Draft law threatens freedom of association in Republic of the Congo
A draft law being considered by parliament as of August 2016 threatens to introduce a wave of new limitations on the freedom of association in the Republic of the Congo. A group of four prominent civil society organisations has called for the draft law to be withdrawn.
The draft law concerning associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has been introduced without wide consultation with civil society. It will ban civil society organisations from working on issues that are deemed to harm 'institutional stability'. The effect of this will be to make any criticism of government policies or actions difficult, limiting the scope of civil society work, particularly for organisations that work on issues of corruption, democracy, human rights and good governance. The bill contains harsh criminal penalties for failure to comply with the law.
There is also concern about the proposed introduction of a system of approval procedures for the work of civil society organisations: this system would give scope for the arbitrary treatment of organisations and prohibition of activities, and confer excessive powers on state officials. The introduction of multiple legal hurdles that this would entail would also increase the complexity and cost of the operations of civil society organisations, causing particular difficulties for smaller organisations. The law would, in addition, ban faith-based civil society organisations from participating in public debate, as part of broad and ill-defined measures against taking part in political activity.
The four civil society organisations have highlighted that the draft law is incompatible with the Republic of the Congo's membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which implies the unhindered involvement of civil society and citizens in public debates about the governance of natural resources. In response, the four groups are calling for civil society to be involved fully in the development of a new law, which should be consistent with international standards.
The draft law comes at a time when the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression are deteriorating in the Republic of the Congo. Several cases of arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and summary executions of citizens have been reported by human rights organisations. In June 2016, the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights and Act Together for Human Rights recorded two separate instances of the detention and death in custody of Congolese citizens.
Civic Space Developments
CountryRepublic of the Congo