Pakistan urged to withdraw repressive NGO rules

New York, Oct 7 (IANS) The Pakistan government should immediately withdraw new regulations that will severely restrict operations by international NGOs (INGOs) in the country, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The “Policy for Regulation of INGOs in Pakistan,” announced on October 1, will worsen the already deteriorating working climate for international humanitarian and human rights groups, it said.

The new regulations require all INGOs to register and obtain prior permission from the interior ministry to carry out any activities in the country, and restrict their operations to specific issues and geographical areas.

The ministry is broadly empowered to cancel registrations on grounds of “involvement in any activity inconsistent with Pakistan’s national interests, or contrary to government policy” – terms that have vague meanings and can be used for political reasons to target critical groups or individuals, the US-based rights body said.

Previously organizations registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), which focused on financial oversight of INGOs.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan told the media: “NGOs working against Pakistan’s strategic, security, economic or other interests will have their registration cancelled.”

“Pakistan’s new rules allow the authorities to kick out international groups for anything they might do or say,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The regulations are an invitation to arbitrary use of power and will put at risk any international organization whose work exposes government failures.”

Pakistan’s government has the responsibility to prevent fraud, financial malfeasance, and other illegal activities by INGOs but Pakistan has laws and regulations that address such concerns, Human Rights Watch said.

The new regulations will severely restrict rights to freedom of association and expression for Pakistanis working for INGOS, as well as for foreign nationals, it said.

International groups make significant contributions to Pakistan in safeguarding and promoting health, nutrition, education, sanitation, food security, and the rule of law and human rights, Human Rights Watch said.

International humanitarian and development organizations working in Pakistan employ thousands of Pakistanis, contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the national economy, and, working alongside their local partners, reach an estimated 20 million Pakistanis with assistance and services every year, it said.

Under the new regulations, all international organizations are required to obtain permission in advance from a government “INGO committee” chaired by the secretary of the ministry of interior before carrying out any activity in Pakistan.

The committee will be able to rescind that permission at any time, for vaguely defined reasons.

The new rules will also be a colossal bureaucratic burden: all INGOs already registered in Pakistan will have to reapply for registration.

The regulations provide for a right of appeal only on decisions by the INGO committee to cancel registration. The appeals process, to a proposed Special Ministerial Committee, will be final, denying recourse through an independent judicial process.

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