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Human Rights Lawyers Slam New Zimbabwe Laws on NGOs - 2004-07-29


Zimbabwe's human rights lawyers say proposed new laws to control non-governmental organizations threaten the future of the donor community, including agencies funding social welfare projects.

Under the government's legislative proposal, all NGO's will have to be registered with a central office controlled by the welfare ministry or anyone appointed by President Robert Mugabe.

The government says that the proposed law is designed to protect public interest by ensuring that NGOs are properly administered and use donor and public funds to support their declared objectives.

Human rights lawyers say that the definition of NGO, as proposed in the draft law, includes charitable institutions, social programs, including those assisting people suffering from HIV/AIDS, legal aid and even animal welfare groups.

The draft laws prohibit any local NGO from receiving foreign funding or donation to carry out activities involving the promotion and protection of human rights and political governance. If the government decides the funding is illegal, it can either repatriate the funds or forfeit them to the government.

Lawyers for Human Rights, a human rights group that analyzed the legislation, says it is so broad it will cover all civil, economic, social and cultural institutions. They warn that, if the law is enacted, any NGO disliked by the government can be closed on the pretext that the organization has committed administrative illegalities.

The group says the proposed law is at odds with the United Nations and African Union's views on the role that non-governmental organizations should play.

Many NGO managers are meeting over two days in Harare this week to determine whether the new legislation will allow them to carry out their activities in Zimbabwe.

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