- Pakistan has expelled 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs)
- Another 20 organisations are also at risk of expulsion
- Pakistan’s policy on INGOs effectively hampers the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups
Global human rights groups have expressed grave concern over the expulsion of 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) from Pakistan.
The Pakistani authorities ordered the INGOs to leave the country after rejecting their final appeals to remain. According to reports, all 18 expelled organisations, with the exception of two that are still trying to overturn their ouster in court, have closed their operations in Pakistan. Another 20 groups are reportedly also at risk of expulsion following the authorities’ singling out of a total of 38 international aid groups for closure a few months ago.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said this was a regressive move that will have a negative impact on thousands of ordinary Pakistani families that have been assisted by these organisations to claim their rights and build a better life.
“The Pakistani government's closure of international organisations is a clear violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association,” said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.
“It shows a disturbing disregard for the well-being of ordinary Pakistanis who rely on and benefit from the assistance and support provided by these groups," said Kode.
On October 3, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry ordered 18 INGOs, including Action Aid, Plan International, International Alert and Safer World, to wind up their operations within 60 days. This followed the Ministry’s rejection of their applications for re-registration, without offering reasons, in November 2017.
Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest population, a fifth of which live in poverty. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached an estimated 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. The INGOs affected by the closure order are engaged in supporting access to healthcare, education and good governance.
These expulsions come three years after the previous government ordered all INGOs operating in Pakistan to re-register with the Interior Ministry, under a new policy that worked to hamper the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.
The new policy and registration process required the submission of detailed accounts of INGOs’ current and past project funding. Even more concerning, all INGOs working in the country are required to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which prohibits any participation in ‘political activity,’ such as campaigning and advocacy activities, as well as distribution of materials deemed to negatively affect social, cultural and religious sentiments. The MoU also prevents INGOs from appealing the government’s decisions in court.
CIVICUS said the removal of these INGOs violates the right to freedom of association enshrined in Article 17 of Pakistan’s Constitution and guaranteed by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Pakistan is a party to. Any restriction on the right to freedom of association must be in strict compliance with international human rights law. In particular, any restriction shall be prescribed by law and must have a legitimate aim. Furthermore, the law concerned must be precise, certain and foreseeable. It shall also be adopted through a democratic process that ensures public participation and review. The recent actions fulfill none of these criteria.
“The Pakistani government must reconsider its decision to expel these groups and halt any further plans to shut down other civil society organisations.” Said Kode.
“Instead, as part of its reform agenda, it should take steps to revise its policy on INGOs to avoid contravening the rights to freedom of expression and association and ensure the policy cannot be misused to restrict organisations’ legitimate work.” said Kode.
CIVICUS has urged the government to create an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders to operate, in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, among others.
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