Behind the global crackdown on NGOs, recognition of their power

Around the globe, from Malaysia to Morocco and from India to Ethiopia, governments have been cracking down on activists who are trying to hold them to account. The worldwide trend constitutes “the broadest backlash against civil society in a generation,” says Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, a Washington-based watchdog group.

Different governments use different methods: some simply close non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by decree; others starve them of funds, arrest their leaders, censor their reports, or send secret police to intimidate them.

Last year, according to a report by CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations, there were “serious threats to civic freedoms” in 96 countries. What is behind this blowback against the NGOs? Partly, it seems to be a reaction by authoritarian rulers–and some who claim to be democratic–to the increasingly vocal criticism that ordinary citizens direct at them.

“The resistance [to the NGOs] is more motivated because autocrats see the capacity” of their citizen-critics, adds Mr. Roth.

That resistance is hardening. In China, for example, though the NGO law’s text is still secret, it is expected to make the police responsible for managing foreign groups and to make registration more cumbersome.

Last year, the Indian government revoked the operating license of Greenpeace, the environmental watchdog, which had strongly criticized official mining and nuclear policies. The authorities have banned more than 9,000 Indian charities from receiving foreign funds since last April.

That is an approach taken most ferociously by the Russian government, which has forced NGOs receiving any money from abroad to register as “foreign agents,” a term suggesting traitorous intentions. If they take money from groups branded as “undesirable foreign organizations,” they could be prosecuted.

[Christian Science Monitor]

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