6 October 2014 - Civil society organisations are calling on South Sudanese authorities to stop the adoption of a restrictive NGO bill amidst fears that it could severely hinder civil society activities and undermine efforts to address the continuing humanitarian crisis in the country.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the South Sudan based Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) have urged the National Legislative Assembly of South Sudan to stop the bill that is currently under parliamentary consideration.
Of critical concern are vague provisions of the proposed 2013 NGO Bill which gives the government excessive discretionary powers to control the operations of civil society groups. According to the bill, all NGOs in the country must register with the government and align their work with the government’s national development plan. Moreover, organisations are forced to adhere to ill-defined requirements to “respect (for) the sovereignty of the Republic of South Sudan, its institution and laws.”
“Such requirements leave scope for broad interpretation, fail to recognize the diverse priorities and functions of civil society and can severely limit the permissible activities of civil society groups to those approved by the government. This will severely undermine the independence of the civil society sector,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS.
The NGO Bill, which is reportedly in its fourth and final parliamentary reading, also places arbitrary prohibitions on the number of foreign employees of NGOs operating in South Sudan. Under the bill, South Sudanese nationals must comprise at least 80% of an organisation’s staff. Such provisions would needlessly hamper the activities of humanitarian and other civil society groups which continue to act as an essential bulwark against the possibility of food shortages and further political instability in the country.
“South Sudan is facing a crisis and civil society is a key part of the solution that should be embraced and encouraged - not shunned,” said Tiwana.
Civil society groups and their employees found in violation of the bill can also be subjected to excessive penalties. Under the bill, the NGO Board, the government agency mandated to oversee implementation and adherence of the proposed law, is given broad and interpretative powers to prevent civil society groups from carrying out their work. Principally, an organisation’s registration can be revoked for contravening any provision of the proposed law or for failing to undertake their prescribed activities for one year. Moreover, the NGO Board can levy hefty fines up to 10,000 SSP (approximately 2000 USD) for organisations and 5000 SSP (approximately 1000 USD) for employees of an NGO for violating the bill’s provisions. The decisions of the NGO Board are worryingly not subject to judicial review and serious concerns persist that the provisions will be invoked to silence organisations critical of the government.
CIVICUS and CEPO urge South Sudanese authorities to take all necessary measures to create an enabling environment for civil society including through ensuring that all laws and policies governing the operations of civil society are in accordance with the country’s constitutional and international obligations to protect the right to freedom of association.