On October 5, 2016, the Parliament of Bangladesh passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill 2016. Once the Bill is transformed into a law with assents by the President, it will repeal the Foreign Donation (Voluntary Activity) Regulation Ordinance 1978 and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Ordinance , 1982, and create greater limitations to the work of civil society in Bangladesh.
“The absurdity is that freedom of expression is a constitutional right in Bangladesh. Yet it is a right that is no longer afforded to those who question the institutions that govern the country. The Bill, besides being manifestly anti-democratic, leaves no doubt that the intention is to shut down any existing human rights work and critical voices in the country. This is a sad day for Bangladesh, as silence is the end of democracy and the beginning of insecurity”, said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.
The Bill states that the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), which is under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office, will have the authority to cancel or withhold the legal registration of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or ban its activities for having "engaged in anti-State activities", "financing extremism and terror activities", or for "making derogatory comments about the Constitution and constitutional institutions” of Bangladesh, including the Offices of the President, the Prime Minister, the Parliament, or the Supreme Court.
According to the Bill, NGOs seeking to receive or use foreign funds must register with the NGOAB, submit reports regularly and seek prior approval from the NGOAB for all planned activities before receiving such grants. The Bill also empowers the NGOAB to inspect, monitor and assess NGO activities at the NGOAB’s discretion, and NGOs will need approval and security clearance to hire foreign specialists and advisers.
“This Bill imposes disproportionate restrictions on freedoms of expression and association in Bangladesh, in violation of international human rights standards. Therefore, it represents a real threat to the legitimate activities of independent NGOs”, said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.
In November 2015, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Mr. Maina Kiai, urged the Bangladeshi Parliament not to adopt the Bill, stressing that “registered and unregistered NGOs should be able to operate and function freely without prior authorization or other undue impediments”.
The Observatory calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to repeal the current Bill and to refrain from passing it into law, as well as to conform in all circumstances with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders as well as human rights instruments ratified by Bangladesh.