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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • Zimbabwe's draft Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, 2004
    International Center for Civil Society Law (ICCSL)
    September 07, 2004

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    In the past 15 years, there has been a growing awareness that basic human rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression and association, are directly related to the creation of civil society. In turn, there is an increasing understanding that an independent and vigorous civil society is essential to social and economic development and the long-term success of democracy. Further, laws permitting, encouraging, and protecting civil society, when combined with other laws facilitating citizen participation—such as freedom of information and "government in the sunshine" laws—are essential to the promotion of accountability, transparency, and good governance—of government and all other institutions that affect the public interest.

    The purpose of the International Center for Civil Society Law (ICCSL) is to promote knowledge and understanding of legal developments in these areas of law (collectively "civil society law" or "CSL") and to provide information and support for the continued development of civil society law throughout the world. ICCSL accomplishes its purpose through an integrated program of publications, education, and professional development, international symposia, and technical assistance. The scope of its mandate indicates its uniqueness, and it has attracted to its ranks scores of highly committed civil society practitioners and academics from every region and continent. Many of them have joined in the preparation of these comments or have asked to be associated with them; ICCSL extends its particular thanks to the following individuals: Michel De Wolf (Belgium); Daniela País Costa (Brazil); Noshir Dadrawala (India); and Richard Rosenthal (South Africa). The principal drafters of the Report are Paul Bater, an independent legal consultant working on civil society law issues in the United Kingdom, Professor Karla W. Simon, of the Catholic University of America School of Law in the United States, and Leon E. Irish, President of ICCSL and Visiting Professor of Law at Central European University, Hungary.

    This Report includes Comments, which address provisions of the Draft Non-governmental Organisations Bill, 2004 (the Draft Bill). ICCSL understands the Draft Bill is to be tabled in the next session of Parliament. The Draft Bill would replace the existing Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act (1997).

    The NGOs in Zimbabwe developed draft legislation within the past two years, which would have provided politically protected space for NGOs, but it appears that their draft was ignored by the government as it developed the Draft Bill. The memorandum explaining the Government’s Draft Bill claims that it will provide "an enabling environment for the operations, monitoring and regulation of all non-governmental organizations." As this Report will demonstrate, the opposite is true.

    The evident aim of the government’s move to replace the PVO Act with the Draft Bill is to control NGOs and other civil society organizations in Zimbabwe, to prevent them from engaging in criticism of the current government, and to prevent their access to foreign funds. Specifically under Section 17 of the Draft Bill, both NGOs and churches will be forbidden by the law to receive foreign funding "to carry out activities involving or including "issues of governance," which the Draft Bill states includes "promotion and protection of human rights and political governance."

    The restrictions in the Draft Bill will apply to both formal and informal associational activities other than those of a purely private nature, and the law will give essentially unbridled discretion to the government to regulate and control the activities of NGOs and the "governance-related" activities of churches. Specific comments on the various provisions are provided in this Report.

    Before looking into specific issues in the Draft Bill, however, the Report first details the protections afforded to the internationally recognized freedoms of association and expression and how these apply to Zimbabwe.

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