REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
19 July 2016
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing attended by spokespersons for the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR was concerned at the passage on 11 July of the so-called NGO Transparency Law by the Israeli Parliament, which could have a detrimental effect on human rights and the democratic space in the country.
While the new law had been described as an effort to increase transparency in the NGO sector, it would disproportionately affect NGOs working on human rights, as confirmed by recent research undertaken by the Israeli Ministry of Justice itself. The law imposed new requirements on NGOs that received more than half of their funding from “foreign political entities”, namely foreign Governments or intergovernmental organizations, obliging them to specify this information in their publications and their communications with civil servants or elected officials. The same was not required of NGOs that were funded by other foreign sources that are not classified as political entities or by private donors.
OHCHR feared that this law, which added to already onerous transparency obligations on NGOs receiving funding from foreign political entities, would contribute to the de-legitimization of human rights NGOs in Israel, notably by branding them as “foreign agents”. Given the recent attacks against civil society organizations in Israel by public officials and some specific groups, OHCHR feared that this law would have a chilling effect on human rights defenders and their legitimate and extremely valuable contribution to the human rights debate in Israel, including those challenging the Israeli Government's policy on the occupied Palestinian territory.
OHCHR noted that many NGOs in Israel, including those not affected by the law, had strongly criticized it, as had the Secretary-General, the European Union and individual donor governments. OHCHR urged the Government to listen to those extremely valid concerns and take them into consideration.
In response to a question about similarities with a Russian law on NGOs, Ms. Shamdasani said that there seemed to be a worrying trend whereby NGOs’ funding sources were being scrutinized much more, in a way that OHCHR considered to be unwarranted. NGOs in Israel were already subject to bureaucratic obligations, and this new law was delegitimizing their action, implying that they were under the control of foreign Governments or inter-governmental organizations.