Three UN human rights experts have called on India to repeal a law restricting NGOs’access to crucial foreign funding, saying its provisions are increasingly being used to “silence” groups that are critical of government’s policies.
“We are alarmed that Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the government,” said UN Special Rapporteurs on Human rights defenders Michel Forst on freedom of expression David Kaye and on freedom of association Maina Kiai in their call to “repeal” to the FCRA.
The three experts called on India to repeal the FCRA, which is been increasingly used to obstruct civil society’s access to foreign funding, and fails to comply with international human rights norms and standards.
Despite detailed evidence provided by Lawyers Collective to rebut all allegations and prove that all foreign contributions were spent and accounted for in line with FCRA, the suspension was still applied, the UN human rights experts said in a statement issued from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“We are alarmed by reports that the suspension was politically motivated and was aimed at intimidating, delegitimising and silencing Lawyers Collective for their litigation and criticism of the Government’s policies,” the experts said, noting that the NGO is known for its public interest litigation and advocacy in defence of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of Indian society.
The experts’ call comes as India’s Home Affairs Ministry suspended earlier in June for six months the registration of the non-governmental organisation Lawyers Collective, under the FCRA.
The suspension was imposed on the basis of allegations that its founders, human rights lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, violated the act provisions by using foreign funding for purposes other than intended, the statement said.
Earlier today, the Home Ministry issued an order saying that the central government has cancelled the permanent registration of Sabrang Trust run by civil rights activist Teesta Stelvad and her husband Javed Anand with immediate effect, it said.
The government had also suspended the registration of Greenpeace India under the FCRA for six months earlier in April 2015, it added.
“Human rights defenders and civil society must have the ability to do their important job without being subjected to increased limitations on their access to foreign funding and the undue suspension of their registration on the basis of burdensome administrative requirements imposed to those organisations in receipt of foreign funds,” the statement said.
“We strongly urge the Government to reverse its decision and embrace the invaluable contribution of the two prominent human rights defenders in upholding constitutional values in India,” the experts said.
“We encourage the authorities to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and civil society, which play a critical role in holding the Government to account and buttressing the Indian democracy,” they said.
The UN experts noted the “outstanding national and international profile” as human rights lawyers of Jaising, a former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and Grover, who was the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health from 2008 to 2014.
The statement said FCRA’s “broad and vague” terms such as “political nature”, “economic interest of the State” or “public interest” are “overly broad, do not conform to a prescribed aim, and are not a proportionate responses to the purported goal of the restriction”.