GENEVA (15 May 2017) – Two United Nations human rights experts* today urged the Hungarian government to withdraw their recently proposed Bill on the Transparency of Organizations Financed from Abroad (T/14967). The Bill, if adopted into law, would severely curtail the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association in Hungary.
Under the provisions of the proposed Bill, non-governmental organizations that receive more than 24,000 EUR annually from a foreign source would need to register with the court as a ‘foreign-supported organization’; report annually on the names, countries and cities of foreign supporters and label themselves as ‘foreign-supported organization’ on their website and publications.
“Financial transparency of civil society organizations is already ensured under existing legislation,” stressed the experts, “and the current Bill would only discriminate against, delegitimize and stigmatize NGOs that receive all or part of their funding from abroad.”
“If adopted, the Bill would have a chilling effect not only on expressions of peaceful dissent but also on the legitimate work of NGOs and individual human rights defenders scrutinizing government and exposing human rights violations,” they said.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his government have made a number of derogatory remarks about NGOs receiving foreign funding, particularly targeting those funded by George Soros or the Open Society Foundation. The Prime Minister stated in his February 2017 state of the nation address that ‘In 2017 we will also need to take up the struggle against international organizations’ increasingly strong activists. (…) It is a problem that foreign funding is being secretly used to influence Hungarian politics. We are talking about paid activists and their branch offices in Hungary. (…) The organizations of George Soros are working tirelessly to bring hundreds of thousands of migrants in Europe’.
“Certain public remarks by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and other high ranking government officials on the activities of civil society raise serious concerns about the government’s commitment to basic freedoms in a democratic society,” they noted.
“We urge the government to withdraw the Bill and to provide a safe and enabling environment for civil society organizations both in practice and rhetoric, in line with their international human rights obligations,” the experts concluded.
(*) The experts: Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.