Transparency International (TI) today joins the international call to defend the autonomy of Venezuela’s civil society organisations. The draft Law on International Cooperation, currently under discussion in the National Assembly, raises increasing concerns about the freedom of civil society and its ability to function independent of stifling government control.
The proposed law, a first draft of which has been approved by the National Assembly, could increase existing regulation of non-governmental local and international organisations. If it becomes law, civil society would be subject to considerable restrictions, with government allowed to interfere in their objectives, activities and funding sources.
While the Venezuelan government has the right to regulate institutions operating within the country, the text of the proposed bill is ambiguous, leaving ample room for further restrictions at the government’s discretion.
“Strong democracies are built on a solid foundation of freedom: freedom to speak out, to organise and to operate without government interference. This law’s excessive regulation would undermine those basic rights. The role of civil society, to help protect the interests and rights of society in general, would be hindered,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International.
An alarming aspect of the bill is the proposal for a Fund for International Cooperation and Assistance. It is unclear in the draft whether funds received by civil society would end up being managed by the government through this fund. The bill also requires all organisations to register with the government, and its scope would be defined directly by the presidency under a regulation outside of legislative procedure.
“This bill must be drafted with greater precision, to make it transparent and to avoid the uncertainty that civil society organisations would otherwise face,” said Mercedes de Freitas, Director of Transparencia Venezuela, TI’s national chapter. Corruption is the fundamental enemy of development and equality. To effectively combat it, organisations like TI that advocate for transparency, accountability and to prevent the embezzlement of public funds, must be fully autonomous. The same autonomy is needed for all organizations that make valuable contributions to Venezuelan society. “To restrict the role of civil society means to harm our most vulnerable citizens”, said de Freitas.
Laws must respect international standards
Any attempt to introduce greater control over non-governmental organisations in Venezuela must respect international standards. “The Venezuelan constitution and international instruments such as the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Venezuela has ratified, establish the right of association and citizen participation. If approved, this new law would clearly encroach upon these rights,” said de Freitas. “We urge the Venezuelan government to comply with these agreements and to maintain its position as a defender of the peoples’ freedom.”
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Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.
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Mercedes de Freitas