Three Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations have written to the Indian government regarding the crackdown on non-governmental organisation (NGO) Amnesty International India, urging it to stop alleged attacks against human rights NGOs under the disguise of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
Amnesty had in September stopped all its ongoing campaigns and research works in India following a freeze on its bank accounts by the government, which, the letter said, Amnesty is planning to challenge by filing a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court.
Expressing serious concerns over the move to freeze the bank accounts, which it said the trust’s employees realised on September 10, 2020, it asserted as of October 15, it had “not received any formal charges from any government authorities, despite the fact that the first search by the Enforcement Directorate was carried out more than two years before.”
Stating it had previously considered the FCRA to be incompatible with international human rights standard, the letter said “the application of the FCRA to human rights organizations creates a stigmatizing and chilling effect on the legitimate work these organizations do.”
It said the situation has been exacerbated by an alleged smear campaign against Amnesty. It said, “The leak of a dossier on Amnesty India to the press, allegedly by the Enforcement Directorate based on its ongoing investigations, indicates a potentially deliberate attempt by the government to tarnish AI (Amnesty International) India’s reputation.”
The letter further said that the government’s 2019 response to a joint communication sent about a year prior to that, “did not entail any substantive responses to the questions posed in the communication, but only stated that the matter was under investigation.”
Outlining a timeline of incidents that have taken place over the past two years, including CBI and ED raids at the offices of Amnesty International India and Amnesty India Private Limited, freezing of accounts and Income Tax department’s letters to regular donors of the trust, it sought clarifications from the government on a few issues.
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The UN Special Rapporteurs have sought the Indian government to provide information on the legal basis for the freezing of their accounts and on the timeline and potential deadlines for the ongoing investigation and possible dates for the court hearings.
They have also asked the Indian government how the FCRA is compatible with international human rights norms and standards, and what measures has been taken to ensure that laws and policies to monitor funding transactions do not adversely impact on the associations’ and human rights defenders’ ability to access funds.
They had urged the government to respond within 60 days, and if the deadline was not adhered to, the letter, dated October 21, 2020, would be made public. “They will also subsequently be made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.”
The Rapporteurs also urged the government to stop the alleged intimidation against the trust and other human rights NGOs. “…unless the formal charges were to instantaneously be communicate to AI India, the ongoing 5 investigations against them be halted, their bank accounts unfrozen and its legitimate work be continued.”
They also urged the government to stop the alleged attacks against human rights NGOs under the disguise of the FCRA and amend the law to ensure its compatibility with India’s human rights obligations under international law.
The UN Special Rapporteurs included Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.