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October 30, 2023

The Adverse Impact of Counter Terrorism Laws on Human Rights Defenders and FATF Compliance in India

Executive Summary

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an intergovernmental body charged with combatting money laundering and terrorism financing. India was granted membership to FATF in 2010 and has repeatedly amended its anti-terrorism and money laundering laws allegedly to be in compliance with FATF’s requirements. This process, however, has resulted in wide-ranging adverse impacts on non-profit organizations (NPOs) and human rights defenders who have been targeted with prosecutions, in many instances, for exercising their civic freedoms by critiquing the government.

This report examines FATF’s recommendations on money laundering and terrorist financing and how India’s Anti-Money Laundering (AML)/Counter Financial Terrorism (CFT) regime contravenes FATF’s requirements and guidelines by impacting the human rights of civil society actors. The report first analyzes the three laws that form India’s counter-terrorism regime—the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967 (UAPA), the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act of 1976 (FCRA). The report then analyzes five illustrative cases of NPOs and human rights defenders in India that have been the target of the government’s enforcement of these laws. The analysis of this report is based on desk research and interviews with human rights defenders in the field.

The findings of this report highlight the misuse of countering terrorism financing legislation to target human rights defenders and close civic space. The report finds that India’s counter-terrorism laws have expanded over time, becoming increasingly vague, and often overturning basic procedural safeguards for defendants. In enforcing these counter-terrorism laws, investigating officers often use vague allegations and inconsistent evidence to attempt to punish human rights defenders and NPOs that are critical of India’s government. The process of prosecuting individuals under these laws has also become punishment itself through the use of extensive pretrial detention and repeated denial of bail.

The report concludes by setting forth recommendations for India that are to be taken into consideration in reviewing its compliance with FATF requirements, specifically regarding the effects that India’s counter-terrorism regime has on the exercise of civil and political rights. As human rights defenders and NPOs critical of the government are often the victims of the government’s abuse of counter-terrorism laws, the report concludes with recommendations for the Indian government to stop its abuse of its counter-terrorism laws, which if ignored, will impact democracy, the rule of law, and India’s credibility as an international partner on counter-terrorism.

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