The space for civil society movement in India has "contracted", leaving the country’s human rights defenders more vulnerable, a top UN expert has warned.
"Space for civil society contracted," said Margaret Sekaggy, a UN independent expert on human rights after completing her first fact-finding mission to the India.
"I am deeply concerned about the branding and stigmatization of human rights defenders, labelled as 'naxalites (Maoists)', 'terrorists', 'militants', ‘insurgents’, or ‘anti-nationalists’," she said this week.
Noting that existing national and state human rights commissions needed to be more pro-active in protecting human rights activists and journalists, Sekaggy recommended that the Indian government strengthen the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Sekaggya, who will submit her findings to United Nations Human Rights Council in 2012, suggested that India enact a law for the protection of human rights groups.
Sekaggy said that the human rights activists and journalists she spoke during her visit expressed "disappointment and mistrust" with the NHRC and the state commissions as well.
She also highlighted "the arbitrary application of security laws", most notably "the Public Safety Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act".
Sekaggya, a lawyer from Uganda who appointed as a UN special rapporteur in 2008, also expressed concern about the human rights defenders working with marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adavasis (tribals), religious minorities and sexual minorities.