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UN Special Rapporteur raps NGO laws

20 Jul, 2022
Communique on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association Report.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association has released a report on civil society’s access to resources, decrying countries’ propensity to overregulate CSOs under the guise of adhering to international principles.

Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, presented the report at the Human Rights Council’s 50th session held between June 13 and July 8 2022.

“The Special Rapporteur and other mandate holders have repeatedly raised concerns about overregulation of the sector in the guise of fighting terrorism and countering money laundering,” reads the report.

“Legislation being enacted or proposed is often disproportionate to the risk and is frequently exploited by governments to curtail freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression e.g., the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe is in the process of enacting the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill ostensibly to comply with recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

“These laws and regulations are often characterised as being necessary in order to comply with the Financial Action Task Force’s standards, with language copied from recommendation 8 and its interpretive note,” Voule noted.  

“Notwithstanding the references to the task force’s recommendation 8, the laws are generally inconsistent with the task force’s requirement that laws be focused on those civil society organisations that have been demonstrated to be at a high risk of abuse for terrorism financing and that such laws be proportionate to address the risk identified.”

Voule said in seeking to implement the FATF recommendation 8, states must avoid sector-wide restrictions that assume that all civil society organisations are particularly vulnerable to terrorist financing or treating the entire sector in a uniform manner.

FATF Recommendation 8 requires that the laws and regulations that govern non-profit organisations be reviewed so that these organisations cannot be abused for the financing of terrorism.

Zimbabwe, was in March 2022, removed from the FATF grey list following an onsite evaluation exercise conducted in January this year.

The country had been placed on the list following a number of deficiencies in its implementation of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism Standards. 

However, despite being removed from the grey list, the Zimbabwean government is ploughing ahead with the enactment of the PVO Amendment Bill regardless of the widespread criticism the proposed legislation faces.

At the tail end of last year, three UN Special Rapporteurs implored the Zimbabwean government not to proceed with the law, but so far, the pleas have fallen on deaf ears. 

In early 2022, MISA, working with IFEX, presented a petition that was signed by more than 20 IFEX partner organisations to the government of Zimbabwe urging the authorities to rethink the law.

Earlier this year, Botswana fast-tracked amendments to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence (Controlled Investigations) Act ostensibly to comply with the recommendations of the FATF.

The Malawi parliament has also passed a law meant to regulate the operations of civil society.

About MISA

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) was founded in 1992. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.

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