”Autocrats Focus on Funding to Stop Human Rights Work”

Civil Rights Defenders takes part in the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2017, organised by OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) in Warsaw. On Tuesday 12 September, during a session about freedom of association, Civil Rights Defenders’ Programme Director for Eurasia, Joanna Kurosz, called on democratic states to not accept that OSCE member states use laws to silence the civil society:

Press Joanna Kurosz 1

Joanna Kurosz is the Programme Director for Eurasia at Civil Rights Defenders.

Undemocratic states in the OSCE-region use a number of tactics to repress human rights defenders and stifle critical voices. I would like to focus on a specific tactic that sometimes does not get enough attention: Isolation of human rights organisations by cutting their foreign funding.

In Belarus, the government introduced the infamous law 193.1 already in 2005. The law criminalises the receiving of foreign funding outside government control. Human rights defenders risk two years in prison if they receive funding under this law. At the same time the government uses tax evasion laws to harass and imprison human rights defenders.

In Russia, the foreign agent law and, even more so, the law on undesirable organisations are undermining the possibilities for Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to do their legitimate work. For example, last week the leader of the Sova centre, Alexander Verkhovsky, was questioned in connection to two administrative cases under the so-called law on undesirable organisations.

In Azerbaijan, the receiving of foreign funding outside of government control has been banned since 2013. Azerbaijan’s legislation is clearly inspired by both the Russian and Belarusian, aimed at cutting off the funding for NGOs.

In Kyrgyzstan, a Russian-inspired NGO-law did not pass in 2016, but the mere fact that it was introduced to the parliament is worrisome.

Finally, there is the law on foreign funding for NGOs in Hungary, which was described here by our Hungarian colleagues.

We see a clear pattern of authoritarian states who inspire each other and learn repressive techniques from each other.

We also see how democratic states adapt to the rules of the game set up by authoritarian states. They seem to forget that human rights defenders are not the real lawbreakers. It is the authoritarian states that break international law by cutting off NGOs from foreign funding – the only type of substantial funding today that enable them to conduct professional human rights work.

We call on the States that put restrictions on foreign funding to adhere to their commitments as members of the OSCE and repeal repressive laws on foreign funding.

We also call on democratic states to support human rights defenders in repressive countries with all available means and to put more pressure on authoritarian regimes to let the civil society work freely.

Categories: News.
Tags: Human Dimension Implementation Meeting and OSCE.
Regions: Eurasia.