Amnesty calls 'witch-hunt' and alleges continued crackdown . . .
On September 10, India’s Enforcement Directorate, a financial investigation agency under the Ministry of Finance, froze the bank accounts of Amnesty International India. On September 29, Amnesty announced that it was halting its operations in the country. In a public statement, Amnesty called the freezing of its bank accounts the “latest in the incessant witch-hunt of human rights organizations by the Government of India.” Amnesty believes that its bank accounts were frozen (they had also been frozen in 2018) as a reaction to its recent investigative brief that outlined the role of the Indian police in the February 2020 Delhi riots.
Delhi says Amnesty broke Indian laws . . .
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) called Amnesty’s allegations “exaggerated and far from the truth.” The Indian Government maintains that Amnesty International India broke the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 (FCRA), which regulates all foreign donations to NGOs, associations, and groups in India. Amnesty International India acquired permission to receive foreign funds under the FCRA once before in December 2000. Since then, Amnesty has filed multiple applications for continued permission to receive foreign funds, all of which have been denied. In a statement published by MHA, the Ministry wrote that “in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty UK remitted large amounts of money to four entities in India, by classifying it as FDI” and that “a significant amount of foreign money” was also given to Amnesty India without MHA’s approval. Amnesty India replied that it stands in compliance with all Indian laws, and that it is funded primarily through a domestic model that has seen approximately 100,000 Indians make financial contributions over the past eight years.
Intolerance and aid . . .
This development takes place as the government of Prime Minister Modi is being criticized for its increasing intolerance and hardline Hindu nationalist stance. Recent examples include the retraction of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and the acquittal of all defendants, including several senior members of Modi’s Ruling BJP party, in the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in the city of Ayodhya that led to riots in which more than 2,000 people were killed. Amnesty International India’s closure could increase international attention on human rights conditions in India. It could also bring about increased concerns for India’s most vulnerable populations, considering the important “watchdog” role Amnesty has played in India for years – especially during the pandemic, when human rights concerns have been exacerbated. Finally, it raises broader questions about the government’s role in regulating aid. In 2006, Canada’s bilateral programming in India ended after a change in Delhi’s foreign aid policy. While Canada still provides development assistance to India through Canadian NGOs, it might be worth asking how long such aid can or will continue.