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Amnesty International | India defends action as EU raises concerns

A view of Amnesty International India office at Indiranagar, in Bengaluru, Karnataka on September 29, 2020.   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

Expressing “concerns” about the government’s investigation into Amnesty International (AI), the European Union said it hopes the global human rights agency can continue its work in India.

Also read: Amnesty International halts India operations

However, the government defended its actions and said AI is in “clear contravention” of Indian law.

The action against AI including freezing their funds, followed a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry, and is part of the government’s scrutiny of more than 20 international NGOs including Greenpeace, Compassion International, and Ford Foundation, over the past few years.

“We have already raised the issue with our Indian interlocutors in New Delhi and in Brussels, expressing our concerns and the expectation that these issues will be solved, and we will continue to do so,” EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security policy Nabila Massrali said, in a response to The Hindu.

Comment | A government that chooses its critics

“Not prejudging the outcome of any investigation or judicial proceedings, the European Union highly values the work of Amnesty International worldwide and hopes that the matter will be resolved, allowing Amnesty to continue its activities in India without interruption,” Ms. Massrali added.

The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on the EU’s comments.

However, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a broad defence of actions by various agencies against AI for the past decade, calling it a “bipartisan and purely legal approach towards Amnesty”, which has now suspended its India operations, claiming a “witch-hunt” by the government.

“In order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty UK remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by classifying it as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). A significant amount of foreign money was also remitted to Amnesty (India) without MHA’s approval under FCRA. This malafide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions,” said the MHA in a rare public statement on the NGO entitled “Human Rights cannot be an excuse for defying the law of the land”.

Also read | Amnesty International India urges NHRC, NCW to re-open offices in J&K

“India, by settled law, does not allow interference in domestic political debates by entities funded by foreign donations,” the MHA added, in a pointed reference to AI’s reports on alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as its reference to Delhi Police investigations into the February riots in Delhi where 53 people were killed.

The government said the enquiry into Amnesty International had been undertaken by both the UPA and the NDA regimes over the past decade which, it said, showed that the “entire fault lies in the dubious processes adopted by Amnesty to secure funds for its operations.”

The Congress-led UPA government had blocked over ₹5 crore foreign funds to Amnesty between 2010 and 2013 after receiving allegedly adverse intelligence reports. In 2014, the Modi government blocked Amnesty’s request to receive a ₹3 crore foreign donation as well.

Since Amnesty International Foundation and its three subsidiaries — Amnesty India Private Limited, Indians for Amnesty International Trust and Amnesty International South Asia Foundation — are not registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA), a pre-requisite for civil society groups, associations and NGOs to receive foreign donations, it used the “prior permission” route, which meant applying to the government each time it wanted to accept a foreign donation. In 2019, the Enforcement Directorate also served a show-cause notice to Amnesty for alleged violations of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) involving ₹51.72 crore.

In the past five years, the government has taken action against several foreign donors including U.S.-based Compassion International, Ford Foundation, World Movement for Democracy (WMD), Open Society Foundations (OSF) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Ford Foundation was taken off its watchlist after protests from several U.S. Congressmen and the Obama administration.

The same year, the registration of Greenpeace International was cancelled on the premise that it compromised the “economic security” of the country by allegedly orchestrating protests at coal plants and at other developmental projects.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 5:52:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/eu-raises-concerns-over-action-against-amnesty/article32725144.ece

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