Draft Republika Srpska law restricting the right to freedom of association cannot be justified
02 October 2023
The United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina urges the authorities in Republika Srpska to withdraw the Draft Law on the Special Registry and Publicity of the Work of Non-Profit Organizations.
The draft Law discriminates against and stigmatizes non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving foreign funding and other forms of assistance by foreseeing a distinct legal framework. It envisages a special registry for such organizations, and additional administrative and financial reporting requirements, when compared to other NGOs, without providing justification for such a two-tier system. The draft law also includes provisions that are vaguely formulated and could significantly curtail the legitimate activities of such NGOs, including advocacy. They might also lead to the arbitrary closure of NGOs.
The right to freedom of association is a fundamental human right, guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22) to which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a party. This encompasses the right of associations to freely seek, receive and use human, material and financial resources from domestic, foreign and international sources, as stressed by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
In the General Principles and Guidelines on ensuring the right of civil society organizations to have access to resources, the Special Rapporteur highlights that “States must respect, protect and facilitate the right to seek, receive and use funding and other resources of all associations, without discrimination”. He recalls that “restrictions on associations’ right to seek, receive and use resources must meet requirements set out in Article 22(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, meaning that they must be provided by law and comply with the strict test of necessity and proportionality in a democratic society”. The Special Rapporteur specifies that “Receipt of foreign funding as such does not justify the imposition of additional restrictive measures, nor stigmatization measures such as requiring all associations receiving foreign funding to be labelled as “foreign agents,” nor targeting, whether through audit procedures, the imposition of penalties or otherwise”.
In July 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 50/17 on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, calling upon States to “establish and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society actors can operate freely, including by fostering and facilitating their access to financial resources, to ensure that national legislation, policies and practices are in compliance with their international human rights obligations and commitments, and to refrain from applying laws and engaging in practices that unduly interfere with their ability to do so including with regard to their ability to access funding.”
Many civil society organisations across Bosnia and Herzegovina, including in Republika Srpska perform a critical function in promoting and protecting human rights, in peacebuilding and in development, including supporting the most vulnerable people in society. The United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina calls upon the authorities in Republika Srpska entity and across Bosnia and Herzegovina to fully respect the rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, association and peaceful assembly, including online, and to ensure there are no obstructions to the critical work of civil society organisations.
The United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina uses this opportunity to reiterate that the criminalization of defamation is unjustified and unacceptable and should be repealed.
As Bosnia and Herzegovina starts its preparations for its 4th Universal Periodic Review, progress in complying with the recommendations from the 3rd cycle is critical. The 3rd cycle includes over 20 recommendations related to the rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, association and peaceful assembly.