India: Concerns around the judicial harassment against Oxfam India

Mr. Amit Shah
Union Minister of Home Affairs of India
Ministry of Home Affairs
Government of India

Dear Excellency,

We are writing to you to convey our concerns around the harassment of Oxfam India, a non-governmental organisation that has worked for more than 70 years in the country to end discrimination and create a free and just society.

Oxfam India has been instrumental in assisting communities during the COVID-19 crisis and contributed significantly to building community resilience during the pandemic in 16 states of India. It has provided lifesaving medical and diagnostic equipment to 150 District Hospitals, 172 Primary Health Centres, and 166 Community Health Centres in 16 states.

Therefore, we are concerned about the recent raid on and investigation of the organisation by India’s Income Tax Department. On 7 to 9 September 2022, officials from the Income Tax (IT) Department conducted what was presented as an income tax ‘survey’ of Oxfam India, during which members of the organisation were not allowed to leave the premises. The staff were also denied access to communication devices and the internet was shut down by the authorities, preventing them from contacting families and relatives. The survey team confiscated private mobile phones belonging to the Senior Leadership Team and the Finance lead and took all of the data from the Oxfam India server.

We believe that this was the latest attempt to harass and intimidate the staff of the organisation. Hindering Oxfam India’s work will affect thousands of people who already benefit from its services. Further, such raids create a chilling effect on civil society and highlight the broad powers the authorities have.

This is not the first time Oxfam India has been targeted by the authorities. In January 2022, it was reported that the Central government refused to renew Oxfam India’s Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) licence. Oxfam India was among the 6,000 groups whose FCRA registration was revoked and rejected for renewal on 1 January 2022. The NGO subsequently filed a revision petition which is still pending.

We are alarmed by the increasing use of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 - which regulates the acceptance and use of foreign funding for civil society – to target critical civil society organisations. Among other things the law has been used to limit access to funding and impose a heavy burden on bureaucratic procedures under the pretext of combating foreign influence in India.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), India must respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of association as enshrined in Article 22 of the Covenant and should ensure that national security practices must comply with international human rights law and must never be used to stifle the legitimate works of civil society. In 2016, three UN human rights experts urged the government to repeal the FCRA, stating that it was being used to ‘obstruct’ access to foreign funding and fails to comply with international human rights standards.

Therefore, we urge your government to immediately and unconditionally halt the harassment of Oxfam India and other civil society organisations working to defend human rights. We further reiterate our call to the government of India to review or repeal the FCRA to bring compliance with the ICCPR and to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society organisations to conduct their legitimate work.


Signatories:

  1. Alianza ONG, Dominican Republic
  2. Asia Development Alliance
  3. Cemefi- Mexico
  4. Civil Society Capacity Building Center (CESC), Mozambique
  5. CNSC-TOGO
  6. Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO)
  7. Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC)
  8. FINESTE. Haiti
  9. Fingo, Finland
  10. Instituto de Comunicacion y Desarrollo (ICD), Uruguay
  11. JOINT - Liga de ONG's em Moçambique
  12. Mozambican Chapter of Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA Mozambique)
  13. Network of Estonian Non-profit Organizations
  14. NGO Federation of Nepal
  15. Nigeria Network of NGOs
  16. Pakistan Development Alliance
  17. Pakistan NGOs Forum
  18. RACI Argentinas
  19. Red Venezolana de Organizaciones de Sociedad Civil.
  20. REDECIM, Mexico
  21. Redlad.
  22. Regional Initiative Rendir Cuentas
  23. Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social (UNITAS) Bolivia
  24. Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD)

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