Explaining why it would not abide by clauses that call for restricted state control on sources of funding, India said “civil society must operate within the framework of domestic laws”.
New Delhi: Even as it cast its vote in favour of a UN Human Rights Council resolution urging states to give space for the growth of civil society, India has announced it will not abide by the clauses that call for the restriction of state control on NGO funding and urge countries to submit a voluntary annual report on implementing measures.
On July 1, the 48-member UN body, headquartered in Geneva, passed a resolution calling on states to build and maintain a “safe and enabling environment” for civil society to thrive, and to end impunity for violations against human rights defenders. The resolution was passed with 31 votes in favour, seven against and nine abstentions.
It was the stipulation in the resolution that states must ensure their domestic laws on NGO funding are in line with their human rights obligations that really irked India, causing it to “disassociate” from four paragraphs – one in the preamble and three in the operative part.
Before the ballots were cast, India’s permanent representative to UN in Geneva, Ajit Kumar, read out India’s explanation of vote, or rather a litany of protest.
Kumar accused the sponsors of having adopted a “highly one-sided approach” in the resolution, which he said was filled with “conceptual ambiguities, overgeneralization and unsubstantiated assertions”.
“Civil society organizations and activities have to be within the parameters of national laws. We particularly cannot agree with the approach that links any restriction on funding aspects in conformity with national laws to violation of any specific human right,” he said.
Kumar argued that the state had to regulate the funding of civil society, for their own good. “We have to acknowledge that funding of civil society can be susceptible to misuse of their charitable or tax-exempted status. The activities of some organizations may be completely disconnected with their stated mandates and the reasons for seeking funds. This adversely impacts the credibility of the entire civil society and it is the responsibility of the State to regulate such activities through appropriate legislation”.
The senior diplomat said that India was “proud to have a thriving and diverse civil society space” and valued “their contributions to different issues and sectors, including in the promotion and protection of human rights”.
Crucially, he reiterated India’s position that “civil society must operate within the framework of domestic laws”.
“To treat national laws with condescension is not the best way to protect human rights, even by civil society actors with the best of intentions,” he said.
Advocacy for civil society, he believed, should be “tempered by the need for responsibility, sobriety, openness and transparency and accountability of civil society organizations”. This approach would “increase public and government confidence in the functioning of civil society”.
Kumar said that India had made proposals for some changes in the draft resolution, but none were accepted by the main sponsors. “While will support the overall resolution, we regret to point that our principled concerns as stated above stand unaddressed and unacknowledged.
India, therefore, wanted to “dissociate” from four paragraphs in the text, he asserted.
His statement describes the paragraphs as:
• PP13 (that equates funding restrictions as undermining human rights)
• OP8 (that ignores the primacy of domestic laws in regulating civil society funding)
• OP14 (that urges states to implement certain selective recommendations) and
• OP16 (that invites member states to report on the implementation of the High Commissioner’s recommendations)
The only other country to express concern over the provisions on funding was South Africa, who voted against the resolution.
Kumar was also not particularly happy with the UN high commissioner for human rights’ report on civil society submitted in April this year, which he believed was the inspiration for the resolution.
“Both the report and the draft resolution ignore the fact that civil society is heterogeneous with diverse actors representing different and often divergent conflicting interest groups. Further, the resolution is selective in quoting from the High Commissioner’s report. It lists only those rights, which the cosponsors may choose to apply to civil society activities in selective manner,” Kumar said.
The report had said that “predictability of core funding is fundamental for civil society organizations to work effectively and independently, undertake long-term planning and adapt to evolving situations”.
Urging a liberal policy on foreign funding, the report said, “Where no restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds apply to State institutions or businesses, the same should apply to civil society organizations”.
The report suggested that an independent body could carry out an audit of accounts for civil society groups. “Where concerns exist regarding national security, terrorism, money-laundering or similar serious matters, an assessment should be carried out by a competent independent body”.
Last month, three UNHRC-mandated special rapporteurs had called on the Indian government to scrap the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), claiming that its provision was being specifically used to target NGOs on a “politically motivated” basis.
The statement issued by UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Michel Forst, special rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye and special rapporteur on freedom of association Maina Kiai had specifically expressed concern at the six-month suspension of NGO Lawyers Collective’s FCRA registration.