A potentially positive step forward for NGO funding
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has shown his support for the creation of a new fund for NGOs. Interim director of the Lithuanian NGO - Human Rights Monitoring Institute - Tomas Kubilius told the CIVICUS Monitor that while the goal to establish a dedicated fund to support NGOs had been in the pipeline for more than a decade, no real progress had been made. Now, however, a new initiative is on the table which foresees amending current NGO legislation to allow for the new fund.
Kubilius told the CIVICUS Monitor that many details of this NGO funding scheme are still under discussion but that the initiative is promising and that the government is unlikely to use this funding scheme as an instrument to impose restrictions on the sector, support pro-government voices, or to try to influence public opinion through civil society. However, he noted that:
“as the initiative is still at the embryonic stage of development, NGOs remain cautious and try to establish monitoring & control mechanisms to keep everything transparent and resistant to future political turbulence".
The Human Rights Monitoring Institute has drawn attention to a potential threat to free expression in Lithuania. This concerning development relates to draft amendments to the Consumer Rights Protection Law, currently being considered by committees in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament).
The draft amendment would prohibit the sale of products that promote aggression against other states as well as actions that violate state sovereignty, distort historical facts about Lithuania or dishonor the history of Lithuania, its independence, territorial integrity or constitutional order. In all likelihood, these prohibitions would apply to books and other publications too.
The Human Rights Monitoring Institute believes that the draft law is too broadly formulated and would potentially curtail public and academic discussions on contemporary and historical armed conflicts, foreign policy, inter-state relations and other social and political issues. It could also potentially lead to unjustifiably limiting exchanges of ideas and information. According to the European Court of Human Rights, the search for historical truth is an integral part of freedom of expression, and in a democratic society it must be possible to freely discuss issues of historical importance to society. HRMI’s statement on the draft amendments can be read here.