UN experts urge Mnangagwa to ditch PVO Bill

United Nations (UN) experts have urged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to reject enacting the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill which they said would severely restrict civic space and the right to freedom of association in the country.

The experts, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. 

The bill provides for disproportionate and discretionary powers to the newly established Office of the Registrar of PVOs, without independence from the executive branch.

The Senate passed the bill on 1 February 2023, and it now awaits presidential assent for it to enacted into the country’s statutes.  

“The Registrar’s Office powers will include the ability to consider, grant or reject the registration of PVOs, with little to no judicial recourse against such decisions. The bill’s requirements would also immediately render existing organisations, operating lawfully as trusts and associations, illegal,” the experts said.

“The Office of the Registrar will also have extensive powers to intervene in and monitor the activities of PVOs.”

The experts expressed concern about the prohibition of any “political affiliation” and unjustified restrictions on PVOs’ ability to obtain funding, including foreign funds.

The vagueness or non-definition of many provisions in the bill also raises concerns that the proposed law will be misapplied, the UN officials said.

“While one of the stated aims of the Bill is to counter terrorism and money laundering in Zimbabwe, the restrictions contained therein will have a chilling effect on civil society organisations – particularly dissenting voices. By enacting this legislation, authorities would effectively be closing an already shrinking civic space,” the UN experts said.

“It is not too late for the President to change course,” the experts said, urging him to reject the PVO Amendment Bill in its current form.

“We stand ready to assist the Government to revise the Amendment Bill to ensure compliance with international human rights norms and standards,” the experts said.

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