Bangladesh: Parliament should withdraw Foreign Donations Regulation Bill 2015

(Geneva-Paris) The Parliament of Bangladesh should withdraw the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill 2015, which if passed would severely restrict the legitimate activities of civil society and human rights defenders in Bangladesh, urged the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of OMCT and FIDH.

On September 1, 2015, the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act 2015 was tabled before the Parliament of Bangladesh and is slated to be passed into law soon.

“This new bill clearly aims at establishing a permanent Damocles sword hanging over human rights NGOs in Bangladesh, and in turn to silence victims of violations. Under this law, organisations documenting and reporting human rights violations would be denied funding clearance and would face possible de-registration. It is time for the international community to wake up and see the dramatic closing of democratic space in Bangladesh before it is too late”

Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

The new bill combines the 1978 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Ordinance and the 1982 Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Ordinance, and creates greater limitations to the work of civil society in Bangladesh. Section 3 of the Bill stipulates that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will not be allowed to receive foreign donations or contributions without prior permission from the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGO-AB), which is under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office. NGOs will have to declare to the Government the source of foreign donations and how they will be used. In addition, they will have to be registered with the NGO-AB to undertake any activities funded by foreign contributions, and to renew their registration every 10 years. However, no time limit is specified for the registration process, leaving open the risk of undue delays by the authorities. It is also of concern that renewal of registration is conditioned to the fact that “activities of the previous 10 years are found to be satisfactory” but without providing a definition for “satisfactory” activities, which may lead to arbitrary decision (Section 4).

Under the Act, the NGO-AB will also be empowered to inspect, monitor and assess the activities of NGOs that receive foreign funding, allowing direct control and surveillance over the activities of NGOs (Section 10). Moreover, the Bill provides for punitive measures for violations of the law by both organisations and individuals, which include fines, disciplinary action and cancellation or suspension of registration (Section 15).

“If passed, this new legislation would severely undermine the crucial role that civil society organisations play in Bangladesh. We call on the National Parliament not to pass the Foreign Donations Regulation Bill 2015 into law, as it clearly violates international human rights standards that Bangladesh is bound to respect”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

The right of every individual to freedom of association is a fundamental and universal right enshrined in numerous international human rights instruments to which Bangladesh is a party, as well as by Articles 5 and 13 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and by Article 38 of the country’s Constitution.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders was created in 1997 by OMCT and FIDH. The overall objective of this programme is to strengthen the action of human rights defenders in defence of victims and to reduce their isolation and vulnerability. It is also based on the absolute necessity to establish a systematic response to the repression they face.

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