An independent United Nations expert today urged the Algerian authorities to make the most of the opportunity offered by legislative elections next week, to ensure that the new regulations for civil society organizations, adopted at the end of last year, adequately meet the requirements of international human rights law.
“The legislative elections, scheduled on Thursday, 10 May 2012, must address civil society’s legitimate demands and uphold freedom of association,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said in a news release.
“While the Arab Spring paved the way for a more inclusive participation of civil society, it is highly regrettable that Algeria has now taken a step backwards in relation to freedom of association by placing more rigorous limits on the scope of associations’ activities or their access to funding,” he added.
Special rapporteurs, or independent experts, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Mr. Kiai voiced particular concern about many provisions of Law 12-06 on associations adopted in December 2011, which imposes new controls and restrictions on the establishment of associations and their access to foreign funding.
Under the new law, the formation of an association requires prior approval by the authorities, who can now reject a registration application without referring the matter to a judge, as was previously the case.
“This is a significant setback with respect to Law 90-31 (1990) that was once in force,” Mr. Kiai said. “This is all the more alarming given that the law provides that those who act on behalf of an association which has not yet been registered, or has been suspended or dissolved, may face up to six months imprisonment and a heavy fine.”
The new law further provides that the object and goals of associations’ activities must not be contrary to ‘national values’ and that any ‘interference in the internal affairs of the country’ will lead to the group’s suspension or dissolution.
Echoing concerns expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in late April, Mr. Kiai stressed that “these provisions are particularly vague, and thus subject to abusive interpretations. It is a serious blow to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of association.”
The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the restrictions on access to foreign funding. Associations in Algeria will be banned from receiving funds from any diplomatic legations or foreign non-governmental organizations, ‘apart from duly established cooperative relations.’
“It is feared that such provisions may be used to hamper the work of associations, notably those working on human rights issues in Algeria,” Mr. Kiai said. “Access to funding should not be strictly restricted.”
The Special Rapporteur urged Algeria’s authorities to fully take on board the concerns raised by non-governmental organizations on this law, and called on the political parties running for the legislative elections to commit to revising the law on associations. He has also requested an official invitation to visit Algeria.