Drop draft legislation restricting NGO access to funding
NHC joins a number of civil society organisations from the OSCE region in protesting the recent initiative of Tajikistan’s government to regulate and restrict access of NGOs to financial assistance from foreign and international sources.
Draft legislation to this end, which is currently under consideration by the government, runs counter to international standards protecting the right to freedom of association and risks endangering the work of NGOs in the country. NHC and the other signatories of the letter call on Tajikistan’s government to drop this draft legislation and to respect the right of NGOs to have unhindered access to funding for their work, including from sources abroad.
– It is a significant challenge to important civil society work that such legislation is already in place in Russia and now under debate in Kyrgyzstan as well as Tajikistan, says NHC Central Asia advisor Lene Wetteland. – Similarly, in Armenia, the Russian ambassador Volynkin provoked particular debate after an interview where he encouraged Armenian authorities to use the Russian experience to “neutralise the NGOs in Armenia who want to drive a wedge in the Armenian-Russian relations”. On the eve of Armenia’s definite and Kyrgyzstan’s likely accession to the Russia-led Eurasian Union, this is a statement that causes concern for the sovereignty of several of the states that are still under strong influence by Russia, in particular those with poor economy. Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are all among the seven countries in the world most reliant on remittances from migrant workers as a share of GDP. Read more about this here.
Civil society in Tajikistan has faced a range of challenges (read overview here) that have limited their work significantly over the last months. Internet websites have been blocked, there have been cases of harassment towards journalists and human rights lawyers, and the religious council of Ulemas even issued a fatwa denouncing government criticism on the eve of Parliamentary Elections in February. There is also concern that the proposed changes to the Law on Assemblies and the Law on Lawyers will create further restrictions. The proposed law on Public Associations therefore falls into a pattern of utmost concern for local civil society and those working for change in Tajikistan.
The arguments used to justify such legislation in many countries in the former Soviet Union are typically that it is necessary to enhance the accountability and transparency of NGOs that receive foreign assistance, who are also often the targets of unfounded accusations that they serve the “political interests” of foreign donors and are “foreign agents”. While NGOs are accountable to the public and should provide information about their activities and sources of funding, any procedures aimed at ensuring the transparency of NGO financing must be necessary and reasonable and must not impede the ability of organizations to obtain and use funding for their work either from domestic or foreign sources.
In the view of the signatories, the proposed amendments to Tajikistan’s Law on Public Associations are inconsistent with the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments. As a party to the ICCPR, Tajikistan has an obligation to facilitate NGO access to funding, irrespective of whether it originates from domestic, foreign or international sources.