Civil Society, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: Apristas, Fujimoristas Back Law Increasing Oversight of NGOs

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Dec 8 2006 (IPS) - The governing Peruvian Aprista Party and pro-Fujimori members of Congress demonstrated their virtual alliance by passing a law that will allow the state to exert greater control over non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The proposal was originally put forward by Congressman Rolando Sousa, former attorney for Alberto Fujimori and partner of César Nakasaki, who is Fujimori’s present defence counsel. Former president Fujimori (1990-2000) is now under arrest in Chile and awaiting extradition to Peru on numerous corruption and human rights charges.

The draft law was approved on Oct. 27, but warnings from international bodies such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the local Ombudsman’s Office about the implications of the law for civil liberties and civil society led Congress to agree to debate proposals for its amendment.

President Alan García and Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo announced that they would investigate whether the law endangered freedom of association and expression. But given the solid backing that governing party Congress members gave the Fujimorista draft law, the president is not likely to veto or make objections to the law, as local NGOs hoped he would do.

After toning down a few terms and changing some words around, the amended law was passed after less than two hours of debate on Tuesday. The law modifies the activities and powers of the governmental Peruvian Agency for International Cooperation (APCI).

It stipulates that NGOs must register with the APCI and that their work plans should be in line with the development guidelines and priorities established by the state.

The new version retains the spirit of the original draft law, effectively introducing greater supervision of NGO activities, based on the argument that there is a lack of oversight of civil society organisations.

The principal amendments approved in the final text were:

– NGOs which receive all their funding from abroad, without aid from the state, are not included in the scope of the new law.

– Those organisations which are unaffected by the law must nevertheless report on the projects they execute, their donors, and how they spend the funds they administer.

– NGOs that cause public disturbances, damage public or private property or transgress “proper behaviour” will be liable to penalties.

Over the past two years, environmental NGOs have been involved in protests by social movements and communities against mining companies, and the NGOs have often been accused by company spokespersons of instigating the demonstrations.

“The law remains a threat to the basic rights of citizens,” activist Federico Arnillas told IPS.

“They have brought out a new version which is still a trap. NGOs are non-profit associations, and are exempt from paying income tax. However, this law provides for heavy fines for those that fail to fulfil the obligation of registering,” said Arnillas, executive director of the independent National Association of Research, Social Promotion and Development Centres (ANC), a group representing development organisations.

Differentiating between organisations that receive funding from abroad on the basis of whether or not they also receive aid from the state is another legal trick to justify the law, according to Arnillas.

“All NGOs will be affected. Not even the National Superintendency of Tax Administration requires information about NGO projects and how they spend their money. This is state interventionism, pure and simple. This law will prompt foreign aid agencies to pull out,” Arnillas warned.

There are 2,100 formally registered NGOs in Peru, 900 of which are active, and only one-third of which receive any kind of state aid, that is, reimbursement of sales tax, according to information from the ANC, which has only 75 organisations on its general register.

NGOs handled some 500 million dollars from international aid sources during 2004 and 2005.

Legislator Johnny Lescano, of the opposition Popular Action (AP) party, stated in parliament that the Fujimorista draft law had been submitted to merely cosmetic changes.

The law is “a violation of citizens’ right to free association,” Lescano told IPS. “The country is being deceived by the statement that the bill has been modified, because really it’s exactly the same. Every NGO, without exception, is going to be affected.. This is a law that arose from an Aprista-Fujimorista agreement, and for that very reason I don’t think García will raise any objections. All the NGOs can do is to have recourse to the Constitutional Tribunal,” he added.

During the debate, the president of the governing Aprista party in Congress, Javier Velásquez Quesquén, went so far as to argue that supervision of NGOs was necessary because terrorists might use them to finance their activities. “Do you think that (U.S.) President George W. Bush would allow Osama bin Laden to set up an NGO in the United States?” he asked.

Velásquez Quesquén announced that President García would not object to the modified version of the law.

“The new version of the law reflects the suggestions of the executive branch, as well as those made by the NGOs,” he told IPS. “The government is in favour of supervising NGOs that channel their international aid through the state, and those that receive tax breaks. NGOs that receive aid from wholly private sources will not be subject to any state control.”

But “That’s not true,” said Lescano. “NGOs will have to register, declare their donors and the amount of their funding, report on their projects and on how they have spent their funds. What do you call that? Interventionism. And furthermore, NGOs that ‘foment’ violence will be penalised. That wording can mean anything, and legitimise any action against NGOs,” he said.

Apristas and Fujimoristas have something else in common: both political sectors have faced legal action initiated by NGOs, against García and Fujimori, for their alleged responsibility for human rights violations committed during their respective terms of office.

In the case of García, the legal action involved a massacre of prisoners at El Frontón prison, perpetrated during his first term (1985-1990).

Fujimori, meanwhile, is accused of a number of crimes; the NGO accusations refer specifically to extrajudicial executions committed by a paramilitary commando unit belonging to the Army Intelligence Service, and alleged corruption during his regime.

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