The Bangladesh government wants to quash human rights activism. The cabinet has approved the “Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulations Bill, 2014”, which will likely become law soon. The Bill empowers bureaucrats to decide the fate of NGOs and voluntary activities. All individuals or collectives, from NGO’s to volunteer groups, receiving foreign funds for implementing projects will be under constant surveillance under this law.
The law will usher even more arbitrary executive actions in Bangladesh. The Bill, in its current form, empowers bureaucrats to grant registration to NGO’s on the basis of ‘satisfaction’ and suspend, cancel, or disband registration for alleged ‘irregularities’ in any project implemented by the NGO. There is no scope for challenging the government’s decision before any court.
On the other hand, the government will be able appoint administrators to sue persons linked to targeted entities. The Secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister will decide the ‘appeal’ of an aggrieved entity within 30 days. The decision of the Secretary will be final.
Section 19 takes the cake. “For the fulfilling the purpose of this law, the government, by Gazette Notification, can promulgate rules: provided that unless the rules are made, the government, when necessary, by general or special orders, in compliance with this law, can take any action and can execute any order under this law”, reads the section. It leaves no doubt about the NGO purge that awaits Bangladesh.
To achieve its ends, the Bill seeks to attribute all related power to the Director General (DG) of the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), a wing under the Office of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The entire set of executive administrative officers – from the Upazilla Nirbahi Officer (UNO), the chief executive officer at the sub-district level, to the regional Divisional Commissioner, will be given the authority to inspect, monitor, and evaluate the activities of NGOs. These executive officers will be empowered to visit NGO offices from time to time and conduct monthly coordination meetings for evaluating activities.
Big Brother is set to enter NGOAB, which has so far been ruled by corruption and politicisation, being as it is a part of the state apparatus. The Prime Minister’s schizophrenic desires, ‘save this one’ and ‘off with that head’, will be honoured by bureaucrats under this law. As it is, the government and the judiciary, which is just another tool in the hands of the government, have been constantly harassing local and international human rights defenders, organisations, and professionals. Now bureaucrats will join the party.
The patterns of recent harassment indicate that this law will be both used and abused against human rights organisations. Those reluctant to compromise with the regime will be crushed. Those with allegiance to the regime will be further trained to hit the right tune when more gross rights violations occur. The little knowledge creation in Bangladesh will be restricted further, as the Bill seeks to ban foreign funding even for autonomous bodies, such as universities.
The Bill has elicited a curious response in Bangladesh. Certain ‘elite’ members of civil society in Bangladesh are aggrieved about the inclusion of individuals under the control of the NGOAB in the Bill, as this will, apparently, hurt their lucrative consultancies. However, the repression the law will unleash across the nation appears to be beyond comprehension.
About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.
Asian Human Rights Commission