The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) is pleased to announce today the launch of its “Civic Freedom Monitor,” a rebranded version of its long-running NGO Law Monitor – widely recognized as the most comprehensive source of information on legal issues affecting civil society organizations (CSOs) around the world.
ICNL’s Civic Freedom Monitor currently features reports on 50 countries and eight multilateral organizations, each providing a detailed overview of key legal issues affecting civil society and civic freedom. The name change reflects the evolving nature of both the Monitor and the legal challenges that civil society faces throughout the world.
“The legal obstacles confronting civil society today go far beyond restrictive NGO laws, and focusing exclusively on this aspect of the problem gives an incomplete picture,” said ICNL President and CEO Doug Rutzen. “There have also been aggressive legal assaults on expression rights, assembly rights and more.”
“The NGO Law Monitor has always addressed these issues to some extent,” Rutzen said. “But the rebranded Civic Freedom Monitor aims to capture them more systematically, making it a one-stop research tool to examine all legal issues that impact civil society.”
To coincide with the re-launch, ICNL has updated a number of country reports and is providing a brief analysis of recent trends. Key developments include:
Egypt: On September 8, the Cabinet approved a new draft law governing civil society organizations (CSOs). The draft contains a few positive changes, such as reducing criminal penalties, but maintains a restrictive approach to the regulation of civil society. If approved by the State Council, the draft will reportedly be taken up for consideration by Egypt’s Parliament, which reconvenes in early October.
South Sudan: in August 2016, the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) began registering NGOs under the new Non-Governmental Organizations Act, which was adopted in February 2016. Disturbingly, however, the RRC reportedly informed several organizations that they would be shut down for being “political and not humanitarian.” The RRC is believed to have designated dozens of organizations to be shut down.
Kazakhstan: in yet another example of increasing restrictions on cross-border funding, a new law in Kazakhstan has introduced reporting and other requirements for CSOs who receive funds from foreign sources. The law also introduces administrative and criminal penalties for non-compliance and may restrict access to foreign funding for CSOs.
The updates also track an increasing focus in several countries on cybercrime and Internet regulation, which could be used to crack down on CSOs. For example:
- In Ethiopia, a new Cybercrimes Law that imposes serious penalties for a wide range of online activities and gives authorities greater surveillance and censorship powers.
- In Pakistan, the newly adopted Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which would allow the government to force Internet companies to remove or block access to any certain content.
- In Russia, two new federal laws, which among other things require providers of mobile phone and internet services to record and store all communications and activities of all users, and make stored records available to authorized government bodies at their request.
- And Zimbabwe, where a Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill is under consideration that would severely limit citizens’ access to information.
The increasing use of national security laws to constrain civic freedom is also a noteworthy trend, for example in Malaysia (the new National Security Act has now come into force), Nicaragua (fears that the Sovereign Security Act could be used to continue to clamp down on civil society and restrict the media ahead of November 2016 presidential elections) and Egypt (a new regulation requiring that NGOs notify the Social Affairs security department of any planned visits, conferences, or panels, in advance).
At the same time, there are several encouraging developments worthy of note.
- In Kenya, on September 10, 2016, the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Devolution signed a gazette notice to commence the implementation of the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act, 2013.
- In Afghanistan, the Minister of Economy has established a consultative working group, with civil society participation, to prepare amendments to the Law on Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs).
- In Myanmar, CSOs sat down with representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs to discuss how to improve the implementation of the recently enacted Law on Associations.
For more information on these developments and more, check out ICNL’s newly rebranded Civic Freedom Monitor: https://www.icnl.org/resources/civic-freedom-monitor