India: FCRA Amendment 2020 will undermine the work of Civil Society
Today the ICJ condemned the adoption by both Houses of Parliament of the Indian Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2020 (FCRA 2020).
The legislation fails to comply with India’s international legal obligations and constitutional provisions to respect and protect the rights to freedom of association, expression, and freedom of assembly. The ICJ stressed that the Bill’s provisions would impose arbitrary and extraordinary obstacles on the capacity of human rights defenders and other civil society actors to carry out their important work.
Given the incompatibility of the Bill with international law, the ICJ called on India’s President to withhold the assent necessary for the Bill to pass into law. At a minimum, the ICJ called on the Indian authorities to desist from implementing the provisions of the FCRA 2020 that are inconsistent with international law.
The FCRA 2020 significantly amends the previous Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 (FCRA), which also imposed overbroad and vague restrictions on civil society. FCRA 2020 provides for overly broad rules and measures which would effectively restrict access to foreign funding particularly for public servants and smaller non-governmental organizations. It adds onerous governmental oversight, additional regulations and certification processes, and operational requirements, while simultaneously reducing the limit of administrative expenditure that can be allocated to foreign contributions to 20 percent from the previous 50 percent.
“The Bill has been passed by both Houses of Parliament only four days after it was tabled, and without any stakeholder consultation. This hasty lawmaking that clearly undermines human rights and the work of civil society, is yet another attempt by the government to destabilize the functioning of democratic institutions in India,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ Legal and Policy Director.
The UN Human Rights Council in its Resolution 22/6 on Protecting Human Rights Defenders declared that, “no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the origin of funding”. Further, the UN Special Rapporteur on Assembly and Association has clarified that controls in laws should not “unduly obstruct the legitimate work” and need to be “fair, objective and non-discriminatory, and not be used as a pretext to silence critics”.
The ICJ noted that the restrictions in the Bill continued a larger pattern of threats and harassment faced by civil society in India. The Indian Government has sought to restrict human rights defenders from traveling outside India and used overbroad laws like sedition (Section 124A, Indian Penal Code) and Unlawful Activities Prevention, 1967 Act to arbitrarily arrest human rights defenders. At present, over 20 human rights defenders are in pre-trial detention.
“The spirit of the Bill is to stigmatize certain NGOs and lend credence to the authoritarian voices that have attacked them as “anti-national.” The unfortunate result is that many civil society organizations will be chilled from seeking or accepting scarce funds from the largest pool of donors, even in cases where it is not clear whether they would be running afoul of the FCRA. These resources are also vital to maintaining the independence of the work of NGOs,” Seiderman added.
Ian Seiderman – ICJ Legal and Policy Director; e: ian.seiderman(a)icj.org , t: +41 22 979 38 00
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To download the statement with additional background information, click here.NewsPress releases