India: Government rejects international concern over repression of civil society at human rights review

© Mathias Reding / Unsplash

Geneva, 21 March 2023. The Indian government showed utter lack of commitment towards improving the situation of civil society and human rights defenders (HRDs) during a key review of India’s human rights record, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), FrontLine Defenders (FLD), and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) said today.

During India’s fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the government refused to accept most of the recommendations it received by United Nations (UN) member states aimed at improving the situation of civil society and HRDs.

The adoption of India’s fourth UPR is scheduled for 24 March 2023, during the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. On 10 November 2022, India received a total of 339 recommendations, which highlighted some of the most urgent human rights concerns in the country. The government accepted 221 (65%) of the recommendations, noted (i.e. did not accept) 111, and rejected seven.

Despite accepting two of the three general recommendations that called for the creation of a safe and enabling environment for civil society and HRDs, the government failed to accept most of the other specific recommendations aimed at making tangible progress on the situation of HRDs and civil society, including one recommendation that called for the adoption of an effective protection framework for HRDs and journalists.

The government did not accept all nine recommendations that called for the enforcement of the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) in a manner that is consistent with India’s international legal obligations with regard to the right to freedom of association. The FCRA has been increasingly used to hamper operations of civil society organization (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and to shut down organizations critical of the government.

The government also failed to accept nine of the 11 recommendations that called for the amendment or repeal of legislation that is inconsistent with India’s international legal obligations, including: the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA); the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA); and sedition and defamation provisions of the Indian Penal Code. These laws have been frequently used to crack down on civil society. At least 21 HRDs are currently detained under the UAPA and other national security laws in reprisal for their work.

The government refused to accept a recommendation that called for the release of all detained HRDs. Even more disturbing, it rejected outright another recommendation that called for the release of Kashmiri journalists and HRDs.

Lastly, while the government accepted a recommendation that called for the issuance of a standing invitation for country visits to all UN special procedure mandate holders, it refused to accept another recommendation that called for a country visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and of association.

On 31 March 2022, in their joint submission for India’s fourth UPR, FIDH, FLD, and OMCT documented the deteriorating situation of HRDs and CSOs in India since the country’s third UPR in May 2017.