Review of freedom of associations in Belarus in 2015
03.03.2016 |Society| Volha Smalianka (Legal Transformation Center) and Yury Chavusau (the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs of Belarus),
Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs and Legal Transformation Center (Lawtrend) prepared the annual Freedom of Associations and Legal Conditions for Non-Profit Organizations in Belarus review for 2015.
The document analyzes the development of legislation in the sphere of non-profit law for the past year, outlines the main restrictions for non-profit organizations (NGOs), provides the statistical data of the registration of new NGOs and the review of the practice of registration denials.
Major changes of 2015 affecting the interests of NGOs concerned legal regulations of foreign funding. At the same time, all pre-existing legal restrictions and enforcement practices regarding all aspects of the NGOs establishment and operation remained unchanged.
Presidential Decree No. 5 dated August 31, 2015 On Foreign Donations, with effect from March 4, 2016, in general, left the previous procedure of foreign donations receipt unchanged (requiring mandatory pre-registration of foreign donations and providing for criminal liability for violation of this procedure). The legal regulation of another kind of foreign funding — international technical assistance— changed in 2015. To this extent the procedure also remained unchanged. However, certain bureaucratic barriers have been removed. EU Center for International Technical Assistance was opened in Belarus. The Coordinating Board with the participation of representatives of state bodies, international technical assistance donors, and non-governmental sector was envisaged. Changes in tax laws upheld the selective approach where the Tax Code specifies the names of the organizations, for which donations are excluded for Belarusan donors from their taxable base (the list of such organizations in the Code has been extended slightly).
The Review emphasizes that such legislative innovations had not involved the real cooperation with the interested parties: i. e. the communication process of public officials and law-makers with civil society organizations with regard to the reform of legislation affecting their activities most often on a unilateral basis (at the discretion of the authorities), the offers of interested NGOs had been considered formally and had been included not in their entirety.
The procedure of state registration of public associations, parties and/or foundations remain complicated, providing state registration bodies the opportunity for arbitrary refusal to register any organization due to minor grounds. Bodies of justice refused to register a significant number of public associations, which submitted documents for registration in 2015.
The ban on NGO’s activity without state registration remains. The breach of the ban is subject to criminal liability under Article 1931 of the Criminal Code, which provides for the punishment of up to two years’ imprisonment. Despite the absence of new criminal cases under this Article, the very existence of the prohibition and the threat of punishment significantly limit the freedom of association and opportunities for NGO activities.