Venezuela’s National Assembly is now considering the “Law of Supervision, Regularization, Performance and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organizations”. The bill was passed on its first reading on 24 January, and if approved on its second reading would have devastating impact on the already severely limited civic space in the country.
Civil society provides citizens and the international community with reliable information about the government to hold it accountable for its actions, which is especially important in Venezuela after stringent restrictions on information and expression, capture of news media and political persecution of opposition. Civil society organisations are also crucial in raising up voices of the public, including from the marginalised communities that may otherwise go unnoticed.
While the full text has not been shared publicly, unofficial accounts have claimed the proposed bill would subject civil society organisations to even further restrictions than are already in place. It allegedly prohibits the “compromise of national sovereignty” or “political activities that threaten national stability and the institutions of the republic”, which could be used against organisations that collaborate and share information with international bodies or generate information about human rights violations. Purposefully vague language would allow significant discretion in the implementation of such provisions. For enforcement, the bill would go so far as to allow for permanent surveillance of the organisations and sets up severe penalties, from sizeable fines all the way to dissolution.
This proposed legislation comes at a time when civil society is more important than ever, as Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis doesn't improve, in part due to the high levels of corruption. On Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index released Tuesday 31 January, Venezuela earned just 14 points out of 100, and was the worst scoring country in all of the Americas.
Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International, said:
“Civil society is an essential component of a healthy, corruption-free society that allows equitable access to key rights from health care to education. This bill is a blatant attempt to control, restrict and even criminalise civil society organisations as the country faces an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Its approval would suppress the essential freedoms of expression and association – and further endanger human rights in a country with one of the highest rates of corruption in the world.”
Transparency International urgently calls on Venezuela’s National Assembly to reject this bill. Its passage would violate both the Venezuelan constitution and international human rights treaties signed by the Venezuelan state – including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 13 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Venezuelan leaders must stand up for the protection of civic space and human rights.