Civil society groups around the world have seen an increase in restrictions on their vital work, through legislative measures, regulations and in some cases violence. Governments from regions including Africa, Asia and the Middle East have created barriers to the work of legitimate nonprofits seeking to empower citizens and improve society. Often passed under the guise of preventing terrorism, these laws and regulations represent a significant step backwards for global human rights.
In Russia, the “government has unleashed a crackdown on civil society in the year since Vladimir Putin’s return to presidency that is unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). A recent report by HRW outlines an array of restrictions on civil society groups, including forced registrations, invasive inspections of NGO offices, funding restrictions and the imprisonment of activists.
Proposed laws in South Sudan and Kenya also received international outcry for the restrictions they would place on civil society groups. The law before the parliament in South Sudan would narrow the scope of what civil society groups could focus activities on. Edmund Yakani, Chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network said that “Controversial provisions in the Bill requiring non-interference with national policies will greatly impact the quality of services offered to South Sudanese communities by the non-governmental sector.”
Amendments to a proposed law in Kenya, which were defeated on Dec. 4, would have allowed the government to arbitrarily deny registration for NGOs and cap foreign funding of those groups at 15 percent of their total budget. A group of UN Special Rapporteurs warned that these proposals would have “profound consequences” and “could deter individuals from expressing dissenting views.” Frank La Rue, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said that “associations should be free to determine their statuses, structure and activities and make decision without State interference.”
In the Middle East and North Africa, crackdowns on civil society in Bahrain, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon and Yemen have also drawn concern. According to Transparency International, the Algerian government prevented anti-corruption activists from attending an international gathering and in Lebanon, journalists covering corruption were allegedly assaulted by government officials.
And in Egypt a new law places broad restrictions on the ability for citizen to engage in protests, and includes hefty fines and jail times for those in violation. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “International law requires precision in detailing what specific conduct is prohibited by law,” and warned that the law could lead to “serious breaches” in the rights of Egyptian citizens.