Bangladesh’s government has introduced a new law titled “The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act 2014” (FDRA). The new Act is likely to tighten the restriction on NGOs severely, affecting freedom of association and expression of NGOs operating in Bangladesh, sources say.
The law aims to regulate foreign donations received by Bangladeshi NGOs and international organizations based in Bangladesh.
“The law can easily be misused to limit perfectly legitimate activities of NGOs and to attack critics,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, Human Rights Watch. “Corruption is flourishing in the government and the private sector, so it is more than odd that the government is spending its time passing tough laws that target NGOs.”
A lack of financial resources, economic sustainability, political instability, and a prevailing culture of impunity are among the challenging circumstances that have to be faced to operate NGOs in Bangladesh.
But the non-governmental sector, like any other sector, has the obligation to work ethically and with integrity and should be accountable to the communities and donors they work for, and that the received funds are used for the purposes intended. However, the FDRA does not provide an autonomous framework that can monitor the activities of NGOs without unwarranted political interference from the government while promoting and protecting the freedom of expression and association of either NGOs or individuals.
“The effect is that NGOs documenting human rights violations, including torture and enforced disappearances, can be closed arbitrarily by the authorities to use funds for doing so. Bangladesh has a history of abusing funding restrictions to curtail critical human rights work.” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “The Law reinforces government control, including by appointing an administrator that will directly monitor NGOs that receive funding from abroad”, he added.
The NGO Affairs Bureau has previously blocked funds to groups and opened investigations on political grounds. It has frequently blocked funds for the respected human rights group Odhikar, for example, apparently in retaliation for criticizing the government.
This law contravenes international human rights law by making registration mandatory for all NGOs receiving foreign funds and imposes serious curbs on the work of civil society organisations.
Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Withdraw Restrictive Draft Law on NGOs.” July 6, 2014.
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), “Bangladesh: New NGO Law aims at suppressing independent human rights work.” June 18, 2014. http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/bangladesh/2014/06/d22719/
Student researcher: Rafique Bhuiyan (University of Regina)
Faculty advisor: Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)