NGO laws

 

  • Alert: Bangladesh’s restrictive NGO law undermines development efforts, should be reviewed

    Bangladesh’s new Foreign Donations law is in breach of international norms and agreements, says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.  CIVICUS remains deeply alarmed that the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act which was enacted last month will have serious negative consequences for Bangladeshi civil society and prevent them from undertaking their essential and legitimate work.

    “Worryingly, the law endows the government officials with broad powers to sanction civil society groups which are critical of the state or its policies and imposes arbitrary restrictions on access to vital funding to engage in sustainable development activities,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy & Advocacy Officer from CIVICUS. “We urge the government to undertake a review of the law’s restrictive provisions in light of constitutional and international commitments and in the interests of the people of Bangladesh whom the country’s vibrant civil society serves.”

    Bangladesh is party to several international agreements, including the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation which obliges states to create an enabling environment for civil society organisations to maximise their contribution to development, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals framework which promises effective and meaningful civil society partnerships and protection of fundamental freedoms.

    Under the new law, foreign-funded NGOs which make ‘inimical’ and ‘derogatory’ remarks against the constitution and constitutional bodies, including the President, Prime Minister, Parliament, and the Supreme Court, can be subjected to criminal and administrative sanctions. Specifically, the law stipulates that the authorities may unilaterally deregister, withhold the registration or ban the activities of an NGO if it makes such comments. These provisions breach fundamental freedoms of expression and association and preclude civil society groups from publically scrutinising state policies and practices.

    In addition, the law places unwarranted and targeted controls on NGOs which receive funding from foreign sources. Under the law, all foreign-funded NGOs must register with the NGO Affairs Bureau (a state institution seated within Prime Minister’s office), submit regular activity reports and secure the Bureau’s prior approval before initiating any project which will use foreign donations. The law further imposes arbitrary and onerous limitations on how NGOs can use their own resources. Without justification, the law precludes NGOs from spending more than 20% of their budget on administrative costs.

    We urge the Government of Bangladesh to initiate (i) a dialogue with Bangladeshi civil society who will be severely impacted by the law’s restrictive provisions, and (ii) undertake a review process of the law to evaluate its compatibility with Bangladesh’s constitutional and international commitments. 

    Bangladesh is listed as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

     

  • Belarusian authorities must end suppression of citizens, says CIVICUS

    Johannesburg. 19 May 2011. The recent detention of 14 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) activists in Minsk is just one more incident in an on-going crackdown on civil society in Belarus, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation today. The arrests came as local LGBT groups were gathering in Minsk to commemorate the International Day of Anti-Homophobia on 17 May.

    According to one organiser, Sergei Androsenko, head of the organisation Gay Belarus, the protestors were planning to gather peacefully with the goal of spreading tolerance and understanding, but were detained pre-emptively by police before they could assemble. The fourteen detainees, including Androsenko, were taken to a local police precinct, where they were finger-printed, harassed with slurs and had some of their personal effects confiscated, including a thousand flyers advertising the campaign to ‘legalise love’, before being released.

     

  • New Paper: Regulating Political Activity of Civil Society -- A look at 4 EU countries

    A comparative analysis of regulation of civil society organisations’ ‘political activity’ and international funding in Ireland, Netherlands, Germany and Finland. Written by CIVICUS, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, with support from The Community Foundation for Ireland

    RegulatingPoliticalActivityOfCivilSociety650This paper provides a comparative assessment of how the “political activities” of civil society organisations are regulated in Ireland and three other European Union member states. This paper focuses particularly on organisations, such as human rights organisations, which carry out public advocacy activities and rely on international sources for a substantial portion of their funding.

    All four countries are rated as “open” by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global platform which tracks respect for civic space in 196 countries. These four  european countries are also well known for their strong promotion of civil society, human rights and democratic freedoms through their foreign policy and international development cooperation on programmes. 

    Following a brief outline of key international and regional norms, the paper outlines relevant aspects of domestic regulatory systems in Netherlands, Germany and Finland. A final section sets out what Ireland could learn from these examples, with a view to reforming its laws and policies governing “political activities” and foreign funding of civil society organisations.

    Download Paper

     

  • Nigeria: ‘If passed, the NGO Bill will reduce the ability of CSOs to hold the government accountable and ensure that human rights are respected’

    CIVICUS speaks to Oluseyi Babatunde Oyebisi, Director of the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) about the draconian NGO bill under consideration by Nigerian lawmakers and the implications that it would have for civil society. Based in Lagos, NNNGO supports Nigerian NGOs in their commitment to reduce poverty, promote human rights and spread the benefits of development among all people. NNNGO provides a range of services and opportunities to help its members achieve their organisational aims and exert influence on issues relevant to the national agenda.

     

  • Nigeria: Proposed NGO bill will be a death knell for civil society

    Abuja —A proposed bill currently before Nigeria’s lawmakers, which will give the government sweeping powers over non-governmental organisations (NGOs), threatens the existence of Nigerian civil society, if passed into law.

    The Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) and global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, have warned that the bill is clearly intended as a means to undermine the work of NGOs, especially those working to hold the government accountable. The fact that the House of Representatives hastily announced a scheduled public hearing for 13 and 14 December 2017 in the capital, Abuja is indicative of the intention of the authorities to avoid broad participation of civil society organisations from the different parts of Nigeria and ram the bill through the Legislature.  Most CSOs are based outside of Abuja, where the public hearing will be held, making it difficult for them to travel to the hearing at short notice. 

    The Bill for the Establishment of the NGO’s Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of NGOs and Civil Society Organisations makes it compulsory for all NGOs operating in Nigeria to register with the government and requires them to include details such has location and duration of proposed activities as well as information on all sources of funding.  In addition, the proposed legislation states that NGOs will be required to provide “additional information” as requested by the Board during registration but does not say what this “additional information” would be. 

    These requirements make the registration process cumbersome and may inhibit the timely registration of some NGOs, making them susceptible to penalties.  In addition, making NGO registration compulsory goes against international standards for freedom of association as it prevents informal associations from existing and operating freely because of their lack of formal status.

    Said Oyebisi Oluseyi, NNNGO Director: “Civil society organisations in Nigeria provide social services to communities, contribute towards development outcomes and work to ensure that the government adheres to its human rights obligation.” If passed into law, the proposed NGO law will severely restrict the environment in which civil society operates and reverse socio-economic and democratic gains made over the years.” 

    The Bill provides wide powers to a regulatory agency to refuse to issue a registration certificate if, for example, it deems activities of the NGO to be against national interest.  The Agency also has the authority to suspend or cancel a certificate that has been issued. Such broad powers place NGOs — especially those critical of government actions and who speak out against corruption and human rights violations — at the mercy of the authorities who can deregister organisations as a punitive measure for holding the government to account. 

    The content of the Bill is symptomatic of a growing global trend we now experience among governments to thwart the work of civil society organisations by placing restrictions on them in law and practice and by using the term “foreign agents” to discredit their work.  

    In addition, the Bill requires that NGOs register every two years and that the names of NGOs that fail to do so are deleted from the national register, forcing such NGOs to cease all their activities. It states that the registration of an organisation will be renewed on condition that the organisation submits its tax clearance certificate and other relevant documentation required by the Board. 

    The Bill compels NGOs to submit projects to the relevant government Ministry for approval and then registered with the agency’s board before they are implemented. The Bill does not place a limit on the registration fees for NGOs but leaves it to the discretion of the Commission.  Individuals who violate provisions of the Bill face up to 18 months in prison or a huge fine and those convicted of such violations are prohibited from holding office in an NGO for a period of ten years.  

    Said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead for CIVICUS: “If passed into law, this draconian bill will place civil society under the thumb of the government and practically take away the independence of NGOs.  It might also set a negative precedent in the West African region, aggravating an already hostile environment for civil society.”

    CIVICUS and NNNGO call on the Nigerian authorities to adhere to their constitutional and international obligations on freedom of association and expression and withdraw the Bill. 

    ENDS.

    For more information contact:

    Oyebisi Oluseyi

    Nigeria Network of NGOs

    +234 906 948 5207

    David Kode

    Lead: Campaigns and Advocacy

    CIVICUS

    +27 11 833 5959

     

  • Tanzania: worrying signs for freedom of expression and association

    TanzaniaFlag_Wikipedia

    The attempted assassination of outspoken government critic Tundu Lissu on 7 September 2017 is the latest in a series of efforts aimed at constraining freedom of expression and association in Tanzania.  Tundu, a member of the political opposition and head of the Tanganyika Law Society was attacked by unidentified assailants near his home in Dodoma and is now recovering in a hospital in neighbouring Kenya. He has been arrested six times this year for openly criticising the government of President John Pombe Magufuli.

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS condemns this violent attack on Tundu, which follows his string of arrests for his dissenting views as well as steps taken by the Tanzanian government over the past few months, to curtail fundamental human rights and stifle activists and civil society organisations that express views critical of government actions.  

    At the moment, new applications for the registration of NGOs have been suspended until 30 November 2017 as NGOs currently registered undergo a mandatory “verification process.”  The vetting of NGOs began on 21 August 2017 after the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children published a notice stating that the Registrar of NGOs will examine all NGOs in order to correct and update the database for NGOs.

    CIVICUS is concerned by the manner in which the verification process is being carried out as local NGOs were not involved or consulted in the planning of the process. Furthermore, the sheer amount of documentation required of NGOs including the presentation of proof of payment annual fees and receipts since registration is cumbersome and presents an added administrative burden.   

    Several NGOs may be deregistered if they fail to provide all the information required by the authorities.  In addition, the requirement for a letter of recommendation from a Community Development Officer is also problematic, especially for NGOs working on rights and governance and who may have been critical of the human rights practices by the government in the past.   

    Said Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator: “This verification process is extremely unfair and raises many questions because any NGO that had not been previously registered cannot go through the vetting exercise and will be outlawed even before the process begins. There is no grace period whatsoever availed by the state to those who have been unable to register in the past.”

    The government has also set out five zones where NGOs must travel to for verification. This presents difficulties for NGOs who operate in remote areas and may not be able to afford to pay for this travel and the gathering of documents.

    CIVICUS calls on the government of President John Pombe Magufuli to respect the freedoms of association and expression in line with the Tanzanian Constitution and its international human rights obligations. 

    In July 2017 CIVICUS placed Tanzania on a watch list of countries in which there are growing and worrying threats to civic space. CIVICUS remains concerned over growing restrictions on freedom of expression and association.

    Civic space in Tanzania is rated as obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    ENDS

    For more information contact:
    Teldah Mawarire
    Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator, CIVICUS
     
    Tel: 0027 11 833 5959

     

  • Worrying legislation to restrict Nigerian civil society sector underway

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) are deeply concerned about impending legislation to restrict freedom of association in Nigeria.

    Nigeria’s National Assembly is currently considering a bill to provide for “the establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations etc. in Nigeria and for related matters.” First introduced in July 2016, the bill has since passed through the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill has now been referred to the Committee on CSOs and Development Partners for further legislative input.

    “The bill is in conflict with Nigeria’s Constitutional and international law obligations,” says Oyebisi Oluseyi, Executive Director of NNNGO. “We must instead strengthen civic space in Nigeria, as our sector’s role in finding solutions to the enormous challenges facing our nation cannot be overemphasized”.