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NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
approves NGO Act despite protests
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill has been passed by Zimbabwe's
parliament and now only awaits the signature of President Robert
Mugabe. The bill has caused widespread protest in Zimbabwe and abroad
as it places severe restrictions on the activities of NGOs and human
rights groups, in particular if they are financed from abroad.
Among the contentious
issues in the NGO Act are the ban on foreign funding, the composition
of a new government-led NGO Council, registration as well as the
definition of governance, which most organisations say are "too
broad" to encompass all civil society activities. The NGO Act specifically
targets organisations that "promote and protect human rights".
When presented in September, the Bill caused widespread disbelief
and protest among Zimbabwean NGOs. More than 20 Zimbabwean civic
bodies and churches, said the draft was a repressive piece of legislation.
The law would actually make government-related organisations of
the country's NGOs and churches, the groups held.
While Zimbabwean NGOs today adopted a wait-and-see approach to the
new Act, the human rights group Amnesty International strongly protested,
saying it was "outraged". The law bans foreign human rights organisations,
such as Amnesty, from working in Zimbabwe and could be used to close
down local human rights groups.
- The law is a direct attack on human rights in Zimbabwe and should
be immediately repealed, Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty's
Africa Program, urged today. "Preventing local NGOs from receiving
foreign funding for human rights work would effectively mean the
end of many vital human rights programmes, as there is so little
local funding available," he added.
Amnesty said it believed that the legislation would be applied selectively,
as had been the case with other repressive legislation introduced
in Zimbabwe over the last four years. The Media Information Commission
established by the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of
Privacy Act (AIPPA) had already overseen severe repression of independent
media in Zimbabwe.
- If the NGO Act is enforced across the board, tens of thousands
of people being assisted by NGO programmes could suffer, Mr Olaniyan
said. "Reputable and dedicated human rights organisations in Zimbabwe
provide vital medical and psychological care and legal advice to
victims of human rights violations. Most victims have nowhere else
to turn in a country where unemployment is above 70 percent and
the health service has been severely eroded," he added.
Protests also came from foreign governments. The US State Department
today condemned the new Zimbabwean legislation. Deputy Spokesman
Adam Ereli said that "this law, if signed by President Mugabe, will
stifle political debate in the exercise of civil liberties in Zimbabwe
by preventing international human rights groups from operating there."
- In our view, this bill is an assault on civil society and an attempt
to curtail political discussion in Zimbabwe, the US government spokesman
said. "It is yet another sign that the government of Zimbabwe may
not be serious about holding free and fair parliamentary elections
in March 2005, and we call upon President Mugabe not to sign this
bill. That's our view of it."
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