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.

     

  • Civil society facing reprisals for engagement in UN human rights mechanisms

    Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

     


    Acts of reprisal pose a threat to the functioning of UN human rights mechanisms as a whole. Civil society engagement is fundamentally necessary to ensure adequate reporting to these mechanisms and to promote human rights, in and outside the UN. Reprisals lead to self-censorship, weakened engagement and watered-down reporting, and represent an attack against UN mechanisms themselves.

    This week, the Amnesty International India section was forced to stop its ongoing work and let go of its staff after a complete freezing of the organisation’s bank account. India is a member of this Council, and it is particularly egregious that the country has effectively shuttered a critical voice in researching and reporting human rights violations to UN mechanisms.

    We are also alarmed that in China, one of the most prolific perpetrators of reprisals, human rights defenders, activists and lawyers reported that they had been targeted for engaging with the United Nations staff or human rights mechanisms. In September 2018, the Permanent Mission of Burundi in Geneva requested that OHCHR withdrew the accreditation of various human rights defenders. In Cambodia, attacks by the government against prominent rights group LICADHO, STT and Mother Nature, among others, risks impeding them from their vital monitoring and reporting work and severely restricts the ability of defenders to engage with human rights mechanisms at a critical time when Cambodia's human rights are in freefall.

    We urge Member States to not only refrain from such acts of intimidation and reprisals, but to address them. It is past time to impose a real political cost for the deliberate weakening of our human rights mechanisms.

     

  • 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: 

     

  • Human Rights Council: Restrictions on civil society will curtail any chance of building back better

    Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Thank you, Madame President; High Commissioner.

    We welcome your update and strongly agree that recovering better requires ensuring participation for all. In this very difficult year, we are encouraged that civic activism has continued as people have mobilised to demand their rights.

    But across the world, civil society has been impeded in its work.  The CIVICUS Monitor shows that in the context of COVID-19 measures, protest rights have been violated and restrictions on freedom of expression continue as states enact overly broad emergency legislation that limits human rights.

    We reiterate that restrictions on civil society will curtail any chance of building back better. States should indeed be investing in protecting and promoting a free and independent civil society at this crucial time.

    The Council has the opportunity to act immediately on a number of situations where civic space is being threatened. In Sri Lanka, attacks against civil society are compounding grave failures of accountability. In Nicaragua, where ahead of elections, restrictions on civic space and expressions of dissent are likely to escalate. Myanmar, where we are inspired by the courage of people who risk lives and freedom every day to protest the coup, who continue to fear violent crackdown on dissenting voices. In India, where the government has continued its persecution of human rights defenders, student leaders, journalists and other critics, including through restrictive laws, prolonged pre-trial detention and excessive force perpetrated against protesters. 

    We call on the Council this Session to take measures to support civil society by acting now, on the situations brought before it. Situations which require immediate action.

     

     

  • INDIA: ‘CSOs that dare speak truth to power are attacked with politically motivated charges’

    Mrinal Sharma

    CIVICUS speaks to human rights lawyer and researcher Mrinal Sharma about the state of civic freedoms in India. Mrinal works to help unlawfully detained human rights defenders, asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons in India. She worked as Policy Advisor with Amnesty International India until the Government of India forced the organisation to shut down in October 2020. Her work with Amnesty focused on people who are arbitrarily deprived of their nationality in Assam, the barriers against access to justice in Kashmir and the demonisation of minorities in India. Mrinal had previously worked with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Refugee Solidarity Network.

     

  • INDIA: “Las organizaciones de la sociedad civil que se atreven a decirle la verdad al poder son atacadas”

    Mrinal SharmaCIVICUS habla con la abogada e investigadora de derechos humanos Mrinal Sharma acerca del estado de las libertades cívicas en India. Mrinal trabaja ayudando a personas defensoras de derechos humanos ilegalmente detenidas y a solicitantes de asilo, refugiados y apátridas en India. Trabajó como Asesora de Políticsa en Amnistía Internacional India hasta que el gobierno de este país obligó a la organización a cerrar en octubre de 2020. Su trabajo con Amnistía se enfocó en las personas privadas arbitrariamente de su nacionalidad en Assam, en las barreras para el acceso a la justicia en Cachemira y en la demonización de las minorías en toda India. Mrinal había trabajado anteriormente en la Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative y en la Refugee Solidarity Network.

    ¿Se están volviendo más restrictivas las condiciones para ejercer las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión bajo el gobierno del primer ministro Narendra Modi?

    Ciertamente, el espacio cívico en la India ha experimentado un deterioro gradual bajo el gobierno de Modi. El 90% de los delitos de odio perpetrados en la última década se produjeron después de 2014, es decir, durante el gobierno de Modi. Según la base de datos sobre sedición de Artículo 14, desde 2010 11.000 personas han sido acusadas de sedición en la India. El 96% de los casos de sedición iniciados desde 2010 por criticar al gobierno nacional y a sus líderes fueron iniciados durante el gobierno de Modi. La India no es ajena a la tendencia al bloqueo deliberado del acceso a internet y ostenta el récord de haber impuesto el mayor número de bloqueos de internet en todo el mundo. Según el Internet Shutdown Tracker del Software Freedom Legal Centre, la cantidad de bloqueos de internet ha aumentado constantemente desde 2014. Estos alcanzaron su punto máximo en 2019, lo cual dio cuenta del prolongado apagón de las comunicaciones impuesto por el gobierno indio en Jammu y Cachemira. Además, entre 2012 y 2020, 148 de los 385 bloqueos de internet fueron impuestos para contener “situaciones de orden público” en curso, un eufemismo que suele utilizarse en referencia a las protestas pacíficas. Estos datos indican la magnitud de las restricciones impuestas sobre las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión en la India.

    Además, el uso de leyes restrictivas tales como la Ley de Prevención de Actividades Ilegales (UAPA), la Ley de Seguridad Nacional, la Ley de Seguridad Pública y otras leyes de detención preventiva para frenar las protestas contra las políticas discriminatorias del gobierno también se ha convertido en algo habitual. Ni siquiera esta virulenta pandemia ha disuadido al gobierno indio de detener o mantener detenidas a personas defensoras de derechos humanos de avanzada edad o en mal estado de salud, a pesar de la situación de hacinamiento en las cárceles. En julio de 2020, Varavara Rao, un poeta y activista de 81 años que fue acusado en virtud de la UAPA por su presunta participación en actos de violencia ocurridos durante las celebraciones de Bhima Koregaon en 2018, dio positivo para el COVID-19 mientras estaba detenido en una prisión superpoblada de Maharashtra. Tras pasar más de dos años y medio detenido a la espera de juicio y de realizar múltiples intentos fallidos para obtener la libertad bajo fianza, recientemente fue puesto en libertad por seis meses en consideración de su precario estado de salud. Del mismo modo, Safoora Zargar, una investigadora académica que estaba embarazada de tres meses fue acusada bajo la UAPA y detenida en otra prisión superpoblada de Delhi por protestar pacíficamente contra la Ley de Enmienda de la Ciudadanía (CAA). Fue necesario llevar a cabo una intensa campaña pública internacional, nacional y local para que fuera puesta en libertad bajo fianza. Muchos estudiantes siguen detenidos.

    La pandemia ha sido utilizada para activar leyes draconianas de “emergencia”. Estas leyes otorgan amplios poderes al gobierno para detener y encarcelar a cualquiera que infrinja el confinamiento punitivo impuesto para frenar la propagación del virus. Estas leyes fueron aplicadas en forma arbitraria contra periodistas, trabajadores esenciales y personas pertenecientes a grupos excluidos. Algunos fueron incluso torturados y asesinados mientras estaban bajo custodia policial. Según un informe reciente del Proyecto de Justicia Penal y Responsabilidad Policial, la mayoría de los informes contravencionales elevados durante el confinamiento en el estado de Madhya Pradesh fueron contra peatones, y en particular contra vendedores ambulantes y personas en vehículos de dos ruedas, lo cual dejó en evidencia la aplicación discriminatoria de las leyes de emergencia.

    Cabe señalar que la aplicación de estas leyes es un hilo conductor que une a sucesivos gobiernos. La mayoría de estas leyes fueron aprobadas por el gobierno anterior; el gobierno actual simplemente las ha utilizado para atacar a grupos sociales específicos.

    ¿Cuáles son los principales motivos que dan cuenta de los ataques contra activistas y organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC)?

    La sociedad civil desempeña un rol muy importante a la hora de acortar distancias entre derechos y derechohabientes. Al hacer ese trabajo, también comprende los defectos de los sistemas sociales y económicos y tiene poder para cambiar el statu quo exigiendo el fin de las desigualdades y desmantelando las estructuras de poder existentes, cosa que ha hecho con éxito en el pasado. Los líderes políticos demonizan a las OSC, desacreditan su trabajo y experiencia y las convierten en chivos expiatorios en función de sus creencias políticas para adquirir poder y beneficiarse políticamente.

    Estos constantes ataques adoptan la forma de restricciones ilegales y uso de términos vagos e imprecisos para describir a las personas defensoras de derechos humanos, a los manifestantes pacíficos y a sus motivaciones, y así moldear a la opinión pública. Entre esos términos se cuentan los de “antinacional”, “naxal urbano” y el más reciente “aandolanjivis” (manifestantes profesionales). Las OSC también son descritas como portadoras de una “ideología extranjera destructiva”, como una elite corrupta y como ese “otro” que trabaja contra el pueblo, mientras que quienes lideran esta demonización son presentados como representantes de ese “pueblo”. Esto aviva aún más las hostilidades entre grupos sociales, distrae al público de las verdaderas taras de la sociedad y habilita la adopción de políticas discriminatorias. Además, la restricción selectiva del derecho de las personas a las libertades de expresión y asociación con el objeto de silenciar las críticas y perpetuar la narrativa del gobierno también conduce efectivamente a la polarización, que es un terreno fértil para promover agendas políticas estrechas.

    ¿Qué cuestiones de derechos humanos son las que más preocupan a Amnistía Internacional en la India?

    La flagrante criminalización del disenso en la India sigue siendo muy preocupante. Las interrupciones masivas de Internet, el uso excesivo, innecesario y a menudo ilegal de la fuerza por parte de la policía y las detenciones ilegales en virtud de las leyes antiterroristas se han convertido en algo demasiado habitual. Dan prueba de ello la respuesta de mano dura del gobierno frente a las protestas pacíficas contra la decisión unilateral de despojar a Jammu y Cachemira de su autonomía constitucionalmente garantizada, en medio de un apagón total de las comunicaciones, la promulgación de la discriminatoria CAA y, más recientemente, la aprobación de tres leyes agrícolas que pretenden desregular la agricultura en la India.

    Desde septiembre de 2020, más de 160 agricultores han muerto mientras protestaban pacíficamente contra las leyes agrícolas. Muchos jóvenes activistas que apoyan a los agricultores están detenidos bajo cargos de sedición. Al menos 50 personas murieron en los disturbios que estallaron en el noreste de Delhi en febrero de 2020. Además, la burbuja de noticias falsas y desinformación facilitada por los modelos de negocios de las grandes empresas tecnológicas, que están basados en la vigilancia, combinada con marcos débiles para la protección de los datos, alimenta constantemente la política de demonización en la India.

    También son preocupantes las represalias del Estado contra quienes denuncian violaciones y delitos de casta, así como la impunidad generalizada por los asesinatos y ataques contra minorías religiosas perpetrados por turbas de civiles armados y policías. A modo de ejemplo, a pesar de las pruebas irrefutables, grabadas en video, que muestran la complicidad de agentes de policía en los disturbios producidos en el noreste de Delhi en febrero de 2020, hasta ahora no hay ningún policía procesado. Al mismo tiempo que se ignoran sistemáticamente la violencia y el discurso de odio de los partidarios de la CAA, los manifestantes contrarios a la CAA siguen siendo acosados e intimidados por el gobierno.

    ¿Podría contarnos acerca de la Ley de Regulación de las Contribuciones Extranjeras (FCRA) y su impacto sobre la sociedad civil?

    La FCRA regula las donaciones extranjeras en la India. Ostensiblemente, fue promulgada para regular las donaciones extranjeras a los partidos políticos y controlar la influencia extranjera en las elecciones indias. Enmendada en múltiples ocasiones desde su aprobación en 2010, se ha convertido en un arma eficaz en manos del gobierno para sofocar a la sociedad civil india. Su versión más reciente impone restricciones discriminatorias al acceso de las OSC a financiamiento, imponiendo procedimientos de autorización onerosos, altamente burocráticos y difíciles de realizar. Desde 2011, según lo admite el propio gobierno, se han cancelado las licencias de más de 20.000 OSC. Las organizaciones que se atreven a decirle la verdad al poder o a cuestionar las violaciones de derechos humanos, como es el caso de Amnistía Internacional India, son atacadas con la FCRA mediante acusaciones motivadas políticamente.

    La última modificación de la FCRA, aprobada en plena pandemia, ha ahogado aún más a la sociedad civil. Prohíbe que los funcionarios públicos reciban fondos extranjeros; prohíbe la transferencia de fondos extranjeros de una organización o individuo a otro, más allá de que cuenten con licencia bajo la FCRA; reduce el límite de utilización del rubro de “gastos administrativos” del 50% al 20%; amplía el periodo de suspensión de la licencia para OSC otorgada por la FCRA de 180 días a un año; y establece que las contribuciones extranjeras solo pueden ser recibidas mediante una cuenta bancaria de la OSC marcada por la FCRA en una sucursal designada del banco estatal situada en Delhi.

    Estas enmiendas estigmatizarán efectivamente la asociación de funcionarios públicos con organizaciones sin fines de lucro, ahogarán las colaboraciones entre OSC y, en particular, aquellas que involucren a OSC más pequeñas y de base, reducirán los fondos asignados para pagar sueldos del personal y realizar proyectos en el terreno que conlleven gastos de viaje, y privarán a las OSC de fondos hasta que el gobierno complete su investigación por presuntas violaciones a la FCRA. También obstaculizarán el trabajo de las OSC que tienen su sede fuera de Nueva Delhi, que constituyen aproximadamente el 93% de s las OSC registradas en la India, ya que imponen innecesarios gastos de viaje, los cuales además se contarían dentro del límite de 20% para gastos administrativos.

    El gobierno tiene la obligación de justificar la imposición de estas estrictas restricciones y la vulneración de los derechos humanos de las personas y organizaciones a asociarse y expresarse libremente. Tiene que demostrar que estas restricciones son realmente legítimas, razonables y proporcionales al daño que buscan evitar, pero no lo ha hecho. De hecho, hizo caso omiso de los reclamos de la sociedad civil para que el proyecto de ley fuera sometido a un comité de personas expertas para generar mayor debate antes de su aprobación. El debate en el Parlamento también fue mínimo.

    La FCRA y sus enmiendas más recientes han sido muy criticadas por la comunidad internacional, y por personalidades como Maina Kiai, ex Relator Especial de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) sobre los derechos a la libertad de reunión pacífica y de asociación, y Michelle Bachelet, Alta Comisionada de la ONU para los derechos humanos, por ser demasiado amplias y vagas. Pero el gobierno no ha hecho caso. A nivel nacional, la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH) también ha pedido explicaciones por la cancelación masiva de licencias de la FCRA para las OSC.

    Paradójicamente, los partidos políticos siguen recibiendo fondos extranjeros, lo cual antes estaba prohibido, y lo hacen con mínimas restricciones. De hecho, a pesar de que los partidos políticos violan recurrentemente la FCRA, ahora no solamente les resulta más fácil recibir fondos, sino que además el proceso se ha vuelto mucho más opaco. A modo de ejemplo, en 2014 el Tribunal Superior de Delhi dictaminó que el partido gobernante, Bharatiya Janata, y el Congreso Nacional Indio habían violado la FCRA al aceptar fondos extranjeros. En 2016 y luego en 2018, el gobierno indio modificó la FCRA para legalizar el financiamiento extranjero para los partidos políticos y eximir a éstos del escrutinio no solo de los fondos que les llegaran en el futuro, sino también de los que ya les habían sido donados en el pasado. En diciembre de 2020, la Comisión Central de Información, a cargo de la implementación de la Ley de Derecho a la Información de 2005, dictaminó que la revelación pública de la identidad de los donantes de los partidos políticos no sirve a ningún interés público, y por lo tanto no es necesaria.

    Esta clara diferencia entre el trato que reciben los partidos políticos y las OSC debería bastar para entender las turbias motivaciones subyacentes a la FCRA.

    ¿Por qué Amnistía India fue obligada a cerrar, y cuáles han sido las consecuencias?

    Amnistía Internacional India se vio obligada a cerrar como represalia por la publicación de dos informes críticos que ponían de manifiesto la situación de derechos humanos en Cachemira y destacaban el papel de la policía de Delhi en los disturbios que tuvieron lugar en el noreste de Delhi en febrero de 2020. Poco después de que publicara estos informes, todas sus cuentas bancarias fueron congeladas. El gobierno no proporcionó ninguna advertencia ni aviso previo, ni ofreció ninguna razón para congelar las cuentas bancarias. Al no poder acceder a los fondos que había recaudado localmente, a partir de contribuciones de la ciudadanía india, Amnistía Internacional India se vio obligada a suspender todas sus actividades y a despedir a todo su personal.

    Para Amnistía Internacional India el acoso y la intimidación a causa de su trabajo de derechos humanos no era ninguna novedad. Desde 2016 enfrentaba una incesante campaña de desprestigio por parte del gobierno y de los medios de comunicación afines al gobierno. En 2018 soportó un allanamiento de 10 horas de duración por parte de la Dirección de Ejecución, tras el cual se vio obligada a despedir a varios miembros de su personal, lo cual afectó negativamente a su trabajo en la India, y en particular a su labor con comunidades excluidas. Aunque los tribunales emitieron una medida cautelar en favor de la organización, su buen funcionamiento se vio dificultado por la persecución mediática y la reducción de sus capacidades. Es importante señalar que hasta el día de hoy no se han presentado acusaciones formales contra la organización. Un año después, en noviembre de 2019, en medio de rumores de la inminente detención de sus altos funcionarios, las oficinas de Amnistía Internacional India y la residencia de uno de sus directores volvieron sufrir allanamientos, esta vez por parte de la Oficina Central de Investigación, la principal agencia de investigación del país, dependiente del gobierno central. Sin embargo, la organización siguió trabajando, desafiando estos ataques contra ella y sus empleados.

    Pero esta vez los ataques fueron más encarnizados. El impacto inmediato del cierre ha recaído sobre el personal de Amnistía Internacional India -investigadores, responsables de campañas, recaudadores de fondos-, que perdieron sus empleos de la noche a la mañana sin recibir ninguna indemnización, en el contexto de una recesión económica que se ha visto agravada por la pandemia. Los grandes proyectos de investigación y las campañas que llevaba a cabo Amnistía Internacional India se han paralizado. Habría que dejarle en claro al gobierno indio que, con la excusa de sujetar a controles a una supuesta “entidad extranjera”, todo lo que ha hecho es privar de sus medios de vida a muchos de sus propios ciudadanos. Y, lo que es aún más importante, ahora hay una voz menos exigiendo al gobierno indio que rinda cuentas de sus excesos y su inacción.

    ¿Hay otras organizaciones de derechos humanos que estén enfrentando desafíos similares?

    Varias OSC que han cuestionado o criticado las políticas del gobierno han enfrentado desafíos similares en relación con la FCRA. People’s Watch, Indian Social Action Forum, Hazards Centre, Greenpeace India, Sabrang Trust, Navsarjan Trust, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, Indian Social Action Forum y Lawyers Collective son algunos de los grupos que han recibido acusaciones motivadas políticamente en virtud de la FCRA. Esto no es un accidente. Existe un patrón deliberado de silenciamiento de los grupos de derechos humanos mediante su trato como empresas criminales y la presentación de los disidentes como delincuentes. Lawyers Collective, por ejemplo, ha trabajado ampliamente con las víctimas de los ataques contra musulmanes de 2002 en Gujarat. People’s Watch ha hecho activamente campaña contra los abusos contra personas detenidas. Greenpeace India ha estado a la vanguardia de la lucha por el derecho a la tierra y contra el cambio climático y el impacto medioambiental de la minería del carbón.

    Además de la FCRA, otras leyes draconianas contribuyen a crear un entorno incapacitante para la labor de derechos humanos en India. Entre ellas están la UAPA, la Ley de Seguridad Pública y la Ley de Seguridad Nacional. Anunciadas como leyes antiterroristas o leyes que castigan “delitos contra el Estado”, han creado un sistema de impunidad y constituyen herramientas eficaces para mantener a la gente en la cárcel durante períodos prolongados. El índice de condenas en virtud de estas leyes es realmente bajo. Según la Oficina Nacional de Registros de Delitos, en 2018 más del 93% de los casos iniciados bajo la UAPA seguían pendientes de tratamiento en los tribunales, mientras que la tasa de condenas en virtud de la UAPA era de apenas 27%. Desde 2016, solo siete casos de sedición han terminado en condena. Según una investigación anterior de Amnistía Internacional India, alrededor del 58% de las órdenes de detención dictadas entre 2007 y 2016 en virtud de la Ley de Seguridad Pública, que se aplica en Jammu y Cachemira y permite la detención administrativa sin acusaciones ni juicio, fueron anuladas por el Tribunal Superior de Jammu y Cachemira. Entre marzo de 2016 y julio de 2017, el 81% de las órdenes de detención fueron anuladas. Esto demuestra que estas leyes son utilizadas para privar a las personas de su libertad de movimiento y de expresión durante el tiempo en que sus casos avanzan en los tribunales.

    ¿Qué puede hacer la comunidad internacional para apoyar a los grupos de derechos humanos y ampliar el espacio cívico en la India?

    En términos generales, la comunidad internacional debe amplificar las voces de quienes están al frente de la lucha contra las violaciones de derechos humanos en la India. Al mismo tiempo, debe dejar de asumir una posición moral elevada y desestimar las preocupaciones de la gente, reales o proyectadas, sobre la seguridad, el bienestar y el desarrollo. En cambio, debe centrarse en combatir el discurso que transforma a la sociedad civil en un “otro” rechazado y proyectar una visión de un mundo más justo, sostenible y equitativo – un mundo no puede lograrse en ausencia de una sociedad civil robusta que trabaje sin descanso para la gente a lo largo y a lo ancho del país. También debe mantenerse más cerca de las comunidades locales.

    En concreto, debe lograr que el Estado indio se responsabilice por todas las obligaciones internacionales en materia de derechos humanos que ha respaldado y aprobado y en las que se basa, mientras pelea por tener un lugar más importante en la mesa. Han pasado 24 años desde que India presentó al Comité de Derechos Humanos de la ONU un informe sobre el cumplimiento de sus obligaciones en virtud del Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos, del cual es Estado parte. La CNDH, el principal órgano de vigilancia de los derechos humanos de la India, no alcanza los niveles mínimos establecidos por los Principios de París para las instituciones nacionales de derechos humanos, pero sigue manteniendo una acreditación de categoría A y, por lo tanto, puede participar en el Consejo de Derechos Humanos de la ONU. La comunidad internacional debe exigir sistemáticamente la reforma de la CNDH y exigirle que rinda cuentas de la disminución de la protección de que gozan las personas defensoras de derechos humanos en la India. Los grupos de derechos humanos deberían poder confiar plenamente en las instituciones de derechos humanos de su país.

    El espacio cívico en India es calificado de “represivo” por elCIVICUS Monitor.

    Siga las actualizaciones de Amnistía Internacional sobre la India a través de susitio web.

     

  • India: Amnesty International Forced to Halt Work

    Government Increasingly Targeting Rights Groups

    Today, CIVICUS joined fourteen other human rights organizations in condemning the Indian government’s actions against Amnesty India and pledged to continue support for local human rights defenders and organizations against the recent crackdown.

    Amnesty International India announced that it is halting its work in the country after the Indian government froze its bank accounts in an act of reprisal for the organization’s human rights work. Fifteen international human rights organizations condemned the Indian government’s actions against Amnesty India and pledged to continue support for local human rights defenders and organizations against the recent crackdown.

    The Indian government’s actions against Amnesty India are part of increasingly repressive tactics to shut down critical voices and groups working to promote, protect, and uphold fundamental rights, said the Association for Progressive Communications, Global Indian Progressive Alliance, International Commission of Jurists, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Front Line Defenders, FORUM-ASIA, Foundation the London Story, Hindus for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Service for Human Rights, Minority Rights Group, Odhikar, South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

    The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has accused Amnesty India of violating laws on foreign funding, a charge the group says is politically motivated and constitutes evidence “that the overbroad legal framework is maliciously activated when human rights defenders and groups challenge the government’s grave inactions and excesses.”

    The BJP government has increasingly cracked down on civil society, harassing and bringing politically motivated cases against human rights defenders, academics, student activists, journalists, and others critical of the government under sedition, terrorism, and other repressive laws.

    These actions increasingly mimic that of authoritarian regimes, which do not tolerate any criticism and shamelessly target those who dare to speak out. With growing criticism of the government’s discriminatory policies and attacks on the rule of law, the authorities seem more interested in shooting the messenger than addressing the grievances. Women’s rights activists and indigenous and minority human rights defenders have been especially vulnerable. The recent action against Amnesty India highlights the stepped-up pressure and violence felt by local defenders on the ground, regardless of their profile.

    The authorities have repeatedly used foreign funding regulations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law broadly condemned for violating international human rights law and standards, to target outspoken groups. United Nations experts on human rights defenders, on freedom of expression, and on freedom of association have urged the government to repeal the law, saying it is “being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.”

    Yet, the Indian parliament amended the FCRA this month, adding further onerous governmental oversight, additional regulations and certification processes, and operational requirements that would adversely affect civil society groups and effectively restrict access to foreign funding for small nongovernmental organizations.

    A robust, independent, and vocal civil society is indispensable in any democracy to ensure a check on government and to hold it accountable, pushing it to do better. Instead of treating human rights groups as its enemies, the government should work with them to protect the rights of all people and ensure accountability at all levels of government.


    Civic space in India is currently rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

    New report: Punished for speaking up: The ongoing use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in India


    For more information please contact:

    Head of Advocacy & Campaigns, David Kode

     

  • 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: Chronology of harassment against human rights defender Sudha Bharadwaj

    SudhaSudha Bharadwaj, aged 59, is a human rights lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. She has been in pre-trial detention since August 2018, when she was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on trumped up accusations of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations, based on evidence believed to befabricated. It is alleged that she and 15 other human rights defenders conspired to incite Dalits at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018. The treatment of Sudha highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.

     

  • 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: Death of priest highlights persecution of human rights defenders under Modi government

    The death of Jesuit priest and human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, today, has deeply shocked and outraged global civil society alliance CIVICUS. Swamy’s death is a result of the persecution he has faced by the Modi government after revealing abuses by the state.

     

  • India: Democracy Dialogue Report: 26 August 2018

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

     

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