Southern African church protests at Zimbabwe's NGO Bill

 The Catholic church in Southern African has expressed alarm at Zimbabwe's proposed Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Bill. In a statement on Friday the the Justice and Peace Department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) said the poor would suffer even more if the bill was enacted. It said: 'The Bill proposes that no foreign funding should be allowed for political governance, human rights, and social justice work in Zimbabwe, that foreign NGOs should effectively be banned from doing political governance, human rights, and social justice work in Zimbabwe, and that all NGOs should be registered with the Zimbabwean government, failing which, personnel may be arrested and tried. 'While the SACBC Justice and Peace Department supports the need for regulatory frameworks for civil society organisations in any country, the extensive social development work of many Zimbabwean faith-based organisations that are strongly supported by international charities, is threatened by the repressive nature of the Zimbabwean Bill. The SACBC Justice and Peace Department will therefore support its counterpart church structures in Zimbabwe to address this matter. 'The provisions of the Bill are contradictory to the values of international solidarity, the primacy of the poor, and the common good that are universally promoted by the church. 'The Bill also goes against the spirit of Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocols on governance and elections and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), as well as the provisions of the African Union (AU) constitution. It is cause for great concern about the social, economic, political, and human development of the whole Southern African region both because it will deliver a further blow to the ailing social development initiatives in health care, education, food relief, and human rights promotion that have been undertaken by civil society organisations in Zimbabwe, and because Zimbabwe's crisis increasingly affects the whole Southern African region. 'In addition, the political crisis has deepened with the suspension of participation by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe's upcoming election. For any election to be declared free and fair, freedom of speech, assembly, and association is a pre-condition in the pre-election phase. The climate of repression and the continuing gross violation of human rights in Zimbabwe raises the prospect that normal political campaigning in the pre-election phase will not be possible. 'A climate of growing insecurity, repression, and material destitution is growing amongst the masses of Zimbabwe's population. Stronger and urgent intervention is therefore required by SADC member states to ensure that the conditions are created for honest and meaningful elections in 2005.' Source: SACBC Justice and Peace Department

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