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Open letter to Indian PM Narendra Modi: Leave Lawyers Collective alone

Open letter to Indian PM Narendra Modi: Leave Lawyers Collective alone

With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a state visit to South Africa, local civil society organisations are urging him to respect their equivalents in India.

We write to you to express our deep concern about recent measures taken that have the effect of undermining civil society in India, particularly Lawyers Collective.

Lawyers Collective is a well respected legal organisation that advances human rights in India, including women’s rights, the rights of people living with HIV and the right of access to affordable medicines. Lawyers Collective plays an important role in advancing the constitutionally entrenched rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of society. A number of key civil society organisations in South Africa have worked with Lawyers Collective for many years to advance the rights entrenched in the South African Constitution, including important work to promote non-discrimination and to protect the human rights of people living with HIV.

Lawyers Collective has been absolutely instrumental in ensuring that the environment that enables India to continue to be the Pharmacy of the Developing World is maintained, even in the face of serious external pressures on India to deviate from its historical pro-public health stance. Through its work, vulnerable people in both India and South Africa (among others) have had access to life-saving medicines that they would not otherwise have been able to afford.

In this context, we were shocked to hear that on 1 June 2016, the Union Ministry for Home Affairs suspended for 180 days the Lawyers Collective’s licence to receive foreign funding.

Human rights organisations and prominent people around the world have come together to express support for the Lawyers Collective and have demanded the immediate lifting of the suspension order.

Three prominent United Nations experts – Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and Mr Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association – have called on the Indian government to reverse its decision and to ensure a safe and enabling environment for civil society to operate in India.

The below civil society organisations and individuals in South Africa are concerned with the protection of the space for civil society to operate freely in order to carry out their respective mandates concerning the advancement of fundamental human rights, public and private sector accountability and other public interest activities. These activities are critical to the protection of marginalised groups and the meaningful realisation of the provisions of the Constitution. The step taken against Lawyers Collective by the Union Ministry for Home Affairs in India is part of a wider clampdown on civil society around the world, including continued threats of such clampdowns in South Africa.

On the occasion of your visit to South Africa on 8 July 2016, the below signatories from South Africa join the global calls on the Prime Minister to immediately lift the suspension order against the Lawyers Collective and to make a public commitment to respect independent civil society organisations that play a critical role in advancing fundamental rights. DM

Signatories:

  • Awethu!
  • Basic Education for All
  • Centre for Applied Legal Studies
  • Centre for Environmental Rights
  • CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Community Based Development Programme
  • Consortium for Refugees and Migrants
  • Corruption Watch
  • Equal Education
  • Equal Education Law Centre
  • FunDza
  • Human Rights Education Centre
  • Human Rights Institute of South Africa
  • Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Legal Resources Centre
  • Media Monitoring Africa
  • People’s Coalition Against Xenophobia
  • Peoples Health Movement
  • Rural Health Advocacy Project
  • SECTION27
  • Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa
  • Sonke Gender Justice
  • SOS Coalition
  • South African Christian Leadership Initiative
  • Southern Africa Litigation Centre
  • Spotlight
  • Students for Law and Social Justice
  • Training Education and Management
  • Treatment Action Campaign

A list of individual signatories is available here.

Photo: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (unseen) speak during a joint statement at Los Pinos presidential house in Mexico City, Mexico, 08 June 2016. EPA/MARIO GUZMAN

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