UN slams India for crackdown on Human Rights Defenders

High Commissioner dismayed at restrictions on human rights NGOs and arrests of activists in India

Image Courtesy:unb.com.bd

On Tuesday, United States High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed grave concerns about the crackdown on human rights defenders and non-government organisations in India.

Bachelet expressed regret at the tightening of space for human rights NGOs in particular, including by the application of vaguely worded laws that constrain NGOs ‟activities and restrict foreign funding.”

“India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of groundbreaking human rights advocacy within the country and globally,” the High Commissioner said. “But I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices,” said Bachelet.

The High Commissioner cited as worrying the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which a number of UN human rights bodies have also expressed concern is vaguely worded and overbroad in its objective. The Act prohibits the receipt of foreign funds “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest.”

It is noteworthy that amendments to the FCRA was the subject of a spirited debate in the Parliament recently, when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament (MP) Dr. Satyapal Singh used the opportunity to openly vilify slain Australian missionary Graham Staines, while giving an example of how foreign funded organisations were allegedly forcibly converting Indians to Christianity!

The High Commissioner expressed concerns that the new amendments will create even more administrative and practical hurdles for such advocacy-based NGOs. Most recently, Amnesty International was compelled to close its offices in India after its bank accounts were frozen over alleged violation of the FCRA.

“The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organisations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies,” Bachelet said.

“I am concerned that such actions based on the grounds of vaguely defined ‘public interest’ leave this law open to abuse, and that it is indeed actually being used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy that the authorities perceive as critical in nature. Constructive criticism is the lifeblood of democracy. Even if the authorities find it uncomfortable, it should never be criminalised or outlawed in this way,” added the High Commissioner.

But that’s not all. The High Commissioner strongly condemned the recent arrest of activists and dissenters under draconian provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act such octogenarian human rights defender Fr. Stan Swamy.

A press release issued by the office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights said, “Activists and human rights defenders have also come under mounting pressure in recent months, particularly because of their engagement in mass protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that took place across the country earlier this year. More than 1,500 people have reportedly been arrested in relation to the protests, with many charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act – a law which has also been widely criticised for its lack of conformity with international human rights standards. Charges have also been filed under this law against a number of individuals in connection with demonstrations that date back to 2018. Most recently, the 83-year-old Catholic priest Stan Swamy, a long-standing activist engaged in defending the rights of marginalised groups, was charged and reportedly remains in detention, despite his poor health.”

Bachelet said the UN Human Rights Office would continue to closely engage with the Government of India on issues relating to the promotion and protection of human rights, and will also continue to monitor developments that positively and negatively affect civic space and fundamental rights and freedoms.

The entire statement may be read here: 


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