some infringements of child rights that take place across the world:

Child marriages

Girls’ rights are violated by child marriage, which often forces them to drop out of school, exposes them to abuse (sexual, physical, and emotional), and forces them into situations that their young minds and bodies are not ready for, such as childbirth. Although young boys get married off early as well, child marriage is a problem that disproportionately affects girls. The lockdown caused an increased surge in child marriages across regions in India, making it a major national concern. 

Child labour

Millions of children in the world’s poorest countries work in dangerous and exploitative conditions that are harmful to their health and growth. Sex trafficking, domestic slavery, harsh physical labour such as mining or farming, and factory labour are all types of child labour.

Lack of access to education

Every kid is entitled to an education, and learning is essential for growth. It’s also one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty and ensure that children are given the skills they need to achieve their full potential. Long distances to school, a shortage of adequate washrooms, local gender conventions, and early pregnancy are just some of the obstacles that many girls experience in getting an education.

Lack of access to clean water

Millions of people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water, and more than twice as many do not have access to proper sanitation, such as toilets. Millions of children’s lives are jeopardised without these necessities. Water and sanitation-related infections are one of the top causes of death in children under the age of five. Every day, hundreds of children die from avoidable diseases brought on by contaminated water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Lack of access to healthcare

Every child has the right to high-quality healthcare, yet millions of children across the world die of preterm birth problems, pneumonia, birth asphyxia, diarrhoea, malaria etc. Many of these fatalities may have been avoided if people had better access to healthcare. Furthermore, pregnancy and delivery problems are the top cause of mortality for females under the age of 15. Gender stereotypes and inequality are the most prevalent hurdles to females enjoying their rights to healthcare, just as they are with education.

Child soldiers

Separated from their families, displaced from their homes, or living in conflict zones with restricted access to schooling makes children more vulnerable to recruitment by armed forces and groups. These children are subjected to the horrors of war, a situation that not only deprives them of their innocent childhood experiences but also has negative consequences on their mental and emotional development. Every kid has the right to be shielded from the effects of conflict.

Female Genital Mutilation

Operations involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other harm to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons are termed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It’s also a form of gender-based discrimination. The practice is common in many regions of the world, and it is usually supported by firmly rooted societal norms. FGM has been performed on millions of girls and women worldwide, with the average age of a girl undergoing the procedure being ten years old. Female Genital Mutilation is a breach of a girl’s right to health, freedom from violence, life and bodily integrity, and protection against brutal, barbaric, and humiliating treatment. 

Who is responsible for addressing and preventing human rights violations 

States carry the primary duty for safeguarding and promoting human rights in human rights accords. When a national government ratifies a treaty, it takes on a total of three responsibilities, i.e. to respect, protect, and uphold human rights. It is the government’s responsibility to act and prosecute individuals who violate the law. 

This does not negate the responsibilities of civil society members to prevent human rights breaches. Businesses and organisations must adhere to anti-discrimination rules and promote justice and equality, while everyone must respect the rights of everyone else. Civil societies should keep governments accountable and raise their voices when they encounter a situation of human rights violations, performed either directly or indirectly. The world community also has a responsibility to keep an eye on governments and their human rights records. Violations occur often, but they must always be reported to have them acted upon.

United Nation’s stand on human rights violations

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted. Eight of the United Nations’ 56 members did not vote in support of equal human rights at the time. International human rights have come a long way since then. This, unfortunately, does not mean that human rights violations don’t take place regularly across nations.

The Core International Human Rights Instruments consist of the following: 

Charter of the United Nations (1945)

Article 55(c) and Article 56 are the provisions in Chapter IX of the Charter of the United Nations that provide for the protection of human rights. These two clauses together put a responsibility on member nations to protect and observe basic human rights and freedoms.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Several institutional mechanisms, known as charter bodies, were established by the General Assembly in the decades following the ratification of the Charter to monitor member states’ adherence to their human rights standards under the Charter and to record and report gross and widespread violations of those obligations.

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution establishing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration was established for the purpose of defining the “human rights” as well as “fundamental freedoms” stated in Article 55(c) of the UN Charter, which all UN member states are committed to observing and respecting, even though it is not a legally binding instrument. Many UN member states have adopted the guiding principles.

Table of core International Human Rights Treaties and Treaty monitoring bodies

The UN has recognised nine of the numerous human rights documents produced under its auspices as fundamental international human rights accords. These include treaties on human and civil rights, social, economic, and cultural rights, racial and gender-based discrimination, torture, and forced disappearances, as well as accords safeguarding the rights of children, migrant workers, and people with disabilities.

The UN has created a body of independent experts, known as a ‘treaty body’, for each of these fundamental treaties, to supervise the treaty’s implementation by the state parties who have ratified it.

The bodies are:

Human rights campaigning is not a linear process. In certain regions of the world, progress in human rights has stayed static or worsened during the previous two decades, especially during the pandemic. Discrimination is more prevalent among socially disadvantaged communities. Women, children, ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, migrants, refugees, indigenous individuals, and people in poverty are all included.

Countries that are infamous for human rights violations 


Human rights violations have been rampant in the politically unstable and explosive country of Syria, starting well from the Civil War and continuing to date. The Syrian Civil War (2011) claimed a large number of lives. Millions of Syrians were reported to have been murdered, displaced within Syria (becoming refugees), and in need of immediate humanitarian aid. The war has been defined by damage and great suffering among civilians, and foreign relief organisations have long condemned the conflict’s indiscriminate violence. Human rights violations have been committed by both the government and the rebels.

To date, civil rights of residents have been curbed, free speech restricted, freedom of press restrained, forcible disappearance, widespread and deliberate property destruction and looting, methodical denial of food and water in some places, and the suspension of medical attention, even to minors. The military is an overbearing actor in this state and is the perpetrator of the majority of human rights violations and unreasonable violence. 


The government’s policies regarding ongoing human rights violations are heavily influenced by Iraq‘s history of dictatorship, foreign interference, civil war, and political deadlock. Wrongful arrests and imprisonment, detainee abuse, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial executions continue to be carried out by state security agents. Millions of Iraqis are also threatened by violations of social and economic rights, as well as environmental destruction. Iraq is on the frontlines of the worsening effects of global warming, with a political economy based heavily on oil. Government responses to escalating crises and popular efforts to address them, such as violence against protestors demanding a brighter future, have only intensified violations while failing to address the daily hardships Iraqis face.

Saudi Arabia

The country of Saudi Arabia is experiencing poor governance, with the state disregarding women’s rights to equality, citizens’ health, freedom of speech and expression, privacy, and life and liberty. Throughout decades, millions of people have been detained, tortured, assaulted, and killed by the autocratic leader’s army. Bans on travelling, free public expression, resumption of human rights activities, and use of social media were among the policies imposed by their leader, which violated their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in the country as well as freedom of movement outside the country. Its penal system is also marked by severe and brutal forms of punishment, which is also reflected in the recent case of mass execution of 81 men in the country with the aim to curb political dissent.

North Korea 

Since 1949, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, often known as North Korea, has been an authoritarian state run by Kim Jong-un’s family. There are severe human right violations that are taking place continually in the country which include the government’s unlawful or arbitrary killings, compelled disappearances, abuse and barbaric, dehumanising, and inhumane treatment and condemnation by state officials, cruel and life-threatening detention facilities, arbitrary detentions of political prisoners, politically motivated retaliation against persons situated outside the country, no judicial indignation, arbitrary or unlawful invasions of privacy, severe limits on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, state threats of assault, violence, or unwarranted arrests and prosecutions of journalists, media censorship, and site blocking, significant limits on peaceful assembly, strict limits on religious freedom, citizens’ incapacity to peacefully alter their government through democratic elections, severe constraints on political participation, commonplace corruption, absence of investigation and accountability for acts of brutality meted out against women, non-consensual abortions and forced sterilisations, human trafficking, the criminalising of independent trade unions, the worst forms of child labour and abuse, the use of forced labour and slavery and the imposition of sanctions. The government has never made any genuine efforts to hold officials accountable for human rights violations.


Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a president who is directly elected, a bicameral legislature, and a judicial body. Nevertheless, armed rebels control parts of the nation. The country has been a target of radical terrorist groups and these violations have escalated since the United States declared the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, triggering the resurgence of the Taliban. Afghanistan is marked by human rights violations which include Insurgent killings, mass executions by security forces, abductions by opposing political workers, reports of cruelty and cases of cruel, dehumanising, or insulting punishment by security forces and non-government organisations, illegal arrests by government and non-government actors, serious violence in internal conflict, including civilian killings, arbitrary detention and kidnappings, brutality, and physical assault, mass corruption, violence against women, recruitment of child soldiers and sexual abuse of children, human trafficking, violence against members of ethnic minority groups and homosexual groups. There exists widespread contempt for the rule of law, as well as official impunity for those who commit human rights violations. Officials, especially security personnel are not investigated or prosecuted systematically or effectively by the government to curb human rights violations in the country.

Major instances of human rights violations across the globe

The infamous Facebook and Cambridge Analytica privacy violation

Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm, gathered personal data from millions of Facebook users without their knowledge in the 2010s, mostly for political campaigning. The information was gathered via an app called “This Is Your Digital Life“. The software asked users a set of questions to create psychological profiles, and it used Facebook’s Open Graph network to acquire personal data from their Facebook connections. Up to 87 million Facebook accounts were stolen by the programme. In 2018, a former Cambridge Analytica employee revealed information about the data exploitation, and in response, Facebook apologised for their part in the data collection and misuse and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of the Congress. Due to its privacy infractions, Facebook was fined $5 billion, and Cambridge Analytica underwent bankruptcy. The affair generated a surge of public interest in data protection and privacy and the impact of social media on politics. 

Rohingya Crisis

Due to communal warfare, tens of thousands of Rohingya people were forcefully evacuated from their communities and refugee camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2015. Some escaped to Bangladesh, while the majority travelled via the Strait of Malacca, Bay of Bengal, and the Andaman Sea to Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia,  Indonesia, Thailand, and Laos. In 2017, the arriving Rohingyas in Bangladesh said they were forced to flee as the army, supported by local Buddhist mobs, set fire to their communities and attacked and killed residents. Millions of Rohingyas were killed after the outbreak of violence, and the Myanmar military assaulted and mistreated Rohingya women and girls. India too has witnessed an influx of Rohingya immigrants, majorly illegal, and the current position on the legitimacy of their arrival is still conflicted.

Taliban crimes in Afghanistan

The Taliban Regime has been characterised by consistent violations of citizens’ autonomy and liberty. The lengthy Afghanistan conflict quickly gave birth to increasing human rights and humanitarian disasters after the Taliban took control of the nation in August 2021. The Taliban quickly reversed gains in women’s rights and media freedom, two of the most significant successes of the post-2001 reconstruction effort by the United States. Women were barred from working in most government occupations and many other areas, and most secondary schools for females were disbanded. The  Taliban beat and arrested journalists, forcing many to flee the country. Several media outfits shuttered their functioning or substantially reduced their reporting. There were no women in the new Taliban government and no officials from outside the Taliban’s ranks. With millions of Afghans experiencing extreme food shortages owing to destroyed crops, rising inflationary pressures and income shortages, the Taliban victory catapulted Afghanistan from an economic disaster to a humanitarian crisis.

Genocide of Uighur Muslims in China

In the northwestern province of Xinjiang, China has been accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity and potentially genocide against the Uighur community and other primarily Muslim ethnic groups. Human rights organisations claim China has arrested over one million Uighurs forcibly in a vast network of “re-education centres” and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms in recent years. There is also evidence that Uighurs are being compelled to work and that women are being sterilised forcibly. Former inmates have also claimed to have been tortured and sexually assaulted in the camps.

Since the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1949, Muslim Uighurs have experienced restrictions on their religious and cultural traditions. Uighurs began moving out of the region in the 1960s as a result of the mistreatment. In the 1990s, periodic demands for Uighur independence from China gained strength, as did China’s classification of Muslim Uighur activists as terrorists. After the Taliban took control in Afghanistan in 1996, the country’s Communist Party became more concerned. Hundreds of people were killed and injured in ethnic riots in Urumqi in July 2009. Police and demonstrators clashed. China began developing large detention facilities between 2014 and 2021 in order to segregate and eliminate the Uighur minority.

Human rights violations during COVID-19

The spread of the virus and the ensuing lockdown had a detrimental effect on the following rights of people:

Freedom of speech and expression

According to a Freedom House assessment, at least 91 nations imposed limits on the news media in reaction to the COVID-19 epidemic, with 62 percent of ‘Partly free countries’ and 67 percent of ‘Not free countries’ experiencing such restrictions. Furthermore, they stated that at least 72 nations have put further government limits on free expression. China, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Israel, Poland, and Turkey are among them.

Right to health

The Covid pandemic saw a curb in the sufficiency of medical services available across the world. India too struggled with the increasing number of Covid patients coupled with regular patients having chronic diseases. Most severe infringement on the availability of the right to health was seen in China, Italy, Libya, and Russia, among others.

Freedom from discrimination


Racism against Asian people, particularly Chinese people, has become more prevalent in Europe and the Americas. Many tend to avoid and ostracise them as they are the primary group of people being blamed for the spread of the deadly virus. 


After recuperating from the disease, some people have reported feeling socially stigmatised. Moreover, because they are afraid of being ostracised by their family and community, a majority of healthcare staff caring for COVID-19 patients have experienced mental health issues.

Freedom of information

According to Amnesty International, the Chinese government has banned several articles about the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Similarly, governments around the world have reported lesser or sublimated cases of covid intending to keep public paranoia under control. 

Freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention

Many countries have laws that allow for detention and arrest, sometimes even indefinitely, if they have the potential for spreading deadly diseases or when they are threatening public health. Moreover, Freedom House research uncovered evidence of state violence against people in at least 59 nations, as well as detentions and arrests tied to the pandemic outbreak in at least 66 countries, in its study ‘Democracy under lockdown.’ Activists who shared information on the COVID-19 epidemic in China and other countries were persecuted and threatened. Some governments have taken advantage of the COVID-19 epidemic. Exploiting the situation, the countries in question attempted to silence dissidents as well as political opponents, human rights campaigners, and journalists.

Furthermore, several governments have kept migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers indefinitely and arbitrarily, in violation of international law and human rights. During COVID-19, Amnesty International chastised the governments of the United States of America, Mexico, Canada, etc. for continuing to detain tens of thousands of immigrants in immigration detention facilities.

Freedom of movement and assembly

In several countries, border controls were put in place to restrict the entry of foreigners potentially carrying the virus. For many, a state of emergency was announced which hampered essential constitutional rights (personal liberty, freedom of movement, and freedom of assembly) as well as militarised public spaces. Nationally, lockdowns were enforced which caused individuals to remain within their homes. Lockdowns restricted movement as well as the expression of freedom of assembly by limiting the number of persons who may attend each conference or outright prohibited any assembly. 

Right to privacy  

Many governments have started undertaking mass surveillance in order to track the disease’s spread and carriers. To guarantee that quarantined individuals do not flee, the Chinese authorities put CCTV cameras in their doorways. In Hong Kong, some people were required to wear a wristband connected to a smartphone app that would alert authorities if they violated quarantine. Passengers were marked with permanent ink on their palms in some regions of India, indicating how long they should stay in quarantine. Human Rights Watch claimed that mobile geolocation tools used by governments throughout the world to combat the COVID-19 problem represent a human rights concern. According to the organisation, the efficacy of such tools is still debatable, and disproportionate surveillance might jeopardise users’ personal privacy unrestricted and unguarded access to their geographical position and vicinity data.

Freedom of religion

In certain countries, religious practices underwent a complete break during the times of COVID-19. Religious places for all religions, be it temples, churches, gurudwaras, or mosques, were suspended, leaving these structures of faith in utter silence. The lockdown regulations limited the number of people who may attend a religious ceremony. During Ramzan, authorities in certain countries allowed the Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast from minarets. In India, the government capped the maximum number of devotees to pray at a mosque during Ramzan to 50. Similarly, the Kumbh Mela also witnessed a curb in attendees, a capping on the maximum number of attendees and restricted entry for those who were without passes.

Violations in prisons

In the current COVID-19 epidemic, jailed people have faced the worst forms of human rights violations, from a lack of medical treatment in detention centres to excessive overcrowding and being shut off from the outside world. In its latest research ‘Forgotten Behind Bars: COVID-19 and Prisons’, Amnesty International found that the safeguards governments have put in place to limit the spread of the virus have frequently been insufficient and, in some circumstances, have contributed to human rights breaches. According to the conclusions, the epidemic failed the imprisoned people on multiple levels, including the state’s obligation for providing enough technical assistance in order to maintain a connection with the outside world as well as a sanitary and healthy living space.

Human rights violations in India 

India, the world’s largest democratic country, is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Civil, economic, cultural, political, and social rights are all protected under the UDHR. Intending to uphold its international obligation to human rights, the Indian constitution protects human rights through the fundamental rights it has promised to its citizens. These rights cannot be changed since they are part of our constitution’s essential framework. Parts III and IV of the Indian Constitution require the state to respect and protect human rights, however, only Part III (Fundamental Rights) is enforceable, while Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) is only persuasive. The safeguarding of an individual’s dignity is also mentioned in the Constitution’s Preamble. 

The government is obligated under the Constitution to make efforts to defend human rights. Citizens can seek redressal of their rights guaranteed under Part III of the Indian Constitution from the Supreme Court using Article 32. Further, Article 13 empowers the Supreme Court to declare any statute unlawful if it infringes on Part III, making the Supreme Court the custodian of these rights. Article 32 (3) states that the legislature can authorise any other court to defend these rights by legislation. In order to comply with this, parliament passed the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, which states that “human rights” refers to the rights of an individual to life, liberty, equality, and dignity guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in international covenants and enforceable by Indian courts. The Act also mandates the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), and Human Rights Courts (HRC).

Historical rulings reveal that the courts across India have made efforts to preserve and promote human rights, but we cannot claim that it is perfect. However, it may be said that the Supreme Court used its power of interpretation so effectively that it broadened the scope of these rights, making it easier for everyone to exercise them. The judiciary in India is not superior to other organs of the state, but we do have constitutionalism, which states that the judiciary is autonomous and that all entities must obey the Supreme Court’s orders for the good of the country. Our legislation requires the government to create specific organs to defend human rights in accordance with the NHRC at the federal level, and only a few states have done so. The law states that the state must establish District Human Rights Courts (DHRCs), however, this is not being done. Although the Supreme Court has urged state governments to create SHRCs and HRCs, most states have failed to do so. Because it is difficult for a common citizen to contact the NHRC from anywhere in the country so as to exercise their rights, this gap on the side of the state makes it dilatory in providing justice to an important segment of society. Since 1993, every state has been required by law to establish an SHRC and HRC in its respective area in order to achieve the goal of providing prompt justice to everybody.

The point of contention is that the legislation does not establish a method for HRCs to deal with such complaints, nor does it establish the jurisdiction of such tribunals over violations of human rights. This confusing aspect must be investigated by lawmakers as soon as possible so that human rights are adequately protected and the consequences of the present legislation are not dissatisfied.

Landmark cases of human rights violations 

D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal (1997)


In this case, the Petitioner (Executive Chairman of Legal Aid Services of West Bengal), wrote to the Chief Justice of India, bringing his attention to news stories about fatalities in police custody and lock-ups. He called for a thorough investigation into the matter, emphasising the need to establish mechanisms for holding police officials accountable for attempting to conceal custodial violence and to establish guidelines for compensating victims of atrocities and deaths in custody and the victims’ family members. The Supreme Court regarded this letter as a writ petition, citing cases of custodial brutality across the country, not only in West Bengal.


The petition addressed basic concerns about the use and abuse of police authority, as well as the need to build measures to avoid custodial torture and power abuse by police officers and other law enforcement agents. It also evaluated whether financial compensation should be paid for demonstrated violations of Articles 21 and 22 of the Indian Constitution’s Fundamental Rights.


The larger objective of developing systems to make arrests more transparent and the authorities more responsible for rights abuses were also given a lot of attention. The Court even advised putting in place a system of adequate apparatus for documenting and notifying all arrests and detentions in real-time. Finally, the Court published a set of requirements/guidelines to be followed in all situations of arrests and detentions as preventative measures, in order to address the legal void in this area. The Court gave several directives, including, the commission of oversight bodies at different levels of governance, mandatory installation of  CCTV cameras at prisons and the availability of its footage to the victim’s family, police stations and investigative agencies, and conduction of medical examination of the arrested post-arrest, among others.

Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar & Ors. (1979)


In this case, based on revelations published in a national newspaper in 1979 concerning the situation of destitute undertrials in Bihar’s jails, a writ of habeas corpus was brought before the Supreme Court. The petition argued that the men, women, and even children who had been imprisoned as undertrials for lengthy periods of time, often over ten years, for small offences with little penalties should be released.


The Court was especially concerned in this case with concerns of inequality in India’s bail system, which resulted in the poor being imprisoned for long periods of time. It looked into the following challenges: 

  1. The system of bail by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) had an outmoded property-oriented paradigm, which held that the threat of monetary loss was the sole deterrent to undertrials escaping court. Consequently, the accused was required to post a ‘personal bond’ in the manner of a monetary obligation as a condition of being released on bail. 
  2. In order to be able to pay the bond sum if the accused failed to appear in court, courts required solvent sureties/guarantors to act as guarantees of the bail for the accused. 
  3. The poor were disproportionately affected by this system, which made it difficult to post bail even without sureties, and far more so with them. Therefore, they were unable to gain their release from prison.


The Supreme Court, alarmed by the criminal justice system’s long-term imprisonment of indigent defendants, ruled that bail processes in India must meet the Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) criteria of being ‘reasonable, just, and fair’. A method that put so many individuals in prison without trial for so long could not be considered reasonable, just, or fair, as required by Article 21. The Court emphasised the importance of changing the law’s approach to pretrial detention and ensuring a “reasonable, just, and fair” system. It fought for comprehensive bail reforms to make a pretrial release from jail accessible to the wealthy and the poor equally.

The Court advocated for the implementation of fresh measures to ensure that undertrials do not run from justice without placing an inequitable burden on impoverished undertrials after recognising the “property focused strategy” as an unjust obstacle to getting released from jail. One of these was the ‘roots in the community’ approach, which stated that someone with roots in the community who is unlikely to flee might be freed on a personal bond. It also established criteria for determining an accused’s eligibility for release under this technique. After a thorough investigation, if the court determines that the accused has links to the community and that there is no significant danger of non-appearance, the accused may be freed on a personal bond. Even when giving personal bail, the bond value should not be based just on the nature/severity of the accusation against the accused, but rather on their financial situation and the likelihood of absconding. Therefore, the Court decided that the criterion of financial stability of the accused should not result in the denial of bail and suspension of personal liberty to impoverished and indigent people under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India (1997)


In this case, the Petitioner, which is a human rights organisation, filed a public interest lawsuit in the Supreme Court contesting the legality of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. This law gave the government the authority to intercept or “tap” phones for specific reasons. The appeal was filed in response to the CBI report “Tapping of Politicians Phones,” which disclosed that the central and state governments have authorised multiple intelligence, law enforcement, and investigative organisations to intercept phone calls. It also showed hundreds of cases of unlawful interceptions, interceptions that went past the time limit, and faulty interception files and record keeping. The Petitioner claimed that this power of interception was unreasonable since it was so wide and ambiguous. It was unconstitutional since it infringed on people’s fundamental rights. It also requested that protections be included in Section 5(2) to eliminate arbitrariness and prohibit governments from tapping phones without cause.


Did Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act and the government’s wide and undefined ability to intercept phone calls and listen in on conversations infringe Article 19(1) of the Constitution’s right to free speech and expression, as well as Article 21’s right to life and liberty?


According to the ruling of the Supreme Court in several cases over time, the ‘right to privacy’ has been upheld as a fundamental right and treated as a part of the ‘right to life and personal liberty’ under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. When it came to phone interceptions, the Court decided that this right includes the ability to have a private telephone conversation in the privacy of one’s home or business. The right to free expression under Article 19(1)(a) implied the ability to openly express one’s beliefs and ideas by speaking, writing, printing, photography, or any other means. When someone uses the telephone, they are expressing this right of theirs. Thus, telephone taps limited this privilege and would be unlawful unless it fell within one of the Article 19(2) reasons for limitation.

The Court noted that Section 5(2) permitted the Central Government or State Government, or any official particularly empowered in this regard, to intercept messages (including calls) in the case of a public emergency or for the benefit of public safety. In addition, the state had to be convinced that it was essential in the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity, security, cordial relations with other governments, public order, or the prevention of inducement to commit an offence. Before the government could authorise an interception under Section 5(2), two sets of requirements had to be met. However, it was determined that Section 5(2) did not specify a mechanism for exercising this right to intercept. Hence, the ability to wiretap telephone calls becomes arbitrary, whimsical, or coercive. This did not fulfil the ‘just, fair, and reasonable’ requirement. While the Court did not rule Section 5(2) illegal, it did establish a series of procedural protections for the use of Section 5(2)’s telephone interception power. It gave directions for the establishment of a Review Committee, imposing accountability on certain office-holders, and mandating maintenance of records for phone tapping, among others.

Selvi & Ors. v. State of Karnataka & Anr. (2010)


In this case, during the course of an investigation into a criminal case, the police wanted to perform tests on the Petitioner, who was an accused in the case, such as a narco analysis test, a polygraph examination, and a Brain Electrical Activation Profile (BEAP). These were, according to the police, investigative instruments that may be employed on the accused to aid in the inquiry. However, the Petitioner/accused declined to voluntarily submit to these tests, claiming that their administration would be in violation of Article 20(3) i.e. protection from self-incrimination. The Karnataka High Court decided that polygraph examinations and BEAP tests were not “testimonial compulsion” since they captured physiological, not verbal, reactions of the accused/test subject. The High Court concluded that the answers offered during a narco analysis did not breach Article 20(3) since the accused/test subject did not know whether the answers were incriminating or not at the time of delivering them.


1. Does the forcible administration of scientific technique tests such as narco analysis, the BEAP test and the polygraph examination contradict Article 20(3) of the Constitution’s “right against self-incrimination”? 

2. Did the application of these tactics in the investigation lead to the test subject’s incrimination? 

3. Whether the outcomes of these tactics amounted to “testimonial coercion,” triggering the Article 20(3) bar?

4. Is the involuntary use of these procedures a justifiable constraint on “personal liberty” as defined in Article 21 of the Constitution?


After analysing the methods employed in these tests and the limited trustworthiness of their results, the Court concluded that Article 20(3) prevented the accused from being forced to make incriminating remarks. Article 20(3) served as an important safeguard for the accused’s rights by prohibiting such coerced comments. Without it, investigators would have a motive to force the accused to make incriminating admissions, which would encourage the use of torture and other “third degree” tactics by the police. Article 20(3) also safeguarded Article 21’s right to personal liberty in this way. 

The Supreme Court disagreed with the High Court’s finding, holding that if these tests/ methods were provided to the accused involuntarily/compulsorily, the statement or information received from them would be obtained by coercion, threat, or incentive. This would be inadmissible as evidence since it would prima facie breach Article 20(3) protection against coerced self-incrimination. 

Hence, the accused had a right to remain silent in response to queries whose responses would be incriminating, and any use of force, intimidation, or coercion to compel the accused to speak would be a violation of Article 20(3). Article 20(3) prohibits coerced testimony, and since narco analysis involves the accused speaking up regarding his own crime, such testimony would be forbidden by Article 20(3). Polygraph examinations and the BEAP test, on the other hand, were not dependent on the accused’s spoken evidence, but rather on conclusions formed from their physiological reactions to inquiries or probes. 

The Court decided that the prohibition on ‘testimonial compulsion’ in Article 20(3) did not apply just to spoken answers, but also to non-verbal responses. The physiological reactions of the accused while responding to questions were used to make conclusions in polygraph or BEAP tests. Because the replies were based on the accused’s personal information, the physiological reactions and, by extension, the results/inferences were as well. Therefore, the findings of these tests were based on the accused’s personal information. They breached Article 20(3) since they did more than just gather bodily traits or information for identification or corroboration. To put it another way, collecting an accused’s physiological reactions during polygraph or BEAP tests was not the same as obtaining their fingerprint or handwriting samples, because the former required the accused’s intimate information, whilst the latter did not. 

On the fourth point, the Court held that the forced or obligated administration of any of these tests abridged the subject’s ‘personal liberty,’ because forcible interference with the subject’s mental processes amounted to an invasion of their privacy, as well as ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,’ as defined by Article 21. The information acquired through these approaches also ran afoul of the right to a fair trial. The weakening of fundamental rights such as the right against self-incrimination cannot be justified by citing a compelling public interest. 

However, the Court noted that Article 20(3) protection would only apply to coerced administration of these tests. The protection wouldn’t be granted if the accused freely consented to any of these tests. The protection would not be accessible if the coerced administration took place during civil proceedings. Even when the tests are given with the accused’s permission, the test findings do not serve as evidence. Only the information or material obtained later with the use of the test findings is admissible in court under Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar & Anr. (1983)


In this case, the Petitioner, who was imprisoned for fourteen years after being exonerated, filed a habeas corpus case before the Supreme Court. He requested his release from prison, rehabilitation, payment of medical expenses, and restitution for his unjust detention in the petition. The jail officials argued in court that he was not released because he was “crazy” and required mental health assistance, despite the fact that they produced no medical evidence to support this assertion.


How may the Court, in exercising its writ power under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, correct the wrong that the Petitioner has suffered?


A monetary claim for the enforcement of rights or duties had to be submitted before a civil or criminal court in India using the normal legal process. In India, monetary recompense to the victim was not properly part of the jurisprudence for the implementation of fundamental rights. The Supreme Court has the ability to grant writs such as mandamus, habeas corpus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari for the preservation of any fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution, according to Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Subsequently, the Court might use its Article 32 jurisdiction to remedy or prevent a breach of Article 21’s right to life and liberty, which could include directing monetary compensation to anyone whose rights have been infringed by the government and its agents. Therefore, as a remedy, the Court might hold the State accountable for the damage done to the Petitioner’s rights by its agents. This monetary settlement does not bar the Petitioner or any other victim from pursuing damages in civil court against the State and its authorities.

Nilabati Behera v. State of Assam & Ors. (1993)


In this case, the petitioner,  Nilabati Behera was the mother of Suman Behera, a twenty-two-year-old woman who was arrested by the police for theft and discovered dead the next day on the railway lines. His body had multiple damage marks on it, and it was suspected that he died as a result of an assault in police custody. Suman Behera allegedly fled from police custody and died after being run over by a train, according to the police. The petitioner sent a letter to the Supreme Court, which was later turned into a writ petition. She requested compensation for the breach of Article 21 of her son.


  1. Was Suman Behera’s death a case of incarceration and was committed under police custody? 
  2. If affirmative, what responsibility did the government and police officers have for the death of the Petitioner’s son?


The deceased’s corpse had a vast range of injuries, all of which may have been inflicted by lathi strikes, but not by being run over by a train, according to the post mortem report. Furthermore, the police presented no proof that they had looked for him following his supposed escape. Their arrival at the railroad tracks where his body was discovered was delayed significantly.

On the first point, the Court decided that his death happened in the custody of the policy. Concerning the second question, the Court found that the State did have a public law obligation to compensate victims in circumstances where the State or its officials violated their Fundamental Rights. The Apex Court asserted the principle that a claim for compensation payable by the State could be made under public law based on the State’s strict liability to compensate victims of Fundamental Rights violations, and that courts could award monetary compensation for such violations. Victims might apply to the Supreme Court or the High Court under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution, and the courts could award damages to victims. This was in addition to the private law remedy for damages stemming from basic rights violations. It also recognised that, because a private law remedy was less expected to be used by people with little financial resources, the constitutional structure of Articles 32 and 226 should be able to give compensation to such individuals under public law. 

The Court further concluded that, while the State might claim sovereign immunity against a private law remedy, this privilege was not available to the State for a public law constitutional remedy such as Article 32 or 226. Finally, the Court ordered the State to compensate the Petitioner with Rs. 1,50,000, determined based on the deceased’s seniority and monthly salary.


Everyone has dignity and worth. Recognising and respecting people’s human rights is one way we acknowledge and appreciate their intrinsic value. Human rights are a collection of ideas that deal with justice and equality. They value our autonomy in making decisions about our life and developing our human potential. They are about living without fear, harassment, or prejudice. Human rights are a collection of fundamental rights that people all around the globe have decided are necessary. These include the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the right to be free of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, the right to freedom of expression, the right to religious freedom, and the rights to health, education, employment and substantial quality of life.

These fundamental rights apply to everyone regardless of gender, age, economic or social status and opinions. Human rights are universal and ubiquitous because of this. Tolerance, equality, and respect are values that can assist lessen societal conflict. Putting human rights ideals into practice can assist us in creating the society we desire. The way we think about and implement human rights principles has changed dramatically in recent decades. This has had several good outcomes: human rights education may empower individuals and provide answers to specific challenges. Human rights are fundamental to how individuals engage with one another at all levels of society, including the family, community, schools, employment, politics, and international relations. Thus, it is critical that everyone attempt to grasp what human rights are. It is simpler for people to support justice and equality in society when they have a greater understanding of human rights.

Most nations’ COVID-19 preventive and mitigation actions were sudden and difficult, with the prolonged lockdown putting a burden on economic activities. Many people were affected by the misery and disruptions caused by human rights limitations and abuses, but certain marginalised communities were particularly sensitive to the pandemic’s pandemic’s negative impacts. Children, women, minorities and the elderly have been the worst affected stakeholders during the pandemic-imposed lockdown and the ensuing restrictions on human rights. Attacks on democracy, political instability, economic sanctions, and the COVID-19 epidemic all pose significant obstacles to the current human rights situation across the world. If duty-bearers and office-holders for human rights protection and promotion do not commit to actual action, the future will be bleak.


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