Civil society concerned over proposed changes to NGO-related laws
Montenegrin civil society organisations (CSOs) have criticised proposed amendments to laws governing civil society. In late April, 198 CSOs started an initiative calling upon Prime Minister Duško Marković to withdraw the draft amendments to the Law on NGOs and Law on Games of Chance from parliamentary proceedings. Civil society views these changes as potentially damaging, as they grant the Ministry of Public Affairs broad powers to reject the formation of new CSOs. According to the constitution, only the Constitutional Court should have such powers.
If adopted, the amendments to the Law on NGOs and Law on Games of Chance would also drastically reduce state financial support to CSOs. Numerous CSOs are concerned that reduced funding could imperil the effectiveness of their programmes and ability to carry out their work. As Ivana Vujovic, Executive Director of the NGO Juventas that works to promote the sexual and reproductive health of young people, noted:
"The Fund supports activities that the state can not carry out, such as harm reduction programs, and certain programs that are intended for the LGBT population. The state can not go out there and do as our social workers, psychologists and peer educators, because it does not have sufficient expertise, and these are tasks that are done from the heart, not for pay".
Many CSOs have claimed that the proposals also endanger the steps already taken to strengthen Montenegrin civil society. A number of civil society groups have threatened to boycott future policy dialogues with the government until the draft amendments are rescinded.
The Network for Affirmation of the Non-Governmental Sector (MANS) recently called for an overhaul of access to information legislation in Montenegro. On 26th May 2017, MANS worked with five political party leaders to submit a proposal assessing the constitutionality of the Law on Access to Information of Public Interest. MANS stated that the process by which civil society organisations can request information are much longer than is necessary and requests for information can be arbitrarily denied.
In a press statement, MANS commented on the law, stating:
"Specifically, Article 51 of the Constitution guarantees that everyone has the right of access to information held by state bodies and organisations...Contrary to these provisions of the Constitution, amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information, introduced the possibility of restricting access to data that depends on the free will of the authorities whether a document marked secret".
Predlog za ocjenu ustavnosti odredbe Zakona o slobodnom pristupu informacijama https://t.co/h8h0odU8jR— NVO MANS (@NVOMANS) May 26, 2017
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, proposed cuts in child welfare payments sparked a wave of protests by Montenegrin mothers. After the Constitutional Court found that the proposals were indeed constitutional and could be a voted on in parliament, the protests intensified. On 18th and 19th of April 2017, after releasing that decision, special forces were deployed to quell the demonstrations when protesters broke through the police cordon and attempted to enter the Court.
On 29th June 2017, the Montenegrin parliament voted to abolish welfare payments for mothers with three or more children. A demonstration against the vote took place and was shared on the social media platform, Facebook.
In a separate development, the Ministry of Interior announced that it will amend the law on gatherings to prohibit protests on the boulevard in front of Parliament. Several CSOs reacted by calling on the Ministry of Interior to consult experts on international best practices for peaceful assembly before attempting to place permanent bans on locations for protest.
Montenegro's recent moves to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have also unearthed political tensions. During one protest on 28th April 2017, the opposition Democratic Front burned a NATO flag outside the building where parliamentarians were debating membership in the organisation. While the protest was peaceful, when protesters began to leave, a group of people threw stones at them. On 7th June 2017, Montenegro became a full-fledged NATO member.
A number of other peaceful protests have taken place recently in Montenegro as follows:
- Democratic Front members and their supporters protested in Cetinje and Podgorica against Montenegro’s accession to NATO;
- Labour union members and their supporters marched on Labour day;
- Mothers of three or more children continued protesting against losing their compensation from the state;
- Citizens protested against the building of a zip line that would pass above Jaz Beach;
- CSO LGBT Forum Progres and their supporters protested in front of the Russian Embassy in Podgorica in support of the LGBT community in Chechnya which has faced severe persecution.