The Human Cost of India’s Counter-Terrorism Approach

India faces a critical challenge maintaining its international image while addressing security threats. Human rights groups Amnesty International and Front-Line Defenders are alarmed by the increasing use of India’s counter-terrorism laws against civil society organizations. This trend, they argue, tarnishes India’s reputation and undermines its commitment to human rights.

Ahead of the sixth Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Plenary when the FATF Member States, Secretariat and leadership are meeting to review India’s Mutual Evaluation Report (MER), we urge them to consider civil society concerns and remind the Indian government of their commitment to comply with FATF’s recommendations without misusing its standards.

On 14 June 2024, Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor sanctioned the prosecution of Arundhati Roy, a celebrated writer and winner of the Booker Prize and Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmiri academic under India’s stringent counter-terrorism law – the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for a speech made in 2010.

In her speech, Roy had highlighted the growing human rights violations in Kashmir, a region whose special autonomy was unilaterally revoked by the Government of India in August 2019 amidst a communication blackout and detention of activists, students, journalists and members of political opposition groups. The Government’s decision to prosecute Roy and Hussain after 14 years highlights the broader pattern of arbitrarily targeting government critics using draconian laws. Their case is one among many such examples of misuse of UAPA.

Over the past decade, India has seen a dramatic rise in using the UAPA to silence critics and human rights defenders. This law’s harsh provisions, like making bail difficult, allowing long detentions without charges, and presuming guilt until innocence is proven, create a climate of fear that discourages civil society participation.

India’s counter-terrorism laws have steadily grown broader, jeopardizing essential legal protections for those accused. In the lead-up to their recent FATF evaluation (MER), human rights organizations like Amnesty International documented how these laws are being misused to silence critics. Their reports echo concerns documented globally: the very standards set by FATF to combat terrorist financing can be exploited by governments to stifle dissent.

To illustrate, in 2012, the Indian government broadened the already overbroad definition of a “terrorist act” under UAPA, strongly relying on FATF’s recommendations to make it “more effective in prevention of unlawful activities and dealing with terrorist activities”.

Says Amnesty International

It must also be noted that Indian government has been selective in enforcing FATF’s recommendations. For instance, in India’s 2010 Mutual Evaluation Report, FATF ranked India “Partially Compliant” on Special Recommendation II, which pertains to the criminalisation of anti-money laundering and countering of terrorist financing, highlighting UAPA’s deviation from international standards in defining a “terrorist act”.It noted that “the acts listed in Section 15(a) largely refer to common criminal activity that only obtains its terrorist status when carried out with a specific intent.

Consequently, the general terminology (… by any other means of whatever nature …) used in Section 15(a) of the UAPA cannot be considered as corresponding with the Treaties offences.” Thirteen years later, the overbroad definition continues to exist and applied arbitrarily to human rights defenders in India.

Pertinently, FATF in its “Stocktake of the Unintended Consequences of the FATF standards” emphasized compliance with human rights standards. It requires countries to implement counter-terrorism measures in a way that respects countries’ obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international human rights law. The “Stocktake” report acknowledges that many countries continue to incorrectly implement the FATF standards and sometimes intentionally apply restrictive legal measures to Not-for-Profit Organizations in the name of FATF compliance. We note that countries like India continue to misuse FATF standards for targeting critical voices.

The FATF’s Mutual Evaluation Process (MER) offers a valuable chance to reinforce India’s commitment to upholding FATF’s anti-terrorism financing standards. This collaborative review can ensure these standards are implemented effectively, preventing misuse and safeguarding essential due process rights for individuals.

Wasama Khalid
Wasama Khalid

Muhammad Wasama Khalid is a Correspondent and Researcher at Global Affairs. He is pursuing his Bachelors in International Relations at National Defense University (NDU). He has a profound interest in history, politics, current affairs, and international relations. He is an author of Global Village Space, Global Defense Insight, Global Affairs, and Modern Diplomacy. He tweets at @Wasama Khalid and can be reached at Wasamakhalid@gmail.com

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