Concern about new restrictions on NGO activities

PACE today expressed its deep concern over new restrictions imposed on the activities 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,” it said.

In a resolution adopted today, on the basis of the report by Yves Cruchten (Luxembourg, SOC), the Assembly condemned the reprisals against civil society activists in Azerbaijan and called on the country to amend its legislation in accordance with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

PACE also called on Hungary to revise the 'Stop Soros' package of laws recently adopted by the Hungarian Parliament, which restricts the freedoms of NGOs working for refugees’ and migrants’ rights and their members, and expressed concerned about the entry into force of the Law on the transparency of organizations receiving support from abroad.

With regard to the Russian Federation, the Assembly remains concerned 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 domestic NGOs that received foreign funding, as well as the termination of operations of international and foreign donor organisations that supported the activities of Russian NGOs. It reiterated its calls on the Russian Federation to amend its legislation.

Referring to Turkey, PACE is worried about the high number of associations and foundations (around 1,600) closed on the basis of measures adopted under the state of emergency, which should be lifted as soon as possible. “The Turkish authorities must ensure that closed NGOs have an effective remedy against the decision concerning their definitive closure and reconsider the measures restricting the freedom of association, assembly and expression,” parliamentarians said.

Finally, Romania and Ukraine should reject the recently proposed draft laws imposing on NGOs additional financial reporting obligations, unless they are amended according to the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

The adopted text called on member States to repeal or amend legislation that impedes the free and independent work of NGOs, and to ensure that NGOs can receive and use transparent funding, whether domestic or foreign, without undue impediments. Member States must ensure an enabling environment for civil society, by refraining from harassment (judicial, administrative or tax-related), smear campaigns and intimidation of civil society activists.

The Parliamentary Assembly recommended that the Committee of Ministers set up a mechanism aimed at receiving, analysing and reacting to alerts on new restrictions on the right to freedom of association in the member States; and to develop guidelines on foreign funding of NGOs.