The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls on Delhi to re-think its laws and policies in order to protect human rights activists.
The United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has called on India to do more to protect human rights activists after reports of increasing restrictions and pressure.
Bachelet called on the Indian government - led by the right-wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi - not to stifle India’s traditionally strong and vibrant civil society.
“I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices,” said Bachelet in a statement.
Bachelet focused her ire at a 2010 law, known as the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits local activists and organisations from receiving foreign funding for activities deemed to be against “prejudicial” to the public interest.
"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 organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies," Bachelet said.
🇮🇳 #India: UN Human Rights Chief @mbachelet draws attention to three different laws that are being used to restrict foreign funding for NGOs and stifle civil society voices, and have led to arrests of #HumanRights activists. Learn more: https://t.co/JG941TKgHD pic.twitter.com/fascWyqWkY— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) October 20, 2020
The FCRA was passed by the Congress-led government, four years prior to Modi came to power, but the Hindu nationalist prime minister has been proactively using the law to silence the voices of dissent.
One social activist thanked the UN Human Rights Commissioner for speaking out, saying that the “last 6 years one thing that the Govt has regularly done is crushing civil society voices & arresting those who are raising voice against injustice (sic).”
Another, however, pointed out that one of the reasons why foreign funding is necessary, is because “rich, upper caste Hindus will never donate to NGOs or organisations that work with the marginalised. Neither do Indian businesses.”
Pressure against human rights activists has been mounting in recent months following the passage of a law known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
It essentially fast tracks the citizenship process for religious minorities born outside of India but critically does not include Muslims.
With much of the world's attention on the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian government has been arresting activists who participated in peaceful protests against the CAA.
Referring to these mass arrests, ones that protested against the CAA, Bachelet said "I urge the Government to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India's robust civil society."
The attempts to silence the student protests has been condemned by Indian human rights organisations as an attempt to criminalise civil society.
In response to the comments by the UN human rights chief Bachelet, the Indian Ministry of Foreign affairs spokesman, Shri Anurag Srivastava, rejected the criticism.
Srivastava said that how India drafts its laws is “obviously a sovereign prerogative” adding that human rights are not sufficient grounds to violate the law adding finally that “A more informed view of the matter was expected of a UN body.”