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October 10, 2018

Civil society urges government to revisit its #INGO registration policy framework

Civil society urges government to revisit its INGO registration policy framework

KARACHI: Civil society organisations have urged the government, particularly the interior ministry, to revisit its decision of rejecting the registration applications of several International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), which have been allegedly asked to leave without any plausible justification.

A joint statement bearing signatures of different non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations was released on Tuesday. In the statement, the national civil society organisations expressed serious concern over the reported rejection of the registration applications of several international organizations. “We believe that this decision would negatively impact Pakistan’s international image and development agenda,” statement said.

As per details, the government rejected the registration of over 18 INGOs last week and some of them have already received the so-called rejection letters. Similar action on a second batch of 29 INGOs is said to be pending.

Members of the civil society, representing the Pakistan Civil Society Forum, Pakistan Human Rights Defenders Network and other national as well as regional networks stated that international NGOs support Pakistan development agenda and progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The statement pointed out that international civil society supports government departments and grassroots civil society organisations. “INGOs work in partnership with the government and the local civil society organisations. They support service delivery, advocacy, research and capacity building initiatives on education, healthcare, humanitarian work, water, legal reforms and on rule of law, among others. They also work on rights and offer support and capacity to strengthen delivery of basic rights such as human rights, labour rights, rights for women, minorities and the disabled,” read the issued statement.

Pakistan is faced with serious challenges, read the statement. “24 percent population of Pakistan living below the poverty line, 22 million children are out of school, over 19 million children are engaged in child labour, over 40 percent of children up to the age of five are underweight due to malnutrition and the country has an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent,” said the statement. “In 2017, alone, the INGO sector as a whole reached 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. Ordering these organisations to arbitrarily wrap up also puts a brake to their work for the marginalized,” it argued.

According to the joint statement, the government’s decision to reject registration applications of INGOs also violates the framework of the Right to Freedom of Association, which is enshrined in Article 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan and guaranteed by major international conventions on rights such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20).
The organisations stated that the government is required to demonstrate that its restrictions on freedom of association meet the following requirements: (i) prescribed by law, backed by the parliament; (ii) the law is sufficiently precise for an individual or NGO to foresee a violation to the law (iii) the state must demonstrate the necessity of placing such a restriction.

The organizations pointed out that the recent actions fulfill none of these criteria. “In fact, the Government has provided no reason whatsoever for turning down the registration application of these organisations. The whole process of registration of INGOs is marred with serious flaws and the rejection decision is in denial of due process,” read the statement.

“Rejecting registration applications on procedural matters is not an appropriate decision. If any of these organisations or individuals associated are involved in any unlawful activity or crime they should be prosecuted within the due process of law,” it mentioned further. “Otherwise, this will be seen as government’s attack on civic freedoms. Pakistan is a functional democracy and cannot afford such actions due to flawed and non-consultative decisions,” read the statement.

The organisations maintained that the recent decision would also negatively impact Pakistan’s performance on achieving targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “SGD framework requires national governments to take civil society organizations along,” added the statement.

According to the issued statement, Pakistan government already faces tough challenges at international forums, and the latest move will add to the international isolation for the country on rights. Moreover, it is a major move back on the path of implementing GSP+ conventions which are positively linked with growth in international trade and investment.

Civil society stated that this decision may also negatively impact many serious international processes the country is undergoing including the FATF. “The recommendation 8 clearly asks for meaningful cooperation and engagement with civil society.”

The civil society urged the government to immediately withdraw the rejection letters issued to INGOs and revisit the INGO Registration Policy Frame work 2015 through a consultative process. “Accountability and transparency mechanisms should come through a transparent and consultative process and must meet the standard of due process while considering non- governmental sector a partner rather than a foe,” it stated.

The statement said that Pakistani civil society hopes that the government would listen to their appeal and would start a consultative process to resolve the issues around the working of the non-governmental sector.

Signatories to the statement included Aurat Foundation, Bytes for All, Centre for Social Justice, Democratic Commission for Human Development, Encouraging the Human Development, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Khwendo Kor, Labour Education Foundation, Legal Awareness and Advocacy Services, National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Rights Now Pakistan, Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre, Sindh Agricultural Forestry Workers Coordinating Organization, Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network, Society for Alternative Media and Research, South Asia Partnership Pakistan, Sustainable Development Policy Institute and Women in Struggle for Empowerment.

Published in Daily Times, October 10th 2018.



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