India gets a rap from UN Human Rights Commission a day after it seals the office of Kashmir Times

India gets a rap from UN Human Rights Commission a day after it seals the office of Kashmir Times
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet UN
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet claims that India is restricting the right to freedom of association using its ‘vaguely’ worded laws.
  • She pointed in particular to the country’s newly amended Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
  • According to her, the UN Human Rights Committee has found that India ‘must show the specific nature of threat’ to justify its restrictions.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called out India for its “vaguely” worded laws, which are stifling the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights activists in the country.

Incidentally, her letter comes a day after the Jammu and Kashmir estates department sealed the Srinagar office of the Kashmir Times.

However, Bachelet’s issue isn’t related to that one incident. Instead, she points to India’s newly amended Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) that poses a big concern.

The UN Human Rights Committee has found that if a country chooses to invoke a law that restricts the right to the freedom of association — it “must show the specific nature of the threat or risks posed.”

The committee oversees the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a party.

"The FCRA has been invoked over the years to justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies," she explained.

Kashmir Times is only the most recent example
Last month, Amnesty International was compelled to close its offices in the country after the Modi administration froze its bank accounts over alleged violation of the FCRA.

According to Bachelet, activists and human rights advocates have also come under increasing pressure in recent months due to their participation in mass protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The UN claims more than 1,500 people have reportedly been arrested in relation to the protests, with many charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act — a law which, like the FCRA, has also been widely criticised for its failure to meet the standards of international human rights.

In the case of government sealing the Kashmir Times office, the editor believes she is being targeted for filing a petition in the Supreme Court against the communications blockade imposed on 5 August 2019, when the central governments revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s ‘special status’ and, instead, split the former state into two Union Territories.

“The debilitating restrictions imposed through the complete shutdown on internet and telecommunication services, and severe curbs on the movement of photo journalists and reporters [should] be immediately relaxed in order to ensure the freedom of the press and media,” said the petition filed on August 10, 2019.

What’s wrong with the FCRA?
The Foreign Contribution Regulations Act restricts the use of foreign funds in Indian not-for-profit organisations, among other changes. According to NGOs and human rights advocates, the problem with the act is that the definition of ‘public interest’ has not been specified and leaves it open to interpretation.

As a result, those looking to abuse the letter of law rather than uphold its spirit, have used the broad umbrella of ‘public interest’ to serve their own means.

"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,” said Bachelet.

She added that the UN Human Rights Office will continue to engage with the Indian government on issues relating to the promotion and protection of human rights. It will also continue to monitor developments that impact fundamental rights and freedom.

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