The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in India.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed about a search conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the offices of the Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC)1 in the city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu State, and the judicial harassment against CPSC.
On January 8, 2022, at around 10:30am, a team of eight officers from the CBI entered CPSC’s premises pursuant to a search warrant related to a First Information Report (FIR) filed on January 6, 2022. The CBI officers inspected CPSC’s accounts and other financial documents for the period ranging from 2008 to 2014. During the search, which lasted until 8:30pm, several documents were seized.
CPSC was only informed about the FIR during the search. The FIR, which was filed under Sections 120B (“Criminal conspiracy”) and 420 (“Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property”) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 33, 35, 29, read in conjunction with Sections 7, 8, 9 of the Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Act (FCRA), is based on a complaint filed in 2014 by the Ministry of Home Affairs, alleging violations of foreign contribution regulations by CPSC and its program unit, People’s Watch, by receiving and utilising foreign funding between 2008 and 2014.2
The Observatory recalls that between 2012 and 2014, CPSC had its FCRA registration suspended on three occasions, for a total period of 18 months, until the Delhi High Court ruled in CPSC’s favor in March 2014 following a writ petition by CPSC, which had challenged the suspension of its FCRA registration. CPSC’s application for FCRA renewal was however rejected by the Ministry of Home Affairs on January 29, 2016 “on the basis of field reports”. When CPSC challenged the application’s rejection before the Delhi High Court in October 2016, in its written response, the Ministry of Home Affairs mentioned People’s Watch Executive Director Henri Tiphagne's engagement with embassies and United Nations Special Rapporteurs as the reason for denying the renewal of CPSC’s registration under the FCRA. At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, the case is still pending. The next hearing has been scheduled for January 24, 2002.
In November 2016, the 7th Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum (AHRDF)3 also filed a petition regarding the non-renewal of CPSC’s registration under the FCRA with the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC). The NHRC, which initially issued a strong notice to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, closed the case on January 25, 2021, on the grounds that the matter relating to the constitutionality of the FCRA was being considered before the Supreme Court and High Court of Delhi. Neither CPSC nor AHRDF were informed of NHRC’s decision to close the case.
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern over the ongoing judicial harassment of CPSC and People’s Watch, which hinders the organisation’s freedom of association and access to funding, and seems to be merely aimed at intimidating the organisation’s staff and punishing the organisation for its human rights activities.
The Observatory is all the more concerned that the search took place in the framework of a wider repression of civil society in India, including through restrictions on funding through the use of the FCRA, which has increasingly been used to obstruct civil society’s ability to carry out their legitimate work. Such restrictions are inconsistent with international norms and standards. Since 2016, civil society organisations operating in India, including Indian Social Action Forum, Lawyers Collective, Sabrang Trust, Anhad, Oxfam India, Greenpeace, and Amnesty International India, had their registrations either not renewed, revoked or suspended and their accounts frozen.
Recent amendments to the FCRA in September 2020 have added intrusive and undue governmental oversight, additional regulations and certification processes, and operational requirements, which have adversely affected civil society groups’ access to foreign funding and their ability to carry out human rights work.
The Observatory urges the Indian authorities to immediately put an end to all acts of harassment against CPSC and People’s Watch, drop all complaints against them and unconditionally renew CPSC’s FCRA registration, in order to allow this prominent organisation to resume its legitimate human rights work. The Observatory further urges the Indian authorities to ensure that all human rights defenders and organisations are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances.
The Observatory calls upon the NHRC of India to investigate the denial to renew the registration of the CPSC under the FCRA and to take all appropriate and necessary actions to protect human rights defenders and organisations in India, including their right to access funding in order to carry out their work.
Please write to the authorities in India, urging them to:
i. Immediately and unconditionally put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against CPSC and all civil society organisations and human rights defenders in India;
ii. Take all necessary measures to protect the right to freedom of association of CPSC and unconditionally renew its FCRA registration;
iii. Review the FCRA and amend the law and related implementing policies to ensure that they comply with international law and human rights standards.
- Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, Prime Minister of India, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @narendramodi
- Mr. Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home Affairs of India, Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs of India, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. N.V. Ramana, Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court of India, Email: email@example.com
- Mr. M.K. Stalin, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Email : firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Twitter : @MKStalin @CMOTamilnadu
- Mr. Shri Bimbadhar Pradhan, IAS, Secretary General Chief Executive Officer
of the National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @India_NHRC
- Mr. Debindra Kundra, Focal Point on Human Rights Defenders, National Human Rights Commission of India, Email: email@example.com
- H.E. Mr. Rajiv Kumar Chander, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of India located in your country.
Geneva-Paris, January 14, 2022
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel OMCT: + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39
• Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18