Stop Russian-style NGO law
On 5 November 2015 a controversial draft law pertaining to the activities of the non-governmental sector passed its second reading in the Kazakhstani Senate. Approved by the Senate, a signature by the president of Kazakhstan is the next step.
– In its current form, the law “On Introducing Changes and Amendments to Several Legal Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the Question of the Activities of non-Governmental organizations”, would be in violation of Kazakhstan’s obligations towards freedom of assembly and association, as well as other fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, said Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee Regional Representative in Central Asia. – It would also violate international human rights conventions to which Kazakhstan is a signatory.
Main concerns with the law include the requirement that all non-governmental organizations submit information about their funding, finances and activities to a government database. The database’s function will ostensibly be to prevent fraud, raise public awareness of NGOs, to integrate civil society and strengthen its role. However, failure to submit timely and correct information to the database may be subject to sanctions, including fines, suspension or closure of the NGO in question. – In light of Kazakhstan’s track-record of closing down opposition news outlets on minor administrative technicalities, we fear this legislation would be applied as a tool to dispose of independent rights groups and NGOs not favored by the state, said Fossum.
Furthermore, the bill allows authorities to establish a single nation-wide operator, entitled the Centre for Support of Civil Initiatives, through which all funding for NGOs, domestic as well as foreign, must be channeled. According to advocates of the draft law, the primary function of the operator will be to increase transparency in the NGO sector. In reality however, the establishment of the operator will leave control over NGO funding at the hands of the state, which will consequently enjoy the power to determine which NGOs receive funding, and prioritize and limit which fields of activity will be financed. In other words, the government will grant itself the authority to control the scope of activities carried out by NGOs.
‒ We urge the Kazakhstani government to perceive a free civil society as a resource rather than a threat, and to recognize civil society’s vital role in the progressive development of any country. The legislation in question, if signed by President Nazarbaev, will cause additional bureaucratic obstacles to the work of Kazakhstan’s civil society sector. Such steps would also run counter to Kazakhstan’s “2050 Strategy” of widespread social, political and economic reforms, Fossum added.
– Kazakhstan made the right choice rejecting the draft law on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation”. The president should ensure that freedom of civil society to operate independently and freely under the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan and in line with Kazakhstan’s international human rights commitments is respected, Fossum concluded.