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Ukraine: Drop government proposals that restrict NGO activity

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses lawmakers during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, 10 July 2017
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses lawmakers during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, 10 July 2017

REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

This statement was originally published on article19.org on 13 July 2017.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Ukrainian Parliament to reject a proposed legislation tabled by President Petro Poroshenko, which would oblige civil society organisations and individuals working for them, to submit detailed financial reports on funds received from international donors. The bill would significantly curtail civil society's ability to operate in the country.

"Transparency of civil society is essential; however, these are disproportionate means for ensuring accountability", said Katie Morris, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19.

"NGOs already comply with tax regulations in order to operate and publish annual reports on their work. This law would undermine the independence of NGOs and could be used to restrict organisations that are critical of the government. Publishing the list of third parties could be a threat to those people, especially human rights defenders working in the field."

On 10 July 2017, President Poroshenko's administration introduced two bills to the parliament: Bill No. 6674 "On Amendments to the Tax Code of Ukraine for providing public information on financing of the activities of civil society organizations and the use of international technical assistance" and Bill No. 6675 "On amending certain legislative acts concerning public information openness for the society [on] the financing of the activities of civil society organizations and the use of international technical assistance".

Together, the bills would introduce a complex new form of financial reporting for civil society organisations and freelancers, working with them, imposing heavy sanctions for those failing to comply. NGOs with an annual budget exceeding 463 200 UAH (15 550 EUR) would be required to publicly disclose a list of the 10 highest paid employees, and a list of donors. They would also be required to disclose information on any third parties - for example consultants - if an individual was paid more than 77 200 UAH (2 600 EUR) throughout the year. Freelancers cooperating with NGOs, registered as individual entrepreneurs, would have to report on funds received directly from donors and to include a list of donors.

"The proposed legislation is part of a worrying trend across Europe and Central Asia, whereby authoritarian-minded politicians and leaders are looking to restrict civil society activity through unjustifiable legislation," Morris added. "The Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly stated their commitment to reform; however, this legislation would pose a real set back to Ukraine's further democratic development."

Since Russia's adoption of its restrictive 'foreign agents' law in 2012, similar legislation aimed at stigmatising civil society and placing unreasonable restrictions on their operations is being replicated across the region. In June 2017, the Hungarian parliament passed legislation obliging NGOs receiving foreign funds to register as "foreign-funded", and to apply this label to all their publications. In Poland, the parliament is currently working on a bill which would centralise all state funds available to civil society and introduce an opaque grants award procedure. An NGO law adopted in 2015 in Kazakhstan imposes additional, unnecessary reporting on civil society organisations, introducing heavy fines or possible suspension in the case of providing "incorrect" information.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Ukrainian authorities to repeal the bill on 'ensuring transparency of information on the financing of the activities of NGOs and use of international technical aid' which violates Ukraine's international commitments to respect the right of freedom of expression and association.

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