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Pakistan: Civil Society asks government to revisit its INGO registration policy

Education and peace activists hold signs on the streets of Peshawar, Pakistan, 24 February 2017
Education and peace activists hold signs on the streets of Peshawar, Pakistan, 24 February 2017

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This article was originally published on bytesforall.pk on 19 October 2018. 

Civil Society Organizations working in Pakistan have urged the government, particularly the Ministry of Interior, to revisit its decision of rejecting the registration applications of several International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), which have been asked to leave without any plausible justification.

In a statement released here on Tuesday, the national civil society organizations expressed serious concern over the reported rejection of the registration applications of several international organizations. “We believe that this decision would negatively impact country's development agenda and its image internationally,” a statement said.

Pakistan government has rejected the registration of over 18 INGOs last week and some of them have already received the so-called rejection letters dated 2nd October 2018. Similar action on the 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 organizations and regional networks stated that international NGOs support Pakistan development agenda and progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

International civil society support government departments and national and grassroots civil society organizations. As happens the world over, they work in partnership with the government and the local civil society organizations, supporting 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 the delivery of basic rights, such as human rights, labour rights, rights for women, minorities and the disabled.

Pakistan is faced with serious challenges that include 24 per cent population living below the poverty line, 22 million children out of school, over 19 million children in child labour, over 40 per cent of children up to the age of five as underweight due to malnutrition and an unemployment rate at 5.7 per cent. 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.

The move 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 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 of the law; and (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 organizations. The whole process of registration of INGOs is marred with serious flaws and the rejection decision is in denial of due process

“Rejecting registration applications on procedural matters is not an appropriate decision. If any of these organizations or individuals associated are involved in any unlawful activity or crime they should be prosecuted within the due process of law. Otherwise, this will be seen as the government's attack on civic freedoms.”

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

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.

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 urges the government to:

  • immediately withdraw the rejection letters issues to INGOs;
  • revisit the INGO Registration Policy Framework 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;
  • consider non- governmental sector as partner rather than a foe;
  • ensure that democratic and civic space is available to all without any discrimination.

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.


Endorsements

  1. Aurat Foundation
  2. Bytes for All
  3. Centre for Social Justice
  4. Democratic Commission for Human Development
  5. Encouraging the Human Development
  6. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
  7. Khwendo Kor
  8. Labour Education Foundation
  9. Legal Awareness and Advocacy Services
  10. National Commission for Justice and Peace
  11. Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum
  12. Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research
  13. Rights Now Pakistan
  14. Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Centre
  15. Sindh Agricultural Forestry Workers Coordinating Organization
  16. Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network
  17. Society for Alternative Media and Research
  18. South Asia Partnership Pakistan
  19. Sustainable Development Policy Institute
  20. Women in Struggle for Empowerment

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