Amnesty International is leading global calls for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to refrain from signing the Private Voluntary Organisations Act Amendment Bill into law because of dire consequences posed by the proposed legislation.
The Senate last week passed the bill that seeks to restrict operations of non-governmental organisations and now it awaits Mnangagwa’s signature before it becomes law.
Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s director for east and southern Africa, warned of dire consequences if the bill becomes law.
“President Mnangagwa must use his leadership position to reject this bill as it is repressive. The president must ensure that this bill is never signed into law,” Chagutah said.
“Any future law must fully reflect international human rights standards and reaffirm the country’s human rights obligations towards the promotion and protection of the human rights of everyone including those who work to defend the rights of other people.
“NGOs must be allowed to operate freely and to do their work without any reprisals.”
He said the proposed law threatened the existence of organisations fighting for the protection of human rights.
“The PVO Amendment Bill in its current form threatens civic society organizations working on human rights in Zimbabwe,” Chagutah added.
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“The bill, if it becomes law, will have dire consequences, including restricting civic space and access to humanitarian support services in Zimbabwe as it will immediately render all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) not registered as PVOs, illegal.
“This bill, if passed by the president, could be used to deny registration of human rights organisations due to the work that they do, including defending rights such as freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“The bill would also exacerbate the growing crackdown on civil society organizations, increase human rights violations and make it more difficult for the people to hold the government to account.
“There is a risk that employees and board members of NGOs could be arrested and subjected to punitive measures, including imprisonment, simply for doing their work.”
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika said NGOs can only wait to see Mnangagwa’s next action after Senate passed the bill.
“There is nothing we can do at this stage as (civil society organisations) CSOs, but to wait for the president to sign.
“He is likely going to sign it because he has always expressed the intention to sign it,” Kika said.
“So essentially it places CSOs in the hands of the president and unfortunately this is a law that will have detrimental effects on democracy and the welfare of people.
“As CSOs we then decided to act once he signs it.
“They know they are putting political expediency over our democracy, over citizens’ interests and the welfare of the people. It is a shameful development, and it will come back to bite us all as a people.”
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Blessing Vava said amendments to the PVO Act reveal a determination by the state to entrench authoritarian rule through draconian legislation.
“This is simply meant to further close down the democratic and civic space in Zimbabwe and will serve as an avenue for the ruling party to evade accountability or checks and balances,” Vava said.
“The enactment of the PVO Bill will put a huge dent on Zimbabwe’s human rights record at a time the government is saying they are making efforts towards re-engaging the international community.”
Vava said there was a need to be alive to the humanitarian and economic impacts of these amendments given the crucial role that CSOs and NGOs have played in assisting Zimbabwe’s economy.
“We cannot have legislation meant to serve the interests of power-hungry politicians at the expense of the general citizenry,” he added.
Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko said the proposed law will culminate in the closure of the democratic space.
“It comes as no surprise that the bill sailed through Senate,” Mukoko said.
“What we will begin to witness soon is the shrinking of democratic space for CSOs.”