Intimidation Law

Dejan Lučka | O društvenim i pravnim temama

Intimidation Law

Intimidation Law

The Government of Republika Srpska approved in a telephone session and secretly forwarded to the National Assembly the Final Draft Law on Special Register and Publicity of Work of Non-Profit Organizations. This Final Draft is referred to in public as the “Foreign Agents Law”, “NGO Law”, “Law on Agents of Foreign Influence”, “Law on Foreign Paid Agents”, etc.

Are There Any Changes to the Final Draft in Relation to the First Draft?

It is quite obvious that the Final Draft was written in accordance with the previously presented First Draft. Certain changes do exist, however, they do not represent a substantial difference, considering the clear orientation of the legislators towards further restricting rights and intimidating activists, associations and foundations in Republika Srpska.

For example, the Final Draft now more clearly defines which organizations will be labelled as “agents of foreign influence”. Thus, an agent of foreign influence will be any non-profit organization that is financially or otherwise supported by foreign entities, and which engages in political actions or political activities, as well as other activities related to political organization and action aimed at undermining democracy, disrupting the integrity of Republika Srpska, violating the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Republika Srpska and inciting national, racial or religious hatred and intolerance.

Therefore, the Final Draft labels certain organizations and stigmatizes them as “agents of foreign influence”. If the law is adopted by the National Assembly, legal targeting will directly affect the work of many associations and foundations, discredit the activities they carry out in the eyes of others, and may easily lead to physical attacks on members of stigmatized associations and their premises, as an atmosphere of fear has already been created and is still growing in Republika Srpska. We have already seen incitement of citizens against the civil sector with accusations that it undermines the state, authorities and ruling parties in Republika Srpska, by calling activists “traitors”, “enemies of the Serbian people” and “foreign mercenaries”.

The provisions contained in the Final Draft would only reinforce this. Passing the proposed law is not only unnecessary, but also very maliciously aimed against certain organizations. The justification for adoption of the law is, as per usual, insufficiently detailed and inadequately formulated. It does not contain a proper explanation as to why the adoption of this law is necessary, considering the existing legislation that already covers the areas addressed in it, nor does it use, for example, relevant research in explaining the need for the adoption of the law. This has somehow become standard in laws that restrict basic freedoms and rights.

A particular problem with the Final Draft are the new requirements for reporting and delivery of various documents to multiple parties, which would be the obligation of non-profit organizations, such as submitting reports to the Ministry of Justice within 15 days of receiving financial resources or other types of assistance from a foreign entity or submitting semi-annual and annual financial reports, probably in some special form, to the same Ministry, even though financial reports are already submitted to the Agency for intermediary, IT and financial services. The Final Draft also envisages the establishment of a new register for non-profit organizations, although registers already exist, such as the register kept by the basic court at the seat of the district court where the association or foundation has its headquarters, and the register kept by the Ministry of Administration and Local Self-Government.

All this is, in fact, just duplicating administrative work, unnecessary bureaucratization procedures and imposing new obligations for which there is no basis either in the standards related to the practice of freedom of association or in practice, and represents an unnecessary burden on the work of associations and foundations.

The Sword of Damocles over Organizations!

The Final Draft defines the political action and political activity of non-profit organizations and clearly states that they are not allowed to engage in political action or political activity.

The political action of non-profit organizations entails participation in the pre-election campaign of political parties and candidates, fundraising for political parties and candidates, financing candidates, or political parties and conducting political activity for the purpose of influencing public opinion in order to achieve political goals.

While the first part of this provision refers to actions that cannot be carried out by associations and foundations according to the existing Law on Associations and Foundations, the second part related to “political activities” is rather controversial.

Namely, political activity shall mean any activity towards bodies, institutions or elected representatives of Republika Srpska or representatives of Republika Srpska in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina in terms of formulating policy, political or public interest of Republika Srpska. 

Practically, almost any advocacy activity of non-profit organizations that the competent authorities wish to characterize as such can be framed in such a definition. These activities can range from initiatives for changes in laws, criticism of political decisions, to research into political processes. This could potentially include, as stated by the Venice Commission and ODIHR/OSCE, any form of advocacy through activities such as participation in peaceful assemblies, making statements to the media, participation in radio or television programs, publications, activities related to the promotion and the protection of human rights, the rule of law, judicial reform, public consultations in the processes of adopting policies or laws, etc.

However, it should be noted that the Final Draft stipulates that political action is not considered as action in the fields of science, culture, social and health care, sports, consumer protection, protection of the rights of national minorities and persons with disabilities, environmental protection, fight against corruption, philanthropy, volunteering and informing, as well as action within the framework of the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Republika Srpska. It is interesting that despite the remarks made by the Venice Commission and the ODIHR/OSCE, human rights or the rule of law, which are the focus of a significant number of active civil society organizations, are not included in these exceptions. Instead, the general term “action within the framework of the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Republika of Srpska” was given. In practice, such definition can be interpreted in various ways, or as “one pleases”. After all, the entire text of the Final Draft is largely follows this line of thinking. 

Disappearance of Human Rights

It is crystal clear that the Final Draft directly affects freedom of expression and association, as well as democratic forms of improving regulations and practice. Unfortunately, it was designed in a way that much in it is not completely clear, it contains rubber norms that can be stretched as one pleases, and only with its application would we be able to see how things would be interpreted.

The lack of transparency in the process of drafting the Final Draft and its submission to the National Assembly only further deepens the unfavourable impression of its legitimacy, as the Final Draft was sent to the National Assembly just before the deadline for submission, without the public even being aware that the Final Draft had been drafted, discussed and sent to the Assembly.

The objections raised to the previous First Draft by relevant international and national bodies, such as the European Union, United Nations Special Rappoteurs, the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Venice Commission and ODIHR/OSCE, as well as numerous local and international civil society organizations, were not taken into account in the text of the Final Draft. The demands of human rights associations from the public debate regarding the First Draft remained unfulfilled. Criticisms by activists, as well as the media, have not borne fruit.

Therefore, the provisions of the Final Draft remain unclear, imprecise and inadequately explained in relation to the First Draft, and also contradict the existing laws, the Constitutuion of Republika Srpske, the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, international instruments for the protection of human rights such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, but also the practice of international bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights. They are even contrary to the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly, the body that should decide on the adoption of this law. In essence, this law is intended as a whip for the authorities to discipline those who are not to their liking or do not agree with them.

Photo: Handcuff, [Author: Jörg Husemann, from: Pixabay]