UN warns Mnangagwa against PVO bill; urges him to turn it down

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By Reason Razao | Senior Reporter

United Nations (UN) experts have warned President Emmerson Mnangagwa against signing the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Bill into law saying it will infringe the fundamentals of human rights.

By enacting this legislation, authorities would close an already shrinking civic space, according to the experts, which will likely be detrimental to the nation’s engagement and re-engagement efforts.

In a statement the international body expressed concern that the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill provides for disproportionate and discretionary powers to the newly established Office of the Registrar of PVOs, without independence from the executive branch.

The senate, last week, passed the bill and the legislation is currently before Mnangagwa, awaiting his assent to become a law.

Some of the concerns raised by the UN experts include the power by the government to cancel operational licenses of PVOs already operating.

According to the bill, some of the statutes will include the Registrar’s Office powers to consider, grant or reject the registration of PVOs, with little to no judicial recourse against such decisions.

“The bill’s requirements would also immediately render existing organisations, operating lawfully as trusts and associations, illegal.

“The Office of the Registrar will also have extensive powers to intervene in and monitor the activities of PVOs.”

UN experts raised additional concerns about the prohibition of any “political affiliation” and unjustified restrictions on PVOs’ ability to obtain funding, including foreign funds.

According to UN experts, the vagueness or non-definition of many provisions in the bill also raises concerns that the proposed law will be misapplied.

They warned that actions considered to be in breach of certain provisions in the Bill could lead to criminal prosecution, with penalties ranging from heavy fines to imprisonment.

“While one of the stated aims of the Bill is to counter terrorism and money laundering in Zimbabwe, the restrictions contained therein will have a chilling effect on civil society organisations – particularly dissenting voices. By enacting this legislation, authorities would effectively be closing an already shrinking civic space,” the UN experts said.

They urged Mnangagwa to turn down the bill.

“It is not too late for the President to change course,” the experts said, while urging Mnangagwa to reject the PVO Amendment Bill in its current form.

“We stand ready to assist the Government to revise the Amendment Bill to ensure compliance with international human rights norms and standards,” the experts said.

Mnangagwa, according to the UN experts, should consider calls by the Civil Society Organisations who have strongly opposed its statutes.

Human rights defenders, some politicians and many CSOs warned of impending attacks on democracy advocates owing to the PVO bill.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Chairperson, Peter Mutasa chastised sentiments by the country’s Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ziyambi Ziyambi who regarded PVO’s as snakes and enemies.

“Your Senators regard some PVOs as snakes and enemies that must be crushed. This is sad and retrogressive. We are back to the colonial rule book where organizations fighting for freedom and Justice are banned and their leaders and activists jailed. Zimbabwe needs freedom,” Mutasa said.

Independent Norton legislator, Temba Mliswa said the PVO bill was shrouded with obscurity.

“The PVO Bill suffers from an acute lack of clarity which makes it amenable to obtuse and biased interpretations. In our political environment we understand how the law has become a weapon in itself,” Mliswa said.

“A vague law is even worse as it can be abused more. This is not the first time this piece of legislation has come around. It was brought to Mugabe in the 2005s and he refused to assent to it.

“Mugabe felt the NGO Bill was ‘too obnoxious’ and would portray the government in bad light in the eyes of the international community,” added Mliswa.

The UN experts submitted an analysis of the bill to the Government in 2021, concluding that the Amendment was incompatible with international human rights obligations, in particular the right to freedom of association. Despite consultations with authorities and legislators, the current version of the PVO Bill does not address these concerns.