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New draft law threatens the independence and existence of NGOs in Kazakhstan, warns UN rights expert

GENEVA (15 October 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, today warned that Kazakhstan’s Bill amending the Law on Non-profit organizations “may not only compromise the independence of associations, but challenge their very existence.”

The draft law establishes an operator with the right to allocate both governmental and non-governmental grants, including grants from international organizations, diplomatic missions or international not-for-profit organizations, to non-governmental organizations.

“The possibility for a centralized Government’s operator to distribute all grants irrespective of sources, be it public or private funds, enables the authorities to arbitrarily limit resources and to control the entire not-for-profit sector,” Mr. Kiai cautioned. “By controlling the sources of funds, the draft law would limit associations’ functional autonomy and put their independence and existence at serious risk.”

“Access to financial resources is an integral and vital part of the right to freedom of association,” the expert underscored.

The new legislative amendments were adopted by the Senate on 8 October 2015. The text would now be with the Lower House of the Parliament for its final consideration and it may be adopted any time from now.

The draft law also bars associations receiving governmental grants from using more than 10 percent of their funding for administrative expenditures. “Other countries have adopted such laws in recent years and we now know, from experience, that this has had a devastating impact on civil society organizations,” the UN expert noted. “Many were forced to stop their activities, leaving society deprived from these organizations’ essential contribution in the economic, cultural, political and social fields and devoid of important voices often representing the most marginalized.”

“By preventing associations to decide freely on their activities, such limitation questions the very meaning of freedom of association and, as experience shows, endangers the very existence of associations,” he said.

“The role of civil society in a country with significant democratic and economic development aspirations is crucial to achieve ambitious goals. A meaningful engagement with civil society is essential to ensure diverse voices are included in decision making process,” he added.

Mr. Kiai recalled the recommendations made at the end of his country visit to Kazakhstan earlier this year*. “While I commended the Government on certain measures aimed at favouring the inclusion of associations in the public debate, I also stressed the need for any amendments concerning access to funding not to jeopardize the independence of associations, which is one of the main attributes of freedom of association,” he said.

“In this regard, I reiterate my call to the authorities for the draft law to be repealed,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.

Mr. Kiai’s present appeal has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.

(*) See the Special Rapporteur’s report on Kazakhstan (A/HRC/29/25/ Add.2): http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=189

Mr. Maina Kiai (Kenya) was designated by the UN Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in May 2011. Mr. Kiai has been Executive Director of the International Council on Human Rights Policy, Chair of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, Africa Director of the International Human Rights Law Group, and Africa Director of Amnesty International. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. 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.

Check the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Kazakhstan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/KZIndex.aspx

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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