Venezuela: Draft NGO law, reaching a point of no return in the closure of the civic space
30 January 2023
GENEVA (30 January 2023) - The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela today expressed deep concerns about the potential implications of a draft law it said dramatically threatens civic space in the country.
The draft "Law on Control, Regularization, Operations and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organisation," which was adopted by the National Assembly at the first reading on 24 January, introduces additional requirements for the operation and creation of non-governmental organizations and other non-profit entities, which in case of non-compliance may be subjected to heavy sanctions – including ex officio dissolution.
"If passed, this law could represent a point of no return in the closure of the civic and democratic space in Venezuela," warned Marta Valiñas, Chair of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM).
Francisco Cox, UN Mission expert, said “the proposed law would put in place formal requirements on existing and prospective NGOs which are so onerous that, in practice, it would grant the State a quasi-permanent power to suppress them. The law is clearly aimed at obstructing, as opposed to facilitating, the exercise of the right of association.”
Research conducted by the FFM shows that NGOs working in the area of human rights in Venezuela are facing increased legal and operational hurdles, including in the key area of access to funding. Without access to international cooperation funds, many among these organisations will inevitably disappear.
In the preliminary analysis of the FFM, several provisions of the draft law would restrict the rights to freedom of association and expression, as enshrined in articles 52 and 57 of the national Constitution, and in international human rights standards that are binding upon Venezuela.
Most concerning, the draft law confers upon the National Executive the power to implement control mechanisms to supervise and punish "persons that, in incurring contraventions, may threaten national sovereignty" (Article 13). Organisations are exposed to permanent surveillance through possible controls, including by the police or intelligence services. Considering various public statements made by government authorities, as documented by the Mission, certain human rights organisations that cooperate with international human rights bodies or receive foreign funding could be exposed to sanctions for allegedly jeopardizing national sovereignty.
Another point of concern is the lack of precision around the prohibition of "political activities" or activities that "threaten national stability and the institutions of the Republic," contained in Article 15 of the draft law. A broad interpretation of "political activities," a concept that is not clearly defined in the draft law, may subsume all forms of documentation, analysis, and dissemination of information on government policies and practices, including in relation to human rights. This prohibition may particularly threaten NGOs engaged in monitoring the public and democratic space, a matter that is highly significant in view of the upcoming elections. It may also negatively affect organisations engaged in documentation work that feeds into the investigations of the FFM and other international bodies.
According to the FFM’s analysis, the draft law is part of a broader pattern of restriction to the civic space, by way of threats, attacks and arbitrary arrests against rights defenders, trade unionists and journalists, as well as limitations to the free functioning of independent organisations and the media.
"The draft NGO law reflects an old strategy that has been applied in other countries. It is a new attack to silence or eliminate the human rights-defending civil society, another turn of the tourniquet suffocating freedom of expression and freedom of association in Venezuela," said UN Mission expert Patricia Tappatá.
Note to editors: In September 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (FFMV) through resolution 42/25, to investigate alleged human rights violations committed since 2014. The mandate of the FFMV was extended until September 2024 through resolutions 45/20 and 51/29.
The FFMV will present an oral update to the Human Rights Council in March 2023 with an update on its investigations, and will present its report at the September 2023 interactive dialogue session of the Council.
For more information, please visit the Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela website