GENEVA – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, today warned that Kazakhstan’s Bill amending the Law on Non-profit organizations “may not only compromise the independence of associations, but challenge their very existence.”
The draft law establishes an operator with the right to allocate both governmental and non-governmental grants, including grants from international organizations, diplomatic missions or international not-for-profit organizations, to non-governmental organizations.
“The possibility for a centralized Government’s operator to distribute all grants irrespective of sources, be it public or private funds, enables the authorities to arbitrarily limit resources and to control the entire not-for-profit sector,” Mr. Kiai cautioned. “By controlling the sources of funds, the draft law would limit associations’ functional autonomy and put their independence and existence at serious risk.”
“Access to financial resources is an integral and vital part of the right to freedom of association,” the expert underscored.
The new legislative amendments were adopted by the Senate on 8 October 2015. The text would now be with the Lower House of the Parliament for its final consideration and it may be adopted any time from now.
The draft law also bars associations receiving governmental grants from using more than 10 percent of their funding for administrative expenditures. “Other countries have adopted such laws in recent years and we now know, from experience, that this has had a devastating impact on civil society organizations,” the UN expert noted. “Many were forced to stop their activities, leaving society deprived from these organizations’ essential contribution in the economic, cultural, political and social fields and devoid of important voices often representing the most marginalized.”
“By preventing associations to decide freely on their activities, such limitation questions the very meaning of freedom of association and, as experience shows, endangers the very existence of associations,” he said.
“The role of civil society in a country with significant democratic and economic development aspirations is crucial to achieve ambitious goals. A meaningful engagement with civil society is essential to ensure diverse voices are included in decision making process,” he added.
Mr. Kiai recalled the recommendations made at the end of his country visit to Kazakhstan earlier this year (report available here). “While I commended the Government on certain measures aimed at favouring the inclusion of associations in the public debate, I also stressed the need for any amendments concerning access to funding not to jeopardize the independence of associations, which is one of the main attributes of freedom of association,” he said.
“In this regard, I reiterate my call to the authorities for the draft law to be repealed,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.
Mr. Kiai’s present appeal has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.