Posts Tagged ‘Ravindran Daniel’

What limits for NGOs in the decentralisation of human rights infrastructure?

November 11, 2020

Ravindran Daniel, in Open Global Rights of 10 November 2020 published a piece that should interest anybody who wrestles with the issue of how to ‘decentralise’ the international human rights movement. In “What are the implications of International Human Rights NGOs moving to the South?” Daniel – who is a human rights lawyer from India, served as director of the Human Rights Division with the UN peacekeeping missions in East Timor, Libya and the Sudan and established the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development – takes the recent closure of AI India as the starting point for a wider discussion of the structural problems that come up in trying to realise the ‘democratization of the global human rights movement”. [see also:]

..The closure of Amnesty International’s India office raises questions about AI’s global strategy and the democratization of the global human rights movement. AI’s India office was part of the AI’s 2010 Global Transition Program (GTP) which aimed at restructuring the organization by reducing its London office operations and transferring them to regional hubs in various parts of the world. New forms of national offices were set up in India, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia. The aim was also to make AI a truly global movement and raise funds from the Global South and not depend entirely on funds from the Global North. Donors such as the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundation funded AI’s move to the South which was seen as strengthening mobilization from local to international levels and increased contact with human rights defenders and civil society actors.

However, it also raised some questions for both AI and the global human rights movement.

When opening its office in India in 2012, AI may not have foreseen the assumption of power by an illiberal government in 2014; although it must have known the risks involved in other countries. When AI rolled out its GTP program in 2010, was it unrealistically optimistic, particularly when the global support for human rights  in the West was rapidly declining? The optimism about emerging powers such as India, Brazil, and South Africa had waned and several illiberal governments had become powerful in the global system. It could not have waited for an opportune time since governments of various hues always challenge human rights organizations to function freely. The fact remains that human rights offices, national or international, face reprisals by governments and AI should have foreseen it when it established its India office under the GTP program. The question remains: was the cost including the consequences for those associated with AI India worth the risk?

However, the question is: given its tradition of safeguarding its members from bias and reprisals, what steps did it take to prevent reprisals for its members and supporters of national offices? Since 2001, AI abandoned its “own country rule” under which AI members were barred from working on cases in their own countries. It was a self-imposed limitation to safeguard members against potential problems from their own governments but also to stress the importance of solidarity in human rights work.

The closure of the Indian office raises the value of “own country rule” which would have possibly prevented the Indian government from taking the extraordinary step of closing the AI’s office. The Indian Government is alleging money laundering, which would entail conducting investigations against all those who contributed to AI India putting a large number of its supporters at risk.

Was the cost including the consequences for those associated with AI India worth the risk?

Moreover, the aim of the “own country rule” was to prevent AI’s local chapters from becoming just another local human rights organization with international links. In the case of the AI India office, its links to its parent organization seemed to have impeded its functioning. For example, in November 2019, Indian police raided the AI India office after the parent organization testified before the US Congress on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

The closure of the AI’s India office has implications for the global human rights movement as well. An evaluation of the Ford Foundation’s Strengthening Human Rights Worldwide Global Initiative (SHRW), under which the foundation funded AI to move to the South, raised the following issues: how to differentiate between the roles played by national and international NGOs; if these roles could be construed as the imperial expansion of Northern-based groups?; if such moves help or reduce the voice of local groups and communities;and if international NGOs have an advantage over national NGOs in garnering a larger share of resources due to a concentration of “cultural capital” (“knowledge and access to global governance institutions”) among NGOs based in the North?

The ecology of the human rights movement began changing in the 80s and the SHRW review captures it. In this changed context, AI’s efforts to be closer to the ground happened at an ill-advised time when strong NGOs had emerged in the South and were increasingly challenging the traditional human rights ecology. While based in the North, AI was functioning as a global movement with some of the corresponding limitations, such as authoritarian governments accusing it of being a Western organization. AI, instead of building from its strength, seemed to have pursued a naïve goal of expanding in the field at a wrong time for the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, the global human rights movement must condemn the Indian government’s actions against the AI India office. It must campaign for withdrawing all the cases and restoring the office. It should also examine the lessons learned from democratizing the movement in the last two decades, including strengthening the role and voices of NGOs in the South. AI on its part should re-examine its GTP’s assumptions considering the developments of the last two decades. A 2017 evaluation of the GTP commissioned by AI recommended the need for a “new narrative” that “…goes beyond moving closer to the ground, beyond the distribution of Amnesty International Secretariat (IS) and to the distribution of Amnesty as a movement… (making all) regions vibrant communities for public campaigning”.

Daniel Ravindran; a voice of reason in India’s human rights debate

January 16, 2020

A protest in Srinagar in December 2016.

A protest in Srinagar in December 2016.

With the evolution of international law in the last 100 years, the concept of unrestricted sovereignty has weakened

The human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) following the dilution of Article 370 and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) have brought renewed international focus on India’s human rights practice. Responding to criticism made by the United Nations agencies and others, the Indian state asserted that both J&K and CAA are entirely internal matters and there cannot be any interference in such sovereign decisions.

What is remarkable about modern international human rights law is its recognition of individuals as subjects. Classic international law governed the conduct between states and did not recognise the rights of individuals. Countries made agreements on the premise that a sovereign state had the exclusive right to take any action it thought fit to deal with its nationals. Such a notion of absolute sovereignty was challenged in 19th century with the emergence of humanitarian intervention to protect minorities living in other states. Later, in 1919, the evolution of labour standards led to the establishment of the International Labour Office (ILO). In 1926, the Slavery Convention adopted by the League of Nations prohibiting slave trade heralded the first human rights treaty based on the principle of dignity of a human being. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations, was the first comprehensive international human rights document. The Universal Declaration has acquired the force of law as part of the customary law of nations. It has provided the basis for binding human rights treaties and non-binding guidelines/principles that constitute a distinct body of law known as international human rights law.

Unsustainable claim

This progress of international law in the last 100 years makes the Indian state’s assertion of its sovereign right unsustainable. The evolution of international human rights law is also about the gradual weakening of the concept of unrestricted sovereignty. The Indian government has ratified several international human rights treaties and submits periodic reports to the respective treaty bodies. By doing so, it has acknowledged the principle that the treatment of its citizens is not entirely an internal matter, and such measures do not enjoy an absolute sovereignty.

The Indian government’s response to concerns about its human rights practice has always been that international scrutiny is unwarranted since the country is the largest democracy in the world with an independent judiciary, free media, and an active civil society. These claims sound less credible after the recent developments in J&K and the passage of the CAA.

Non–discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights. Discrimination in various forms occurs in all societies, but what is of concern is institutionalised discrimination. Apartheid was pronounced as a crime against humanity since it institutionalised discrimination based on race. Similarly, for the first time in post–Independence India, a religious group has been excluded from the purview of a law dealing with citizenship.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which is the lead agency within the UN system on all aspects related to human rights, has expressed its concern stating that the CAA “is fundamentally discriminatory in nature”. It has also said that “although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality.”

International human rights law includes safeguards against unwarranted foreign intervention and stresses the exhaustion of domestic remedies before an issue is considered by an international body. The Indian state always assured the international community that the judiciary, mainly its Supreme Court, would provide adequate remedies to victims of human rights violations. However, of late, the faith of the common people in the higher judiciary has been weakened. In the face of serious allegations about human rights violations in J&K, the Supreme Court has “ducked, evaded and adjourned”, as put across by advocate Gautam Bhatia.

Weakening of civil society

While responding to criticism against its human rights practices, the Indian government also refers to the role of free media and civil society in protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups. However, in the context of J&K and the ongoing struggle against the CAA, the media has not come out any better. As for civil society organisations, the government since 2014 has systematically targeted them, including by making it difficult for them to receive funds from foreign donors. Since 2014, the government has cancelled the registration of about 14,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). It has also mainly targeted its own critics.

Indian and international human rights groups are getting increasingly concerned about the actions of people associated with the ruling party who are engaged in the intimidation of critics, attacks against minorities, and restrictions on the freedoms of artistes. The brazen attack on JNU students on January 5 by armed goons and the total lack of response by the police is emblematic of free reign given to non-state actors in various parts of the country.

The international community is sympathetic to governments that are committed to upholding human rights but lack human and other resources to pursue it. In the case of India, it is not a question of resources but an unwillingness to uphold human rights. The government’s action in J&K, the passage of the CAA, and its response to protests on the CAA demonstrate that the present regime is not fully committed to upholding human rights and does not respect international human rights standards. Of course, it is possible for the Indian government, due to its diplomatic clout, to avoid robust intervention by the UN Human Rights Council and other UN human rights mechanisms. However, it would not be able to avoid scrutiny by the international community, which would complement the struggle of the Indian civil society to reclaim the Indian Constitution and advance human rights.

For transparancy reasons:

Who should be the new UN Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders? Ravindran is my choice.

December 14, 2013

A number of protection mechanisms exist at the international, regional and national levels for the protection of Human Rights Defenders at risk. The Special Rapporteur at UN level is the prime example. We have been very fortunate with the first two mandate holders (Hina Jilani and Margaret Sekaggya) and it is crucial to ensure that the next Rapporteur in April 2014 will be of the same caliber. While in Geneva last week I came across Ravindran Daniel a human rights lawyer from India with whom I worked together in the International Commission of Jurists a long time ago. He told me – with his usual modesty – that he is a candidate for the post of HRD rapporteur. He may not have a big lobby machinery to support him but I think he should be seriously considered. Here a bit more about his impressive background. Please spread the word. Read the rest of this entry »