111 civil society organizations based in over 45 countries have endorsed a letter calling on the Zambian President to refrain from implementing the restrictive 2009 NGO Act.
“Hundreds of Zambian civil society groups are taking a principled stand at the risk of criminal sanctions by refusing to abide by the official directive to register under this unjust law by the November 11 deadline,” said Lewis Mwape, Executive Secretary of the Zambia Council for Social Development. “Submission to this law will severely mar the independence of NGOs in Zambia,” said Mwape.
In its 2011 Party Manifesto, the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) clearly committed to reviewing the NGO Act. However, despite these pledges and broad national and international opposition to the law, President Sata, who heads Zambia’s Patriotic Front Government, wants to subject NGOs to the law whose implementation will set a regressive precedent in the region and beyond.
Principally, there are three major problems with the NGO Act:
- Arbitrary registration procedures that give broad discretion to government officials to deny registration to NGOs;
- Provisions that allow excessive executive interference into NGO activities to curb the independence of the sector; and
- The imposition of a forced self-regulatory framework on NGOs in breach of international best practices.
“If implemented in its current form, the NGO Act will drastically impair the activities of international and national NGOs who are contributing to Zambia’s development in myriad ways,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS. “By pushing through with the implementation of the law, Zambia is breaching its commitment to the international community to create an enabling environment for civil society.”
The signatories to the letter are urging Zambia’s Government to withdraw its order requiring NGOs to re-register under the law and proactively engage with civil society to draft an alternative law that upholds constitutional and international standards on freedom of association.
CIVICUS was founded in 1993 and is dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world, especially in areas where participatory democracy and citizens’ freedom of association are challenged.