Life is getting tougher for NGOs – 3 UN Special Rapporteurs criticize Greece

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Un Special R.900x0 Is. Our Visual Policy

Life is getting tougher for NGOs in Greece. This is not just our personal impression. About two weeks ago, three UN Special Rapporteurs have stated, in a letter addressed to the Greek government, that the recent legislative amendments do not seem compliant with Greece’s obligations under international law to protect the right to freedom and association.

The letter, dated 31 March 2021 is signed jointly by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

The three Special Rapporteurs critically assess the recently adopted Law 4986/2020 (the Law on NGOs) and Joint Ministerial Decision 10616/2020 (the JMD) which introduced “new onerous legal requirements and conditions for registration of non-profit organizations that work with migrants and refugees”.

The letter emphasis that those legislative amendments “might severely hamper the work of independent NGOs, especially smaller organizations that do not have the financial means to comply with all the reporting requirements”.

The Rapporteurs “are concerned that the Law on NGOs and JMD may have a significant and detrimental impact on the operations of all civil society organizations working with migrants and refugees in Greece, including those that provide essential services to them.” This is particularly worrying because the basic needs of asylum seekers are to a large extent provided by NGOs.

Based on a detailed assessment of the legislative amendments and their practical consequences, the letter states that “the Law on NGOs and JMD unnecessarily and disproportionally restrict the right to freedom of association, as provided by Article 22 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”

The Rapporteurs express their particular “concern(…) about (…) stringent and sometimes contradictory rules on registrations of NGOs.” Referring to report A/HRC/20/27 of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the letter stresses that the right to freedom of association equally protects unregistered associations who should be free to carry out any activity, that registration procedures should be “simple, non-onerous or even free of charge” and that it shall “not request all associations that were previously registered to re-register.” This argument is supported by UN Human Rights Council Resolution 22/6 which “calls upon States to ensure that procedures governing the registration of civil society organizations are transparent, accessible, non-discriminatory, expeditious and inexpensive, allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration and are in conformity with international human rights law.”

The three UN Special Rapporteurs conclude that “the Law on NGOs and the JMD do not therefore seem compliant with the above-mentioned protections of the right to freedom of association.”

Against this background, the Rapporteurs urge the Greek government “to undertake a review of Law on the NGOs and the JMD to ensure that they are in accordance with Greece’s international human rights obligations.” (all emphasis added) Whether and how the Greek government will react remains to be seen.

In the meanwhile: We defend the right to freedom of expression and assembly. This right is of particular importance where NGOs work to ensure that basic human rights of asylum seekers are respected. Where there are no more NGOs, there is no one to stand up for the rights of refugees.