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South Sudan’s NGO Bill is ‘needlessly repressive’: CIVICUS

Nov 29, 2013

The Bill is currently in Parliament, awaiting a third reading likely before the end of November.

Johannesburg: Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS urges the international community and South Sudan’s trading and development partners in particular to question official moves to push through a repressive civil society draft law in Parliament.

“The Voluntary and Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organizations Bill narrowly defines the scope of civil society organisations’ (CSO) activities to exclude key areas such as tackling corruption, promoting good governance and advocating against human rights violations,” said CIVICUS Head of Policy and Research, Mandeep Tiwana. “Following repeated failed attempts by South Sudanese civil society to engage in constructive dialogue with the government over this repressive Bill, we are urging the international community to speak with renewed urgency in support of South Sudanese civil society.”

The Bill is currently in Parliament, awaiting a third reading likely before the end of November, after which it will be sent to the Council of States before being moved for presidential assent. CIVICUS has previously raised concerns about the freedom to express democratic dissent in South Sudan. There have been a number of instances of reprisals against civil society members critical of official policies in the country. Thus, attempts to pass a restrictive CSO law mark a multi-pronged administrative assault on South Sudan’s CSOs.

“Controversial provisions in the Bill requiring non-interference with national policies will greatly impact the quality of services offered to South Sudanese communities by the non-governmental sector” said Mr. Edmund Yakani, Chairperson of the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network. “The passing of this Bill will impede civil society from offering an essential oversight function on governance as well as supplementing the government’s provision of services.”

In addition to the narrow definition of CSOs, major defects with the Bill include the requirement for mandatory registration accompanied by onerous obligations such as the need to furnish the new NGO Coordination Board with precise information difficult to estimate at the time of registration.

The NGO Coordination Board would also have extensive powers to decide who may or may not register, which given its politicised composition, may make the admittance process highly selective. Other stringent provisions also require CSOs to re-register annually, with the added threat of having their permit revoked if they contravene “any other applicable law”. The Bill then goes on to set out hefty criminal penalties for any offence committed under the Bill, including imprisonment.

Given the new administrative burdens and highly arbitrary decision-making envisaged by the Bill, its enactment would turn the performance of civil society research and over sight in South Sudan into a role suddenly fraught with new dangers.

CIVICUS and South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network therefore urge South Sudanese Parliamentarians to return the Bill to the drafting table. They must consider the concerns of CSOs on the negative aspects of the Bill which will seriously mar the independence of civil society in South Sudan if left unaddressed.

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