India

 

  • ‘Due to the communications blockade in Kashmir, news of protests went largely underreported’

    On 5 August 2019, the government of India revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, which guaranteed the autonomous status and rights of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government also imposed a severe communications blockade that impacted on the daily lives of Kashmiri people, including by affecting access to medical care, basic necessities and emergency services. Hundreds of detentions of political activists, human rights defenders and community leaders have been reported. CIVICUS speaks about this situation with Natasha Rather, Regional Campaign Officer for the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, linked to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an organisation that focuses on enforced disappearances in the region, monitors the human rights situation and documents abuses.

    Natasha Rather interview

    What was the situation of civic freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir prior to the revocation of its special status under Indian administration?

    During the first half of 2019, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (JK) witnessed continued and increased violence and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, following a militant attack on the Central Reserve Police Force convoy on the Jammu–Srinagar highway that resulted in the killing of 48 Indian soldiers in February 2019. Following this attack, Kashmiri people living in various cities and towns of India became targets of hate crimes. Thousands of Kashmiri students were forced to flee from their colleges and universities and return back to Kashmir. People living in JK feared the attack would have dreadful consequences – which turned out to be true.

    The frequency of cordon and search operations (CASOs) and crackdowns increased in the aftermath of the attack. CASOs are a form of harassment that breach people’s right to privacy. According to a report by the APDP and Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, at least 177 CASOs were conducted by the Indian armed forced in JK, which resulted in the killing of at least 118 militants and four civilians and the destruction of at least 20 civilian properties.
    In February 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Kashmir Chapter of Jamaat-i-Islami were banned and hundreds of their leaders and workers were arrested.
    Ahead of the elections to the Indian Parliament, held in JK in April and May 2019, 100 additional companies of soldiers were deployed in Kashmir and mass arrests of political and religious leaders were carried out. During polling days there were complete shutdowns, violence and killings.

    The use of administrative detention under the provisions of repressive Public Safety Act (PSA) led to many arrests and detentions. Between January and June this year, at least 25 people were booked under the PSA.

    Internet shutdowns have also been a common practice in JK. Internet services were curtailed 51 times in the first half of the year.

    How did people in Jammu and Kashmir respond to the revocation of the state’s special status?

    Before revocation was formally announced by the Indian government, many rumours made the rounds and people guessed that something sinister was underway. Official orders by the state administration added to the apprehension. People prepared themselves for a complete lockdown, drawing from their previous experience when the Indian government imposed curfews and shut down phones and the internet.
    When revocation of the special status was announced amidst a complete blockade of communication and full restrictions on movement, people were not greatly shocked. The autonomy guaranteed to JK under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy – its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws – but it had been greatly eroded before revocation of the special status, which downgraded JK from a state to a union territory, and there was nothing much left in it for the benefit of the people.

    There have been concerns attached to the revocation of Article 35a, which permits the local legislature in Indian-administered Kashmir to define who are permanent residents of the region. People have speculated that demographic changes might be underway, designed and strategised along the same lines as the occupation of Palestine, including the demographic changes introduced by Israel in Palestine. While there are fears of demographic changes, the majority’s response has been not to fight against revocation of the state’s special status, as this would have meant legitimising the occupation of the region. The larger struggle is for the right to self-determination.

    We have read reports of civic space restrictions, including a ban on meetings, restrictions on freedom of movement and arrests of leaders. Can you provide more information about this?

    The announcement of the revocation of JK’s special status was accompanied by widespread restrictions. There was an increased deployment of Indian armed forces at all roads and intersections across the valley, and the unyielding troops have strictly restricted the movement of people. For the first few weeks, people were not even able to reach hospitals and doctors. Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code, which bans public gatherings of more than four people, was imposed despite a curfew being in place since the night of 4-5 August. This prevented people from organising protest gatherings and meetings.

    According to a government report dated 6 September, more than 3,800 people had been detained since 5 August and only about 2,600 of them were subsequently released. Those detained include political leaders from both pro-India and pro-independence parties, civil society members, lawyers and protesters. Three former Chief Ministers of JK – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – have been detained since 5 August. On 16 September, Farooq Abdullah was detained under the PSA. Leaders and politicians like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Farooq Abdullah, Taj Mohiuddin and M Y Tarigami have been under house arrest. Hotels and government guesthouses have been turned into detention centres. Many leaders and civil society members have been lodged in jails in India.
    There has been an extensive use of the PSA to detain people, especially young people. Many young people were detained without being formally charged and were released only after the signing of community bonds. Many young people and most political leaders continue to be detained.

    Have people protested? How have the security forces responded to protests?

    Despite the severe restrictions imposed on the movement and assembly of the people, there have been many protests across the valley of Kashmir, with people taking to the streets and shouting slogans demanding freedom from the Indian state. The Indian media has claimed that there were negligible protests against the abrogation of Article 370, making it seem like there is normality and acceptance of the Indian state’s decisions. Since the local media has not been able to report on these protests, stories from them have not come to the fore. There were many protests in Kashmir valley, but due to the communication blockade and restrictions on the movement of journalists and media, news of protests from other districts went largely underreported.

    Protesters have been met with excessive force by the Indian armed forces. For instance, on 9 August, several people were injured during protests in the Soura area of Srinagar. A doctor confirmed that at least 53 young people were treated for injuries at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences in Soura. Reports also emerged that five people have been killed in separate incidents as a result of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials in the policing of protests since the start of the clampdown.

    How has the internet shutdown affected the work of activists and journalists?

    The communication clampdown has greatly affected the work of journalists and activists. Owing to the shutdown of internet services and curbs on the movement of journalists, it has been a huge challenge for journalists to collect and file stories. The administration set up a Media Facilitation Centre in Srinagar where journalists are allowed to access the internet and email their stories. No such facilities are available in other districts of Kashmir. Newspapers in Kashmir have been publishing with a reduced number of pages. Journalists have been forced to rely just on state-issued press briefs once or twice a week, without any means to verify the stories. There has been news of journalists facing reprisals for filing stories on Kashmir’s ongoing situation.

    Also, since 5 August, civil society in JK has been under threat and dealing with a very precarious situation, as many civil society members have been detained and jailed under the PSA. In this way the Indian state has put pressure on Kashmiri civil society to remain silent about the current situation, and therefore their space is completely choked. There is a lot of resistance and criticism of the communications clampdown that is preventing civil society from carrying out its work.

    In this context, the support required from the international community is that they should increase their understanding of the Kashmir conflict and talking about it so as to prevent this human rights crisis from worsening.


    Civic space in India is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow @natasha_rather on Twitter.

     

  • 5 countries on civic space watchlist presented to UN Human Rights Council

    Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Watch us deliver our statement below:

     

    Dear Madame President,

    Research findings by the CIVICUS Monitor show a serious and rapid decline in respect for civic freedoms in IndiaLebanonIraq, Nicaragua, and Guinea(countries on current civic space watchlist)

    In India, protests against a discriminatory citizenship law have been met with excessive force and deadly violence by the authorities, with at least 50 killed, and hundreds injured. There has been no independent and impartial investigation into the police violence. Hundreds have also been detained on spurious charges, including human rights defenders.

    In Lebanon, peaceful protests have been subjected to severe and unwarranted violence by the authorities. About a thousand protestors have been arrested or detained while many have experienced torture or ill-treatment while in detention.

    In Iraq, activists and journalists have been abducted, arbitrarily arrested and murdered in order to prevent them from participating in or covering demonstrations that broke out in October 2019.  Since the outset of the protests, hundreds of protestors have been killed at the hands of security forces.

    In Nicaragua, we are seriously concerned by the lack of political will to stop the repression of fundamental civic freedoms and to address the current human rights crisis. We call on this council to support a strong resolution on Nicaragua as the situation continues to worsen.

    In Guinea, mass protests which begun in October 2019 against government plans to replace the Constitution, have been met with excessive force. The killing of protesters and bystanders has been met with almost complete impunity. 

    Such restrictions on civic space are often a precursor for further human rights abuses and we call on the members and observers of this Council to act now to prevent further deterioration.

    Civic space ratings by CIVICUS Monitor
    Open Narrowed Obstructed  Repressed Closed

     


    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

  • 5 países en la lista de vigilancia del espacio cívico presentada al Consejo de Derechos Humanos de la ONU

    Declaración en el 43º período de sesiones del Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas


    Los resultados de la investigación del CIVICUS Monitor muestran un serio y rápido declive en el respeto de las libertades cívicas en la India, Líbano, Irak, Nicaragua y Guinea (países que figuran en la actual lista de vigilancia del espacio cívico)

    En la India, las protestas contra una ley discriminatoria en materia de ciudadanía han sido reprimidas por las autoridades con una fuerza excesiva y una violencia mortal, con al menos 50 muertos y cientos de heridos. No se ha realizado ninguna investigación independiente e imparcial sobre la violencia policial. También se ha detenido a centenares de personas con acusaciones falsas, incluidos defensores de los derechos humanos.

    En el Líbano, las protestas pacíficas han sido objeto de una violencia grave e injustificada por parte de las autoridades. Alrededor de un millar de manifestantes han sido arrestados o detenidos, mientras que muchos han sufrido torturas o malos tratos durante su detención.

    En Irak, activistas y periodistas han sido secuestrados, detenidos arbitrariamente y asesinados para impedir que participen en las manifestaciones que se iniciaron en octubre de 2019.  Desde el comienzo de las protestas, cientos de manifestantes han sido asesinados a manos de las fuerzas de seguridad.

    En Nicaragua, nos preocupa seriamente la falta de voluntad política para poner fin a la represión de las libertades cívicas fundamentales y para hacer frente a la actual crisis de derechos humanos. Hacemos un llamamiento a este Consejo para que apoye una resolución firme sobre Nicaragua, ya que la situación sigue empeorando.

    En Guinea, las protestas masivas que comenzaron en octubre de 2019 contra los planes del gobierno de reemplazar la Constitución, han sido enfrentadas con excesiva fuerza. El asesinato de manifestantes y transeúntes ha sido recibido con casi total impunidad. 

    Esas restricciones del espacio cívico suelen ser un precursor de nuevos abusos de los derechos humanos y pedimos a los miembros y observadores de este Consejo que actúen ahora para evitar un mayor deterioro.

    Calificaciones del espacio cívico por CIVICUS Monitor
    Abierto     Estrecho Obstruido Represivo Cerrado

     

    Consulte nuestras prioridades de abogacía y programa de actividades en la 43ª sesión del Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas

     

  • 5 pays sur la liste de surveillance de l'espace civique présentés au Conseil des droits de l'homme

    Déclaration à la 43ème session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies

    Les résultats des recherches menées par le CIVICUS Monitor montrent un déclin grave et rapide du respect des libertés civiques en Inde, au Liban, en Irak, au Nicaragua et en Guinée (pays figurant sur la liste actuelle de surveillance de l'espace civique)

    En Inde, les protestations contre une loi discriminatoire sur la citoyenneté ont été accueillies avec une force excessive et une violence mortelle par les autorités, faisant au moins 50 morts et des centaines de blessés. Aucune enquête indépendante et impartiale n'a été menée sur les violences policières. Des centaines de personnes ont également été détenues sur la base d'accusations fallacieuses, notamment des défenseurs des droits humains.

    Au Liban, les manifestations pacifiques ont été soumises à des violences graves et injustifiées de la part des autorités. Un millier de manifestants ont été arrêtés ou détenus, et beaucoup ont subi des tortures ou des mauvais traitements pendant leur détention.

    En Irak, des militants et des journalistes ont été enlevés, arrêtés arbitrairement et assassinés afin de les empêcher de participer ou de couvrir les manifestations qui ont éclaté en octobre 2019.  Depuis le début des manifestations, des centaines de manifestants ont été tués par les forces de sécurité.

    Au Nicaragua, nous sommes sérieusement préoccupés par le manque de volonté politique de mettre fin à la répression des libertés civiques fondamentales et de faire face à la crise actuelle des droits humains. Nous appelons ce Conseil à soutenir une résolution forte sur le Nicaragua alors que la situation continue de s'aggraver.

    En Guinée, les protestations de masse qui ont commencé en octobre 2019 contre les projets du gouvernement de remplacer la Constitution ont été accueillies avec une force excessive. Les meurtres de manifestants et de passants ont été commis dans une impunité quasi totale. 

    De telles restrictions de l'espace civique sont souvent le prélude à de nouvelles violations des droits humains et nous appelons les membres et les observateurs de ce Conseil à agir maintenant pour empêcher toute nouvelle détérioration.

    Les évaluations de l'espace civique par le CIVICUS Monitor
    Ouvert Rétréci Obstrué  Reprimé Fermé

     

    Voir nos priorités de plaidoyer et notre programme d'activités lors de la 43e session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies

     

  • Advocacy priorities at 43rd Session of UN Human Rights Council

    The four-week human rights council will sit from 24 February to 20 March, and there are a number of critical human rights resolutions up for debate, and for the 47 Council members to address. CIVICUS will be conducting and presenting evidence on a variety of thematic and country-focused issues. Full overview below or jump directly to see our programme of events.

    Country-specific situations

    Nicaragua (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    Our members on the ground have documented serious human rights violations, including attacks on fundamental freedoms and against human rights defenders and journalists. A report issued last year by the OHCHR, mandated by a resolution adopted in 2019, reflected this situation, and recommended enhanced UN monitoring and reporting. Given the lack of political will in the country to cooperate with regional and international mechanisms, and the concerning situation on the ground, CIVICUS calls on states to support a resolution on Nicaragua which calls for such enhanced reporting at the very least.

    Sri Lanka (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    This is a critical time for Sri Lanka, with concerns that the new administration which came to power last year could renege on its Council-mandated human rights and accountability commitments. The resolution adopted at the 30th Session of the Human Rights Council and remains the only process in place which could guarantee justice for victims of human rights violations. Civic space is closing at an alarming rate – since the new administration came to power, civil society members on the ground have been threatened and intimidated, their records destroyed, and human rights defenders and journalists have been attacked. CIVICUS calls for states to encourage cooperation between the government of Sri Lanka and international human rights mechanisms, and for Council members to reaffirm their commitment to resolution 40/1, which put into place time-bound commitments to implement the accountability mechanisms in resolution 30/1.

    Iran (Civic space rating:Closed)

    In 2019, Iran erupted into a series of protests against lack of political and democratic freedoms and the deteriorating economic situation. Protesters were met with violent repression through mass arrests and lethal force. Current geopolitical developments have entrenched the regime and exacerbated internal insecurity further. This Human Rights Council Session will discuss the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. CIVICUS supports the renewal of the Special Rapporteur mandate and encourages states to raise concerns about the use of lethal force in protests.

    India (Civic space rating:Repressed)

    India’s civic space rating was downgraded with the last CIVICUS report. A controversial and discriminatory citizenship law has given rise to mass protests across the country, which have been subject to violent crackdowns, leading many injured and at least 25 dead. Jammu and Kashmir remain under severe repression, including through sustained internet shutdown which is reaching its sixth month. Internet was partially restored in January but restrictions remain, making the shutdown the longest recorded in a democracy. Internet shutdowns are also being used across the country in order to hinder freedom of peaceful assembly. CIVICUS encourages States to raise concerns about India, and to call for an investigation into the violent suppression of peaceful protests, and to repeal discriminatory provisions in the Citizenship Law.

    Thematic mandates

    The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

    The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders will be renewed this Session. This is a crucial mandate which has an impact of all CIVICUS’s areas of focus, and we encourage states to eco-sponsor the resolution at an early stage. The Special Rapporteur will present his annual report on HRDs in conflict and post-conflict situations, and reports on his country visits to Colombia and Mongolia. CIVICUS encourages states to affirm their co-sponsorship of the resolution early in the Session.

    Freedom of Expression

    The mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression is set to be renewed this Session, at a time when internet blackouts in increasingly used as a tactic to limit freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of peaceful assembly. We encourage states to co-sponsor the renewal of this important mandate at an early stage.

    Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB)

    The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief will present his annual report, which this year focuses on the intersection of religion and belief and gender and SOGI rights, and reports on country visits to Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. CIVICUS will be engaging on Sri Lanka and on India, which have both undergone concerning developments with regards to freedom of religion.

    Prevention

    The Chair-Rapporteur of two intersessional seminars on the contribution that the Council can make to the prevention of human rights violations will present the report of the seminars.

    CIVICUS will be highlighting the connection between civic space and prevention – that closures in civic space are often precursors to wider human rights crises, and that by intervening at the civic space level, the Council has a role to play in ensuring that such human rights violations are prevented.


    CIVICUS and members’ events at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (events will be livestreamed @CIVICUS Facebook page):

    27 February (11:00 CET, Room VII), a side event will discuss the current critical situation in Nicaragua, and the importance of an enhanced monitoring mandate.

    2 March (14:00 CET, Room VII), CIVICUS and partners are organising an event on the constitutional and civic space crisis in India. 

    5 March (13:00 CET, Room VII), CIVICUS is co-sponsoring an event led by ICNL and the Civic Space Initiative consortium partners on countering terrorism financing while preserving civic space ----canceled due to the coronavirus

    12 March (12:30 CET, Room XXI), CIVICUS is co-sponsoring a side event on the use of lethal force in protests in Iran and Iraq, and responses from the international community---canceled due to the coronavirus

    Current council members:

    Afghanistan; Angola; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Chile; China; Croatia; Cuba; Czechia; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Denmark; Egypt; Eritrea; Fiji; Hungary; Iceland; India; Iraq; Italy; Japan; Mexico; Nepal; Nigeria; Pakistan; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Slovakia; Somalia; South Africa; Spain; Togo; Tunisia; Ukraine; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Uruguay.

     

  • As India goes to to the polls, will the people vote against the ‘politics of hate’

     

    By Alina Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

    Womens March3 4 April 2019In just under a week, the world’s largest democracy, India, will vote to elect and constitute the 17th Lok Sabha. According to the Election Commission (EC) of India, nearly 900 million voters will be eligible to vote for representatives to the lower house or the Lok Sabha of the bicameral Indian Parliament. Voting will begin on 11th April and be held in seven phases till 19th May, 2019 across 543 constituencies. The EC has also declared 23rd May, 2019 the day of counting and results.

     

  • CIVICUS GLE Testimonial: Building communities for inclusive action

    French | Spanish

    by Vandita Morarka, One Future Collective, India

    VanditaI was a participant at the Global Learning Exchange and the ensuing AGM held by CIVICUS in Montevideo, Uruguay, 16th December, 2018, onwards, representing One Future Collective.

    As a participant I engaged in various discussions and actionable agenda items towards building the first step towards frameworks for inclusion and diversity. The representatives at the GLE in themselves were a stellar example of the beauty and massive knowledge exchange and learning that actual practise of diversity and inclusion can bring in.

     

  • CIVICUS World Assembly Delegates Express Deep Disappointment at India's New Curbs on Civil Society

    6 September 2010. Over 70 eminent civil society activists from across the globe who attended the CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal this August expressed deep disappointment at the enactment of India's regressive Foreign Contributions Regulations Act, 2010 (FCRA).

    Among other things, the Act allows for broad executive discretion to designate organisations as being of ‘political nature' and thereby prevent them from accessing funding from abroad, which could affect the independence of civil society groups critical of government policies. It also requires organisations to renew their permission to receive funding from abroad every five years which subjects them to additional bureaucratic red tape, and places an arbitrary cap of 50% on the administrative expenses of an organisation receiving foreign funding as a further sign of interference in the internal functioning of civil society organisations.

     

  • Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

    Read this press release in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish

    Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.

     

  • Gates Foundation award to India’s Modi a setback for civic freedoms and democratic values

    The decision by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to award Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a Goalkeepers Global Goals Award on 24 September sends the wrong message. Prime Minister Modi's violation of civic freedoms should not be overlooked by one of the world’s largest philanthropic donors. Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party government have a dismal human rights record which includes persecuting activists and undermining the watchdog roles of the media and civil society groups.

    Prime Minister Modi is being awarded in recognition of his work to improve sanitation through the Clean India Programme. Many civil society organisations and individuals have over the last few weeks voiced serious concerns about the implications the presentation of the award would have on global philanthropic endeavours and the collective advancement of human rights. As a partner of the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, CIVICUS has taken a decision in principle not to attend the awards ceremony.  

    We recognise that the Foundation has made significant contributions to enhance people’s lives around the world in the health and sanitation field. However, honouring Prime Minister Modi with this award ignores serious concerns raised by civil society on the decline of civic freedoms in India as well as the holistic nature of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Modi government is ignoring the democratic pillars of the goals by failing to implement commitments related to public access to information, inclusive decission making and fostering civil society partnerships - targets largely embodied in Goals 16 and 17.

    “All 17 sustainable development goals are interdependent and co-related, said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. “The Modi government has a lot of ground to cover with regards to fulfillment of SDG commitments on inclusive governance, civil society partnerships, access to information and fundamental freedoms. In fact it has deliberately suppressed these.”

    CIVICUS has highlighted a pattern of attacks and violations against freedoms of expression, association and assembly in India. These attacks include a recent lock down on civic freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir, raids on the offices of Lawyer’s Collective and Amnesty International, persistence of arbitrary arrests, judicial harassment and attacks on civil society activists and journalists and those expressing democratic dissent. Activists seeking to protect the rights of minority communities and environmental justice face particular challenges.

    India is rated as obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory platform that rates and measures the state of civic freedoms in 196 countries.

    FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES PLEASE CONTACT:

    For more information or to arrange interviews with event organisers, please contact: 

     

  • India: Arbitrarily detained Kashmiri prisoners must be freed 

    While recent steps taken by Indian authorities to decongest prisons in an effort to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak are welcome, the Government should release all unjustly detained prisoners as a matter of priority.

    The fate of hundreds of arbitrarily detained Kashmiri prisoners hangs in the balance as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in India passes the 4,000 mark and many more are likely to remain undetected or unreported.

    Inmates and prison staff, who live in confined spaces and in close proximity with others, remain extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. While the rest of the country is instructed to respect social isolation and hygiene rules, basic measures like hand washing - let alone physical distancing - are just not possible for prisoners.

    Under international law, India has an obligation to ensure the physical and mental health and well-being of inmates. However, with an occupancy rate of over 117%, precarious hygienic conditions and inadequate health services, the overcrowded Indian prisons constitute the perfect environment for the spread of coronavirus. 

    In a bid to contain the spread of the disease among inmates and prison staff, the Supreme Court asked state governments on 23 March 2020 to take steps to decongest the country’s prison system by considering granting parole to those convicted or charged with offenses carrying jail terms of up to seven years.

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also called on governments to “examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders.”

    Various state governments in India have now begun releasing detainees. However, there is a concern that hundreds of Kashmiri youth, journalists, political leaders, human right defenders and others arbitrarily arrested in the course of 2019, including following the repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on 5 August 2019, will not be among those benefiting from the measure. Article 370 provided special status to Jammu & Kashmir. 

    Human rights groups and UN experts have repeatedly called for the release as a matter of priority of “those detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.” 

    Last month, the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that 7,357 persons had been arrested in Jammu & Kashmir since 5 August 2019. While the majority have since been released, hundreds are still detained under sections 107 and 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and the Public Security Act (PSA), a controversial law which allows the administrative detention of any individual for up to two years without charge or trial. Reportedly, many of those still detained are minors.

    Many of those detained were transferred to prisons all across India, thousands of kilometers away from their homes, hampering their lawyers’ and relatives’ ability to visit them. Some of the families, often too poor to afford to travel, have been left with nothing but concerns over the physical and psychological well-being of their loved ones.

    Mr. Miyan Abdul Qayoom, a human rights lawyer and President of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court Bar Association, was also cut off from his family and lawyer. Detained since 4 August 2019 in India's Uttar Pradesh State, he was transferred to Tihar jail in New Delhi following a deterioration of his health. Mr. Qayoom, 70, suffers from diabetes, double vessel heart disease, and kidney problems. 

    Mr. Ghulam Mohammed Bhat was also transferred to a jail in Uttar Pradesh. In December 2019, he died thousands of kilometers away from his home at the age of 65 due to lack of medical care.

    With the entire country in a lockdown and a ban on prison visits for the duration of the outbreak imposed, inmates are more isolated from the outside world than ever. In such a situation, prison authorities must ensure that alternative means of communication, such as videoconferencing, phone calls and emails, are allowed. However, this has not often been the case. Especially in Jammu & Kashmir, where full internet services are yet to be restored after a communication blackout imposed on the population on 5 August 2019, contacts between inmates and the outside world are even more limited. 

    The isolation of inmates from the outside world is even more alarming in light of the huge number of deaths in custody, pointing towards the use of torture and ill-treatment in Indian prisons. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment against Kashmiri prisoners as part of a decades-long pattern of abuses have been repeatedly denounced by human rights groups and UN bodies.

    We remind Indian authorities that all measures designed to halt the spread of the virus must respect the fundamental human rights of every individual and we call on the Government to:

    • Immediately release all arbitrarily detained prisoners, including journalists, human rights defenders, political leaders and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views, including Mr. Miyan Abdul Qayoom and all those arrested after 5 August 2019 in Jammu & Kashmir;
    • Consider releasing those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders;
    • Provide adequate healthcare and implement preventive measures, such as the screening of all detainees and the confinement of vulnerable inmates, to ensure the safety of all prisoners and prison staff;
    • Take measures to ensure that, upon release, inmates are medically screened and provided with adequate care and proper follow-up, including health monitoring; 
    • Ensure the availability to all prisoners of alternative measures to prison visits (e.g. video conferencing, more telephone access);
    • Ensure that safeguards against torture and ill-treatment of people in custody, including access to lawyers and medical examinations, are maintained during the emergency; and
    • Restore full access to high-speed internet in Jammu & Kashmir.

    We would like to stress that these are not issues circumscribed to the coronavirus emergency. No one must ever be tortured, ill-treated, or arbitrarily deprived of their liberty. All prisoners must be able to enjoy decent detention conditions, have access to health care, legal representation and the support of their families, even in normal times. 

    These are not new issues. The Government of India must urgently address them, regardless of the threat of a global pandemic. A truly healthy society is one where fundamental rights are enjoyed by all, in time of crisis and beyond.

    • Amnesty International India 
    • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    • Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation 
    • International Commissions of Jurists (ICJ)
    • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

     

  • India: Crackdown continues in Jammu & Kashmir

    Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Our organizations express grave concern over the human rights situation in Jammu & Kashmir, where the authorities imposed severe restrictions after a decision to revoke constitutional autonomy on 5 August 2019, including one of the world’s longest internet shutdowns, which the Indian Supreme Court has said violates the right to freedom of expression.

    Hundreds were arbitrarily arrested, and there are some serious allegations of beatings and abusive treatment in custody, including alleged cases of torture. Three former chief ministers, other leading politicians, as well as separatist leaders and their alleged supporters, remain in detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and other abusive laws, many without charge and in undisclosed locations outside of Jammu & Kashmir.  This violates fair trial safeguards of the criminal justice system and undermines accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights. Journalists and human rights defenders have been threatened for criticizing the clampdown. These violations, as those committed over the past decades, are met with chronic impunity. 

    We urge the government of India to ensure independent observers including all human rights defenders and foreign journalists are allowed proper access to carry out their work freely and without fear, release everyone detained without charge, and remove restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of movement, including where they have been denied the right to leave the country by being placed on the ‘Exit Control List’.

    We also call on the governments of India and Pakistan to grant unconditional access to OHCHR and other human rights mechanisms to Kashmir.

    We further urge the Council to establish an independent international investigation mechanism into past and ongoing crimes under international law and human rights violations by all parties in Kashmir, as recommended by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Amnesty International
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Human Rights Watch
    International Commission of Jurists
    International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)
    International Service for Human Rights
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

    This statement is also supported by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS)


    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

  • India: Democracy Dialogue Report: 26 August 2018

    Democracy Dialogue held by The Blue Ribbon Movement in Mumbai, India, 26 August 2018

     

  • India: Democracy threatened by growing attacks on civil society 

    According to the policy brief, published by CIVICUS in November 2017, although civil society in India has been playing essential roles ever since the country's struggle for independence, the space for civil society - civic space - is increasingly being contested.

     

  • India: End communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir without further delay

    India blockage statement

    Kathmandu/Bangkok/Paris/Geneva, 4 October 2019:

    Today completes two months of the unprecedented communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) urge the government of India to immediately restore internet and mobile phone connections in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. We are deeply concerned over the wide-ranging impact on the enjoyment of basic human rights caused by this continuous restriction on communications.

    Internet shutdowns, of which there have been dozens in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir since the beginning of the year, have significant consequences, negatively impacting the economy, education, access to health care and emergency services, press freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to engage in political decision making. This is particularly grave given the context, in which the government of India, on 5 August, 2019, revoked the autonomous status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the State into two Union Territories. With the suspension of communications, people have effectively been denied the right to make informed political opinions and to express themselves regarding these decisions.

    Although limited landline connections were reportedly restored across Jammu and Kashmir on 13 September 2019, access to those connections remains limited. No enforceable law in India permits such unprecedented and prolonged internet shutdown without any valid justification. Moreover, freedom of expression is protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a state party, and under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

    A petition filed before the Supreme Court of India noted that the communication shutdown had fueled “anxiety, panic, alarm, insecurity and fear among the residents of Kashmir” and created hurdles for journalists to report on the situation in the region. In a statement on 22 August 2019, five UN human rights experts expressed deep concern over the shutdown and called it “inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality.’

    There have also been reports of hundreds of detentions of political activists, human rights defenders, community leaders, and others, including children between 9 and 11 years of age, under the draconian Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) of 1978, which permits preventive detention without charge. The communication blockade has also impeded access to legal aid.

    FORUM-ASIA, CIVICUS, FIDH, and OMCT strongly believe that this prolonged restriction on communication, coupled with arbitrary mass detentions, denial of freedom of expression and access to information, is unnecessary and disproportionate to the situation and will further lead to a deterioration of human rights and basic freedoms. We urge the government of India to end the communications blockade immediately and to adopt remedial measures to undo the damage done so far in Jammu and Kashmir. We reiterate our call to the government of India to resort to peaceful democratic means and refrain from use of brute force.

    For more information, please contact:

    1. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, majumdar[AT]civicus.org
    2. South Asia Programme, FORUM-ASIA, sasia[AT]forum-asia.org
    3. FIDH, jrousselot[AT]fidh.org
    4. OMCT, nb[AT]omct.org, sa[AT]omct.org

     

  • India: The UN must condemn crimes against peaceful protesters

    Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council by Amnesty International India, CIVCUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, FORUM-ASIA and FIDH

    As the UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva to discuss human rights developments globally, we urge states to speak up against serious human rights violations being committed in India against peaceful protesters and other civilians.

    Both international human rights law and the Constitution of India guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of association.

    Regrettably, those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) since December 2019 have been arrested and intimidated under various repressive laws. Political leaders have demonised the protesters. At least 50 people have been killed in the protests, including an eight-year-old child, and thousands of people have been arrested and detained. 

    On 12 December 2019, the CAA was passed by the Indian Parliament and assented by the President of India. The CAA provides a path to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, excluding Muslims, thus legitimising discrimination based on religious grounds. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Parliament, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and various US senators have raised serious concerns about the CAA. 

    The amendments to the Citizenship Act also weaponize the NRC, the National Population Register, and the Foreigners Tribunals to push minorities – particularly Muslims — towards detention and statelessness. As of now, over 1.9 million people are excluded from the NRC, a registration exercise that took place in Assam State over a period of five years. 

    Use of Repressive Laws

    Protesters have faced arbitrary arrests and detention under repressive laws, such as sedition provisions in the Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In January 2020, sedition charges were lodged against 3,000 people for protesting against the CAA in Jharkhand State. Cases of sedition have also been filed against a schoolteacher and mother of a student for “insulting” the Prime Minister through a school play; carrying a ‘Free Kashmir’ placard during a protest; and shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” [Long Live Pakistan]. 

    Indian courts have ruled that any form of expression must involve incitement to imminent violence for it to amount to sedition. But the sedition charges have been repeatedly used to arrest journalists, activists and human rights defenders simply for expressing their views. 

    Similarly, the UAPA is India’s primary counter-terrorism law and has been condemned by various human rights groups as being repressive and against the international human rights norms. In the past, the UAPA was abused by successive governments to target human rights defenders working with poor and marginalized communities and those who criticise government inactions or excesses. The abuse of the UAPA has continued under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration On 12 December 2019, Akhil Gogoi, an activist and leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a peasant rights organisation based in Assam State, was arrested by the Assam police under various sections of the UAPA. 

    Excessive Use of Force by Authorities 

    Police across India have used excessive force to target peaceful protesters. In December 2019 in Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the police indiscriminately used firearms and less lethal arms to disperse peaceful protesters. This led to the death of an eight-year old child who was crushed to death on 20 December 2019, and resulted in over a dozen injuries.

    The police also attacked student protesters in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in December 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Students were also attacked in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) while they were protesting against the CAA in December 2019. Doctors at AMU stated that on 16 December 2019, police blocked ambulances from entering the university to treat the injured students. 

    On 24 February 2020, the Allahabad High Court criticised the role of the Uttar Pradesh Police and said, “The police force should be sensitised and special training modules prepared to inculcate professionalism in the personnel while handling such situations”. The court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to pay compensation to students who were injured during the protests due to police brutality. 

    However, to date, no reports have been filed against police officers for using excessive force against protesters. 

    Hateful Rhetoric and Vigilante Violence

    While there has been a heavy-handed approach by the police towards the protestors, some political leaders have been inciting hatred and violence against the protesters. 

    Terms like “anti-nationals” and “traitors” have been used to encourage violence against the protesters. The 24/7 sit-in protest site, Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, which has become the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests in the country, has been routinely targeted. The peaceful protests in Delhi has been led primarily by Muslim women and students. 

    In response, some union ministers and chief ministers have engaged in violent rhetoric with statements such as “shoot the traitors”, “press the button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh”, “the protesters would enter citizens’ homes and rape your sisters and daughters and kill them”, “revenge will be taken” in  attempts to divide and fear-monger. In another incident on 23 February 2020, Kapil Mishra,  a leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, warned the police of dire consequences if the protesters did not vacate another protest site in Jaffrabad in north-east Delhi, where over 500 women had gathered to protest against the CAA. Shortly after his speech, clashes broke out in the area, which led to the deaths of at least 42 people, including a police constable, and injuring over 250 others. 

    This rhetoric has emboldened non-state actors to assault civilians. However, not a single political leader has been prosecuted for making hate speeches against the protesters. On 26 February, the Delhi High Court ordered the Delhi Police to register a police report against a number of political leaders immediately. 

    Restriction on Freedom of Movement and Right to Freedom of Assembly

    The space for protesting against the CAA and NRC has also been shrinking across India. Orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code were imposed in many parts of Karnataka State and Uttar Pradesh State to restrict gatherings of people at protest sites and to restrict their freedom of movement. 

    In Uttar Pradesh State, the police issued notices to over 3,000 people, cautioning them to neither participate nor incite others to participate in the protests. Such bans on protests have also been imposed in other parts of the country including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bhubaneswar, Nagpur, and Bhopal. In in December 2019, the space for peaceful protests in Varanasi was severely restricted with police officers openly threatening the protesters. 

    In addition to the criminalisation of peaceful assemblies, the freedom of assembly has also been restricted by burdening civilians with recovering the cost of damages to public property. In December 2019, after the violence broke out in Uttar Pradesh, the state government sent notices seeking to recover INR 45 millions’ (USD 628,403) worth of damage to public property. These notices were sent without any form of judicial scrutiny, raising concerns of arbitrariness and bias. Furthermore, to require assembly organisers to shoulder costs for cleaning up after a public assembly is inconsistent with Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Such costs deter those wishing to enjoy their right to freedom of assembly.

    Internet Shutdowns

    As people took to the streets to protest against the CAA, the Indian authorities imposed internet shutdowns across the country to “maintain law and order.” Besides shutting down internet services in 29 districts of Uttar Pradesh State and the entire Assam State, the authorities also cut internet services in districts in the states of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur. India has become the country with the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world.

    These shutdowns did not meet requirements for permissible restrictions on the right freedom of expression, as set out under international human rights law. It is unclear under what criteria decisions were made to cut off internet access or what mechanisms were available to challenge such decisions, in violation of the requirement of legality. There is no evidence to show that internet shutdowns prevent the escalation of violence during protests, which makes them in violation of the requirement of necessity. 

    The UN Human Rights Council has unequivocally condemned “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law”, and has called on all states to “refrain from and cease such measures”. 

    Use of Mass Surveillance 

    Police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh State have also used facial recognition technology to monitor, identify, and arrest protesters. Currently, India does not have data protection legislation, resulting in a lack of oversight and regulation of this technology. The absence of a legal framework that specifically regulates facial recognition technology renders the use of such tool susceptible to abuse.  Moreover, the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes raises concerns of indiscriminate mass surveillance, which is never a permissible interference with the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

    In light of this, we urge the international community, and in particularly UN Human Rights Council member states, to hold the Indian government accountable by calling on the Indian authorities to:

    1. Immediately denounce the state-sponsored and vigilante violence against peaceful protesters.
    2. Drop all charges against peaceful protesters.
    3. Ensure those detained and arrested are treated in line with international human rights law and standards. 
    4. Take necessary measures to establish a fully independent investigation into reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies towards protestors and vigilante violence. The findings should be made public and the perpetrators of such acts should be prosecuted without undue delay.
    5. Ensure that elected political leaders and public officials who have incited violence and promoted hatred between communities are held accountable

    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

  • India: Two more women activists arrested as crackdown on protesters continue

    Human Rights Defenders Alert – India and global civil society alliance CIVICUS call for the immediate release of two women activists who were arrested last week for their involvement in mass protests against the discriminatory citizenship law. These arrests highlight the escalating crackdown on dissent by the Indian authorities.

     

  • INDIA: When justice is on your side, you have to keep on fighting

    Flickr: Anand Grover

    After years of civil society campaigning and legal action, gay sex was decriminalised in India in 2018. CIVICUS speaks to Anand Grover, Senior Advocate and Director of Lawyers Collective, a civil society organisation that led the campaign. Lawyers Collective seeks to empower andchange the status of marginalised groups through the effective use of law and engagement in human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation. Founded in 1981, Lawyers Collective uses the law as a tool to address critical issues such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual and reproductive rights, LGBTI rights and access to medicine and healthcare.Anand is known for his legal activism around homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. From 2008 to 2014 he was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and is currently an acting member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

    Homosexuality is still criminalised in about 70 countries around the world, but no longer in India. What is the significance of this change?

    In September 2018, when the Supreme Court decriminalised consensual adult sex in private, it meant a lot to many people in India. Section 377 of the Penal Code criminalised all forms of so-called ‘unnatural sex’, that is, penal non-vaginal sexual acts. Section 377 ostensibly applied to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, and to gay men and lesbian women, but it was mostly used as a tool in the hands of the police to harass, extort and blackmail gay men. It prevented gay men from seeking legal protection from violence, for fear that they would end up being penalised for sodomy. Criminalisation resulted in stigma and prejudice, which in turn perpetuated a culture of silence around homosexuality and resulted in rejection at home and discrimination in the workplace and public spaces.

    Not surprisingly, when we first challenged Section 377 in 2001, nobody wanted to become a petitioner; homosexuality was so stigmatised that nobody wanted to come forward. It was only in 2009, when the High Court of Delhi first decriminalised it, that people started coming out into the open.

    The recent Supreme Court ruling lifted such a heavy burden from many people that we call it the second independence of India – the independence of all these groups that were still criminalised by a British law. Section 337 was imposed in 1861, under colonial rule. Before the British came, sexual practices were not criminalised in India.

    As an immediate result of the legal change, people now can be open about their sexualities. People who got married abroad are now throwing receptions to celebrate their marriages. This was unheard of in India before September 2018. It is quite new for people to declare willingly that they are gay and be seen as a normalised part of society. The other day I interviewed somebody for a job, and she said she was bisexual – and nobody had asked her about it, we asked her about her aspirations, her thoughts about society, and she just said, ‘I’m bisexual and I am happy about all that is happening’, and that was that. We will, hopefully, become a more pluralistic society, at least in terms of sexuality.

     

    Can this change be claimed as a victory for Indian civil society? What role did the Lawyers’ Collective and other civil society organisations (CSOs) play in the process?

    This was indeed a big and hard-won victory for civil society. The process was kicked off by the Lawyers’ Collective in 2001 - or even earlier, because it all started with HIV. We began advocating for the rights of people with HIV in the late 1980s, and lost many times, but got our largest victory in 1997, when the Bombay High Court ruled against discrimination in public sector employment on the basis of HIV status.

    After we won the HIV case, many gay men started coming to our office in Mumbai to seek legal advice. And that’s when I realised that the main issue for them was Section 377. It was the biggest impediment to the full expression of sexuality and personhood of LGBTI people.

    We, in the Lawyers Collective, first decided to challenge Section 377 in 1999 or 2000 but couldn’t file a petition because no gay men were ready to come forward. In the meantime, someone else filed a petition in Delhi and it was dismissed. We then had to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377 in Delhi High Court. The Naz Foundation, a Delhi-based CSO working on HIV prevention amongst homosexuals and other men having sex with men, had also reached the same conclusion: Section 377 was one of the biggest obstacles to access to health services by gay men, who tried to stay under the radar due to fear of prosecution.

    In the Delhi High Court, we argued that Section 377 made it difficult for the Naz Foundation to do their job of providing sexual health advice to gay men. We also challenged Section 377 on the grounds that it violated the rights to equality, non-discrimination and freedom of expression, life and personal liberty, which included the rights to privacy, dignity and health.

    In 2009, the Delhi High Court declared that Section 377 was unconstitutional, and therefore decriminalised adult consensual same-sex relations in private. However, 15 Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) against the Delhi High Court’s decision were filed in the Supreme Court, mostly on behalf of faith-based and religious groups, and the government did not file an appeal. Among other interventions in support of the judgment, the Lawyers Collective filed a comprehensive counter affidavit against the SLPs, on behalf of the Naz Foundation. In 2013 the Supreme Court overturned the judgement of the Delhi High Court on the grounds that amending or repealing Section 377 should be in the hands of parliament rather than the judiciary. The Naz Foundation, through the Lawyers Collective and others, then submitted curative petitions. In the meantime some other petitions were filed and in September 2018 the Supreme Court eventually revised its 2013 judgment and concluded that Section 377 was indeed unconstitutional. They basically said: oh, we made a mistake, sorry.

    What are they key lessons you learned from this experience that could help people in other countries who are fighting similar battles?

    The lesson is quite simple: you need to realise that when justice is on your side, you have to keep on fighting and you will eventually win. That is what happened here: we knew that this law, that was arbitrarily imposed by the British, was unjust. We encountered lots of challenges, the fight was a long one, but we were ultimately victorious.

    Are you experiencing backlash? Do you expect anti-rights groups to challenge these gains?

    Not really, not this time. In fact, from 2001 to 2018 we developed a lot of advocacy through the media, and over time the public started understanding the issues, so there’s hardly any backlash now. The process took a long time, so it also gave us time for changes to catch within the mindset of the people.

    I think anti-rights groups are weak on this particular issue, because all major religious groups eventually took sides against criminalisation. We will eventually see backlash when the issue of marriage equality is raised, but not around the decriminalisation of gay sex. And even gay marriage will eventually happen, because it is the logical next step.

    What should be the next agenda item to work on?

    Now we need to move to the next stage in terms of equality between LGBTI people and the rest of the population, including equality and non-discrimination in the private sector, regarding employment, education, health services and so on. Also, laws about sexual assault and rape need to be gender-neutral. This also applies to marriage – it should be defined as a relationship between two people, and so the definition should be gender-neutral. The same goes for inheritance and other things.

    We approach change from two sides: public opinion and the courts. The reason why we choose to work through the courts rather than parliament is that the judiciary is more empathetic to these causes, whereas the parliament is packed with right-wing politicians, so these reforms wouldn’t pass.

    Civic space in India is rated as ‘obstructed’ in theCIVICUS Monitor

    Get in touch with Lawyers Collective through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow@LCHIVWRI and@AnandGroverRepo on Twitter

     

  • Indian Government should withdraw criminal charges against NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’ and its representatives

    Signatories India Letter

    26 June 2019,

    Bangkok/Colombo/Dublin/Geneva/Johannesburg/London/New Delhi/New York/Paris

    We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the filing of criminal charges against Indian NGO ‘Lawyers Collective’, its Senior Advocate Anand Grover, and other representatives. Criminal charges were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on June 13, 2019, relying on an investigation report of January 2016 of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA report has been challenged by Lawyers Collective in January 2017 and the case is under consideration by the High Court of Bombay.

    Lawyers Collective is a human rights organisation based in New Delhi with its registered office in Mumbai and was founded by noted Indian human rights defenders and lawyers Ms Indira Jaising and Mr Anand Grover. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover are senior advocates with an exceptional profile of public service, probity and personal and professional integrity as lawyers and as human rights defenders. Ms Jaising was an Additional Solicitor General of India between 2009 and 2014, and was also a member of the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) between 2009 and 2012. Mr Grover held the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health between 2008 and 2014. Ms Jaising and Mr Grover, through Lawyers Collective, have advocated for advancing the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of Indian society, thereby upholding constitutional values as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

    Lawyers Collective’s registration under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA) was first suspended on May 31, 2016, and its bank accounts frozen. The FCRA license was not renewed on October 28, 2016, and was cancelled on November 27, 2016. Lawyers Collective petitioned the High Court of Bombay to challenge the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal in January 2017 and March 2017, respectively. In January 2017, its domestic accounts were unfrozen. Lawyers Collective’s challenge to the FCRA cancellation and non-renewal are currently pending before the High Court.

    Filing of criminal charges while the matter is under consideration by the High Court is a blatant misuse of its agencies by the Indian Government to target critical human rights work undertaken by Lawyers Collective and its representatives, often involving sensitive cases against Indian ministers and senior officials of the ruling political party.

    On May 15, 2019, the MHA wrote to CBI for ‘further investigation as per law’ into the matter relating to Lawyers Collective. On June 13, 2019, the CBI solely relying on the impugned MHA report registered a First Information Report under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, false statement made in declaration and various sections under the FCRA and Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act 1988. Given that there has been no change in circumstances since 2016 and also no material or evidential basis to support the provisions invoked under the IPC and PC Act, the filing of criminal charges is a blatant act of reprisal against Lawyers Collective and its representatives.

    Such actions by the Indian Government are contrary to its pledge at the UN Human Rights Council and its obligations and commitments under several international human rights treaties and declarations. The FCRA has been time and again criticised by human rights defenders and NGOs within and outside India for its regressive and unfair interference in the functioning of organisations. Indian human rights defenders have condemned the use of FCRA and the accusations of “foreign funding” to quash dissent and smear individuals and groups.

    In his analysis of the FCRA in 2016, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association Maina Kiai concluded that certain provisions of FCRA were not in conformity with international human rights law and noted that “access to resources, including foreign funding, is a fundamental part of the right to freedom of association under international law, standards, and principles, and more particularly part of forming an association”.In June 2016 Kiai joined the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders calling on the Government of India to repeal the regressive FCRA, which was being used to “silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.[1],”

    We strongly call upon the Indian Government to cease misusing the country’s laws, including the FCRA, against human rights defenders. In the specific case of Lawyers Collective, we urge the criminal charges be immediately withdrawn pending the decision of the High Court of Bombay. We appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of India to take cognizance of this matter and take immediate actions under the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 (PHRA) and to undertake a legal review of the FCRA under Section 12 (d) of the PHRA.

    We further call upon the Indian Government to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Lawyers Collective and Mr Anand Grover, as well as against all human rights defenders in India and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance.

    Signatory organizations:

    Amnesty International

    CIVICUS

    Forum Asia

    Front Line Defenders

    Human Rights Defenders Alert

    Human Rights Watch

    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR)

    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

     

    [1]https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20112&LangID=E

     

  • Narendra Modi Has Five Years to Change His Track Record on Democratic Values

    By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

    Recent raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the homes and offices of human rights lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising are deeply worrying. Together with their organisation, Lawyer’s Collective formed in 1981, Grover and Jaising have frequently used India’s courts to seek justice for victims of major rights violations such as the Union Carbide Bhopal gas leak, 1984 Delhi riots and 2002 Gujarat riots. Lawyer’s Collective has also played a key role in the passing of legislation to address violence against women and sexual harassment at the workplace.

    This is not the first time that outspoken rights advocates and their organisations have been targeted in India. Nonetheless, for the country’s premier investigation agency to go after Lawyer’s Collective for alleged violations of the discretion riddled Foreign Contributions  Regulation Act (FCRA) which has been discredited by UN experts, might be a step too far in a country that claims to be the world’s largest democracy.

    Read on: The Wire 

     

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