Geneva:UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday expressed concern over the restrictions on foreign funding for the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in India and the arrest of activists in the country.

 

She appealed to the Indian Government to "safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent.

"India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of groundbreaking human rights advocacy within the country and globally," she said in a statement. "But I am concerned that vaguely defined laws are increasingly being used to stifle these voices."

Bachelet specifically cited as "worrying" the use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which prohibits the receipt of foreign funds "for any activities prejudicial to the public interest."

She said the Act, which was adopted in 2010 and was amended last month, has been invoked over the years to "justify an array of highly intrusive measures, ranging from official raids on NGO offices and freezing of bank accounts, to suspension or cancellation of registration, including of civil society organizations that have engaged with UN human rights bodies.

"I am concerned that such actions based on the grounds of vaguely defined 'public interest' leave this law open to abuse, and that it is indeed actually being used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy that the authorities perceive as critical in nature, she said.

As per the amended FCRA law, furnishing of Aadhaar numbers by office-bearers of NGOs has become mandatory for registration. The Act also provides for reduction in administrative expenses of any NGO receiving foreign funding, from 50 per cent to 20 per cent of annual funds to ensure spending on their main objectives.

Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai had said in Parliament that the legislation was not against any NGO and was an effort to maintain transparency.

This amendment is in the interest of good NGOs which want to do good work in the country, he had said.

"NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are expected to adhere to all our laws including in respect of foreign funding just as they presumably would in other countries including the US and in the European Union," Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastava said last month.

Bachelet said activists and human rights defenders have also "come under mounting pressure in recent months, particularly because of their engagement in mass protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that took place across the country earlier this year."

India maintains that the CAA was its "internal matter" and that "no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India's sovereignty".

"More than 1,500 people have reportedly been arrested in relation to the protests, with many charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act - a law which has also been widely criticized for its lack of conformity with international human rights standards, she said, adding that charges have also been filed under this law against a number of individuals, including 83-year-old Catholic priest Stan Swamy.

"I urge the Government to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India's robust civil society," she added.

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Tokyo, Jul 31: Indian women's hockey team qualified for the Olympic quarterfinals after 41 years after it beat South Africa 4-3 and later defending champions Great Britain blanked Ireland 2-0 to ensure its passage into the knockout stage, here on Saturday.

India finished their group A league proceedings in fourth place with six points, riding on back-to-back wins over Ireland and South Africa and will now face pool B toppers Australia in the quarter-final on Monday.

The top four teams from each pool made it to the knockout stage.

Indian women team's best finish at the Olympics was in Moscow back in 1980 when they reached the semi-finals but ended fourth.

While Great Britain's win was required, no one can take away credit from Vandana Kataria, who scored a hat-trick in India's win in a pulsating morning clash against the South Africans.

Kataria (4th, 17th, 49th minutes) achieved a rare feat by becoming the first Indian woman hockey player to score a hat-trick in the Olympics.

Young Neha Goyal (32nd) was the other goal getter.

South Africa's goals came from the sticks of Tarryn Glasby (15th), skipper Erin Hunter (30th) and Marizen Marais (39th).

"Today's game was really tough, South Africa gave us a really good fight. They converted their chances in the circle. Defensively, we can be a lot better," skipper Rani said.

India's chief coach Sjoerd Marijne heaved a sigh of relief but was not happy with the number of goals his side conceded.

"We gave too many goals away, and I think we can score more goals, that is the main thing for today. We did what we had to do, we had to win this match, and we did," he said.

"Playing in these circumstances, you feel it, the humidity and I think it's more than 35 degrees on the pitch, it does not make it easy, he added.

Needing a win to stay alive in the competition, the Indians meant business and pressed hard on the South African defence from the start.

In doing so, India secured two penalty corners in the first two minutes of the match but drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur's poor execution continued in the tournament.

Still, it didn't take India long to open their account and in the fourth minute, Kataria gave her side the lead, tapping in from close range after being set up by Navneet Kaur's great run from the right flank.

India kept up the pressure and penetrated the South African circle many times without much success.

But seconds from the end of first quarter, a lapse in concentration from the defence cost India dearly as South Africa drew level through Tarryn Glasby, who deflected in a long shot from Taryn Mallett.

India had enough time to regain their lead through a penalty corner but wasted the opportunity.

Two minutes into the second quarter, Kataria restored India's lead when he deflected in Deep Grace Ekka's flick from their fourth penalty corner.

The Indians had three more chances to extend their lead in the second quarter but they couldn't do so.

The Rani Rampal-led side got two more penalty corners which they wasted, and then, Goyal's effort from open play was saved by the South Africa goalkeeper.

Just like in the first quarter, India gave away their lead seconds away from half time when Hunter found the net from her team's first penalty corner.

Two minutes after the change of ends, Goyal restored the lead again, deflecting in a Rani hit from a penalty corner as the Indians executed a fine variation.

The fragile Indian defence wilted under pressure once again, when South Africa drew level for the third time in the match, through a Marais strike.

South Africa enjoyed a good run of play in the initial minutes of final quarter and, in the process, secured three penalty corners quickly, but this time the Indian defence did enough to thwart the danger.

In the 49th minute, a brilliant Kataria saved the day for India when she deflected in Gurjit Kaur's flick from another penalty corner.

Thereafter, the Indians fell back and looked content to keep the possession as South Africa pressed hard.

Two minutes from the final hooter, the Indians successfully referred a penalty corner decision given against them.

"It is about consistency. Yesterday (Friday), we played a really good match. And now we have a back to back and your legs are heavier, things are not going as smoothly. So these things you just know. You saw our basics were not as good as yesterday, it is all about that," Marijne said.

"It is important to play matches. I am not someone, I hope you see that, who ever finds excuses, but we just have not done it. I don't blame anyone, it is just the way it is."

Marijne feels the knockout stage would be different ball game from the group stage.

"The tournament starts again. If you play well, or not well in the pool matches it does not matter, it starts all over.

"It will be another type of game because it is high pressure, everything or nothing. The good thing is we had that in the last two matches, so we have already experienced that."