| Dr COLIN GONSALVES
Founder Director, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
A human rights litigator in India, Dr. Colin Gonsalves specializes in human rights protection, labour law and public interest law. A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, Dr. Gonsalves started his career as a civil engineer but was drawn to the law through his work with the mill-workers’ union in Bombay. As such, he commenced formal legal study in 1979 and litigated his first case on behalf of 5,000 workers locked out of their jobs while still in law school. Upon graduation in 1983, Mr. Gonsalves co-founded the India Centre for Human Rights and Law in Bombay and developed it into a national network of over 200 lawyers and paralegals under the auspices of the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).
Since co-founding HRLN in 1989, Dr. Gonsalves and his colleagues have built the organization into India’s leading public interest law group, working at the intersection of law, advocacy and policy. Dr. Gonsalves strives to use the law as a shield to protect the human rights of the poor and of the marginalized communities in India. Over last two decades, he has played a prominent role in investigating, monitoring, and documenting human rights violations, generating “know your rights” material, and conducting training seminars and workshops for lawyers, activists, judges, and government officials including police and civic administrators.
In addition to developing HRLN from a fledgling legal-aid organization to a national network of legal centers located in 23 states across India, Dr. Gonsalves is an active litigator in the Supreme Court of India and several state High Courts. He has been instrumental in bringing numerous precedent-setting cases to the Supreme Court of India in the sphere of both civil and political rights as well as social, cultural and economic rights.
One of his most significant achievements has been co-development of the Indian People’s Tribunal (IPT), an independent organization headed by retired Supreme Court and High Court Judges to investigate human rights violations. Fact-findings presented at the IPTs have spurred public interest litigation, formed social movements and led to concrete policy changes.
Dr. Colin Gonsalves is also the senior Counsel of the Right to Food case in the Supreme Court of India, the largest class action suit in the world. In 2001, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) was filed in the Supreme Court, demanding that the Right to Food should be recognized as a legal right to every citizen in the country. The Court accepted the argument that Right to Food was a fundamental right apparent in Article 21 of the Constitution. The landmark judgement of the Supreme Court brought relief to millions of children, pregnant mothers, adolescent girls, the disabled, the aged and disadvantaged. The case continues to be heard in the Supreme Court, with the central tenet of establishing the Right to Food as a fundamental right for every person in India. Mr. Gonsalves’ work is about identifying and engaging in the struggle for elimination of hunger, and holding the government accountable for feeding its people.
Mr. Gonsalves has written, edited and co-edited numerous articles and books on a range of human rights law issues. In addition, he co-founded Combat Law, a human rights law journal, aimed at increasing awareness of rights, connecting legal initiatives, providing accurate and timely information to the judiciary and civil society, and enabling access to justice for the poor. Combat Law is widely acknowledged as the leading human rights magazine in the country as well as the contemporary ‘textbook’ for future generations dedicated to establishing careers in public law.
Bachelor of Law (LLB), University of Mumbai, India (1982)
Bachelor of Technology (B. Tech), Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India (1975)
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India from 2003
Executive Director, Human Rights Law Network 1989 – 2005
Co-Convenor, Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights from 1993
Member of the Expert Group, appointed to draft the Optional Protocol ESCR 2006