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Support, not undermine Zambian Civil Society

Published on Friday, 10 January 2014 09:54

10 January 2014. Johannesburg. Zambia’s government and its international development partners must support not undermine the country’s harassed NGOs say global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD). Zambian NGOs resisting government deadlines to register under the restrictive NGO Act have expressed concern about the actions of a number of donor governments.

“We have been credibly informed that despite the all-round international criticism of the NGO Act, a number of governments are refusing to provide financial assistance to Zambian NGOs unless they register under the law,” said Tor Hodenfield from CIVICUS. “This reveals a glaring discrepancy between donor priorities and those of national NGOs. Such requirements are undermining the national NGOs’ campaign to repeal this unjust law.”

Since March 2013, the vast majority of Zambian NGOs have taken a principled stance at the risk of criminal sanctions to not register under the restrictive 2009 NGO Act. While the Zambian government has extended the deadline for registration until 3 February 2014, to date, only 82 of the 904 NGOs listed with the government have registered under the law. In October 2013, over one hundred civil society groups from 46 countries wrote a letter to the President of Zambia expressing their concerns on the NGO Act’s provisions which are widely believed to be in breach of international law.

The law contains a number of debilitating restrictions on civil society. These include:

• Arbitrary registration requirements endowing excessive discretion to government officials to deny registration to NGOs;

• Provisions that allow undue executive interference into the activities of NGOs and curb their independence; and

• Imposition of a forced self-regulatory framework on NGOs in breach of international best practices.

Zambian CSOs are also concerned about the mixed messages they are getting from their government on the controversial NGO Act.

“Although, the intention to review the law has been publicly declared in Parliament and by a number of ministries, the government is still requiring NGOs to register by the deferred deadline of 3 February 2014,” said Lewis Mwape of ZCSD. “When the government has acknowledged that the law is flawed why are they persisting with the deadline for compliance?”

The situation in Zambia is further complicated by the growing repression of independent dissent in the country.

On 10 January 2014, the trials of prominent activist McDonald Chipenzi, director of the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) and Richard Sakala and Simon Mwanza, the two managing editors of the Daily Nation Newspaper, will commence. All three are being charged with “publication of false information with intent to cause public fear and alarm” for demanding accountability and openness in the recruitment process of police officers. If convicted they face up to three years in prison.

CIVICUS and ZSCD urge the Zambian government and the country’s international partners to work in tandem to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society to operate. In particular they call for (i) retraction of the decision by donors to deny funding to NGOs which do not register under the 2009 NGO Act, (ii) encourage moves to amend the NGO Act to ensure its compliance with international human rights norms, and (iii) cessation of harassment of civil society activists and journalists.


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