25 non-profit organizations suggest holding parliamentary hearings on improving NPO legislation
On July 16, the parliament and government of Belarus received a collective petition of 25 non-profit organizations with a proposal to hold parliamentary hearings on the issue of improving the legislation governing the activities of NPOs.
The petition was submitted after the House of Representatives passed in the first reading the draft law “On amendments and additions to certain laws on political parties and other public associations.” As noted in the petition, the bill contains some positive changes, but it does not address the most significant legal challenges faced by civil society organizations. In particular, it failed to enforce the initial proposal on regulating the status of local offices of international NGOs. Apart from that, it retained the severe requirements on the number of founders of a national public association as compared to local organizations.
“The practice of creating and functioning of NGOs in Belarus has a number of other multi-directional aspects, including a crying need for the improvement of the legislation. Among them are such important topics as the ban on activities of unregistered associations and criminal liability for such activities, lack of regulation of charity initiatives, equation of any anonymous donations with foreign donations resulting in a complex procedure of its registration and use, the need for legal regulation of voluntary work and other issues,” the petition reads.
As a means to improve the legal environment for civil society, the authors of the petition suggest holding parliamentary hearings ahead of the second reading of the bill to address the issue of “Improving the legal framework for the establishment and operation of public associations and other non-profit organizations.” This form of parliamentary work has not been used by the Belarusian parliament since November 2010, when a parliamentary hearing on the strategy of innovative development was held. The mechanism of parliamentary hearings can help take into account the views of a wide range of government and non-government experts and interest groups. This will be useful not only for the preparation of the said bill for a second reading, but also in discussing the interests of public associations concerning changes and amendments to other acts.
For their part, the NPOs that signed the petition declare a willingness to contribute to the development of an agenda of such hearings, including making presentations on specific aspects of the improvement of the legislation on public associations.
The importance of taking into account the views of society in the reform of the legislation on public associations is increased in light of recommendations received by the Republic of Belarus as a result of the UN Universal Periodic Review in 2010. It is the improvement of legislation and practice in this area that became the main the subject of recommendations received by Belarus within the framework of the UN procedure from Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Switzerland.
The collective petition on parliamentary hearings was initiated by the Center for Legal Transformation and the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs. The document was signed by 25 NGOs and other non-profit associations, including the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian Society of Disabled Persons, the Belarusian PEN Center, the “Viartanne" Charitable Foundation, the “Supolnasts” Center, the Skaryna Belarusian Language Society, the Leu Sapieha Foundation, the Belarusian Organization of Working Women, and other authoritative organizations of the country’s civil society.