On 3 March CIVICUS held a side event to the 34th session of the Human Rights Council on “Backsliding on Civic Space in Democracies”, in advance of India, Brazil, Poland and South Africa examinations under the Universal Periodic Review in May 2017. The event was co-sponsored by IDSN, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, Forum Asia, ISHR, HRW, HRDA and OBS. IDSN was represented by its board member Henri Tiphagne from Human Rights Defenders Association in India.

Henri Tiphagne shared that 20.000 civil society organisations in India had stopped receiving foreign funding, out of which only a small number are human rights organisations, the rest are academic and development organisations. He stated that since the new law on foreign funding was adopted in 2010 out of 33.000 NGOs in the country only 13.000 exist today.

Henri Tiphagne questioned how the information on those NGOs is collected and shared his experience. He stated that he was issued with a two liner declaring that “based on the field reports that the government has received your FCRA is not renewed”. Later he found through the court that this is due to him “providing material and information to UN Special Rapporteurs <…> portraying India’s human rights record in a negative light”. He ended his presentation outlining that India is part of the UN but it appears that NGOs working on, for example, the Universal Periodic Review would be found illegal in India. 

Moderator, Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, added that India in fact played an important role in drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and supported civil society in the past in anti-colonial struggles.

Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on the situation of human rights defenders shared his concerns about the harsh reality of social movements that want to demonstrate, including in India.

Human Rights Defenders from Brazil, Poland and South Africa also spoke at the side-event of the difficulties faced in their countries. Camila Asano from Conectas in Brazil noted that civil society’s voices are being silenced within the UN and other international institutions. She gave an example of the UN Committee for NGOs, which is key to NGOs receiving ECOSOC accreditation, where her organisation, like IDSN, was denied an opportunity to speak this year. 

To end the event the panellists recommended pushing forward the resolution for civil society space and asked SRs to speak out on the injustices they learn about. Final remarks commended those speaking on the day and asked the governments to respect the civil society’s right to disagree.

·         The event’s flyer

·         The event’s video recording