On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s office pointed to three “problematic” Indian laws that have led to the arrest of activists and restrictions to the work of non-governmental organizations. As per sources, the United Nations human rights chief has urged India to do more to protect human rights activists, who have come under mounting pressure in recent months in the world’s largest democracy.
Bachelet expressed regret at the tightening of space for human rights NGOs in particular, including by the application of vaguely worded laws that constrain NGO activities and restrict foreign funding. “Vaguely worded laws that restrict foreign funding” that are increasingly being used to quell voices in civil society, including the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits the receipt of foreign funds “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest,” lamented her office.
“India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of ground-breaking human rights advocacy within the country and globally. But I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices,” 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,” the former Chilean president said.
In a statement issued in Geneva, Bachelet said: “The Act, adopted in 2010 and amended last month, has had a detrimental impact on the right to freedom of association and expression of human rights NGOs, and as a result on their ability to serve as effective advocates to protect and promote human rights in India. It is expected 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.
However, hours later, the Ministry of External Affairs reacted sharply stating that “violations of the law cannot be condoned under the pretext of human rights”.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava stated that he expected a more nuanced view on the matter from a UN body. “We have seen some comments by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on an issue relating to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA),” Srivastava said in a statement. “India is a democratic polity based on the rule of law and an independent judiciary. The framing of laws is obviously a sovereign prerogative. Violations of law, however, cannot be condoned under the pretext of human rights. A more informed view of the matter was expected of a UN body.”