Following previous attempts to impose draconian regulations on non-government organizations (NGOs), the government of Nepal should hold open consultations with activists to ensure that forthcoming legislation to regulate social organizations protects the right to freedom of association, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
Activists fear that legislation being prepared by the Home Ministry will weaken civil society, including organizations defending human rights. These groups had been supervised by the Social Welfare Council, a government body established in 1992 to “co-ordinate” and “promote” social organizations.
But under the current government, the Home Ministry, which is otherwise responsible for internal security and law and order, has been taking over the regulation, registration, and supervision of social organizations.
“Non-governmental organizations need to be independent so that they can hold the government accountable, criticize policies, propose alternative ideas, and represent different points of view,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW South Asia director. “The Nepal government’s recent attempts to place constraints on groups rings alarm bells for democracy and human rights.”
Jitbir Lama, president of NGO Federation Nepal, described activists’ concerns to the Kathmandu Post, saying “We are concerned if the ministry is focusing on controlling non-government organizations, instead of regulating and facilitating them.”
Achyut Luitel, chairperson of the Association of International NGOs, warned that the government is trying to adopt “controlling measures” to restrict groups that work on human rights.
The government’s 2019 International Development Cooperation Policy states that international aid mobilized through Nepali groups should be in line with government priorities, which it identifies mostly as infrastructure development.
The National Integrity Policy introduced in 2018 placed a number of onerous restrictions on activist groups and on the foreign funding that many rely on for their work. The policy requires groups to seek government permission to receive foreign grants.
Once enforced, international nongovernmental organizations will be banned from doing advocacy on policy issues and from making “inappropriate allegations,” “spreading ill will,” or doing anything to “jeopardize the Nepali civilization, culture, social relationships and harmony.” Reports that they send to their home countries must be approved by the government.
These broadly drawn prohibitions could be used to prevent a wide range of activism on issues such as human rights, corruption, and gender and caste discrimination.
Since the work of all international groups must be carried out through local partner organizations, the policy severely constrains domestic organizations supported by foreign partners.
Groups in Nepal accept that some regulation is necessary, for example with relation to financial management. While it is appropriate to regulate and scrutinize the financial affairs of not-for-profit organizations to address corruption, the Nepali government’s approach unnecessarily infringes on the fundamental right of citizens to organize and campaign on issues of their choosing, Human Rights Watch said. (Source: HRW)