Bangladesh’s government has introduced a new law titled “The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act 2014” (FDRA). The new Act is likely to severely affect freedom of expression and association among non-governmental organizations in Bangladesh, sources say.
The law will regulate foreign donations received by Bangladeshi NGOs and international organizations based in Bangladesh.
“The law can easily be misused to limit perfectly legitimate activities of NGOs and to attack critics,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, Human Rights Watch.
A lack of financial resources, economic sustainability, political instability, and a prevailing culture of impunity are among the challenging circumstances that have to be faced to operate NGOs in Bangladesh. But the NGO sector, like any other sector, has the obligation to work ethically and be accountable to donors and communities. However, the FDRA does not provide an autonomous framework that can monitor NGO activities without opening the door to unwarranted political interference from the government.
“The effect is that NGOs documenting human rights violations, including torture and enforced disappearances, can be closed arbitrarily by the authorities to use funds for doing so. Bangladesh has a history of abusing funding restrictions to curtail critical human rights work,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “The Law reinforces government control, including by appointing an administrator that will directly monitor NGOs that receive funding from abroad”, he added.
The NGO Affairs Bureau has frequently blocked funds for the respected human rights group Odhikar, for example, apparently in retaliation for criticizing the government.
Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh: Withdraw Restrictive Draft Law on NGOs.” July 6, 2014. http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/05/bangladesh-withdraw-restrictive-draft-law-ngos
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), “Bangladesh: New NGO Law aims at suppressing independent human rights work.” June 18, 2014. http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/bangladesh/2014/06/d22719/
Student Researcher: Rafique Bhuiyan (University of Regina)
Faculty Evaluator: Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)