Freedom of association in danger of extinction

Press release
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Geneva-Paris, 21 February 2020 - The right of NGOs to funding is an integral part of the right to freedom of association as set out by international human rights standards and the threat to restrict it is evidence of the umpteenth attempt to try to silence the work of civil society organisations in the country, reports the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH).

On 19 February 2020, the President of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), Mr. Diosdado Cabello, announced during the broadcast of his weekly television programme "Con el mazo dando" (Going at it with the Club) that next week he would present a legislative reform before the ANC that will seek to restrict foreign funding to NGOs. Specifically, Mr. Cabello threatened that "the maximum possible sanctions will be imposed on those organisations that receive funding from the United States to conspire against the homeland."

The Observatory reports that this new threat against civil society is developing in a context of systematic attacks against it including threats, arbitrary arrests and a myriad of restrictions that, in practice, have already affected the right to freedom of association through undue restrictions on the registration or updating of administrative documentation of associations. We express our concern and our deep rejection of the continuous smear campaigns against Venezuelan NGOs.

"In this context of repressive measures against human rights defenders and organisations in Venezuela, it seems clear that this legislative proposal would seek new ways to try to silence their voices, in this case, through economic asphyxia," said Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT.

During the broadcast, Mr. Cabello directly threatened the human rights organisation, Provea, an FIDH member organisation, pointing out that it is one of the organisations that would receive USAID funds and suggesting that it would be one of the organisations affected by the legislative reform.

"Faced with these accusations against Provea, our organisations send all their support and solidarity to the organisation and declare that the accusations are due to the commendable work of human rights defenders that the organisation has been developing for many years" , Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH.

The Observatory recalls that this is not the first attempt to restrict access to international funds by NGOs, but that in 2015 the National Assembly of Venezuela already debated a Draft Law on International Cooperation that sought to establish that NGOs could only access international cooperation funds if they complied with "the guidelines and policies established by the president for this purpose".

For the above reasons, the Observatory reiterates that the international human rights standards applicable in Venezuela recognise beyond doubt that the right of NGOs to funding is an integral part of the right to freedom of association and, therefore, it completely rejects any attempt at restraint by the Venezuelan authorities.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) is a programme created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) which aims to intervene to prevent or remedy concrete situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders implemented by international civil society.

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