The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) has today issued a statement calling on the Indian government to repeal or amend a law targeting foreign NGOs, and reverse their decision to suspend the registration of a leading Indian human rights group.
The Lawyers Collective, founded by prominent human rights lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, has been responsible for legal challenges against the Indian government on issues including sexual orientation discrimination, and on behalf of individuals affected by HIV.
Its NGO registration was suspended on 1st June, following government assertions that it had violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits NGOs from receiving any overseas funding for activities deemed “detrimental” to the Indian national interest.
The six-month suspension order against the Lawyers Collective was imposed despite a detailed rebuttal provided by the NGO of the complaints made against it. Disconcertingly, the government appears to have leaked its decision through the media, and before the NGO received any official notification.
In its statement, BHRC not only underlines discrepancies in the Indian government’s treatment of the Lawyers Collective, but also raises concern over the compatibility of the FCRA with international law, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which protects the right to freedom of association and to which India is a signatory).
BHRC also highlights repeated criticisms by the UN Human Rights Committee of measures which seek to restrict foreign NGO funding, and agrees with the statement by three UN Special Rapporteurs in June 2016 that India’s FRCA provisions are not in compliance with international law.
Speaking on behalf of BHRC, Schona Jolly said:
“There is now serious concern that the Indian government is using the legal regulatory framework on NGO registration to pursue organisations with whom it disagrees.
The right to access funding is an essential component of the right to freedom of association: NGOs engaged in the protection of human rights are often heavily dependent on foreign funding in order to carry out their work.
The Lawyers Collective has performed vital work in India on equality and human rights, especially on gender discrimination and sexual violence, and have led the way for many years on LGBT discrimination, human rights and health in India.
Instead of being closed down, the organisation should be valued and celebrated for its tremendous contribution. The suspension of its registration must be lifted immediately, enabling these lawyers to get on with the business of protecting those most in need.”
(Image credit: Facebook/Indira Jaising)