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  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • Zim NGO Bill: dangerous for human rights defenders
    Betrays High Degree of Gvt Paranoia and Contempt For the Regional and International Community
    Arnold Tsunga and Tafadzwa Mugabe, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
    July 28, 2004

    Arnold Tsunga is the Executive Director while Tafadzwa Mugabe is a Project Assistant with Zimbabwe Lawyers of Human Rights

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    The government of Zimbabwe is on the verge of promulgating a bill titled Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Bill into law to provide for the "operations, monitoring and regulation of all non-governmental organisations."1 The bill once promulgated will be administered by the Minister of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare or any other Minister that the President appoints to do so. The government argues that the proposed law is meant to protect public interest by ensuring that NGOs are governed and administered properly and use donor and public funds for the objects for which they were established. An analysis of the draft bill will show on the contrary that this is a political gimmick that is meant to administratively create criminals out of hrds and NGOs so as to provide excuses for intrusion, clamp down and closures of NGOs.

    The proposed NGO Legislation is 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. This is all in glaring contravention of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which provides for the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. It is regrettable that the government of Zimbabwe is deciding to pass such a law when there has been substantial condemnation of its predecessors the Public Order and Security Act (POSA)2, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA). Further the government just recently promulgated the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Act (CPEAA), which has the effect of ousting the power of the courts to grant bail in certain cases and is susceptible to selective application to target perceived government opponents. All these Acts, which constitute an axis of repression, complement the policy of government aimed at systematically clamping down on hrds and shrinking the democratic space in which human rights defenders operate. The importance of enjoyment of the right to freedoms of assembly and expression was aptly summed up in South African National Defence Force Union Vs Minister of Defence as follows:

    'these rights taken together protect the rights of individuals not only individually to form and express opinions, of whatever nature, but to establish associations and groups of like-minded people to foster and propagate such opinions.The rights implicitly recognise the importance, both for a democratic society and for individuals personally, of the ability to form and express opinions, whether individually or collectively, even when these views are controversial'3

    The government's intention to pass such legislation coupled with its reaction to the African Commission's report betrays a high degree of government paranoia to hrds, civil society (NGOs) and contempt for the regional and international community.

    1 Preamble to the Draft Bill.
    2 ZLHR reported in its annual report on the Human Rights Defenders Project that a total of 274 human rights defenders were arrested and detained under POSA and while 332 under the Miscellaneous Offences Act in 2003
    3 See South African National Defence Force union Vs Minister of Defence 1999 (4) SA 469 (CC)

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