The Purse Strings as the Noose: Indian NGOs
Face New Challenges
The Government of India has recently intensified its efforts to
restrict the activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by breathing new life
into an anachronistic, Emergency-era statute. The Government's arbitrary application of
the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act of 1976 (FCRA) at the behest of particular
political interests infringes the fundamental rights to freedom of association and
expression guaranteed by international law and the Constitution of India. Moreover, it
flouts the most basic norms of fairness and due process enshrined in the Constitution of
India and other Indian legislation.
The FCRA requires all Indian organisations and individuals that seek to receive foreign
contributions to receive clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs (the Home Ministry),
in the form of either registration or prior permission. In recent weeks, the Home Ministry
has deployed the FCRA as a blatantly political tool, seeking to intimidate NGOs that have
been critical of the Government and its policies. On 25 September 1999, two Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) officials - in separate statements on the same day - called for the
investigation and punishment of 13 NGOs for their sponsorship of a newspaper advertisement
criticising the party's positions on women's issues. The party officials assailed these
organisations as "anti-national and anti-Indian" - not only on account of their
sponsorship of the advertisement, but also based on their criticism of the Pokhran nuclear
tests of May 1998.
Within days of these statements, the Home Ministry dutifully served notice upon several of
the 13 NGOs presumptively classifying the groups as "organisation[s] of a political
nature, not being a political party" under Section 5(1) of the FCRA. If unable to
rebut this classification, these NGOs would be required to obtain prior permission from
the Home Ministry before receiving any foreign contributions. When another NGO, the
Volunteer Action Network India (VANI), publicly defended the groups, it too was promptly
informed that the Home Ministry intended to cancel its registration to receive
contributions from abroad without prior permission.
How does the Home Ministry justify its attempt to cancel the FCRA registrations of these
groups and their supporters? The Show Cause Notice served upon the NGOs alleges that these
voluntary associations "ha[ve] been associated with the release of certain
advertisements in the press and with certain documents the contents of which are in the
nature of comments of a political nature." The vagueness of this McCarthyesque
description of the alleged misconduct is exceeded only by its potential chilling effect on
the fundamental rights of Indian citizens to engage in collective political and social
action. As of 6 October 1999, the Home Ministry had retaliated against over one dozen NGOs
for their association with "certain advertisements" and "certain
Curiously, the Home Ministry has been highly selective in its efforts to regulate foreign
funds in Indian political and social life. Sangh Parivar (the family of Hindu
Fundamentalist Organisations) and Government officials have expressed outrage over the
role allegedly played by foreign funding in support of Christian and Muslim organisations.
However, Sangh Parivar organisations are among the highest recipients of foreign
contributions in India. Reports indicate that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP; or the World
Hindu Council) has raised at least Rs. 86 million (approximately $US 2 million) from the
United States since 1980. Much of this money has been used to fund schemes that seek to
intimidate tribal peoples from converting to Christianity or Islam, often under threat of
violence. While other reports of misuse of foreign funds raised by "VHP America"
abound, at no time has the Government sought to investigate this influx of foreign
Even the BJP itself - which, as a political party, is subject to more stringent
restrictions under the FCRA - has received substantial foreign contributions. The party's
United States arm, the "Overseas Friends of the BJP," routinely hosts expensive
fund-raisers and has sent large delegations to India to campaign on behalf of the BJP -
trips that are presumably financed with foreign funds. The Home Minister has, however,
turned a blind eye to this conduct by members of his ideological fraternity.
These examples reveal a pattern of arbitrary enforcement of the FCRA that violates
fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of India and international human
rights law. On its face and as applied, the FCRA violates Article 19 of the Constitution
of India and several international human rights instruments that guarantee freedom of
expression and freedom of association including Articles 19(3) and 22(1) of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - ratified by India in 1979.
The Government's arbitrary application of the FCRA also violates guarantees of equality
and due process under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Moreover, the
decision to target NGOs that criticize the Government's record on women's rights raises
serious questions about the Government's commitment to implementation and enforcement of
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women, which India
ratified in 1993.
The Home Ministry's deployment of the FCRA as a political weapon comes on the heels of
another recent assault on the political and social space for NGOs in India. For example,
the Government's recent imposition of an arbitrary clearance requirement for NGOs
organising international conferences contravenes India's constitutional guarantees and
international commitments. (See Human Rights Features, India Restricts NGO Meetings,
HRF/7/99, 20 September 1999). Such efforts signal an increasing unwillingness on the part
of the Government to tolerate criticism and dissent.
While the Government has a legitimate interest in holding NGOs accountable for financial
or other wrongdoing, normal regulatory and criminal justice procedures provide sufficient
institutional resources to accomplish this task. Narrowly-tailored financial reporting
requirements for NGOs serve legitimate governmental interests and should remain in place.
However, these laws should be administered by the Ministry of Finance, rather than the
highly politicised Home
Ministry. And to the extent that the direct channels of political participation are to be
reserved for Indian citizens, the proper targets of regulation are political parties and
the candidates they field for office, not voluntary organisations and advocacy groups.
Democracy and human rights depend upon the vitality of civil society which, in turn,
depends upon the ability of NGOs to operate free of arbitrary legal obstacles. The
Government's heavy-handed use of the FCRA to restrict the legitimate activities of
politically-disfavoured NGOs represents yet another troubling retreat from India's
[Source: Human Rights Features]
Supreme Court dismiss NLD complaint
Burma's Supreme Court dismissed a harassment complaint filed by the
opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) against the government's leaders. The court
decision, issued on October 29, 1999, rejected the NLD's claim that its activities had
been "continuously disrupted, prevented and destroyed" and that hundreds of its
members had been illegally detained. Supreme Court judge Tin Aung Aye declared the case
invalid and dismissed it due to lack of evidence.
FDL-AP call on ASEAN to Suspend Burma's
The Forum of Democratic Leaders - Asia Pacific (FDL-AP) has called on
ASEAN to seriously consider suspending Burma's membership of ASEAN and applying economic
sanctions if no progress is made towards the establishment of effective dialogue between
Burma's military junta and democracy movement.
In a resolution adopted by consensus at its third general Assembly on October 26, the
FDL-AP called for ASEAN to "seriously consider applying economic sanctions" and
"seriously consider suspending Burma's membership of ASEAN" if no progress is
made towards the establishment of effective dialogue.
The resolution also called for ASEAN member states to "take a pro-active approach by
forming a group of Eminent Persons from among ASEAN leaders" to accelerate
"democratic transition, national reconciliation and national reconstruction."
The resolution also sought that ASEAN pursue a strategy of "flexible
The FDL-AP also extended its call for economic sanctions against Burma to other countries
having close dealings with Burma if no progress is made towards political dialogue in the
A day earlier, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi reminded participants at FDL-AP's
conference on "Peace and Democracy for the New Millenium" that the efforts of
democracy-loving groups and nations all over the world have had an effect in Burma.
In a video message smuggled out of Burma for the conference opening ceremony, Aung San Suu
Kyi emphasised "the very fact that a movement for democracy is alive and vitally
alive in spite of the oppression to which we have been subjected, is proof that your work
has paid great results. If you had not been there to support us, it would have been that
much more difficult for us."
The opening ceremony was attended by more than 300 guests, including President Kim
Dae-jung, Japan's Foreign Minister Mr Kono Yohei, East Timor leader Jose Ramos Horta,
Mongolian Parliamentary Speaker R Gonchigdorj, NCGUB Prime Minister Dr Sein Win,
Australian former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and MPs and other political leaders from
Asia and Europe.
The FDL-AP conference and its third general assembly were held consecutively on October 25
and 26 at Seoul's Shilla Hotel.
(Send eMail request to DAGA if you want to have the full text
for the Resoultion On Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi's message.)
Shoemart Workers CBA negotiations
Workers of Shoemart, Inc. (SM), the biggest retail chain in the
Philippines reported for work today sporting "Itaas ang Sahod" (Increase Wages!)
tags and frowns smeared on their faces with violet lipstick. "Violet is the women's
symbol of protest. Our violet lipsticks and tags are meant to mirror our disgust over a
corporation we have helped build, yet refuses to heed our justified demands for living
wages," said Rose Gablanca, Sandigan ng Manggagawa sa Shoemart, Inc., (SMS) union
president. The protest's launching is in time for the commemoration of the Philippine
National Women's Day of Protest -- October 28. Women make up 84% of SM employees.
Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations deadlocked yesterday after three months
of talks. Workers demand a PhP 135 (UD$3.40) increase in their daily wages over a two-year
period, while management counters with a measly PhP 18 (US$0.45) increase over a period of
Shoemart workers noted that while SM's net profit has balooned by 600% from PhP 443M in
1994 to PhP 2.7B in 1998, workers received only an average increase of PhP 55. "Our
demands, when computed constitute but 0.25% of Shoemart's 1998 profits." the union
Gablanca added that it is from a largely contractual workforce that Mr. Sy is able to
extract huge profits. Over 90% of the 20,000 Shoemart workers in Metro Manila branches
alone are contractual, working mostly as trainees with only 3 to 5 months contract.Those
on contractual basis are not entitled to benefits given to the regular workers.
"Contractual workers are the most exploited. They are hired only when needed and
ruthlessly fired the very day the peak season ends, even if it is Christmas eve."
Sainath. P. (1999). 'Human Rights and the
Marginalized: Challenges Before the Students' in The Rally (in two parts)
Vol. 76 and 77, Chennai.
Don't run away from politics, enter it, fight. Don't alienate yourself. Beware in the
political mainstream. Fight for the rights of the people. When you cocoon yourself and
stay away from people you are allowing the msot reactionary forces continue dominating.
You are not challenging their authority.
(For copy of article send a request to DAGA or to email@example.com
'Involving Workers in the Debate on Company Codes: Women Working Worldwide's
Education and Consultation Project,' (1999), Clean Cloths Newsletter No. 7,
pp. 4-6, Amsterdam.
Women Working Worldwide (WWW) is running an education and consultation project on codes of
conduct with workers groups in Bangladesh, Indian, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines
and Sri Lanka. All the groups support women workers who were producing garments for the
world marker, some in factories inside and outside free trade zone, some in small
workshops. The groups game together for the first time at a workshop in Sri Lanka in
December 1998 where they reported on their work.
(for more information on the project write to Women Working Worldwide (WWW) at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Dent, Kelly. (1999), 'Harassment at work place: Case study of FTZ in Sri Lanka',
in Asian Women Workers Newsletter, Vol. 18, No.3, pp. 5-7, Hong Kong.
Harassment needs to be redefined as an issue that affects all of society not just women.
It must become part of mainstream union work in the same way as wage claims and industrial
disputes are, it cannot be seen as just a sideline issue.
(For copy of article send a request to DAGA or to email@example.com
BIOTHAI, MASIPAG, PAN-INDONESIA AND GRAIN. (1999), 'Turing the Paddy Gold:
Corn in Southeast Asia,' in SEEDLING Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 11-16.
Corn, industry's golden crop, is making waves in Southeast Asia. It is being transformed
from an important staple for farmers and poor families in the region into an industrial
commodity. Governments are beckoning in multinational corporations and allowing them to
use Southeast Asia's rich paddy lands as production lines for the factory farms and
testing ground for their genetically-modified crops. In the process, farmers are becoming
mere slaves of industry and regional food security is becoming increasingly threatened.
Will the biotech giants succeed in turning Asia's rich patchwork of rice paddies into a
golden sea of corn reminiscent of US's Great Plains or can corn remain an integral part of
the biodiversity of farming systems of local farmers?
(For copy of article send a request to DAGA or to firstname.lastname@example.org
Seabrook, Jeremy.(1999), 'The Little Maids of Dhaka,' Third
World Network Features Third World Network, July, Penang.
An Organization working with child domestic labor in Bangladesh estimates that there are
250,.000 to 300,000 resident child servants in Dhaka. This is one of the sot inaccessible
and secretive forms of child employment, with its on particular hazards for children.
( A copy may be obtained from www.twnside.org.sg
Singh, Kavaljit (1999), 'Financial Globalization: New Challenges for Peoples'
Movements,' in Contours Vol. 9, Nos. 2-3, Ecumenical Coalition for Third
World Tourism, Hong Kong.
The writer issues some challenges for peoples' movements to deal with financial
globalization. He argues that given the present geo-political conjuncture, one cannot
expect any major structural change in the global financial system to take place with out
mass mobilization and empowerment of people in both developed and developing countries.
(For copy of article send a request to DAGA or to email@example.com
Meadows, Donella. 1999, 'Coca-Cola Break,' Third World Network
Features, Third World Network, Penang.
The writer provides a strategy to prevent Coca-Cola from taking over the World and
reducing the quality of our lives.
(For copy of article send a request to DAGA or refer to www.twnside.org.sg )
Pyong-Ryang, Wi, (1999), 'TAEGU Round: For a New Global Financial Order',
in Civil Society, No. 4, Seoul.
Taegu Round is a Korean civil society initiative with representation from 50 to 60
organizations. It was inaugurated in June 1999. The Taegu Round is a united front of the
Korean organizations to campaign on issues like Jubilee 2000 debt, new global financial
(for a copy write to 'Civil Society,' Chongdong Bldg, Annex, 5th Floor, 15-5 Chong-dong,
Chung-ku, Seoul 100-120, Korea)
Voice of the Hungry Nation: The People's Tribunal on Food Security and
Militarization in Burma, Asian Human Rights Commission, October 1999.
Concerned by reports of growing food scarcity in Burma (also known as Myanmar), Asian
Human Rights Commission began preparing in 1997 for a People's Tribunal to investigate why
so many people are going hungry. Two years later the Tribunal convened to review evidence
and consider the charge that militrization is denying millions of people their basic human
right to food. The tribunal uncovered the grim realities of everydy life for Burma's
framers, landless workers and the victims of its decades-old civil war. Voice of the
Hungry Nation presents the Tribunal's findings on how and why food scarcity occurs, and
what this nationwide trend means for Burma's future.
(For a copy contact firstname.lastname@example.org )
'Burma-China Relations: In "Big Brother's" Shadow,' in
Burma Issues Vol. 9, No. 7, pp. 4-5, July 1999.
When Burma opened its doors to foreign investment in 1988, China was quick to establish
good relations. This "big brother" relationship has been one factor in
determining other countries' relations with Burma influencing how both Asia and other West
react to the military Junta.
'The Crisis of Food Scarcity: Hunger in a Land of Plenty'
in Burma Issues Vol. 9, No. 7, p. 6, July 1999.
Complex and varied, food scarcity in Burma is a man-made crisis created by the pervasive
militarisation of national political, economic and social structures. While the
relationship between militarisation and hunger has its roots in a century of political
unrest, it s no mere historical legacy; it is a contemporary process upheld and extended
by Burma's current military government.
(For copy of article send a request to DAGA or to email@example.com )
Toussaint, Eric. (1999), Poor Countries Pay More Under Debt Reduction Scheme?
Third World Network Feature, Third World Network, Penang.
Despite the debt reduction measure for the world's poorest countries promised by the
riches seven countries and international financial institutions, the amounts to be repaid
by the former will not decrease in the future. Worse still, some countries will have to
repay more than before.
Hansen-Kuhn, Karen & Hellinger Steve. (1999), 'SAPs
Link Sharpens Debt-relief Debate,' Third World Network Features, Third World
The Cologne Initiative, the 'historic' debt-relief plan for the world's poorest countries
announced by the industrialized nations, is panned by social groups as a tool to keep
participating countries tied to the policy dictates of the International Monterey Fund and
to ensure that they continue to repay their debts to the international financial
institutions. The Initiative would perpetuate the devastating impacts of structural
adjustment programs in poor countries.
(For copy of article send a request to DAGA or refer to www.twnside.org.sg )
Lutz, Hans. (1999), 'The Right of Abode Issue and the Churches,'
News and Views, pp. 5-7, September, Hong Kong Christian Council, Hong Kong.
Lutz pieces together in detail the positions of Churches on the issue of right of abode.
The right of abode in Hong Kong of children born on the Mianland to Hong Kong permanent
residents has been the most divisive and controversial issue that Hong Kong has faced
since it became a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic of China on 1st
(For copy of article send a request to DAGA or to firstname.lastname@example.org
SRI LANKA: Fear of
29 October 1999
Seenithamby Sathasivam (42)
Somanathan Panchchadcharam (51)
S. Velautham (56)
Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of the three Tamil men named above. The
men, reportedly arrested by Sinhalese home guards on 8 October 1999, have since
"disappeared". Witnesses report that they were handed over to security
forces personnel, possibly the army, but the army denies they are in their custody.
The arrests took place at Sinnawathai, a Tamil border village in the eastern Batticaloa
district. The men had been living there with a number of other Tamil families after being
displaced from the village of Malayarkaddu following tension between the Sinhalese and
Tamil communities in the area.
A member of parliament has raised concern about their "disappearance" with the
Committee against Undue Harassment and Arrest, which has reportedly asked the Inspector
General of Police and the Army Commander to investigate the case. The Committee was
appointed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1998 to investigate human
rights violations. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has reportedly also
investigated their "disappearance". The results of these inquiries have not yet
been made public.
Tensions between Tamil and Sinhalese communities in the border areas
between Batticaloa and Amparai heightened following the killing, on 18 September, of more
than 50 Sinhalese civilians by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in three
villages in Amparai district. The LTTE are fighting against the security forces for an
independent Tamil state in the north and east of the country.
The Sinhalese and Muslim communities in the areas bordering the north and east were first
supplied with arms for their protection in 1990. This followed widespread attacks by the
LTTE, including attacks on worshippers in two mosques. The "home guards",
however, have often acted outside of the command and control structures of the security
forces by resorting to widespread reprisal killings, abductions and other human rights
violations against Tamil civilians.
The United Nations Working Groups on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID),
which is visiting Sri Lanka this week, recommended, following visits in 1991 and
1992, that the home guards be brought under stricter control. In the past five or so
years, human rights violations by the home guard, although no longer so frequent, continue
to be reported from time to time.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters
in English or your own language:
- expressing concern for the three Tamil men named above who have not
been seen since reportedly being arrested by Sinhalese home guards in the Sinnawathai area
on 8 October 1999;
- urging that an independent and impartial investigation into their
whereabouts be undertaken, that the findings be made public and that those responsible be
brought to justice;
- urging that, if they are in detention, they be promptly charged
with a recognizable criminal offence, or immediately released.
Her Excellency President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Colombo 3, Sri Lanka
Telegrams: President Kumaratunga, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Faxes: + 94 1 33 37 03
Salutation: Your Excellency
Lieutenant-General Sri Lal Weerasooriya
Telegrams: Army Commander, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Salutation: Dear Army Commander
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of Sri Lanka accredited to your
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section
office, if sending appeals after 25 November 1999.
1 Easton Street,
WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom