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Bill on “Transparency of Civil Society Organisations” Should Be Immediately Withdrawn

14 March 2019

Nothing to hide, but to protect: why the bill on the Transparency of Civil Society Organisations violates fundamental rights, including the right to association and respect for privacy, and should be immediately withdrawn.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee, together with Justice and Peace Netherlands, Mensen met een Missie, Human Security Collective, and Wo=Men Dutch Gender Platform, oppose the introduction of a new proposal legislation supposedly aimed at promoting the “transparency” of civil society organisations. If ratified, the law will have major negative impacts on civil society in the Netherlands and their important work in peace, justice, human rights, art and culture, and climate action.

The bill, if put in place, will have a detrimental effect on the privacy and safety of donors, the funding and income of 223,000 charities, 129,000 associations and 1,600 Church denominations in the Netherlands working for good causes, and infringes on the right to association and the respect for privacy of data. Via an Internet Consultation platform, the signatories together with other civil society organisations have put forth a letter explaining the consequences of such a law.

About the bill

The bill on the Transparency of Civil Society Organisations went into internet consultation on 21 December, 2018. The bill states that all organisations, associations and Church denominations must make donations of €15,000 or higher public; this includes the details of donors. In the proposed legislation, it says the intention is to increase transparency and prevent “unwanted behaviour” by publicizing money flows to political, social, and religious organisations.

While the need to ensure transparency and address societal problems relating to polarisation and segregation as mentioned in the proposal is important, the signatories believe that there are serious flaws within the bill, which will have negative impacts that gravely affect civil society if ratified. They also believe the measures proposed impose too heavy a burden on civil society while they will not address the problem at hand.

Negative impact on civil society

From a human rights perspective, this legislation can constitute a violation of rights. It negatively impacts all civil society organisations active in the Netherlands (the right of association) and the right of donors, whose name, place of residence and contribution made are made public (the right to respect for privacy). These rights are laid down in binding international human rights conventions signed and ratified by the Netherlands, including Articles 22 and 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Articles 11 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The release of donor information, including name and place of residence, is a further concern in the face of heavy-handed actions against civil society in Europe. In Europe’s eastern neighbourhood repressive policies are being pursued regarding the financing of civil society organisations (see Amnesty report, Laws designed to silence). If enacted, a number of organisations and their donors will likely face intimidation or attacks on their reputation. Dutch organisations working in countries where foreign funding is heavily restricted, as well as their donors and local partners, will be direct at risk of being banned as “undesirable organisations.”

In the letter to Minister of Legal Protection, Sander Dekker, the signatories list ten reasons (elaborated on within the letter) why the bill should be withdrawn:

  • This bill’s action and aim are out of proportion;
  • The social problem that gives rise to this bill is not defined clearly and is not resolved with it;
  • The bill is not in compliance with binding international human rights treaties;
  • The bill is problematic in light of EU legislation on data protection and the EU Fundamental Rights Charter;
  • The bill does not take into account what is already provided for in other legislation and regulations;
  • The bill is against the importance that the government itself attributes to the philanthropic sector;
  • The bill is not enforceable and verifiable. Malefactors will think of other ways to reach their goal;
  • The bill entails unacceptable extra regulatory burden for civil society organizations;
  • The bill is detrimental to the privacy, safety and willingness of donors to contribute to the income and continuity of the many good work of civil society organizations; and
  • The bill is in conflict with the spirit and intentions of the AVG.

The NHC and the other co-signatories, together with other civil society organisations, call on the Ministry to immediately withdraw the proposed law on the Transparency of Civil Society Organisations.