ORAL INTERVENTION -THE OBSERVATORY
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Item 3 of the order of the day
Jointoral intervention by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) andthe World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT),
in the framework of their joint programme,
theObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
March 11, 2013
Check against delivery
FIDH and OMCT, within the framework of the Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders, are alarmed by a new setback impeding thework of human rights defenders. As highlighted in the recently published Annual Report 2013of the Observatory, NGOs’ access to funding, in particular foreign funding, isincreasingly being hindered by governments around the world. Restrictive lawscombined with unfounded criticism, smear campaigns and judicial harassmentdirected against human rights defenders because of the source of their fundingcreate a hostile environment towards their activities as a way to silence them.
Belarusian law now prohibits any possibility for an NGO to hold abank account in an institution based abroad, and criminalises the use ofso-called unauthorised funds. These new provisions were adopted as FIDHVice-President and "Viasna" President Ales Bialiatski was sentencedto 4.5 years' imprisonment after he made use of foreign funds to finance humanrights activities in his country.
In the Russian Federation, NGOs receiving foreign funds now facecriminal liability if they fail to add the mention “foreign agent” on allofficial documents. In Ethiopia, regulations on foreign fundingforced NGOs to reduce their activities and dismiss part of their staff or stophuman rights related activities. In India, the Governmentcontinues to use the new Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) of 2012and its Rules of May 2011 to restrict access to foreign funding by nationalhuman rights NGOs. In this context, several NGOs in Tamil Nadu have seen theirbank accounts being temporarily frozen for months on end, on the basis ofunfounded accusation of diverting funds. Some of them even after obtainingsuccessful orders from the High Court.
We are also extremely concerned with the number of restrictive pieces oflegislation currently under examination, notably in Egypt, Bangladesh,Bahrain and beyond, which might have further highly negativeconsequences on the ability of NGOs to freely make use of foreign funds forpeaceful and legitimate human rights activities. In Egypt, several CSO billsare currently being tabled. The draft of the Ministry of Insurance and SocialAffairs is among the most restrictive ones, as it aims at significantlycurtailing the operations of foreign organisations in Egypt and at restrictingthe ability of NGOs to receive or provide international funding.
Restrictions to access to funding not only violate universally recognised humanrights standards, notably the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but also seriouslyimpact efforts by civil society to promote and protect human rights and ensurethat the voice of victims of human rights violations is heard. Ourorganisations recall in that regard the recommendation by the SpecialRapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in her last report to theGeneral Assembly that “States should refrain from imposing legal restrictionson potential sources of funding for associations, including foreign sources”.
Last but not least, restrictions on foreign funding also seriously jeopardisethe ability of many NGOs that are not based in Geneva to come and interact withUN experts and mechanisms.
Accordingly, we sincerely hope that the Council will address this issue as amatter of priority.
I thank you.