Condition of Human Rights Defenders in India – Report by UN Special Rapporteur

February 21, 2018

[The UN report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders was published recently (click here for the full report). The section on India is a telling commentary on the condition of human rights defenders in the country – ed.]

 

India

298.           JAL 21/12/2016  Case no: IND 10/2016      State reply: none to date

Allegation of an order from the Ministry of Home Affairs of India to cancel the registration of Lawyers Collective to receive foreign contribution under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

299.           JUA 31/01/2017  Case no: IND 2/2017       State reply: none to date

Allegations concerning attacks, intimidation by state police and state administration, and the arrest and detention of seven human rights defenders, Mr. Chikkudu Prabhakar, Mr. Bhalla Ravindranath, Mr. Durga Prasad, Mr. Duddu Prabhakar, Mr. Rajendra Prasad, Mr. Nazeer and Mr. Ramananda Lakshme.

300.           JUA 09/05/2017  Case no: IND 3/2017       State reply: none to date

Allegations concerning the use of disproportionate force against student demonstrators, and the adoption of measures by the State authorities in Jammu and Kashmir banning 22 social media websites and applications, as well as suspending the networks providing 3G and 4G services.

301.           JAL 20/06/2017  Case no: IND 4/2017       State reply: none to date

Allegations of a Look Out circular issued against Mr. Kartik Murukutla allegedly in retaliation for his human rights activities including his engagement with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, in particular the UPR and Special Procedures.

302.           JUA 16/08/2017  Case no: IND 7/2017       State reply: none to date

Allegations concerning the deteriorating human rights situation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including violations of the right to life, and the continued restrictions to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly during the months of May, June and July 2017.

303.           JUA 29/08/2017  Case no: IND 8/2017       State reply: none to date

Allegations concerning the mega project Sardar Sarovar Dam in the Narmada river valley reported to result in the forceful eviction and displacement of 40,000 families and the arrest of human rights defenders Ms. Medha Patkar, Ms. Gayatri, Ms. Vimla, Ms. Manjula, Ms. Pushpa, Ms. Bhagwati, Ms. Sewati, Mr. Dharmendra, Mr. Rameshwar and Mr. Baau, as they engaged in a peaceful protest and hunger strike in opposition to this eviction.

304.           JUA 11/09/2017  Case no: IND 11/2017      State reply: none to date

Allegations concerning the killing of Ms. Gauri Lankesh, as well as allegations that the authorities failed to grant Ms. Lankesh adequate protection measures in light of threats she had been receiving prior to her killing.

305.           JUA 10/11/2017  Case no: IND 12/2017      State reply: none to date

Allegations concerning the alleged judicial harassment against Dalit human rights defender Mr. Rajat Kalsan, as well as death threats received by him.

306.           Press release 13/09/2017

India: UN rights experts urge India to act after murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

307.           Press release 11/05/2017

India: India must restore internet and social media networks in Jammu and Kashmir, say UN rights experts.

308.           The Special Rapporteur regrets that, despite the serious nature of the allegations, the Government of India has not replied to any of the communications sent during the reporting period and urges the Government to re-establish dialogue with his mandate.

309.           The Special Rapporteur is particularly concerned about increasingly severe restrictions to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, particularly in relation to excessive use of force during demonstrations and widespread crackdowns on social media. The Special Rapporteur is also gravely concerned about allegations regarding violations to the rights to life and liberty and security of person, which he has received in the context of excessive use of police force during demonstrations and in relation to the killing of a human rights defender. Other worrying developments relate to legislative restrictions on the functioning of NGOs and the judicial harassment of human rights defenders working on minority or environmental rights.

310.           The Special Rapporteur wishes to underline the apparent lack of protection measures for human rights defenders facing threats, which he perceives as an area needing urgent attention. The Special Rapporteur’s concerns are amplified by the recent killing of Ms. Gauri Lankesh, a prominent journalist, editor and human rights defender. She was a critical voice who frequently advocated for human rights in the face of religious fundamentalism and right-wing politics. On 5 September 2017, Ms. Lankesh was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore by unidentified men. The Special Rapporteur is particularly concerned about allegations claiming that although Ms. Lankesh had been receiving threats for years in relation to her human rights work, she did not receive adequate protection measures to ensure her safety. The mandate holder believes that the preventable death of Ms. Lankesh magnifies the importance of providing protection for human rights defenders under threat. He reminds the Government of its positive obligations, as outlined in General Comment No. 31 of the Human Rights Committee, to ensure protection of individuals against violations by its agents and by private persons or entities, which includes the duty to exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by non-State actors.

311.           The Special Rapporteur has been following developments regarding the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and its adverse impact on the rights and work of a number of human rights defenders in India. The mandate holder reiterates concerns regarding the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs of India to suspend the registration of the organization Lawyers Collective for six months, accusing the organization and its directors of violating FCRA regulations in the inspection of accounts. The organization is no longer allowed to receive international funding for its work. The Special Rapporteur cannot dismiss the likelihood that these restrictive measures are linked to Lawyers Collective’s critical voice and activities on the promotion and protection of human rights in India.

312.           The Special Rapporteur appreciates the 16 November 2016 intervention made by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India, which informed that it had taken suo motu cognizance of the cases of human rights NGOs, which were denied renewal of their license to receive foreign funding under the FCRA. The NHRC noted that “prima-facie it appears that FCRA license non-renewal is neither legal nor objective and thereby impinging on the rights of the human rights defenders both in access to funding including foreign funding”. The NHRC put forward a set of directions to the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India to be complied with within four weeks. The initial step taken by the Indian NHRC is a positive development to ensure that the right to freedom of association is respected and protected in India. Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur regrets that almost a year has lapsed and there is still no publicly available information that would indicate that the NHRC’s directions have been followed. The misuse of the FCRA by the Government, as well as the targeting human rights organizations, is a matter of serious concern, particularly so as it takes place in the world’s largest democracy. The Special Rapporteur encourages the NHRC to continue its efforts to advocate for domestic legislation being brought in full compliance with the State’s obligations under international human rights law.

313.           The Special Rapporteur expresses concern at allegations of reprisals against the human rights defender Mr. Kartik Murukutla, for his engagement with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, in particular the UPR and Special Procedures. On 24 September 2016, upon his return from the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Mr. Murukutla was detained at the immigration gate and was informed that a “Look Out circular” had been issued in his name. The Special Rapporteur wishes to remind the Government of India that Human Rights Council resolutions 12/2 and 24/24 call on Governments to prevent and refrain from all acts of intimidation or reprisal against those who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

314.           The Special Rapporteur is equally concerned about allegations relating to the use of disproportionate force against student demonstrators, who were attacked with pellet guns and tear gas shells by Indian security forces in the State of Jammu and Kashmir while engaging in a protest about the political situation in the region. In addition, the allegations of unlawful killings due to excessive use of force by the police during demonstrations constitute violations to the rights of every individual to life, liberty and security of person as guaranteed by articles 6 and 9 of the ICCPR. In this context, the Special Rapporteur calls on the Government of India to issue clear guidelines to its police force on the circumstances in which the use of force may or may not be permitted under both Indian legislation and international human rights law and to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into the allegations of excessive use of force.

315.           The Special Rapporteur notes with regret that human rights defenders working on issues such as caste discrimination, indigenous rights, business and human rights and environmental issues are particularly vulnerable to intimidation and undue restrictions to their work. He has raised concerns regarding intimidation, arrest and detention of human rights defenders, Mr. Chikkudu Prabhakar, Mr. Bhalla Ravindranath, Mr. Durga Prasad, Mr. Duddu Prabhakar, Mr. Rajendra Prasad, Mr. Nazeer and Mr. Ramananda Lakshme, related to their activities defending the rights of indigenous tribal groups in India. A criminal case was filed against them under the Chhattisgarh Special Powers Security Act of 2005, for allegedly possessing “banned literature”, as well as old, banned currency notes. The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the human rights defenders were targeted due to their work in investigating allegations of serious human rights violations committed against an indigenous tribal group.

316.           The case of Mr. Rajat Kalsan, a Dalit human rights defender and lawyer, has further sensitized the Special Rapporteur to the risks facing human rights defenders attempting to protect and promote the rights of oppressed groups in India. Mr. Rajat Kalsan advocates for the rights of Dalit communities in Haryana and is vocal about human rights abuses stemming from caste-based discrimination. Mr. Kalsan is facing charges of abetment, criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between religious groups, imputations prejudicial to national interests, false evidence, false charges of offence, threat to a public servant, statements conducing to public mischief and criminal intimidation under the Indian Penal Code. Mr. Kalsan has also been the subject of numerous death threats. The Special Rapporteur feels that the charges facing Mr. Kalsan are in retaliation against his legitimate and peaceful work as a human rights defender and have the explicit aim of silencing him and exercising a chilling effect on other human rights defenders working on caste-based discrimination in India.

317.           The Special Rapporteur expresses his concerns over the situation of ten human rights defenders engaging in a peaceful protest and hunger strike against violations resulting from the mega project Sardar Sarovar Dam who were arrested in August 2017. He wishes to refer the Government of India to the recommendations he made in his thematic report concerning state obligations towards human rights defenders working in the area of business and human rights, which he delivered to the UN General Assembly in October 2017