Global rights defenders red-flag PVO Bill

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Jacob Mudenda

BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
INTERNATIONAL civic society organisations (CSOs) have petitioned Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda to block passage of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Amendment Bill, saying it contravened regional and international best practices.

The petitioners included Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Association of Caribbean Media Workers, Free Media Movement Sri Lanka, Freedom Forum, Freedom of Expression Institute, Global Voices, Independent Journalism Centre Moldova, Initiative for Freedom of Expression Turkey, among others.

Government gazetted the PVO Amendment Bill on November 5, 2021, whose provisions will adversely affect and effectively eliminate CSOs involved in promoting and defending human rights in the country.

The international CSOs feel that government is using the legislation to clamp down on civic society.

“We urge the Parliament of Zimbabwe to delay debate on the PVO Amendment Bill until it meets local, regional and international standards and best practices for the exercise of freedom of expression, free association and the right to privacy.

“Parliament should embark on a wide-ranging consultative process on the regulation of CSOs, trusts and NGOs [non-governmental organisation]. This process should be consultative and reflective of the views of a wide spectrum of the Zimbabwean society,” the letter read.

“Among other things, the proposed law will have the effect of criminalising the work of civil society organisations in Zimbabwe by proposing harsh penalties, including jail time of up to one year for NGO registration framework related perceived offences, a new requirement that the Bill seeks to introduce.”

The Bill gives government and the minister responsible for CSOs and trusts excessive power.

“Through this excessive involvement of the Executive, it is feared that NGO and CSO funds may be expropriated by the government under the guise of complying with provisions of the Financial Action Taskforce recommendations.”

The CSOs said there was a risk that the expropriation of the funds could be done without due process of the law having been followed and without compensation.

“Honourable Speaker, while we accept that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, the PVO Amendment Bill does not serve a legitimate purpose and neither is it necessary. On the contrary, we are gravely concerned about the Bill’s potential to unduly restrict freedom of expression and civic space.”

Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda said: “You have to understand the Bill process in that once the Bill is gazetted, public consultations are held first, and then it goes through scrutiny by the Parliamentary Legal Committee.”

During the official opening of the Fourth Session of the Ninth Parliament in October, President Emmerson Mnangagwa accused some NGOs and PVOs of operating “out of sync with the government’s humanitarian priority programmes”.

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