STATEMENT: Bill on ‘Transparency of Civil Society Organisations’ should be immediately withdrawn

Nothing to hide, but to protect: why the bill on the Transparency of Civil Society Organisations violates fundamental rights, including the right to association and respect for privacy, and should be immediately withdrawn.

Justice and Peace Netherlands, together with Mensen met een Missie, Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Human Security Collective, and Wo=Men Dutch Gender Platform, opposes the introduction of a new proposal legislation supposedly aimed at promoting the ‘transparency’ of civil society organisations. If ratified, the law will have major negative impacts on civil society in the Netherlands and their important work for peace, justice, human rights, art and culture, and climate action.

The bill, if put in place, will have a detrimental effect on the privacy and safety of donors, the funding and income of 223,000 charities, 129,000 associations and 1,600 Church denominations in the Netherlands working for good causes, and infringes on the right to association and the respect for privacy of data. Via an Internet Consultation platform, Justice and Peace together with other civil society organisations, has put forth a letter explaining the consequences of such a law.

“We believe that the proposed legislation is excessive. We also show that far from being convincingly substantiated that the proposed legislation will lead to the claimed goal, the legislation can instead be used in a broad and unfocused manner. Laws must support what we can be proud of in this country, namely our rule of law, instead of undermining it.” – Director of Justice and Peace Netherlands, Sebastiaan van der Zwaan

About the bill

The bill on the Transparency of Civil Society Organisations went into internet consultation on 21 December, 2018. The bill states that all organisations, associations and Church denominations must make donations of 15,000 euros and over public, including the details of donors. In the proposed legislation, it says the intention is to increase transparency and prevent ‘unwanted behaviour’ by making public money flows to political, social, and religious organisations.

According to Justice and Peace and co-signatories, while the need to ensure transparency and address societal problems relating to polarisation and segregation as mentioned in the proposal is important, there are serious flaws within the bill that will have negative impacts that gravely affect civil society if ratified.

Negative impact on civil society

From a human rights perspective, the impact that this legislation can have on all civil society organisations active in the Netherlands (the right of association) and the right of donors, whose name, place of residence and the contribution they make are made public (the right to respect for privacy), is detrimental and in violation of human rights. These rights are laid down in binding international human rights conventions signed and ratified by the Netherlands, including Articles 22 and 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Articles 11 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The release of donor information, including name and place of residence, is a further concern in the face of heavy-handed actions against civil society in Europe. Countries such as Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Hungary are pursuing a repressive policy regarding the financing of civil society organisations (see Amnesty report, Laws designed to silence). If enacted, a number of organisations and their donors are likely to face intimidation or attacks on their reputation, and Dutch organisations working in countries in which foreign funding is heavily restricted, as well as their donors and local partners, are at direct risk of being banned as ‘undesirable organisations’.

In the letter to Minister of Legal Protection, Sander Dekker, Justice and Peace and other organisations list ten reasons (elaborated on within the letter) why the bill should be withdrawn:

  1. This bill’s action and aim are out of proportion, it is ‘shooting with a cannon to kill a mosquito’;
  2. The social problem that gives rise to this bill is not defined clearly and is not resolved with it;
  3. The bill is not in compliance with binding international human rights treaties;
  4. The bill is problematic in light of EU legislation on data protection and the EU Fundamental Rights Charter;
  5. The bill does not take into account what is already provided for in other legislation and regulations;
  6. The bill is against the importance that the government itself attributes to the philanthropic sector;
  7. The bill is not enforceable and verifiable. Malefactors will think of other ways to reach their goal;
  8. The bill entails unacceptable extra regulatory burden for civil society organizations;
  9. The bill is detrimental to the privacy, safety and willingness of donors to contribute to the income and continuity of the many good work of civil society organizations;
  10. The bill is in conflict with the spirit and intentions of the AVG.

Together with other civil society organisations, Justice and Peace Netherlands call on the immediate withdrawal of the proposed legislation on the Transparency of Civil Society Organisations.

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