The decision by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to award Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a Goalkeepers Global Goals Award on 24 September sends the wrong message. Prime Minister Modi's violation of civic freedoms should not be overlooked by one of the world’s largest philanthropic donors. Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party government have a dismal human rights record which includes persecuting activists and undermining the watchdog roles of the media and civil society groups.
Prime Minister Modi is being awarded in recognition of his work to improve sanitation through the Clean India Programme. Many civil society organisations and individuals have over the last few weeks voiced serious concerns about the implications the presentation of the award would have on global philanthropic endeavours and the collective advancement of human rights. As a partner of the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, CIVICUS has taken a decision in principle not to attend the awards ceremony.
We recognise that the Foundation has made significant contributions to enhance people’s lives around the world in the health and sanitation field. However, honouring Prime Minister Modi with this award ignores serious concerns raised by civil society on the decline of civic freedoms in India as well as the holistic nature of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Modi government is ignoring the democratic pillars of the goals by failing to implement commitments related to public access to information, inclusive decission making and fostering civil society partnerships - targets largely embodied in Goals 16 and 17.
“All 17 sustainable development goals are interdependent and co-related, said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. “The Modi government has a lot of ground to cover with regards to fulfillment of SDG commitments on inclusive governance, civil society partnerships, access to information and fundamental freedoms. In fact it has deliberately suppressed these.”
CIVICUS has highlighted a pattern of attacks and violations against freedoms of expression, association and assembly in India. These attacks include a recent lock down on civic freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir, raids on the offices of Lawyer’s Collective and Amnesty International, persistence of arbitrary arrests, judicial harassment and attacks on civil society activists and journalists and those expressing democratic dissent. Activists seeking to protect the rights of minority communities and environmental justice face particular challenges.
India is rated as obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory platform that rates and measures the state of civic freedoms in 196 countries.
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