[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] expressed concern [press release] Wednesday that recent restrictions on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in a number of countries may fundamentally effect freedoms and human rights. Pillay highlighted Egypt, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Belarus, Israel and Venezuela as examples of countries that have enacted laws that are curtailing freedoms of NGOs. The most dangerous restriction to NGOs comes from laws the restrict freedom of association, or what Pillay calls “the lifeblood” of NGOs. Without such freedoms she foresees possible irreparable damage to NGOs. She urged these countries to rethink the legislation:
NGOs must be able to operate free from executive interference. They must be consulted and included in policy decisions, particularly when a state is undergoing major transformational or transitional processes. And they must not be penalized for criticizing or questioning state policies and processes. Governments need to understand that collaboration with civil society is not a sign of weakness. It is the way to build a better, more inclusive, society—something all governments should be trying to do, and something they cannot manage on their own.
Pillay noted that the freedom of association that is being damaged or destroyed is encapsulated in numerous human rights treaties including Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], the latter of which is a binding treaty that all of the above countries have signed.
The 2009 Ethiopian law has been met with harsh criticism from Amnesty International [JURIST report] in recent weeks, with the organization alleging that the law is sabotaging charity work and undermining human rights in the country. Egypt’s crackdown on NGOs has drawn criticism for months. In January, the Egyptian government denied cracking down on pro-democracy NGOs after officials raided the offices of 17 different NGOs [JURIST reports] the previous week. In September 2011 the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi [official profile] urged the Cambodian government to review [JURIST report] a proposed law that would hinder NGOs efforts in the country, while at the same time praises human rights efforts in the country.