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Reviewing legislation that impedes the free and independent work of NGOs

In several Council of Europe member States the space for civil society has been shrinking over the last few years, especially in respect of NGOs working in the area of human rights, the Committee on Legal Affairs has warned.

Adopting a draft resolution based on a report by Yves Cruchten (Luxembourg, SOC), the committee condemned the lack of a conducive environment for the activities of NGOs in Azerbaijan as well as the “reprisals against civil society activists”, and called on this country to amend its legislation on NGOs.

The committee also called on Hungary to refrain from adopting the so-called “Stop Soros” package of laws, which would restrict the freedoms of NGOs working for refugees’ and migrants’ rights and their members.

As regards the Russian Federation, the committee expressed concern about the implementation of the so-called “foreign agents law” and the “law on undesirable organisations”, which has led to the closure of dozens of NGOs that received foreign funding, and called for the legislation to be amended.

Referring to Turkey, the committee said it was particularly worried about the high number of associations and foundations (nearly 1,600) closed on the basis of state of emergency measures, which should be lifted as soon as possible.
Finally, Romania and Ukraine, the parliamentarians said, should reject the recently proposed draft laws imposing additional financial reporting obligations on NGOs unless they are amended according to the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

All member States, the committee said, should “review and repeal or amend legislation that impedes the free and independent work of NGOs and ensure that this legislation is in conformity with international human rights instruments regarding the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression”.

In a draft recommendation, the parliamentarians called on the Committee of Ministers of the Organisation to establish a mechanism aimed at receiving, analysing and reacting to alerts on possible new restrictions on the right to freedom of association in Council of Europe member States.