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NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
law on NGOs would violate basic rights
September 04, 2004
New York - The
Zimbabwean government should withdraw a proposed law on nongovernmental
organizations, Human Rights Watch said today. The law would grant
a government-appointed body wide power to interfere in the legitimate
activities of these civil society groups and sharply curtail local
human rights organizations' access to funding.
would unduly restrict the freedoms of association and of expression,"
said Georgette Gagnon, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Africa
Division. "It would also enable the government to intervene
in the reasonable activities of NGOs."
the Non-Governmental Organizations Draft Bill 2004 is to be tabled
in parliament for discussion and debate. The law would require these
organizations to register with a government-appointed Council of
Non-Governmental Organizations that would have virtually unchecked
power to investigate and audit the groups' activities and funding.
National and foreign NGOs would be required to register with the
Council by submitting "the names, nationality and addresses
of its promoters," and sources of funding. Registration could
be denied or withdrawn at any time if the Council determined that
the organization "ceased to operate bona fide in furtherance
of the objects for which it was registered."
would be required to submit annual accounts to the Council, which
would then be subject to audit. The law would empower the Council
to constantly monitor the groups. Leaders of any such organizations
found to be in violation of the act would be subject to fines and
imprisonment. The organizations could lodge objections to Council
decisions, but the Minister would resolve them with no possibility
of recourse to the courts.
law would place each and every NGO at the whim of the government,"
concern are the limitations that the proposed law places on NGOs
active on issues of governance, including human rights. The draft
law states that no foreign NGO will be registered if "its sole
or principal objects involve or include issues of governance."
Similarly, local organizations working on matters such as governance
issues would be barred from receiving "any foreign funding
or donation." The bill broadly defines as "foreign"
anyone who is not "a permanent resident of Zimbabwe or a citizen
of Zimbabwe domiciled in Zimbabwe." Any Zimbabwean organization
whose membership includes expatriate Zimbabweans would thus be considered
foreign. Many NGOs in Zimbabwe currently depend on foreign and expatriate
funding for their activities.
civil society is essential to a functioning democracy," Gagnon
said. "With parliamentary elections in March, the government
needs to ensure space for civil society."
In July, Zimbabwe
announced that it would undertake electoral reforms that would comply
with guidelines drafted by the Southern African Development Community
(SADC). In August the regional group approved the Principles and
Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which require member
states holding elections to "safeguard the human and civil
liberties of all citizens, including the freedom of movement, assembly,
association, expression and campaigning during electoral processes."
As a member
of the African Union, Zimbabwe is obliged to uphold the rights to
freedom of association, expression and assembly that are protected
by the African Charter on Human and People's Rights. In 1991, Zimbabwe
acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
which also protects the rights to freedom of association, expression
NGO law would undermine fundamental freedoms of association and
expression," Gagnon said. "The government must withdraw
and substantially amend this law to make sure that Zimbabwe complies
with its obligations under international human rights law."
information, please contact:
- In Toronto,
Georgette Gagnon: +1-416-893-2709
- In London,
Steve Crawshaw: +44-7747-021-458
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