India on Tuesday reacted sharply to the comments made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet who had expressed “dismay” at restrictions on human rights NGOs and “arrests” of activists in India.
The spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Anurag Srivastava said, “We have seen some comments by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on an issue relating to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). India is a democratic polity based on the rule of law and has an independent judiciary.”
He added, “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.”
Read our statement on comments by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on an issue related to Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). pic.twitter.com/uPsMhktzJt
— Anurag Srivastava (@MEAIndia) October 20, 2020
FCRA ACT BEING MISUSED TO STIFLE VOICES: UN
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday had expressed regret at the tightening of space for human rights NGOs and appealed to the government of India to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent.
“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.
“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.
She added, “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 criminalized or outlawed in this way.”
INDIA MAKES FOREIGN FUNDING OF NGOS DIFFICULT
India has recently amended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) which prohibits the receipt of foreign funds.
The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2020, effects a blanket ban on transfer of received foreign funds from organisations with an FCRA licence in any manner. It also calls for a drastic cut on the cap on received funds that can be utilised for administrative expenses from 50 per cent to 20 per cent, which includes office expenses, salaries of staff, fieldwork, travel, etc.
The amended act allows the central government to initiate fresh scrutiny into the applicant’s activities every five years when it applies for renewal of its FCRA licence. While mandating the verification of Aadhar cards of all office-bearers and key personnel of the organisation, it also allows receipt of such funds only in an account designated as “FCRA account” in a branch of the State Bank of India, New Delhi.
The Act, which was adopted in 2010 and was 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, India maintains that the change of rules was because certain NGOs were in violation of Indian laws.
Sources in the government said, “India is a vibrant and pluralistic democracy with a robust domestic grievance redressal mechanism, overseen by an independent judiciary and a Category ‘A’ National Human Rights Commission compliant with the Paris Principles.”
“These mechanisms are fully capable of addressing all allegations of violations of human rights anywhere in India. India has been at the forefront of the promotion and protection of all human rights in line with its international obligations and remains committed to doing so in the future,” the source added.