In a statement issued here, the Forum took serious exception to a statement made by the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, alleging national NGO involvement in anti-state activities and links with Isreal, India and the United States. Such sweeping statements are highly irresponsible and totally unfounded”, the Forum noted and added that “such statements amount to hate speech as they may incite violence against NGOs and can put at risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of NGO workers active in the various parts of Pakistan”.
PCSF comprising national NGOs, trade union groups, human rights institutions, journalists’ groups and many other civil society organizations working with hundreds of thousands of citizens across the country, held its national meeting in Islamabad yesterday.
The Forum condemned the “arbitrary ban” on Save the Children office without due process as per Pakistani laws. While the government’s quick retraction was welcome, the Forum believed the threat to the INGO had not abated.
The Forum urged the government to acknowledge the valuable work that national and international NGOs have been doing to help the people of Pakistan and refrain from undermining the work of thousands of NGOs and INGOs simply because of their dislike for Save the Children.
The participants stressed the fact that far-fetched allegations against all NGOs show a lack of understanding about the diverse types of NGOs and their work. Hundreds of thousands of NGOs have made exceptional contributions to the people’s welfare and continue to struggle for a democratic, stable, and peaceful Pakistan. The Forum noted that the contribution of NGOs ranges from promoting constitutional rights and educating citizens in their democratic rights and duties, to defense of human rights, rescue and relief in disasters and post disaster recovery processes and complementing the state’s primary responsibility of providing basic services like education, health, water, employment, and access to justice. The Forum noted that NGOs are complementing the agenda of development, and economic and social uplift that governments are following through their policies. “Thus Pakistan Civil Society Forum (PCSF) expects the government to respect the contribution of national NGOs, provide them the due space and acknowledge their work.”
The PCSF meeting further noted that NGOs have brought respect to the state and society of Pakistan at international forums. role in strengthening of democratic institutions is well recognized and respected by all political forces.
The Forum noted that NGOs work under a range of Pakistani laws including the Societies Act, the Social Welfare Act, the Companies Act, etc. Each legislation has detailed mechanisms for monitoring NGOs registered under it, including funds received by them, their sources and audit, the areas of work, and the structure of NGOs. Despite these laws governing the functioning of NGOs, the government is reportedly drafting new laws. Moreover, federal and provincial governments as well as district administration in many places have issued ad-hoc notifications that will severely restrict the work of NGOs. In some cases national NGO meetings have been stopped arbitrarily and all kinds of document are being demanded, documents that the NGOs are already providing to the registration authorities.
The participants of the Forum including constitutional experts maintained that the Right to Association is guaranteed under Article 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan and under article 22 of International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that by the government of Pakistan has ratified.
They reminded the government that all laws and directives about NGOs must ensure the protection of this fundamental right of all citizens of Pakistan because like the political parties the civil society has also struggled hard and gave sacrifices of human rights defenders to protect the freedom of assembly and association and the work of NGOs has helped to strengthen democracy in Pakistan. .In strong or even transitional democracies like Pakistan, civil society’s critique of state policies and practices are seen as helpful in strengthening institutions and ensuring they are held to account, added the Forum statement.
Pakistan Civil Society Forum has planned a series of provincial and national meetings to the role of NGOs in democratic societies with a view to developing a better understanding about their contributions.
The civil society organizations which attended the meeting and endorsed the statement include Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, South Asia Partnership Pakistan, Aurat Foundation, Sungi Development Foundation, SPO, PILER, Shirkat Gah, Omar Asghar Foundation, Rozan, PODA, SAFCO, Paiman, Daman, Bargad, Centre for Civic Education, Pattan Development Organisation, and Society for Alternative Media.