Repression is fashionable. It’s a trend. More and more countries pass laws that limit or impede the activity of organizations that defend human rights.
Only in the last two years, the procedures have been started and at least 40 standards have been approved in this regard.
This is what Amnesty International warns in the report Laws Designed to Silence, published this Thursday, of “a global attack against NGOs”.
In its research, the organization analyzes 50 countries in the world where laws against NGOs have been applied or are in the process of being approved.
This battle to stop and silence human rights defenders has “intensified” in recent years, says Maribel Tellado, responsible for the courageous campaign of Amnesty International in Spain.
In the opinion of the expert, the governments themselves use a “demonizing discourse” of certain groups to later justify the repressive measures against them.
Journalists are other groups that are especially persecuted.
The most common measures to prevent the work of the organizations that have found the authors of the report are the imposition of bureaucratic obstacles and hinder their access to financing.
In most cases, they warn, organizations are obliged to register in order to carry out their activity and the requirements to do so are often confusing or simply arbitrary.
In Pakistan, for example, the Ministry of the Interior rejected requests from 18 international NGOs, including ActionAid, without giving any reason. In October 2018, they ordered them to leave the country.
The justifications for denying permission, when there are, are as different as the countries that impose them.
According to the study, the most common are national security, the concern that entities interfere in internal affairs, the need to protect their own identity, as well as preserve traditions, values and religious beliefs.
To hinder or even put an end to the activity of already operational NGOs, some governments have passed laws that force entities to comply with “absurd” requirements and processes.
Failing to do so, they face heavy fines or even jail. Others reserve the power to dissolve an organization if it commits an infraction.
The problem is that, according to Amnesty International, the cases in which they are enabled to do so are not clearly defined. In Egypt, by virtue of its Law 70 of 2017, it suffices to affirm that an NGO “damages national unity or disturbs public order” to close it.
However, in these countries, there are NGOs that successfully overcome the embroiled bureaucracy and endure the persecution. Against them, the governments are left with only the economic war with exorbitant fines and taxes, or they restrict their financing possibilities to a minimum.
In this regard, Amnesty International’s report first highlights Russia and its Law on Foreign Agents of 2012. NGOs that receive international funds or carry out political activities are included in a list that qualifies them as “foreign agents”, which still It is synonymous with spy, traitor and enemy of the State.
“It has a very negative connotation in public opinion, nobody wants to be called that, especially if you are a defender of human rights,” confirms Galina Arapova, director of the Mass Media Defense Center (MMDC), which promotes freedom of expression and assists legally to journalists in that country.
It is easy for any organization to meet the requirements, it is enough for the European Commission or the United Nations to be among its donors, and the definition of the law of what is a political activity is very broad.
Defend freedom of expression, criticize the government, fight against torture and even help children with cancer …
“They find political activity in everything we do because they say it will influence public opinion! “, Arapova explains. “But we are not politicians. We defend human rights, this is what we do 24 hours a day. ”
The NGO he leads was included in the list of foreign agents in 2015 and since then his work has become increasingly difficult.
First, because public institutions are prohibited from dealing with entities under this classification.
“We have lost the ability to communicate and coordinate with governmental organizations and authorities, which is why we have had to cease some of our programs, we gave training to judges, press officers, the police … But now we cannot organize any activity, talks or seminars with officials,” she says indignantly in a conversation through more secure channels than a simple phone call. She is not sure that they are watching her, but she takes these kinds of precautions “just in case”.
“They use it to stigmatize us,” the activist complains. “It is not only about stopping the activity of NGOs and silencing criticism of the Government but also about creating a bad reputation and that people believe that we use foreign funds, scholarships and donations to serve the interests of other governments and not in favor of Russian society.
All the laws and repressive measures described so far, included in the report, go in the opposite direction from what is mandated by the UN declaration on human rights defenders.
It states: “States have the primary responsibility and duty to protect, promote and fulfill all human rights and fundamental freedoms, inter alia, by taking the necessary measures to create social, economic, political and other conditions. , as well as the legal guarantees required for any person subject to their jurisdiction, individually or collectively, to enjoy in practice all those rights and freedoms. ”
The MMDC has endured the stake, but its work has suffered. “We continue to give legal support to the media, journalists, bloggers … but we could do more.
“We used to do more,” Arapova says, other entities have not resisted and have closed. “This is difficult financially, personally and psychologically,” he argues.
“What they are trying to do is instill fear and create insecurity, and they do it in many countries,” adds Tellado. “People do not want to go to jail or be fined with amounts of money they cannot pay.
Many not only leave their jobs, but also leave their countries. “But there is, in his opinion, reasons for hope.” Citizen mobilization is also increasing. People organize and fight for the environment, against torture or the death penalty, for health and education … This is not going to stop,” he observes. “In one way or another, citizens end up claiming their rights”.
In this analysis, the Uruguayan Anabel Cruz, director of the NGO Institute of Communication and Development, and president of the Civicus civil society organizations alliance agrees.
“One of the conclusions of our last report on the state of civil society is that in 2018 there was an advance of repression, but also a resurgence of social movements and protests as we had not seen in a long time.”
What worries Cruz the most is that an anti-right agenda has been imposed. “After so many decades that led to conquer them … now they are in danger,” she reflects.
She believes that what big organizations like Amnesty International and Civicus should do is give support to those who protest and can stop this repressive tendency. “Civil society is alert and willing to fight for their rights,” she proclaims.