This year’s celebration of the International Day of Non-Violence on Oct. 2 was particularly poignant. Falling on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and global pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence, the occasion occurred just days after the closure of Amnesty International India.
On Sept. 30, the organization was forced to halt its human rights work after learning on Sept. 10 that all its bank accounts had been frozen. Unable to access any funds, Amnesty International India was forced to lay off all staff and suspend all research, campaigning, and advocacy work. This latest action follows two years of relentless threats, intimidation, and harassment by the Indian government. But this time, Amnesty International India had no choice but to bring its operations to a grinding halt.
This is a devastating setback for Indian human rights defenders, civil society organizations, and most alarmingly, the millions of people in India who have been aided by Amnesty’s human rights work. It comes just as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun visits India this week to meet with senior Indian government officials and deliver keynote remarks at the India-U.S. Forum.
Amnesty’s work in India, as anywhere else in the world, is to promote and defend human rights. These values are enshrined in the Indian Constitution and flow from a rich Indian tradition of pluralism, tolerance, and peaceful dissent. Amnesty International does not accept funding from governments for its research and advocacy, to ensure that we can advocate and campaign with objectivity and impartiality in our mission to ensure human rights are enjoyed by all.
Established in 2012, Amnesty International India has worked to protect the rights of all Indians, especially those most at risk, the marginalized, the victims of human rights abuses, and human rights defenders who stand up against injustice. More than 4 million Indians have taken action in support of Amnesty International India’s campaigns. Over the last eight years, the organization has grown into a large movement with 100,000 Indian donors.
Amnesty International India has pursued cutting-edge investigations and campaigning on a range of human rights issues, including extrajudicial executions, police violence against protesters, and the death penalty. The organization has fought for access to justice in Jammu and Kashmir, calling for the release of activists and journalists from administrative detention there, as well as restoration of 4G mobile internet.
It was in the wake of two major human rights reports that Amnesty International India’s bank accounts were frozen. The first report covered the February 2020 Delhi riots and documented police complicity in the violence against Muslims. The second report addressed arbitrary detentions and internet restrictions that persist in Kashmir, one year after it was stripped of its special status. Both human rights reports contained findings critical of Indian authorities that were confirmed by other independent observers.
Amnesty International India has fully complied with all applicable Indian and international laws. Nonetheless, the organization’s bank accounts were frozen with no official notice. The government’s crackdown on civil society violates the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, which are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and international human rights law.
In the coming days and weeks senior U.S. government officials will be traveling to India to meet with Indian leaders. Deputy Secretary of State Biegun will travel to India this week. On Oct. 26-27, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will be in India for a joint meeting with their counterparts. These high-level discussions could not come at a more critical time.
Senior U.S. government officials should make clear that the freeze on Amnesty International India’s bank accounts must be lifted immediately. The Indian government must guarantee the right of all civil society organizations to seek, receive, and utilize funding freely and safely. This is the first necessary step to protect the freedoms of all people in India, and to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society organizations can continue to work in a safe environment.