Indian law on foreign funding a ‘tool to silence’ civil society

Rights defenders have criticised an amendment to the Indian Foreign Contributions Act (FCRA), which oversees foreign funding to NGOs, with International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) saying it is “a tool to silence” civil society organisations in the South Asia nation.

In a briefing paper released on Thursday, the ICJ states that the FCRA is “severely shrinking” civil space in India and poses unnecessary obstacles to human rights defenders in India by “unlawfully obstructing” the work of NGOs in the country of 1.3 billion.

The ICJ said the FCRA “fails to comply with India’s international legal obligations to respect and protect the rights to freedom of association, expression, peaceful assembly, and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs”.

The FCRA regulates foreign donations with the aim of ensuring that such donations do not adversely affect the “national security” of India.

Originally enacted in 1976 with the aim to prevent foreign donations to political parties, the law has been amended to starve NGOs, particularly rights groups and environmental NGOs critical of the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Foreign funding to political parties remains illegal in India.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed concern in October that the FCRA was being used to “deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy”.

 

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