We call upon the National Assembly of Republika Srpska to drop the draft “foreign agent” law, adopted at the first reading on 28 September 2023.
The draft law on “agents of foreign influence” (formally, the Law on the Special Register and Publicity of the Work of Nonprofit Organisations) creates a separate registry for the non governmental organisations receiving funding from foreign sources. They will be labeled as “agents of foreign influence” and will be required to follow additional burdensome reporting requirements. Under the draft legislation, State organs will gain sweeping powers to carry out excessive inspections. Even more disturbingly, “agents of foreign influence” will be barred from “political activities”; an unidentified term undermining the core nature of civic advocacy which is aimed at influencing state policy and decision-making in favour of human rights, democracy, and rule of law. Non-compliance with the legislation would result in heavy fines. This development is particularly worrisome against the backdrop of recent re-crimalisation of defamation in Bosnia which seeks to stifle freedom of expression.
The phenomenon of so-called “foreign agent legislation” is inspired by Russia’s 2012 law which seeks to stigmatise, silence, and subdue independent civil society, media, and critical voices. The European Court of Human Rights found Russia’s foreign agent law to violate the requirement of foreseeability and predictability and thus, fail the test for the quality of law under the European Convention on Human Rights. The legislation has served as template across the region for attacking the freedom of association.
In March 2023, Georgian authorities moved to pass a bill very similar to the Republika Srpska draft. As a result of mass street protests and fierce opposition from the entire civic sector the Georgian Parliament dropped the initiative. However, the label and smear campaigns inspired by the law remain within government discourse and have already had a chilling effect on civil society work.
The Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR concluded that the draft currently under discussion in the National Assembly of Republika Srpska would violate the freedom of expression and association. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights “underscored the already restrictive environment” for the civil society in Bosnia and assessed the draft detrimental to the enjoyment of freedoms.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders requires states to create an enabling environment for the civil society, not restrict the funding and not delegitimise human rights activities based on the geographic origin of such funding.
We urge the Parliament of Republika Srpska to respect international obligations undertaken by the state under Council of Europe and the UN instruments, uphold fundamental freedoms underpinning free and independent civil society, and drop the draft “agent of foreign influence” law immediately.
“Legitimate human rights work is criminalised in a number of countries where we work. It is for that reason that names of the organisations who support this statement but face the risk of being persecuted for such support cannot be made public.”
- Belarusian Helsinki Committee
- Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
- Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (Member of Human Rights House Azerbaijan)
- Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv and its member organisations:
- Human Rights Vector NGO
- Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
- Human Rights House Belgrade and its member organisation:
- Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM
- Human Rights House Foundation
- Human Rights House Crimea and its member organisations:
- Crimean Human Rights Group
- Regional Centre for Human Rights
- Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member organisations:
- Human Rights Center Georgia
- Media Institute
- Human Rights House Yerevan and its member organisations:
- Democracy Today
- PINK Human Rights Defender NGO
- Human Rights House Zagreb and its member organisations:
- Centre for Peace Studies
- Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity
- Legal Education Society (Member of Human Rights House Azerbaijan)