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The East: Some Countries Restrict Non-Governmental Organizations

Warsaw, 27 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A member of the U.S. delegation, addressing a human rights conference in Warsaw, said yesterday that while non-governmental organizations (NGO) are considered an essential part of democratic societies, many countries still regard them as a threat and restrict their activities.

Orest S. Deychakiwsky said there are still many countries belonging to the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe that continue to hinder NGOs through various measures such as registration requirements.

"Some governments-instead of viewing NGOs as part of a normal, democratic, civic society, view them as threats, especially those NGOs which oppose governmental policies or expose the government's violations of human rights," Deychakiwsky said. Deychakiwsky criticized the Turkish authorities for harassment of non-governmental organizations and human rights associations, adding that seven members of the Human Rights Association have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from one two years. "Such actions are detrimental to the development of a civil society in Turkey and run counter to the right to freedom of association," he said. The Turkish Foreign Ministry official Cinar Aldemir questioned the operation of the NGO's saying they are often impartial and their actions have anti-state character. "Some NGO's are being financed by various dubious groups against a country from another country," he said. But he failed to provide specifics. Deychakiwsky also criticized the governments of Belarus, Slovakia and Croatia, saying they have taken various measures to either stop or hinder the operations of NGO's. "Perhaps the biggest blow to Belarusian NGOs has come from the closure of the Belarusian Soros Foundation," he said. The Foundation was the largest international supporter and provider of funds for Belarusian NGOs.

In Slovakia, the U.S official said, a 1996 law requires various foundations and social organizations to have substantial financial resources to function legally.

As a result of the introduction of the new law, about two thousand organizations have ceased their activities.

Deychakiwsky said the NGOs are having hard time in Croatia, too. "There have been incidents when bombs have exploded near the houses of some of the NGO leaders and some activists have also received death threats,' he said. Janis Bjorn Kanavin, the Norwegian Special Advisor on human rights, said the role of NGO's has grown despite obstacles they are facing from various governments. "They are real human rights defenders,' he said. Kanavin urged the OSCE governments to establish closer contacts with the NGOs and facilitate their operations.