India Must Refrain From Undermining Civil Society
Human Rights, 21/10/2020
The Right Livelihood Foundation is gravely concerned at the ongoing backlash against civil society and human rights defenders in India. The Foundation has a long history of supporting, defending and standing up for Indian civil society, and the Right Livelihood Award has always had a special significance in the country, as it counts the second-largest number of Laureates in the world.
The Right Livelihood Foundation condemns the recent amendment to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law that was already invoked in the past to justify invasive measures, including freezing of bank accounts or intrusive office visits, among others. It is estimated that since the FCRA was established in 2010, over 10,000 NGOs have lost their licenses. Most recently, Amnesty International was compelled to leave the country on alleged violations of FCRA. The most recent amendment places further restrictions on the use of foreign funds by civil society actors and comes with the risk to shut down numerous grassroots NGOs.
This worrying legal development is just the latest attempt by the Indian authorities to restrict civil society space. Earlier this year, students, professors and human rights defenders were arrested, some under terrorist laws, for protesting against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The Foundation had denounced such arrests in a statement at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council and reiterates its support to Indian civil society, which is fundamental in reaching marginalised groups underserved by government programmes and in assisting them in defending their basic human rights. We condemn in the strongest terms any efforts by the government to restrict civic space. Civil society organisations are primordial in defending fundamental freedoms and holding governments accountable; they stand at the basis of democratic values.
In this regard, the Right Livelihood Foundation welcomes the concerns expressed yesterday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Michelle Bachelet, who was dismayed at the recent FCRA amendment, which comes with the risk of more criminalisation of constructive criticism. We echo her calls to the government to ensure with utmost urgency that no one else is detained for exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms; to carefully review the FCRA in its compliance with international human rights standards and to release people charged under the “Unlawful Activities Prevention Act”.
We also reiterate our call made upon the Human Rights Council last month for India to mandate an independent investigation of the Delhi riots, ensuring accountability and prosecution of the real culprits, including the members of the central government who repeatedly called upon party members and police officers to shoot at protestors.