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Malawi NGOs urge Berenger to block Bill
Gift Phiri, The Zimbabwe Independent
September 24, 2004

A NETWORK of human rights non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Malawi has urged Mauritian Prime Minister and current Southern African Development Community (Sadc) chairman, Paul Berenger, to help block Zimbabwe's proposed NGO Bill.

The Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) last week wrote to Berenger, who became Sadc chairman last month, seeking his intervention on the issue. The group also appealed to the United Nations, the African Union and Sadc leaders to intervene to stop the repressive Bill.

"The consultative committee understands that the objective of the proposed new law is, according to the government of Zimbabwe, to 'provide an enabling environment for the operations and regulation of NGOs' in Zimbabwe," the HRCC said in a petition.

"The committee is however concerned that the proposed law, in its application, will have the effect of criminalising the activities of civil society organisations, especially those working in the field of human rights and good governance, thereby making liable to prosecution individuals belonging to organisations engaged in the legitimate and peaceful activities of promoting human rights."

The petition, copied to President Robert Mugabe, chief secretary to Malawian President Bingu wa Mutarika, Bright Masaka, and the South African high commissioner to Malawi, Nthutang Seleka, says the HRCC is strongly opposed to the legislation.

The proposed NGO law imposes restrictive registration formalities for human rights NGOs and denies them access to foreign financial assistance. The law will make it mandatory for all NGOs to be registered with the proposed NGO Council of Zimbabwe, a government-run body. Individual members who breach the regulations will be liable to criminal prosecution.

The HRCC warned Mugabe to stop passage of stringent laws that target people and institutions.

"The committee appeals to the Zimbabwean government to suspend the proposed promulgation of the NGO law until a comprehensive review has been done, following wider consultations amongst all sections of the Zimbabwean society, including with the NGO community."

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