The Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU has published a report detailing the obstacles facing civil society organisations (CSOs) working on human rights throughout the EU.
CSOs have reported to the Agency that it has become more difficult for them to contribute to the promotion of the human rights across the EU, with many facing challenging regulatory environments that refuse to recognise unregistered CSOs or impose restrictions on non-EU nationals seeking to engage in human rights work. Some Member States have also imposed restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly, such as bans on assemblies at certain times or in certain places. This is often the result of measures taken to combat terrorism but has a negative impact on the freedom of peaceful assembly.
Transparency laws, which require entities involved in political campaigns to register as third party campaigners, were also highlighted. The report draws particular attention to the Irish Electoral Act 1997, as amended in 2001. The Act is described as “vague” and “overly broad” by the FRA. It imposes restrictions and reporting obligations on ‘third parties’ who receive €100 or more in donations for political purposes. This law was originally enacted to regulate political campaign funding, however, due to the broad nature of the wording of the Act, it can potentially cover the activities of CSOs, including human rights NGOs. The effect of regulatory bodies applying this law to CSOs is that they are prohibited from receiving donations from foreign sources, or from an individual that exceeds €2,500 in a year. The blanket ban of foreign funding, according to the Report, can have a particularly serious impact on CSOs in Ireland, where much of the funding for human rights NGOs come from trusts and foundations based outside of Ireland. This is particularly prescient as public funding of NGOs in Ireland fell by 41% in the period 2008–2014, with the total employment in CSOs falling by 31% by the end of 2015.
FRA opines that the EU and Member States should ensure that lobbying regulations and transparency laws comply with EU and international law and do not restrict or hinder human rights advocacy disproportionately.
Click here to read the FRA report.