UN experts urge Israeli lawmakers to halt proposed legislation targeting civil society groups
24 June 2016 – Three United Nations human rights experts today urged Israeli lawmakers not to approve the bill that would, in effect, target non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are critical of Government policy.
The experts expressed grave concern that the legislation would chill the speech of human rights NGOs by subjecting them to harsh penalties for violations and delegitimizing them publicly.
The stated aim of the legislation is to increase transparency by requiring NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign government entities to disclose certain information, such as the names of their donors in all publications intended for or made available to the public, or in any written appeal to a public employee or public representative.
"The promotion of transparency is indeed desirable and legitimate," said David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. "However, the pending legislation has the evident intent of targeting human rights and civil rights organizations, which receive a majority of their funding from foreign government entities, while leaving unaffected other organizations that nonetheless receive a substantial amount of foreign funding from individuals."
The proposed legislation is again before the Knesset, after having passed the first reading earlier this year. The current version of the legislations appears to have removed some requirements, such as the need for representatives of qualifying NGOs to wear a special identification tag in the Knesset and in every other government building.
"By differentiating between donations from foreign political bodies and donations from other sources, the proposed legislation will likely lead some NGOs to be perceived as agents of foreign entities, regardless of how autonomously they operate," warned Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
"The discriminatory impact of new requirements on NGOs would result in public shaming of certain organizations, eroding the democratic character of Israeli civil society," added Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights defenders.
The experts urged members of the Knesset to withdraw the proposed legislation and uphold its international obligation to safeguard the broad and expansive right to freedom of expression guaranteed to everyone under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs 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 UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
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