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This article participates on the following special index pages:
NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
19's concerns about the 2004 Zimbabwe's Non-Governmental Organisations
Bill (NGO Bill)
August 24, 2004
Read the letter
on the Article
Focal Person on Freedom of Expression of the
African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
19’s concerns about the 2004 Zimbabwe’s Non-Governmental Organisations
Bill (NGO Bill)
19 is gravely concerned about the recently gazetted Zimbabwean Bill
on the operation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Bill, if passed in its present form, will prevent human rights organisations
from operating in Zimbabwe. The registration requirements under
the Bill and the overall control by the Non-Governmental Organisations
Council (Council) and the Minister of Public Service, Labour and
Social Welfare in the functioning of NGOs constitute an undue interference
with freedom of expression and association.
19 has consistently raised concerns1
about the continued violations of human rights in Zimbabwe. Worryingly,
the Government of Zimbabwe has utilised numerous measures to obstruct
the work of the independent media and human rights defenders in
violation of its international human rights obligations.
enactment of legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act
(POSA) in 2001 and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy
Act (AIPPA) in 2002, coupled with the frequent attacks on media
practitioners, human rights defenders and political dissidents2;
the establishment of a government controlled Media and Information
Commission and the closure of The Daily News among others,
violate the right to freedom of expression and other fundamental
proposed NGOs Bill contains many provisions that violate the right
to freedom of association, the right to freedom of expression and
access to information and the right to seek and receive support
to promote and defend human rights as guaranteed by international
standards; especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the
UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
human rights NGOs are prohibited from operating in Zimbabwe. Clause
9, sub-section (4) of the Bill states: "no foreign non-governmental
organisation shall be registered if its sole or principle objectives
involve or include issues of governance." The Bill defines
"issues of governance" as including "the promotion
and protection of human rights". A foreign NGO means any NGO
that "does not consist exclusively of permanent residents or
citizens of Zimbabwe." This deprives individuals of their right
to associate freely as guarantees by international human rights
Bill further prohibits local NGOs from receiving foreign funding
or donations to carry out activities involved in or including issues
of governance (Clause 17). ARTICLE 19 is of the view that this undue
restriction introduced by Clause 17 of the Bill is inconsistent
with Article 13 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
which guarantees everyone the right to solicit, receive and utilise
resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human
rights through peaceful means; it will further hinder access to
information and diverse views in Zimbabwe.
rights organisations (governmental and non governmental) around
the world have made major strides in defending human rights and
exposing violations chiefly because of the work of human rights
defenders and international support/assistance from non-profit funding
agencies and foreign governments. Depriving NGOs, key actors of
society, of their independence and resources to carry out their
mandate is inconsistent with democratic values.
concern is the effect of the Bill on the existing human rights NGOs
who may cease to operate if the Bill is enacted. The Bill introduces
a harsh and excessive registration regime for NGOs in Zimbabwe.
Under the Bill all NGOs must register with the Council; failure
to register constitutes a criminal offence punishable by a fine
or/and imprisonment up to six months (Clause 9).
addition, the Bill does not provide for the independence and impartiality
of the NGO Council, which is supposed to regulate and oversee the
registration and the functioning of all NGOs in Zimbabwe. The Council
is under the tight control of the government and lacks the independence
required to render unbiased decisions. Under Section. 24. para.
5, the Minister can even appoint trustees of NGOs if all members
are suspended. This section gives the Minister an overriding power
to interfere directly in the internal affairs of NGOs.
ARTICLE 19 is also gravely troubled by the victimisation of many
human rights organisations who are allegedly accused by government
officials and state media to have provided information to the African
Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights during its fact funding
mission in Zimbabwe 2002. The right to receive and disseminate information
is guaranteed by the African Charter and the Declaration of Principles
on Freedom of Expression in Africa. The Government of Zimbabwe is
obliged to respect freedom of expression and to protect whistleblowers
19 has reason to believe that if this Bill is enacted, many NGOs
will be silenced and the public deprived of its right to access
alternative views and sources of information in Zimbabwe.
19 urges you to ensure that the Zimbabwe government desist from
enacting this Bill.
We also would like to urge you to continue monitoring the situation
and ensure that the government of Zimbabwe stops the attacks on
human rights defenders and freedom of expression advocates.
1 See, ARTICLE
19 Memorandum on the AIPPA January 2002, http://www.article19.org/docimages/1315.doc
Censorship News Issue 58, Zimbabwe: A Case of Freedom of Expression
and the Media in Rapid Decline, March 2002 at http://www.article19.org/docimages/1281.doc
ARTICLE 19 Briefing note on Repression of Journalists July 2002
2 ARTICLE 19’ Release on the Closure of The Daily News, September
2003 at www.article19.org
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