The Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, Maria Arena has expressed concern over the deteriorating rule of law in India and the closure of Amnesty International India’s operations.
In a statement on Monday, Arena said that the “protests over the proposed citizenship verification process and the discriminatory citizenship law amendments have resulted in arbitrary detentions and an unnecessary loss of life.”
The statement added that journalists and other peaceful critics continue to be arrested under draconian counter-terrorism and sedition laws, while human rights defenders are unceasingly and severely targeted by the authorities.
Referring to Amnesty’s report on Delhi riots, the statement said that there should also be a fully independent, public and transparent inquiry into the role of the police in failing to prevent the violence that broke out and even aiding it.
“In the absence of action by India’s authorities since the outbreak of the violence, I strongly support the call for a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into all human rights violations committed by law enforcement officials,” Arena said.
The United States and the European Union expressed concerns after Amnesty announced last month that it had to halt operations in India and blamed the Modi government for “for witch-hunt of human rights organisations over unfounded and motivated allegations”.
The organisation said that it was compelled to let go of staff in India and pause all its ongoing campaign and research work after the complete freezing of its bank accounts by the government.
European Union said that it hoped the issue can be resolved and Amnesty can continue its work in India. US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also said it is concerned by reports of the halting of operations of Amnesty India, “particularly since it appears related to Amnesty’s investigations into and reporting on religious freedom violations in India,” according to The Indian Express.
Responding to concerns raised, India said it expects other governments not to condone contravention of the country’s laws by any entity.
“NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are expected to adhere to all our laws including in respect of foreign funding just as they presumably would in other countries including the US and in the European Union,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
“We also expect that other governments would not condone contravention of Indian laws by any entity,” Srivastava added.
The Parliament last month passed The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020. With the amendments, as Scroll pointed out, the government has expanded governmental discretion, bureaucratic control and oversight with respect to the day-to-day functioning of NGOs in India.
Foreign media also criticised the Modi government over the shutting down of Amnesty’s India operations.
The Guardian said, in an opinion piece, that the “forced shutdown of the human rights group will only increase international scrutiny of systemic mis-governance”.
“In truth, the move was a crude bid to stop Amnesty’s reporting on rising human rights violations suffered by Muslims and other minorities since Modi first took power in 2014. It marked the culmination of a prolonged campaign of harassment and intimidation similar to that faced by other independent civil rights groups, journalists, activists and lawyers.”
A Foreign Policy piece said that India has a long history of harassing international NGOs. “But under Modi, things may reach a tipping point.”
“Amnesty International has not been the government’s only target. Rather, New Delhi appears to be in the midst of an orchestrated campaign to undermine any independent scrutiny of the country’s human rights record.”
An opinion piece in Financial Times said that “Amnesty’s departure from India is a grim sign of things to come”.
“But Mr Modi’s clampdown on Amnesty is part of a larger pattern of centralising and controlling most voluntary activities in India. Civil society organisations are allowed to function, but expected to comply with the government’s directives.”