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Article: India among 42 nations where people persecuted for raising human rights concerns, says report

Dr Gyan Pathak

India is among the 42 countries where victims of rights violations, human rights defenders and journalists have suffered reprisals and intimidation by State and non-State actors, including being detained, targeted by restrictive legislation and surveilled both online and offline.

This has been revealed in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on September 29, 2022. The report, titled ‘Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights’, said that for a third of these countries, individuals and groups either refrained from cooperation with the UN, or only agreed to report on an anonymous basis for fear of reprisals, which is a disturbing trend.

“People are pursued and persecuted for raising human rights concerns,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris, adding, “Shocking though this number is, many cases of reprisals are not even reported.”

The report highlighted cases which happened between May 1, 2021 and April 30, 2022. People who sought redressal for human rights violations and abuses and who tried to cooperate with the UN or were perceived as doing so, were affected by reprisal and intimidation.

The report said that the surveillance of individuals and groups who cooperate with the UN to defend human rights continued to be reported in all regions, with growing evidence of expanded online surveillance and cyber attacks.

Moreover, the massive digital shift accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic further increased challenges relating to cyber-security, privacy, and access to online spaces.

At the same time, the use and impact of restrictive government legislation that prevents and punishes cooperation with the UN, resulted during the year, in some long-term prison sentences or house arrest.

All these have a “chilling effect” on the people. Self-censorship, choosing not to cooperate with the UN or doing so anonymously amid concerns for their safety, is becoming another global tendency. Increased surveillance and monitoring, as well as the fear of criminal liability, have created the “chilling effect” of silence when it comes to reporting violations, stopping people from cooperating further with the UN and deterring others from doing so.

The report shows, as in the previous years, that intimidation and reprisals disproportionately affect certain populations and groups, including representatives of indigenous peoples, minorities, or those who work on environment and climate change issues, as well as people who may suffer discrimination based on age, sexual orientation and gender.

“The risks affecting women victims, as well as women human rights defenders and peace builders, who share testimony and cooperate with the UN, remain daunting,” stressed Brands Kehris, vowing to work to “ensure that all can safely engage with the UN”.

In India, the report said, the staff and the secretary of the Centre for Social Development (CSD) in Manipur, Nobokishore Urikhimbam, and his relatives have continued to suffer intimidation, harassment, and physical violence during the present reporting period, despite the fact that their case have been included in every annual report since 2018 which mentioned allegation of surveillance, the freezing of bank accounts under FCRA and attempted killing of close relatives for his human rights work and his engagement with the UN in relation to uranium mining and cement factories in Meghalaya.

During the previous reporting period, CSD refrained from sharing information on environmental damage and health risks to communities from mining in Manipur for fear of further reprisal.

On February 26, 2022, Urikhimbam’s son, secretary of United NGOs Mission Manipur, was brutally assaulted at gun point by unknown individuals who took him in a car, assaulted him and threatened to kill him, and dropped him at a police station seriously injured.

The case of the Central Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) was cited in the report of 2020 and 2021 also on allegation of appraisals. The situation of JKCCS and its chair Khurram Parvez, and other members of the coalition, were included in every annual report since 2017.

The Government of India has responded in the case. However, Parvez was still under a travel ban in May 2021. The Government of India responded in August 2021 and justified his detention, and that he had been provided legal and medical assistance and access to his family, subject to security requirements. He was again arrested on November 22, 2021 under UAPA.

According to the latest information received by OHCHR, as a result of increased surveillance, online and offline, and police questioning and intimidation of JKCCS staff and associated personnel, their human rights work has been impacted and they could not come out with public report on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir since 2020.

The situation of Henri Tiphagne from the Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns (CPSC, also known as People’s Watch) was included in 2018, 2019, and 2021 reports. Their foreign funding has been restricted on the allegation of financing terrorism, but the UN body has said it was a clear case of reprisal. In January and February 2022, the CBI raided it, and the case is pending in the High Court of Delhi, due to which the petition requesting intervention filed with National Human Rights Commission of India have been rejected.

The case of International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), a Denmark-based NGO working against caste-based discrimination and for the rights of Dalits was included in the report of 2020 and 2021. IDSN’s application for consultative status with ECOSOC has repeatedly been deferred since 2008 limiting its engagement with the UN.

The Government of India responded in August 2021, only to say that it is not aware of any incident of reprisal and intimidation against the organisation, and that ‘legitimate scrutiny’ of an application cannot be termed as reprisal.

Courtesy National Herald

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