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Some States continue to apply restrictions on NGO activities, committee says

Some States continue to apply restrictions on NGO activities, committee says

The Legal Affairs Committee, meeting by videoconference, today expressed its concern that civil society space was shrinking in several member States, stressing that “restrictive legislation and regulations were still being applied, particularly in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Turkey”.

Certain member States’ legislation, imposing excessive reporting and public disclosure obligations on NGOs receiving funding from abroad, has not been repealed, despite criticisms from Council of Europe bodies, the committee said, adopting a report by Alexandra Louis (France, ALDE). Yet, it added, the right to secure financial resources is essential to the operation of any association and an inherent part of the right to freedom of association.

The parliamentarians regretted that certain NGOs are the subject of smear campaigns and that their activists suffer threats and reprisals, and are furthermore concerned about the impact of restrictive measures adopted by States in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic on the work of NGOs. They also condemned attacks on NGOs assisting refugees and migrants.

Despite these negative developments, the committee welcomed the fact that certain member States, in particular Romania and Ukraine, have amended their legislation concerning NGOs in line with the recommendations of various Council of Europe bodies and that others have taken steps to facilitate access to public funding and the participation of NGOs in public debate.

In this context, the committee called on member States to comply with international legal standards with regard to the right to freedom of association, to “repeal or amend legislation that interferes with NGOs’ ability to work freely and independently” and to refrain from adopting new laws resulting in disproportionate restrictions on NGO activities – the COVID-19 pandemic should not justify such restrictions.

According to the draft resolution adopted by the committee, NGOs should be able to seek, secure and use financial resources of both domestic and foreign origin, “without suffering discrimination or encountering unjustified obstacles”. Finally, the committee called on member States to refrain from all forms of harassment (judicial, administrative or fiscal), as well as negative public statements or smear campaigns aimed at NGOs.