United Nations experts on Tuesday urged Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa to refrain from signing into law a bill that they said will severely restrict civic space and the right to freedom of association.
Their intervention followed the passing of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill, which seeks to restrict operations of civil society organisations in Zimbabwe.
The UN experts expressed concern that the oversight regime in the bill for civil society organisations provided for “disproportionate and discretionary powers to the newly established Office of the Registrar of PVOs, without independence from the executive branch".
“The bill’s requirements would also immediately render existing organisations, operating lawfully as trusts and associations, illegal,” the experts said.
They further mentioned that the Office of the Registrar would also have extensive powers to intervene in and monitor the activities of PVOs.
They also raised concerns about the prohibition of any "political affiliation" and "unjustified restrictions" on PVOs’ ability to obtain funding, including foreign funds.
The UN experts added that the vagueness or non-definition of many provisions in the bill raised concerns that the proposed law would be misapplied.
“While one of the stated aims of the Bill is to counter terrorism and money laundering in Zimbabwe, the restrictions contained therein will have a chilling effect on civil society organisations – particularly dissenting voices. By enacting this legislation, authorities would effectively be closing an already shrinking civic space,” argued the UN experts.
Local NGOs stand
The PVO Amendment Bill has been criticised by local non-governmental organisations, who say it would disrupt their humanitarian work and stop them from giving assistance to victims of human rights violations
Although President Mnangagwa’s government has been accused of closing down the civic space through the enactment of draconian legislation such as the PVO Amendment Bill, it holds civil society organisations responsible for being conduits for funding of opposition parties by Western countries.
President Mnangagwa can either sign the Bill into law or reject it.
“It is not too late for the president to change course,” the experts said, urging him to reject the PVO Amendment Bill in its current form.
“We stand ready to assist the government to revise the Amendment Bill to ensure compliance with international human rights norms and standards,” the experts added.
In 2004, President Mnangagwa’s predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, refused to sign into law a similar Bill that was meant to shut down organisations involved in promoting and defending human rights after the proposed law had been passed by the Parliament of Zimbabwe.