GOVERNMENT CLAMPDOWNS ON NGOs ON THE INCREASE
By Donnelly McCleland
Parliament in Kyrgyzstan on 22 May resumed formal scrutiny of a draft law that experts believe is designed to hobble the work of independent civic activists. And with coronavirus-related restrictions on their side, the legislature’s largely government-loyal members were able to hear discussions at the public forum with almost no interventions from the very kinds of nongovernmental groups the law would hurt. The bill would oblige NGOs to engage in more exhaustive reporting on their finances than is currently required, draining the often-small organizations of their already depleted human and financial resources. If the law is adopted in its current form, a government portal will be created to store all the information provided by NGOs. (Central Asia News)
A deepening concern
Kyrgyzstan is not unique, a number of studies indicate an increasing number of countries, across the spectrum, where legislation has been enacted or is in the process of consideration, to place greater restrictions and controls on NGOs. Many list concerns of transparency and corruption as guiding principles for these tighter restrictions, and if these were their primary concern, then they would be noble goals, but analysts question whether these truly are the motivating factors. Given the context of these laws, many within more autocratic governmental structures, begs the question of whether these governments are more concerned about their own discrepancies and shortcomings being exposed by NGOs, especially those focussed on civil liberties, than discouraging corruption within NGOs.
India, the most populous democracy in the world, has almost 3.4 million NGOs, working in a variety of fields ranging from disaster relief to advocacy for marginalised and disadvantaged communities. Decades of hostility against NGOs have worsened under India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his Hindu nationalist, BJP party. According to The Conversation: “In late 2018, it was revealed the Modi government had cancelled the licences of nearly 20,000 NGOs receiving foreign funds under the FCRA [Foreign Contribution Regulatory Act]. According to a report on India’s philanthropic landscape by the consultancy Bain and Company, there was around a 40% decline in foreign funding between 2015 and 2018.”
In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill which allows for the banning of foreign organisations from operating in the country if authorities designate them as “undesirable” on national security grounds. Critics claim that it is a way for the Kremlin to stifle dissent.
A 2019 report by Freedom House, states: “Over the last 15 years, 11 African countries have adopted legislation or policies that improperly constrained nongovernmental organisations (NGOs).” The report found that these laws and policies sought to impose state control over civil society, particularly NGOs that work on human rights and governance issues.
These are just some of the many examples of the increasing hurdles many NGOs face in trying to assist communities and individuals who would very often have no other ‘voice’ or recourse. According to a recent article in The Washington Post: “[Governments] have been restricting human rights and other non-governmental groups for years.”
Governments may use COVID-19 restrictions to push through legislation
In addition, the global COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated the already complex challenges NGOs are facing around the world. The most recent round of debates in Kyrgyzstan over the proposed bill, saw authorities limit the number of people allowed in the public consultation process to the first 60, citing coronavirus prevention measures as the reason. According to the government, there are about 26,000 NGOs in Kyrgyzstan, but for this most recent public consultation, only 60 were allowed, which is less than one percent of all non-profit organisations. According to The Washington Post: “The concern is that the pandemic serves as an excuse for governments to impose restrictions — many of them long in the making — that they will be hard-pressed to relinquish.”
NGOs play vital role in civil society
Despite numerous governments making it increasingly difficult for NGOs to fulfil their function, many NGOs continue to assist states to serve their citizens by pushing for laws – including those on the right to information, food security and rural employment, to name just a few – holding governments accountable, and often acting as a bridge between governments and society.
There are millions of NGOs in the world, and there would certainly be some who lack transparency and accountability, and even some guilty of corruption or other illegal activities. Such NGOs should face legal action and be held accountable for their actions, however, as The Conversation points out: “Government’s tactics of cracking down on rights-based NGOs through vague legislation goes against the idea of justice.”
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions, of NGOs are Christian or have been founded on Christian principles of love, compassion and generosity. Charity and providing assistance to the poor are concepts established in Scripture and have been foundational in the activities of the Church and Christian humanitarian organisations through the ages. The establishment of NGOs for the purpose of demonstrating Christlike compassion is a common practice throughout the world, but is of particular relevance in nations that are traditionally ‘hostile’ towards Christians, and where it is perceived that Christians’ primary desire is to proselytise ‘unbelievers’. Christians working for NGOs in these more restrictive nations often face greater scrutiny.
As governments increase their pressure on NGOs, so too the pressure will increase on Christian NGOs, and sometimes even more so, as governments may use laws to make it far more difficult for Christian NGOs to operate within their borders. It is important to remember that, although it is often a deeply tangible and difficult battle, it remains primarily a spiritual one, fought with spiritual weapons against invisible forces of darkness.
Please pray with us:
- For those involved in NGOs whose main passion and purpose is to help the marginalised and maligned, not to grow weary of doing good, despite the opposition they face
- For Christian NGOs who are currently facing tremendous opposition from host governments, that they will remain steadfast, and above reproach
- For believers who serve within NGOs, to be His ‘hands’ and ‘feet’