The major changes of 2015 affecting the interests of non-profit organizations (NGOs) concerned legal regulations of foreign funding. At the same time, the authors note that 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 4 March, 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 and 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 Council with the participation of representatives of state bodies, international technical assistance donors, and non-governmental sector was established. Changes in tax laws upheld the selective approach where the Tax Code specifies the names of the organizations, for which donations are excluded for Belarusian donors from their taxable base (the list of such organizations in the Code has been extended slightly).
In the report it it noted that that the adoption of these legislative innovations took place without any real discussion with the stakeholders: the communication process of public authorities and legislators with the civil society organizations on the issues of the legislative reforms affecting their activities, in the majority of cases happens in one-sided format; the proposals from the NGOs are not fully taken into account.
The procedure of state registration of public associations, political parties, their organizational structures, as well as funds remains complex and burdensome, providing state registration bodies the opportunity for arbitrary refusal to register any organization created 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 193.1 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.
The issue of the annual review of freedom of association and the legal conditions for non-profit organizations in Belarus is conducted by the Assembly of Democratic NGOs and the Center for Legal Transformation Lawtrend since 2007.
- Freedom of Associations Freedom of Associations and Legal Conditions for Non-Profit Organizations In