In a recent statement, United Nations (UN) experts have cautioned Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa against signing the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Bill into law, citing its infringement of fundamental human rights. The experts expressed concern that the legislation would further reduce the civic space and be detrimental to the country’s engagement and re-engagement efforts.
The PVO Amendment Bill, which provides disproportionate and discretionary powers to the newly established Office of the Registrar of PVOs, without independence from the executive branch, was recently passed by the Senate and awaits Mnangagwa’s signature to become law.
The UN experts warned that the bill’s provisions would immediately render existing organizations, operating lawfully as trusts and associations, illegal. The Office of the Registrar will have extensive powers to intervene and monitor the activities of PVOs, as well as the power to cancel operational licenses of PVOs already operating.
The UN experts raised additional concerns about the prohibition of any “political affiliation” and unjustified restrictions on PVOs’ ability to obtain funding, including foreign funds. They warned that the vague language in the bill raises concerns that the proposed law will be misapplied.
The UN experts submitted an analysis of the bill to the government in 2021, concluding that the amendment was incompatible with international human rights obligations, particularly the right to freedom of association. Despite consultations with authorities and legislators, the current version of the PVO Bill does not address these concerns.
Human rights defenders, politicians, and civil society organizations have strongly opposed the PVO Bill, warning of impending attacks on democracy advocates. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Chairperson Peter Mutasa criticized the country’s Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ziyambi Ziyambi, who regarded PVOs as snakes and enemies.
Independent Norton legislator Temba Mliswa also criticized the bill, saying it suffers from an acute lack of clarity, making it amenable to obtuse and biased interpretations. He warned that a vague law could be abused more, calling on Mnangagwa to reject the PVO Amendment Bill in its current form.
The UN experts urged Mnangagwa to turn down the bill and revise it to ensure compliance with international human rights norms and standards. The experts stated that they were ready to assist the government in revising the bill, and encouraged Mnangagwa to consider calls from civil society organizations who have opposed its statutes.