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NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
Govt defends controversial NGO Bill
August 23, 2004
JOHANNESBURG - The
Zimbabwean government this week defended a proposed ban on foreign human
rights groups and restrictions on local rights organisations, describing
them as a "threat to national security".
In a statement issued by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, placed
in all the Sunday newspapers, the government also accused donors of employing
"local puppets to champion foreign values".
The proposed Non-Governmental Organisations Bill seeks to ban foreign
NGOs concerned principally with "issues of governance", and deny registration
to NGOs receiving foreign funding for "promotion and protection of human
rights and political governance issues". Details of the bill, which constitute
a blow to local civil society, were provided by the government on Friday.
The bill requires all NGOs to register with a government-appointed regulatory
council similar to the controversial Media and Information Commission,
and disclose details of their programmes and funding. This council will
comprise five representatives from civil society and nine government members,
all appointed by the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare. NGOs without
registration licenses will be shut down, and officials who continue with
their activities illegally could face up to six months in prison.
Organisations involved in charity work, disbursing humanitarian assistance,
the provision of funds for legal aid, animal welfare, environmental issues
and the promotion of human rights are all covered in the bill.
The regulatory council will have the power to formulate a code of conduct
for NGOs and decide whether a particular NGO can be registered. The council
will also have the right to cancel a registration on several grounds,
including if it feels that the NGO's objectives when it was registered
"are merely ancillary to, or incidental to, the other objects of the organisation."
NGOs will be required to pay an annual registration fee.
The government statement on Sunday said some NGOs were "deviant and others
dabble in politics ... This legislation should not come as a surprise
... to patent adversaries of government. It was long overdue". It added
the bill was aimed at helping other NGOS to work without being pressured
into being anti-government.
Brian Kagoro, chief executive of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a group
of pro-democracy NGOs, had previously told IRIN that the bill would hamper
the ability of NGOs to "monitor the administration of development assistance
and humanitarian aid, and to make sure it is not politicised to the benefit
of any party, especially the ruling party".
Local human rights advocacy group ZimRights, which has been in existence
for the past 12 years and receives overseas funding for its legal aid
and human rights campaigns, said its activities would be curtailed. "According
to Section 17 of the bill, local NGOs carrying out 'activities involving
or including issues of governance', defined as human rights activities
in the bill, will not be able to function," ZimRights national director
Bidi Munyaradzi told IRIN.
"In terms of the bill, even church groups that have been vocal on human
rights issues will be under government scrutiny, as it only excludes religious
groups confined to religious work," he added.
In their analysis of the bill, Arnold Tsunga and Tafadzwa Mugabe of Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights noted that the proposed legislation was "calculated
at limiting the individual as well as the collective enjoyment of universally
recognised rights and fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and
association of the citizens of Zimbabwe".
Kagoro added, "That there is an attempt [through] the bill to proscribe
and severely limit the role of civil society speaks volumes of the extent
to which they [government] intend to control the forthcoming elections",
due in March 2005.
Parliament, dominated by ZANU-PF, is expected to approve the bill when
it reconvenes in October.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations
in Zimbabwe is to discuss the bill at a public meeting in Harare on Friday.
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