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UN Human Rights Council: Extreme Concern due to Increased Restrictions Affecting NGO Activities

23rd Session - Statement Delivered Under Item 3

Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned by increased restrictions affecting NGO activities in many countries, in particular restrictions to access to funding as highlighted in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Adopted in 2009, Ethiopia's Charities and Societies Proclamation is one of the world's most draconian laws regulating nongovernment organizations. The law places excessive restrictions on the work, operations, and funding of organizations working on issues related to human rights, governance, rule of law, and conflict resolution, and limits advocacy activity on behalf of the rights of children, the disabled and women. The law bars international organizations from carrying out human right work--imposing severe fines and criminal penalties for infringements. The law and subsequent directives also severely limit the ability of domestic organizations to fundraise, limiting funding from foreign sources to just 10 percent of income despite the difficulties of fundraising in Ethiopia. The law also established an agency to oversee nongovernmental organizations, giving it broad and overly intrusive powers to monitor agencies, seize assets, rescind licenses and interfere in operations. Since 2009, the law, directives, and agency implementation have forced most independent organizations working on human rights to close or massively reduce human rights work.

In Russia, several of the new laws passed since May 2012 seek to suppress independent advocacy by placing new, draconian limits on association with foreigners and foreign funding. The “foreign agents” law requires organizations that receive foreign funding and supposedly engage in “political activities” to register as “foreign agents.” The treason law, expands the legal definition of treason in ways that could criminalize involvement in international human rights advocacy. In early March 2013 the Russian government launched a nationwide campaign of extensive, disruptive, invasive, and often intimidating inspections of NGOs. To date, hundreds of organizations in different regions of Russia have been subject to such inspections; as a result more than 50 NGOs faced administrative cases, were ordered to register as "foreign agents" or warned of necessity to do so, while others have yet to be informed of the inspection findings. An administrative court case was filed against the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” and an order to register as a “foreign agent” was addressed to the “Public Verdict” Foundation, on the grounds that those two NGOs accept foreign funding and engage in "political activities", which included inter alia presenting alternative reports to the UN Committee Against Torture.

Finally, in Egypt, the draft Associations Law that the president put before the country’s legislature on May 29, 2013, would allow the government and its security agencies to arbitrarily restrict the funding and operation of independent groups if it is adopted in its present form. Despite some improvements, the latest draft would reinforce and formalize state control over nongovernmental groups by empowering the government to deny them access to both domestic and international funding. It would also give the authorities complete discretion to object to activities of Egyptian and international organizations, including human rights groups that document or criticize rights abuses by the government. The draft law is even more repressive for international organizations than for domestic groups. We call upon Egypt to revise the government-proposed law in line with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law to address these concerns, and to urge the Shura Council not to pass the law as it stands.

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