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U.N. official concerned about NGO freedoms

U.N. Commissioner Navi Pillay said existing or proposed laws and regulations in eight countries threaten to shut down NGOs.

Story highlights

  • The U.N. high commissioner for human rights cites restrictions around the world
  • She says existing or proposed laws on NGOs threaten human rights
  • She says nongovernmental organizations are a crucial part of civil society

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights expressed concern Wednesday about restrictions on nongovernmental organizations around the world, saying the rules threaten human rights.

Commissioner Navi Pillay said existing or proposed laws and regulations in eight countries threaten to shut down NGOs. In one of those countries, Zimbabwe, provincial authorities already ordered the work of 29 groups be suspended.

"Civil society -- including NGOs, trade unions, human rights defenders, academics, journalists, bloggers and others -- plays an absolutely crucial role in ensuring that human rights are protected in individual states," Pillay said in a statement. "A dynamic and autonomous civil society, able to operate freely, is one of the fundamental checks and balances necessary for building a healthy society, and one of the key bridges between governments and their people."

A draft law on regulation of NGOs in Egypt would give the government too much power to regulate, monitor and restrict the work of civil society organizations, said Pillay, who urged Egyptian authorities to withdraw the law.

In Cambodia, a proposed law would allow authorities to shut down NGOs if their activities are considered harmful to national unity or culture, Pillay said.

A new law in Algeria says the objectives of organizations must not be contrary to national values, she said.

Several NGOs were forced to close in Ethiopia because of a February 2009 law barring them from receiving more than 10% of their overall resources from abroad, Pillay said.

Foreign funding is also an issue threatening NGOs in Belarus, Israel and Venezuela, she said.

"Governments need to understand that collaboration with civil society is not a sign of weakness," Pillay said. "It is the way to build a better, more inclusive, society -- something all governments should be trying to do, and something they cannot manage on their own."