Amnesty urges rethink on Zimbabwe’s controversial NGO law

Rights group Amnesty International says President Emmerson Mnangagwa must not sign into law a bill that seeks to restrict operations…

Rights group Amnesty International says President Emmerson Mnangagwa must not sign into law a bill that seeks to restrict operations of non-governmental organisations as it will have “dire consequences” for millions of Zimbabweans in need of humanitarian assistance.The controversial Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) Amendment Bill was recently approved by Zimbabwe’s Senate and now awaits Mnangagwa’s assent to become law. 

If passed into law, the PVO Amendment would provide the government with unfettered discretionary power to overregulate and interfere in the governance and operations of non-government organisations (NGOs). 

Its provisions provide the government with unchecked power to designate any PVO as “high risk” or “vulnerable” to terrorism abuse, thereby allowing them to revoke the organisation’s registration and remove or replace its leadership. 

In addition, to avoid civil penalties, PVOs would be required to receive approval from the government for any “material change”, including changes to its management and internal constitution. 

Furthermore, PVOs would be prohibited from supporting or opposing any political party or candidate.

Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa, Tigere Chagutah said, in its current form, the PVO Amendment Bill “threatens civic society organizations working on human rights in Zimbabwe.” 

“The proposed bill, if it becomes law, will have dire consequences, including restricting civic space and access to humanitarian support services in Zimbabwe as it will immediately render all non-governmental organisations, not registered as PVOs, illegal,” Tigere said in a statement.

He said the proposed law would be used by the government to deny registration of human rights organisations “due to the work that they do, including defending rights such as freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.” 

The bill would also exacerbate the growing crackdown on civil society organisations, increase human rights violations and make it more difficult for Zimbabweans to hold the government to account. 

“President Mnangagwa must use his leadership position to reject this bill as it is repressive. The president must ensure that this bill is never signed into law.”

There are fears that employees and board members of NGOs could be arrested and subjected to punitive measures, including imprisonment, if the bill is signed into law.

“NGOs must be allowed to operate freely and to do their work without any reprisals,” the official said.

Critics say the proposed is part of measures by the Zimbabwean authorities to restrict the democratic space ahead of general elections set for July this year.

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