IND 006 / 1116 / OBS 095
Obstacles to freedom of association /
November 11, 2016
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership ofthe World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgentintervention in the following situation in India.
Brief description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sourcesabout the refusal by the Ministry of Home Affairs of India to renew thelicence of the charitable trust Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC) under the Foreign Contributions (Regulations)Act (FCRA) of 2010. The CPSC’s programunit, ‘People’s Watch’, carries outhuman rights monitoring, education and rehabilitation activities all over Indiafrom 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 torenew the registration of the CPSC under the FCRA, simply indicating: “On the basis of field agency report, thecompetent authority has decided to refuse your application for renewal”. No other reasons were given. As a consequence, theCPSC’s FCRA licence expired on October 31, and it can no longer receive foreignfunding.
On November 7, 2016, the Delhi High Court held ahearing to review the challenge lodged by the CPSC against the decision tocancel their foreign funding registration under the FCRA. In its plea, the CPSCasked to be provided with the reasons for the refusal to renew theirregistration.
During the brief hearing, Central Government StandingCounsel Anil Soni told the court that the Government was exempted fromproviding reasons for refusing to renew FCRA registrations, adding that thedecision was based on “inputs of intelligence agencies”. However, the PresidingJudge insisted that the Ministry provide the Court with the reasons for notrenewing CPSC’s registration before the next hearing on November 18, 2016.
The CPSC also filed a petition regarding this casewith the National Human Rights Commission of India on November 1, 2016.
The Observatory recalls that the FCRA licence of theCPSC had already been suspended on three occasions in 2012 and 2013, for a total period of 24 months, until the Delhi HighCourt ruled in its favour in March 2014.
The Observatory expressesits deepest concern about the obstacles to freedom of association and access tofunding faced by the CPSC and itsprogram unit People’s Watch, which seem to be merely aimed at sanctioning theorganisation's human rights activities. Accordingly, theObservatory calls upon the Indian authorities to immediately andunconditionally renew the CPSC’s FCRA registration, in order to allow thisprominent organisation to carry out its legitimate human rights work.
The Observatory furthercalls upon the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India to investigatethe denial to renew the registration of the CPSC under the FCRA and to take allappropriate and necessary actions to protect human rights defenders andorganisations in India, including the right of defenders and organisations toaccess funding in order to carry out their work. In particular, the NHRC couldconsider passing interim orders directing the Ministry of Home Affairs to allowthe CPSC to continue implementing its projects that are underway as perexisting contracts, and for that purpose to permitthe receiving of funds only for those projects till the larger question of therefusal of the FCRA to the CPSC is settled by the NHRC.
The Observatory is all themore concerned that the situation faced by the CPSC takes place in theframework of a wider repression on NGOs in India, including through the use ofthe FCRA. Most recently, onNovember 5, 2016, media announced the decision by the Government of India notto renew the registration of 25 NGOs under the FCRA for allegedly indulging in “activities not conducive to nationalinterest”. The Ministry of Home Affairs had earlier announced that ithad cancelled the FCRA licencesof more than 11,000 NGOs for failing to apply for renewal of their licences bythe June 30 deadline.
In India, NGOs eligible for foreign funding arerequired to renew their registration under the FCRA every five years, which isjustified by the Indian authorities by the need to “preserve nationalsecurity”. The FCRA also provides that any NGO whose registration certificatehas been cancelled or revoked may register or obtain prior authorisation for amaximum period of three years from the date of cancellation.
The impact of this law on Indian NGOs that receiveexternal funding is very harmful.
In astatement released on June 16, 2016, United Nations (UN)Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. MichelForst, on freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye, and on the rightsto freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai, called uponthe Government of India to repeal the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Actand said that they “are alarmed that FCRA provisions are being used more andmore to silence organisations advocating civil, political, economic, social,environmental and cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed bythe Government”. According to the UNexperts’ statement, FCRA is being “increasingly used to obstruct civilsociety’s access to foreign funding, and fails to comply with internationalhuman rights norms and standards”. They encouraged the authorities of India “toensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and civilsociety, which play a critical role in holding the Government to account andbuttressing Indian democracy”.
In April 2016, the UNSpecial Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and ofassociation published a legalanalysis of the FCRA and stated that the statute is “not in conformitywith international law, principles and standards”. The Special Rapporteurfurther mentioned in the report that “[the FCRA] appears to give the governmentbroad discretionary powers that could be applied in an arbitrary and capriciousmanner”.
Accordingly, the Observatory calls on the Indianauthorities to review the FCRA, and to amend the law and related implementingpolicies to ensure that they are in conformity to international law and humanrights standards.
Please write to theauthorities in India, urging them to:
i. Immediatelyand unconditionally renew the CPSC’s FCRA registration, since the denial of itsrenewal seems only aimed at sanctioning its legitimate human rights activities;
ii. Put anend to all acts of harassment, including judicial harassment, against all humanrights defenders and organisations in India, and remove all legal andadministrative obstacles so that they are able to carry out their work withouthindrances;
iii. Review theFCRA and amend the law and related implementing policies to ensure that theyare in conformity to international law and human rights standards;
iv. Conformwith the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted bythe General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially itsArticles 1 and 12.2; and
v. Moregenerally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights andfundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of HumanRights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified byIndia.
· 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
· JusticeT.S. Thakur, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court, ofIndia, Fax: +91 11 233 83792, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr.Srinivasa Kammath,Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission, ofIndia, Email: email@example.com
· H.E.Mr. Ajit Kumar, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the UnitedNations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 906 86 96, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Embassyof India in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 6489638 / +32 2 6451869
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassyof India in your respective country.
Geneva-Paris, November 11, 2016
Kindly inform us of any action undertakenquoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) wascreated in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. Theobjective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations ofrepression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu,the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented byinternational civil society.
- Urgent Interventions
Cancellation of the license of Sabrang Trust under the FCRA