One of the world’s most important human rights law firms is now under attack from a government whose leader has, to put it mildly, a mixed record on human rights. The firm is the Lawyer’s Collective, which has done some of the most important work within India on HIV, LGBT and gender issues. The firm’s lawyers have also made great contributions internationally. Indira Jaising has served as a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Anand Grover was the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Health from 2008 to 2014, during which service he issues several fearless reports that helped move the world forward towards an enabling environment for HIV among the most legally marginalized people.
On June 1, the Indian Union Ministry for Home Affairs suspended the firm’s license to receive foreign funding, contending that the Lawyer’s Collective had violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. The Lawyer’s Collective faces the prospect of having their license cancelled permanently, which would seriously impact their work. Both the suspension order and the Lawyer’s Collective’s response have been widely reported in the Indian media.
The Lawyer’s Collective is doing what any good human rights law firm does: standing up for those whose rights are being disregarded, and holding government officials accountable. Attacking watchdogs by going after their funding (and impugning their patriotism) is an all too common tactic these days, deployed by the likes of Putin and the dominant hard-liners in China. The attack on the firm is, alas, the best evidence of their effectiveness and a sad sign of the government’s human rights deficits.
A group of 400 international advocates have written to President Narendra Modi urging that the suspension be lifted. It would be a big help for anyone reading this to add their voice on social media, #LawyersCollective. You can also ping the Bureau of South and Central Asian affairs at the State Department, @State_SCA, which should be taking a strong stand on this tactic.