Non-governmental organizations, or N-G-Os, play an essential role in the development of democracy. But a growing number of governments are placing burdensome restrictions on N-G-Os. Russia is a case in point. The government there recently passed a law that could cripple the work of many N-G-Os and retard Russia's democratic development. The law imposes on foreign N-G-Os extensive reporting requirements, including quarterly financial reports and annual reports on planned activities. Officials have the authority to order foreign N-G-Os to cease funding for a particular program or to shut the organization down entirely. The U.S. is urging Russia not to hinder the vital work of N-G-Os.
Non-governmental organizations also face serious challenges in Belarus. The government of President Alexander Lukashenko uses tax inspections and registration requirements to complicate or deny the ability of N-G-Os, independent media, political parties, and religious groups to operate legally. All but a handful of human rights N-G-Os have been denied registration.
In Uzbekistan, the government engages in persecution to suppress the work of N-G-Os. Since the May 2005 uprising in Andijan, the government has harassed, beaten, or jailed dozens of human rights activists, civil society activists, and independent journalists, many of them associated with N-G-Os. The government has also forced domestic and international N-G-Os, including Freedom House, to close down.
Non-governmental organizations are critical to the development of civil society. Restricting the work of N-G-Os only limits a society's political and economic growth.
Barry Lowenkron is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. He said, A state that tries to control everything from the center becomes brittle. A society that allows broad participation by its citizens in national life is a society that will flourish from the contributions of its own people.
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