Tribune news service
New Delhi, October 20
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Tuesday said the concerns of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC) Michelle Bachelet about India narrowing the space for civil society organisations by tightening the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) were misplaced.
“Violations of law cannot be condoned under the pretext of human rights,” said the MEA in response to the former Chilean President expressing regret over the “application of vaguely worded laws that constrain NGOs' activities and restrict foreign funding”.
Bachelet in a statement noted India’s long tradition of a strong civil society was at the forefront of human rights advocacy within the country and globally. “But I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices,’’ she added.
But the MEA said, “India is a democratic polity based on the rule of law and an independent judiciary.”
The FCRA, amended last month, will “create even more administrative and practical hurdles for advocacy-based NGOs”, Bachelet said while citing the case of Amnesty International closing its India offices after its bank accounts were frozen. To this charge, the MEA said, “The framing of laws is obviously a sovereign prerogative.” It pointed out that violation of law cannot be condoned because of altruistic motives. “A more informed view of the matter was expected of a UN body,” the MEA added.
Bachelet complained that the Government of India had invoked FCRA over the years to justify “an array of highly intrusive measures’’, ranging from raids on NGO offices, freezing of bank accounts and cancellation of registration, including NGOs that have engaged with UN human rights bodies.
"I am concerned that such actions based on the grounds of vaguely defined 'public interest' leave this law open to abuse. Constructive criticism is the lifeblood of democracy. Even if the authorities find it uncomfortable, it should never be criminalised or outlawed in this way," she said.
"I urge the Government to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India's robust civil society," Bachelet added.
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