New NGO Law Threatens Existence of Civil Society

31 August 2005

The few local NGOs that are allowed to register also face new funding barriers. The law requires all donor funds to be passed through government ministries, permitting funds to go through local NGOs only if the capacity of the ministries is insufficient. Local NGOs cannot receive funds from the United Nations or other bilateral agencies (Article 9.1 & 8.5).

According to an international organisation operating in Eritrea, “If the new proclamation results in the closing down of the few independent local NGOs and the departure of the few remaining international NGOs, there will be no independent civil society left.”

The new law also imposes tax on all food aid and donations imported into Eritrea, seriously hindering aid agencies. In early August, international organisations called for the urgent release of 540 tonnes of food aid being held at Eritrea’s Massawa port. In response to an international outcry, the government of Eritrea agreed to release the aid and pay the taxes on behalf of the aid agencies, providing at least a temporary reprieve.

Providing a possible indication of the future, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been asked to cease operations in Eritrea, reported IRIN News on 26 August. The US Ambassador Scott DeLisi allegedly declined to comment, only saying the Eritrean government was “uncomfortable with the activities of USAID.”

Eritrea rates number 156 out of 177 countries on the UN Human Development Index. It is currently one of the most food aid-dependent countries in the world, with two thirds of its 3.6 million people requiring food assistance.

Source: Civil Society Watch, a Programme of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Civic Participation, www.civilsocietywatch.org and www.civicus.org. For more information, please contact cswatch@civicus.org.

You can subscribe to the Civil Society Watch Bulletin at cswcommunity@civicus.org. The Civil Society Watch Monthly Bulletin, now distributed to over 7000 people, is an action-oriented newsletter, featuring updated alerts on threats to civil society around the world, analyses of current situations, and information on recent publications and events.