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NGO Bill threatens to hinder civil society’s work in South Sudan, UN rights experts warn

GENEVA (17 December 2013) – Three United Nations Special Rapporteurs today warned that the NGO Bill currently discussed by Parliament in South Sudan threatens the work and independence of civil society organizations in the country. “The Government oversight proposed in the draft law goes beyond simple notification requirements and veers into the territory of excessive control,” they stressed.

“We urge the Government of South Sudan to reject legislation that would unduly restrict the sectors in which associations can work and narrowly defines permissible objectives for these associations, severely limiting the independence of such groups,” they said.

The human rights experts reiterated their serious concern about the growing trend in Africa and elsewhere to wield more governmental control over independent groups using so-called ‘NGO laws’. “South Sudan’s NGO Bill is yet further evidence of a worrying tendency worldwide,” they noted.

The NGO Bill also includes burdensome registration and re-registration requirements and criminal penalties for non-compliance with the proposed law.

“The ability of civil society organizations to engage in activities of their own choosing is fundamental to the right to freedom of association,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said. “And this right is critical in ensuring that newly formed (or constituted) countries such as South Sudan develop in a way that strengthens democracy and development.”

The NGO Bill also subjects civil society organizations to a regulatory body mainly composed of Government representatives and members appointed by the Government. This body has broad authority ‘to facilitate and coordinate the work of all national and foreign’ NGOs and ‘to provide policy guidelines for harmonizing their activities with the National Development Plan for South Sudan,’ and the power ‘to receive and consider application for work permits in respect of prospective employees of a registered NGO.’

“The vague provisions and administrative discretion provided in the NGO Bill could be wielded as tools to suppress dissenting views and opinions,” the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, cautioned. “NGOs working in governance, anti-corruption and human rights would be particularly at risk.”

Other vague provisions allow for the revocation of the registration status to organizations that contravene the principles of ‘Participation of local communities’ and require that civil society organizations not interfere with ‘national policies, which are too broad grounds for revoking registration

“These provisions clearly undermine the independence of civil society and place undue restrictions on the right to freely associate which limits the ability of human rights defenders to claim rights for all,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, underscored.

The United Nations Special Rapporteurs are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues. Currently, there are 37 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 72 mandate holders. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx
Freedom of opinion and expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex
Human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Karen Blanc (+41 22 917 9400 / kblanc@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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