In yet another damning report, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet expressed concern over restrictions on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), arrests of activists and implications of the Citizenship Amendment Act.

She expressed regret at the tightening of spaces for human rights NGOs in particular, including by the application of vaguely worded laws that constrain NGOs’ activities and restrict foreign funding. The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), prohibits the receipt of foreign funds for any activities prejudicial to the public interest. However, this leaves vague definitions of the “public interest” and “prejudicial” to the wild imagination of police officers.

The UN Human Rights Committee oversees the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which India is a party. The Committee found that India did not `show the specific nature of the threat or risks posed, and limit its responses to those necessary and proportionate to address such threat or risks”. India was bound to explain to the Committee that it was invoking “national security and protection of public order” as a reason to restrict the right to freedom of association.

Bachelet drew attention to the arrest and continued detention of the 83-year-old Catholic priest Stan Swamy, a long-standing activist engaged in defending the rights of marginalized groups, despite his poor health. It baffles one’s imagination that India’s repressive laws have the same goal as Draco’s code had 2613 years back, that is, “crush common men’s revolt by use of brutal force”. These laws allow pre-trial detention of “suspected militants” without disclosing reasons and house searches without warrants. An arrestee is considered guilty until he is proved innocent.

AMJED JAAVED,

Rawalpindi.