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10 November 2005

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on human rights defenders issued the following statement today:

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, has expressed her concern about the imminent introduction of a new Code of Conduct for all national and international “social organizations” in Nepal which would include non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to address human rights concerns.

The Special Representative is deeply concerned that the adoption of many of the provisions included within a draft code of conduct, being developed pursuant to the 2005 amendment to the Social Welfare Act 1992, would lead to violations of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – otherwise known as the Declaration on human rights defenders – as well as other international human rights standards.

Provisions exerting governmental control over NGO access to funding from international donors, restricting the political affiliations of NGO staff, authorizing the issuance of directives to NGOs or the exercise of supervision over NGOs by the Social Welfare Council, asserting controls over the locations in which NGOs can work, imposing collective responsibility of officials and staff for activities conducted by an NGO, or stipulating that NGOs should not endanger social harmony are among some of the those that are of particular concern.

The Special Representative notes that codes of conduct have been adopted in many countries but they are developed by the NGO community itself and the commitments they promulgate are entered into voluntarily by NGOs. They are not introduced by legislation and they are not subject to Governmental oversight, which can infringe upon the independence of NGOs, especially those working in the area of human rights. In addition to the regulating effect of taxation legislation and related auditing requirements, this process of voluntary self-regulation has proved extremely effective in attaining the important goals of strengthening the transparency, efficiency and accountability of NGOs.

The Special Representative calls on the Nepalese Government to reconsider introducing this code of conduct which, if adopted and implemented would violate Nepal’s international human rights obligations.