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Why NGOs must clean up their act

Author: Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant
Publication: Dailyo.in
Date: March 6, 2018
URL:      https://www.dailyo.in/variety/ngo-oxfam-sex-scandal-amnesty-narendra-modi-fcra/story/1/22693.html

It's been a bad few weeks for NGOs. Oxfam is still reeling from the scandal that its senior staff used prostitutes for orgies during relief work in Haiti. Several senior Oxfam executives have been forced to resign. Chief executive Mark Golding made things worse by saying the matter had been blown "out of proportion to the level of culpability" and that no one had "murdered babies in their cots".

The sexual offences occurred over seven years. There were 87 incidents in which Oxfam staff was involved. Another 31 involved staff of Save the Children. Two involved Christian Aid.

Donors are fleeing. Sweden, a big donor, has suspended its funding to Oxfam till a full investigation is carried out to fix culpability.

Amnesty International has long been accused of wrongdoing and bias. The NGO was compromised way back in 1967 when it emerged that British intelligence had infiltrated the organisation, distributed secret funds and followed a political agenda during the Cold War. Amnesty's founder, Peter Benenson, was forced to resign.

Amnesty has since done outstanding work highlighting human rights violations. But it has a dark underbelly. In a devastating indictment of its modus operandi, a report by NGO Monitor  said in 2014: "Despite Amnesty's influence, critical analysis of the organisation and its activities has been limited. The 'halo effect', which shields groups claiming to promote universal moral agendas and human rights from scrutiny because of a perceived impartiality, has insulated Amnesty from systematic critical assessment and reform, to its own detriment. As NGO Monitor's research has shown, the crisis is rooted in a number of structural problems, including consistent post-colonial ideological bias, a pronounced lack of credibility in research reports, moral inconsistency, financial instability and corruption, failure to act with transparency in critical organisational aspects, and friction between the London office and key national sections (particularly the US)."

Amnesty India's track record has hardly been stellar. Last month, it was forced to apologise for disseminating false news. Amnesty India's Twitter account posted the following: "Over 900 people have been killed in police encounters in UP between March 2017 and January 2018. NHRC says UP police are 'misusing their power in the light of an undeclared endorsement of the higher-ups'."
Smita Barooah @smitabarooah
Amnesty India misled us with wrong figures. @Uppolice called them out with the coolest tweet. @AIIndia quickly corrected the lie.
The stick approach works rather well :)     10:40 PM - Feb 6, 2018
UP POLICE @Uppolice
Dear @AIIndia we beg ur pardon but there's a major human error in ur number, unless U hsve redefinrd D injured & dead as alike! With due respect to the ones alive & Not declare them dead! We'll make sure our legal notice is better researched
twitter.com/aiindia/status.......10.31 PM- 6 Feb 2018
Amnesty India @AIIndia
Correction : This tweet incorrectly stated that over 900 plople had been killed in police encounters in Utter pradesh between march 2017 and Jan 2018. The figure actually referred to both deaths and injuries.
11:16 PM - 6 Feb 2018

The UP police issued a strong rebuttal. Amnesty India was forced to delete its tweet since the falsehood it contained was so plainly evident. The political bias of Amnesty India has been apparent for years. The bias has deepened since it hired as chief executive a journalist who makes no bones about his visceral antipathy towards the Narendra Modi government and towards Modi personally. Balance and fairness are collateral victims.

They have seriously damaged Amnesty India's credibility.

Many Indian NGOs obviously do excellent work - Magic Bus, Pratham and Akanksha, among hundreds of others. Many unfortunately don't, raising questions of motive, bias and conduct.

Since foreign donors account for significant funding of Indian NGOs, political agendas can be quietly leveraged. The face is Indian, the donor hand often invisible.

A report in DNA in November 2017 underscored the dangers of such funding: "The central government on Thursday expressed concerns at news reports of the United States announcement to grant $5,00,000 for NGOs in India to reduce 'religiously-motivated violence and discrimination'. Though the ministry of external Affairs (MEA) limited its official reaction, saying it was awaiting details of the US move, senior officials quoted Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) rules and said there was no question of allowing grants to any NGO working selectively. The Act permits only NGOs that have a definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programme to accept foreign contributions, that too after such NGOs either obtain a certificate of registration or prior permission under the Act."

Christian evangelist groups in the US have long been involved in funding "religious" Indian NGOs. Wahhabi elements in the Middle East, especially from Saudi Arabia, have funded madrasas in India. Some of those funds have found their way into terror modules operating in states such as Kerala and West Bengal.

The Indian government has over the past three years cancelled the licences of over 20,000 foreign-funded NGOs for violating FCRA. Among those shut down was the US-funded Compassion International. Demonstrating the lobbying power such NGOs enjoy in the US, over 100 American Congressmen, including Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, immediately wrote to home minister Rajnath Singh urging him to allow US-based charities to continue working in India.

A parallel ecosystem in India comprising activists, retired armed forces officers, former bureaucrats and the inevitable Lutyens' power brokers is activated every time dodgy foreign-funded NGOs are threatened with closure. Sections of the media build a crescendo of criticism while activists hold angry demonstrations. The Modi government has been a particular target of US-funded NGOs and their Indian supporters. It is easy to conflate the BJP's "Hindu" nationalism with religious discrimination.

NGOs generally serve an important purpose. Some are watchdogs of government violations of human rights. Others educate tribals, feed the poor, care for homeless children and often save lives. But a small minority has tainted the sector. Unfortunately, the transgressors are large NGOs like Oxfam and Amnesty.

Why have they been allowed to get away for so long? In an insightful article in Britain's The Spectator, Mary Wakefield wrote: "One of the oddest things about the Oxfam sex scandal is how little we all seem to care. Even now, the talking heads on TV find it hard to summon much outrage. I've been half hopeful that progressive millennials might adopt the aid world fiasco as a cause. No generation in history has been more alive to the problem of privilege and the rights of the vulnerable. So where are the woke? Are they sharing the Oxfam story? Are they making placards? Not as far as I can see. A fortnight ago I wrote in this magazine wondering why the #MeToo movement hasn't held the UN to account for the terrible crimes committed by peacekeepers against young girls in Africa and Haiti. These terrible crimes aren't historical or even rare. Last year the UN Secretary General confessed that there had been 145 incidents involving 311 victims in 2016. This, he said, was just the tip of the iceberg. He said it sadly, as if his hands were tied. Think of all those celebrity ambassadors to the UN: Angelina Jolie. Anne Hathaway. Cate Blanchett. Leonardo DiCaprio. Victoria Beckham. Emma Watson. Katy Perry. Imagine if they had used the platform of the Oscars to resign en masse until there's proper punishment for terrible crimes."

They of course won't resign en masse, or singly, as ambassadors to the UN. Nor will Indian celebrities, who otherwise support good causes, speak up about the bad eggs in the NGO basket. To clean up that basket, they should.
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