Amendments to Laws Governing Freedom of Association Spark Backlash
Proposed changes to the legal framework governing freedom of association sparked concern among civil society. The Law 06/L-043 on Freedom of Association in NGOs drafted by the Government of Kosovo with civil society’s support in December 2017, went to the Assembly of Kosovo for its first and second reading. While the law was adopted without any changes during the first reading in March 2018, the second reading saw a number of amendments to the bill. In fact, contrary to the advice of civil society, the Assembly proceeded to propose 36 amendments during the draft's second reading on 7th November 2018. While a great number of these amendments are technical in nature, some could curtail freedom of association if the law is adopted in its current form. As documented by the CIVICUS Monitor partner, the Kosovo Civil Society Foundation (KCSF) below are some of the amendments viewed as problematic:
- The grounds for distributing NGO assets after termination have been changed, enabling the distribution of NGO assets outside the non-governmental sector;
- The bill increases the minimum number of persons required to establish associations, from 3 to 7 and also increases the minimum number of persons required to establish foundations and research institutes, from 1 to 3;
- The removal of “Economic Development” and “Poverty Eradication” as public interest activities;
- The removal of the possibility of tax and fiscal benefits for NGOs with a Public Benefit Status and the removal of the possibility for NGOs to attain a Public Benefit Status after registration;
- Finally, the changed grounds for NGO termination from insolvent to inactive and the removal of possibility of changing the legal form of existing associations and foundations into the new category “Institute” during the transitional period.
Concerns by civil society have been echoed by multilateral institutions. On 25th January 2019, the a representative from the European Union (EU) met with a coalition of civil society organisations. In a statement, the EU commented on why the amendments could be detrimental to freedom of association in Kosovo. They said:
"The original draft law, reflected Venice Commission best practices and an inclusive drafting process involving civil society was changed in important ways. Particularly concerning is the possibility of non-profit assets being privatised when NGO's are dissolved, if amendments proposed by the President that are currently before the Assembly are not adopted. This would represent a fundamental breach of non-profit principles, and would open the door for corruption and misuse of donor funding.
The EU joined the chorus of over 300 civil society groups in Kosovo who have mobilised to reject the amendments.
We share concerns w/ #civilsociety over the amending process of the law on NGOs which was returned to Assembly by @HashimThaciRKS. Original draft reflected Venice Commission best practices & an inclusive drafting process involving CSOs was greatly changed https://t.co/tVZJVGDxAt pic.twitter.com/DwTBC6sZLs— EuropeanUnion Kosovo (@EUKosovo) January 25, 2019
On 28th October 2018, the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK), took part in a discussion on a draft law on the protection of classified documents organised by the Government of Kosovo. During the consultation, AJK raised concerns that article 71 paragraph 3 of the proposals were problematic. The draft provision stipulates a jail sentence of between five and twelve years for anyone publishing classified information. Thus, AJK claimed that the law, in its current form could violate freedom of expression by censoring and persecuting media whistleblowers. Similarly, the draft provision could be used to prevent information of vital public importance being published or shared with media sources. Deliberations on the draft continue.
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, journalists in Kosovo can also face threats while conducting their work. On the 8th of November 2018, journalist Edona Kutleshi was insulted by the chief of cabinet for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Baton Dushi. Mr. Dushi proceeded to call Ms. Kutleshi a “monster” and “unprofessional” over her reporting of the cabinet’s spending. Kutleshi is well known for her investigative journalism. Her work covering education issues in Kosovo was recently recognised, after she was awarded the annual award for the protection of children in December 2018 by the NGO Coalition for the Protection of Children (KOMF). The prize was awarded for her article detailing how 42 students from Penuhë village of Podujeva municipality make a daily 3 kilometre commute on a mountain road to go to school.
A number of articles supported by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network were awarded for covering human rights issues in Kosovo, focusing on the field children’s rights.https://t.co/w8J2rUsFlK— Prishtina Insight (@PrishtInsight) December 20, 2018
The end of 2018, saw a variety of protests in Kosovo on a variety of political and social issues. There are no reports of any protests being unwarrantedly disrupted or prevented. Below is an overview of protests that have taken place recently:
- Union and civil servants of the municipality of Vushtrri protested against a draft law limiting their salaries;
- In Pestova village protesters blocked a highway Prishtina-Mitrovice demanding improvements to local road paving;
- The Organisation for Quality Growth in Education (ORCA) protested in front of the Rectorat of University of Prishtina demanding the suspension of professor Milaim Sejdini from the Senate for suspected for plagiarism, forgery and sexual harassment;
- Self-determination Movement (LVV) organised a protest against the President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci, by opposing his idea of border correction through dialogue with Serbia;
- Firefighters protested in front of the government building demanding improved labour rights. More specifically, they demanded levelling the work risk with the Kosovo Police, compensation for night shifts, state holidays, religious holidays and overtime, improved working conditions, providing equipment and work tools;