The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.
Brief description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the refusal by the Ministry of Home Affairs of India to renew the licence of the charitable trust Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC) under the Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Act (FCRA) of 2010. The CPSC’s program unit, ‘People’s Watch’, carries out human rights monitoring, education and rehabilitation activities all over India from its headquarters in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
According to the information received, on October 29, 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced on its website its refusal to renew the registration of the CPSC under the FCRA, simply indicating: “On the basis of field agency report, the competent authority has decided to refuse your application for renewal”. No other reasons were given. As a consequence, the CPSC’s FCRA licence expired on October 31, and it can no longer receive foreign funding.
On November 7, 2016, the Delhi High Court held a hearing to review the challenge lodged by the CPSC against the decision to cancel their foreign funding registration under the FCRA. In its plea, the CPSC asked to be provided with the reasons for the refusal to renew their registration.
During the brief hearing, Central Government Standing Counsel Anil Soni told the court that the Government was exempted from providing reasons for refusing to renew FCRA registrations, adding that the decision was based on “inputs of intelligence agencies”. However, the Presiding Judge insisted that the Ministry provide the Court with the reasons for not renewing CPSC’s registration before the next hearing on November 18, 2016.
The CPSC also filed a petition regarding this case with the National Human Rights Commission of India on November 1, 2016.
The Observatory recalls that the FCRA licence of the CPSC had already been suspended on three occasions in 2012 and 2013, for a total period of 24 months, until the Delhi High Court ruled in its favour in March 2014.
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the obstacles to freedom of association and access to funding faced by the CPSC and its program unit People’s Watch, which seem to be merely aimed at sanctioning the organisation’s human rights activities. Accordingly, the Observatory calls upon the Indian authorities to immediately and unconditionally renew the CPSC’s FCRA registration, in order to allow this prominent organisation to carry out its legitimate human rights work.
The Observatory further calls upon the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India to investigate the denial to renew the registration of the CPSC under the FCRA and to take all appropriate and necessary actions to protect human rights defenders and organisations in India, including the right of defenders and organisations to access funding in order to carry out their work. In particular, the NHRC could consider passing interim orders directing the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow the CPSC to continue implementing its projects that are underway as per existing contracts, and for that purpose to permit the receiving of funds only for those projects till the larger question of the refusal of the FCRA to the CPSC is settled by the NHRC.
The Observatory is all the more concerned that the situation faced by the CPSC takes place in the framework of a wider repression on NGOs in India, including through the use of the FCRA. Most recently, on November 5, 2016, media announced the decision by the Government of India not to renew the registration of 25 NGOs under the FCRA for allegedly indulging in “activities not conducive to national interest”. The Ministry of Home Affairs had earlier announced that it had cancelled the FCRA licences of more than 11,000 NGOs for failing to apply for renewal of their licences by the June 30 deadline.
In India, NGOs eligible for foreign funding are required to renew their registration under the FCRA every five years, which is justified by the Indian authorities by the need to “preserve national security”. The FCRA also provides that any NGO whose registration certificate has been cancelled or revoked may register or obtain prior authorisation for a maximum period of three years from the date of cancellation.
The impact of this law on Indian NGOs that receive external funding is very harmful.
In a statement released on June 16, 2016, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst, on freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye, and on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai, called upon the Government of India to repeal the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act and said that they “are alarmed that FCRA provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental and cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government”. According to the UN experts’ statement, FCRA is being “increasingly used to obstruct civil society’s access to foreign funding, and fails to comply with international human rights norms and standards”. They encouraged the authorities of India “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 Indian democracy”.
In April 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association published a legal analysis of the FCRA and stated that the statute is “not in conformity with international law, principles and standards”. The Special Rapporteur further mentioned in the report that “[the FCRA] appears to give the government broad discretionary powers that could be applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner”.
Accordingly, the Observatory calls on the Indian authorities to review the FCRA, and to amend the law and related implementing policies to ensure that they are in conformity to international law and human rights standards.
Please write to the authorities in India, urging them to:
i. Immediately and unconditionally renew the CPSC’s FCRA registration, since the denial of its renewal seems only aimed at sanctioning its legitimate human rights activities;
ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including judicial harassment, against all human rights defenders and organisations in India, and remove all legal and administrative obstacles so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrances;
iii. Review the FCRA and amend the law and related implementing policies to ensure that they are in conformity to international law and human rights standards;
iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1 and 12.2; and
v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by India.
· Mr. Shri Nanredra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, Fax: + 91 11 2301 6857. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
· Mr. Raj Nath Singh, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Fax: +91 11 2309 2979. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Sh. B. K. Singh, Under Secretary (FCRA), Ministry of Home Affairs, Email : email@example.com
· Justice T.S. Thakur, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court, of India, Fax: +91 11 233 83792, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Justice Shri H.L. Dattu, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Fax +91 11 2465 1329. Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Srinivasa Kammath, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission, of India, Email: email@example.com
· H.E. Mr. Ajit Kumar, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 906 86 96, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Embassy of India in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 6489638 / +32 2 6451869
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India in your respective country.