Reporters Without Borders welcomed news of an adjournment of a second reading of a law which would have placed Peru’s NGOs under direct state control. The highly controversial new cooperation law was passed by Congress at a first reading on 2 November 2006. A campaign by national and international NGOs led to President Alan Garcia telling the president of Congress, Mercedes Cabanillas, and the president of the Congress external relations committee, Rolando Souza, to meet representatives of several organisations. Failing a final agreement, the second vote which should have been held the following day was postponed and a fresh debate has been scheduled for 16 November.
06.11.06 - New law controlling NGOs gives a cause for concern
Reporters Without Borders expressed concern after Congress passed law reform on the operation of NGOs in Peru, on 2 November 2006, bringing 3,174 foreign and local non-governmental organisations under the direct control of the Peruvian International Cooperation Agency (APCI), in the “public interest”.
The worldwide press freedom organisation said it was concerned at the potential for problems posed by the public interest criteria. “Public interest should not necessarily be confused with the interests of the government since the APCI is a state body”, it said.
“The reformed law also gives this body the right to sanction any NGO which disturbs the public order or damages property. We could therefore have reason to fear that organisations defending press freedom or human rights could in future be subjected to controls which would affect not just their functioning but also their objectives.”
“In this regard, we would remind the Peruvian authorities of a dangerous precedent in the law on NGOs voted through in Russian in January 2006. We would support, if necessary, any appeal on the grounds of unconstitutionality launched by organisations concerned about the new law,” the organisation added.
Under the new law on international cooperation adopted by Congress at the second reading, the more than 3,000 NGOs will have to list and register their projects as well as register the list of their donors with the APCI. Then most significantly, NGOs considered responsible for “disturbing public order” or “damaging property” could risk sanctions.
The Press and Society Institute (IPYS), South America’s leading press freedom organisation, which is based in Lima, had already condemned changes in the law after the first reading on 26 October, which it said “restricted the freedom of NGO’s receiving donations from abroad”. It also objected to the power given to the state to decide which organisations could receive or be denied donations “according to the priorities it establishes and its own definition of the ‘public interest’”.
The new law “gives the government the capacity to control funds intended to promote free expression and investigative journalism in Latin America, a part of which comes from independent media in the United States and Europe”, said the IPYS.
It added that it considered “this serious intervention in private activity was intended to restrict NGOs’ scope for relaying criticism of the government or major financial groups which deal with the state.