Law on the Special Register and Publicity of the Work of Non-Profit Organizations of Republika Srpska
The Law on the Special Register and Publicity of the Work of Non-Profit Organizations [hereinafter: the AFI (Agents of Foreign Influence) Law], has been submitted to the National Assembly of Republika Srpska for the parliamentary procedure. The National Assembly will discuss the draft during its session on 26 September.
The AFI Law establishes a special Register of non-profit organizations registered in Republika Srpska which are fully or partially financed by other states, their bodies or their authorized representatives, international and foreign organizations, foreign citizens or registered non-governmental organizations that are financed from abroad. The NGOs that receive money from abroad will be registered in this Register as “agents of foreign influence”.
The AFI Law would endanger the work of NGOs, since the provisions of this law are often vague, unspecified and insufficiently explained.
Marking NGOs as “agents of foreign influence” will create a risk of stigmatization of certain NGOs, and affect their legitimate activities, impact their actual operation, and it could discredit their activities in the eyes of others, including their beneficiaries and the public.
Also, the stigma of being “agents of foreign influence” can lead to physical attacks on stigmatized NGOs, as an atmosphere of fear has already been created and is still in rising in Republika Srpska, where the authorities incite citizens against the NGO sector accusing it of undermining the state, the government and the ruling party in Republika Srpska, labelling NGO activists as “enemies of the people” and “foreign mercenaries.” Legal provisions referred to in the AFI Law would only reinforce this.
The scope of the activities referred to in the AFI Law that the NGOs must abstain from is inconsistent with the predictability requirement since it will be very difficult for the NGOs to assess which types of activities or advocacy are illegal, thereby also excessively restricting the right to freedom of expression with a chilling effect on open discussions on matters vital to the public interest. Thus, advocating for, e.g., the adoption or amendment of existing laws could easily be interpreted as an illegal activity according to the AFI Law.
The possibility of imposing the fines contemplated by the AFI Law raises concerns given the lack of predictability that infringe many of the provisions and requirements included in the AFI Law. The potential impact of such unpredictability will in itself curb the enjoyment of the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression and can cause smaller NGOs to close.
Also, inspections will have great powers and there are no safeguards to protect against abuse by the competent inspection authorities. As a result, there is a strong likelihood that fines will be demanded by certain structures from the ruling political party against the targeted NGOs, and imposed by inspections. The range of fines that could be imposed will be especially problematic for some NGOs, primarily if they have a small funding base, and may lead to their closure.
There is considerable uncertainty as to what can be legitimately required from NGOs. This would create an environment of excessive state monitoring which would hardly be conducive to the effective enjoyment of freedom of association.
Besides inspections, great powers are given to the Minister of Justice. In the event that a non-profit organization acts contrary to the provisions of the AFI Law, the Minister of Justice can submit a request to the court for a ban/prohibition of work of that NGO.
Reporting obligations contemplated by the AFI Law will impose a significant and excessive financial and organizational burden to the NGOs and their staff and undermine their capacity to engage in their core activities.
The NGOs would perhaps be able to re-register in another entity (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina), however there are concerns that future legal actions of the government of Republika Srpska could impede this.
Apart from the provisions referred to in the AFI Law, the rationale and explanation for the adoption of the AFI Law is very poorly written and does not at all contain an explanation of the necessity of the adoption of this Law, as there is already a Law on Associations and Foundations of Republika Srpska that regulates establishment, registration, internal organization, work and legality of the activities of NGOs.
Bearing in mind the above, the AFI Law represents a forceful attack on civil society in Republika Srpska, as well as on the realization of basic human rights and freedoms. After the criminalization of defamation earlier this year, it represents another detrimental step back in terms of society democratization and the path of the entire state of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the European Union.
Photo: Secret, [Author: Tumisu, from: Pixabay]