(Geneva) – The Indian government should immediately stop harassing the Center for the Advancement of Social Concerns and its People’s Watch program unit, ten human rights groups said today. The government should stop using the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and other abusive laws to silence civil society in India.
The groups are Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Amnesty International, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Dalit Solidarity Network, International Service for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) as part of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders ‘man.
On January 8, 2022, India’s national investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), raided the offices of the non-governmental organization Center for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC) in Madurai, State. of Tamil Nadu. CBI officers entered the group’s premises and seized several documents. CBI officers have informed the Center for the Advancement of Social Concerns that they are investigating allegations of fraud and financial irregularities under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, a law that regulates foreign funding of organizations Indian non-governmental organizations.
The Center for Promotion of Social Concerns, a leading human rights organization better known by its People’s Watch program unit, monitors human rights abuses, works with victims of socially abused and economically marginalized people, including by the police, and provides human rights education and training. In 2016, the Home Office rejected the group’s application for renewal under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act. They said it was “based on a field agency report,” which civil society leaders say broadly refers to intelligence agency or law enforcement reports.
When the Center for Promoting Social Concerns challenged the government’s decision in the Delhi High Court, the Home Ministry told the court that the group had used foreign funds to share information with United Nations special rapporteurs. and foreign embassies, “casting India’s human rights record in a negative light… to the detriment of India’s image.” The government called this “undesirable activities detrimental to the national interest”.
The government’s response in court is evidence that it violates India’s international obligations by targeting a group that promotes compliance with international human rights instruments and cooperates with UN human rights mechanisms. The government has also alleged financial irregularities, although the Delhi High Court previously cleared the group of those charges in 2014 after the organization challenged similar suspensions in 2012 and 2013. The case is still pending.
The government appears to have systematically ignored court rulings in favor of civil society organizations and their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association. The courts have repeatedly reminded the government that in a democracy peaceful dissent is protected and cannot be muzzled.
The continued harassment of the Center for the Advancement of Social Concerns and People’s Watch violates their right to freedom of association and access to funding and appears to be aimed at punishing the organization for its human rights work and intimidating its staff.
This crackdown is part of a broader crackdown on civil society in India, including through the use of draconian laws such as sedition and terrorism. Since 2016, authorities have revoked, suspended, refused to renew the FCRA license of hundreds of civil society groups, or accused them of evading the law and frozen their bank accounts. These include Indian Social Action Forum, Lawyers Collective, Sabrang Trust, Navsarjan Trust, Anhad, Oxfam India, Greenpeace and Amnesty International India. Groups working on the rights of India’s most vulnerable populations such as Dalits, religious minorities and Adivasis are particularly vulnerable.
Over the years, a number of United Nations agencies have expressed concerns about the use of the Foreign Contributions Control Act to silence dissenting voices. In 2016, three United Nations human rights experts urged the government to repeal the law, saying it was being used to “hinder” access to foreign funding and that it “fails to meet international standards in matters of human rights”. In October 2020, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in a statement that the FCRA’s overbroad and vaguely worded provisions are “open to abuse” and that the law is “in fact being used to dissuade or punish NGOs for their human rights reporting and advocacy that authorities perceive as essential in nature.
Yet in 2020, India’s parliament passed amendments to the law, adding intrusive government oversight, additional regulations and certification processes, and operational requirements, which further undermined access for groups in the civil society to foreign funding and their ability to uphold human rights. job.
The National Human Rights Commission of India should promptly investigate the government’s refusal to renew the registration of the Center for the Advancement of Social Concerns under the law and take all appropriate and necessary measures to protect the human rights defenders and organisations, including their right to freedom of association and access to funding.
The Indian authorities should immediately end all acts of harassment against the Center for Promotion of Social Concerns and People’s Watch, drop all claims against them and renew their registration under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, in order to allow them to resume their work in favor of human rights. The government should also amend the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to bring it into line with international law and human rights standards and stop using it to target defenders and others exercising their basic human rights. It should further ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations are able to carry out their activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.