Advocacy statements

Freedom of expression and association in India

  • Date / 2021
  • Location / India
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 9: Follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

Oral statement

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 49th Session (28 February – 1 April 2022)

General Debate Item 9


Thank you Mr President,

The Durban Declaration “urges States to take all necessary and appropriate measures to end contemporary forms of slavery.”

In India, an entrenched system of caste-based discrimination, rooted in degrading notions of ‘untouchability’, means that Dalits and Adivasis are often forced to accept dangerous and exploitative working conditions amounting to modern slavery.

Though India is constitutionally secular, a climate of Hindu nationalism has exacerbated caste and religious tensions. There has been a rise of hate crime against ethnic and religious minorities,[1] while the space for dissent is shrinking at an alarming rate. Efforts to abolish modern slavery are stalling because the act of challenging caste discrimination is now considered “terrorism”.

Amendments to a foreign funding law mean that NGOs can be accused of “political activity” and shut down, while a draconian anti-terrorism law known as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is routinely abused, targetting in particular, those working at the intersection of land rights, gender and caste.[2]

Last year, the 83-year-old activist Father Stan Swamy died while incarcerated on false terrorism charges,[3] and a young Dalit and labour rights activist, Nodeep Kaur, was tortured and sexually assaulted while in police custody.[4]

These cases shock the conscience, and put into evidence the Indian State’s blatant disregard for free expression and due process. We know of Indian NGOs that are unwilling to speak at the UN because of the risks of reprisals and further restrictions on their work.

We urge the Council to hold India to account for its ongoing persecution of human rights defenders. We urge India to repeal those sections of the UAPA and the FCRA that violate its obligations under international human rights law.

I thank you.


[1] https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Constitutional%20and%20Legal%20Challenges%20Faced%20by%20Religious%20Minorities%20in%20India.pdf

[2] https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/interviews/5602-india-the-government-is-dealing-with-dissent-in-very-concerning-ways

[3]  https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27313&LangID=E

[4] https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-you-are-a-dalit-and-behave-like-one-cops-shouted-as-they-tortured-me-nodeep-kaur/375756

Suggested academic reference

'Freedom of expression and association in India', Humanists International

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