Threats to Freedom of Association Arise in Kosovo

15 April 2005

Despite the efforts of ICNL and the Kosovo NGO community, on February 23, 2005, the Kosovo Assembly passed the Freedom of Association Law, incorporating last-minute amendments which violate the major human rights conventions protecting the right to free association. The Law as adopted included amendments (1) removing protections on the right to associate for persons organizing for lawful purposes, and mandating NGO registration; and (2) requiring that all NGOs re-register with the Ministry of Public Services every two years. These amendments are inconsistent with the Constitutional Framework for Kosovo, UNMIK Regulation 2001/9, Article 3.2 (15 May 2001), as well as UN Resolution 1244, Article 11(j) (10 June 1999).

In defense of the right to associate, the Kosovo NGO community, with the assistance of ICNL, has petitioned the Special Representative of the Secretary General asking him to decline to approve the Freedom of Association Law in the form adopted by the Assembly. The NGO community argues that requiring a group of persons to form a legal entity in order to carry out lawful purposes, and thereby subject itself to state supervision, is clearly a restriction on the right to associate. An example makes clear why mandatory registration requirements are considered such a threat to the right to associate. Last year in Belarus, the government used a requirement prohibiting activities by unregistered public associations to crack down on civic activists – dozens were fined or arrested for carrying on activities without registration. The mandatory registration provision thus provides the repressive government with a powerful tool against those speaking out against its policies. Governments throughout the free world, in contrast, have agreed that mandatory registration is an undue restriction. The addition of this requirement to the Kosovo law constitutes a direct assault on the right to free association that the law purports to guarantee.

ICNL firmly believes that adoption of these provisions would have a chilling effect on the vibrancy of the emerging civil society in Kosovo, and will continue to defend vigorously the rights of Kosovo citizens to freely associate by seeking to aid the Kosovo NGO community in its campaign to prevent the adoption of the law containing these amendments.