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UN calls three Indian laws 'problematic'; raises concerns over targeting of rights activists

India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of groundbreaking human rights advocacy, UN said

Wednesday October 21, 2020 5:24 PM, ummid.com with inputs from Agencies

Michelle Bachelet

New Delhi: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Tuesday appealed the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent.

Bachelet’s office also pointed to three “problematic” Indian laws that have led to the arrest of activists and restrictions to the work of non-governmental organisations.

"India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of groundbreaking human rights advocacy within the country and globally," the High Commissioner said.

"But I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices", she said.

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In her statement, issued on Tuesday and released to the media by Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a collective rights organisations, Bachelet said that activists and human rights defenders had come under mounting pressure in recent months, particularly because of their engagement in mass protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that took place across the country earlier this year.

Criticising the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits the receipt of foreign funds “for any activities prejudicial to the public interest”, Bachelet’s office said, “The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, including official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts”.

“I am concerned that such actions based on the grounds of vaguely defined ‘public interest’ leave this law open to abuse, and that it is indeed actually being used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy that the authorities perceive as critical in nature,” the former Chilean president said.

“Constructive criticism is the lifeblood of democracy. Even if the authorities find it uncomfortable, it should never be criminalised or outlawed in this way,” Bachelet said in her statement.

The Indian government however rejected Bachelet’s criticism and said “violations of law” could not be “condoned under the pretext of human rights”.

“A more informed view of the matter was expected of a UN body,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.


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