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RIGHTS

DEFENDERS

Governments across Europe are narrowing the space for NGOs and rights defenders criticizing policies or infringements of rights. 

Intrusive legislation, legal harassment, and smear campaigns are challenging their ability to operate, access funding, and eventually citizens' trust in human rights and its defenders.

RECLAIM works to strengthen civil society’s ability to fulfil its role as watchdog and protect freedom of speech and association.   

WHAT
WE DO

Monitor trends and analyse their legal implications

Bring the voices of targeted rights defenders into European politics and media 

Find EU-law-based solutions to emerging tactics used to silence civic rights activism 

Build cross-European alliances between civil society and policy-makers 

Produce policy recommendations to European decision-makers 

 
 

OUR FEATURED POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Go to Court.

The EU should sanction Member States adoption and failure to repeal foreign agents anti-NGO laws.

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Monitor trials.

Member States’ ambassadors should be present at court hearings against recognized European human rights defenders, journalists, and judges.

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Ban frivolous lawsuits. 

The EU should protect human rights defenders, anti-corruption and environmental activists and journalists against lawsuits aimed at silencing them.

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Support grassroots.

The EU should support human rights work at the local level with flexible funding and diplomatic support.

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Address criminalization. 

The EU should end Member States’ criminalisation of Search and Rescue NGOs and ordinary citizens support for those in need.

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Address de-risking.

 

The Commission should safeguard NGOs against rights violations stemming from the misapplication of anti-money laundering laws and EU and US restrictive measures.

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Enforce human rights sanctions. 

The EU should deploy the new human rights sanction regime against government officials responsible for grave civil rights violations in third countries. 

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Invest in CSR. 

 

European companies should provide more financial and in-kind support to civil society groups working to protect human rights and the rule of law.

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ANTI-NGO LAWS GAIN FOOTHOLD IN EUROPE

The European Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling declaring a Hungarian anti-NGO law incompatible with EU law. Despite this judgement, the Hungarian legislation, as well as similar laws in the more authoritarian states of the European Union, remain in force.

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Over the last years, civil society organisations (“CSOs”) in Hungary have seen their freedoms heavily attacked. Independent organisations working on human rights, anti-corruption, and refugee protection issues have become the target of extensive smear campaigns from the government and its allied media outlets  

After years of depicting NGOs as illegitimate actors serving foreign interests, Hungary passed a law on the transparency of foreign-funded organisations (the “anti-NGO law”) in July 2017. The law mirrors the Russia’s 2012 Foreign Agents law. Attempts to pass similar laws have been registered in PolandItaly, Slovakia,  Romania and Bulgaria since 2017. 

 

Following the infringement procedure launched by the European Commission, in June 2020 the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) ruled on the incompatibility of such law with EU law. By introducing unjustified discriminatory restrictions on foreign-funded CSOs, the ECJ held that Hungary violated its obligations under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.  

In the years between the passing of the anti-NGO law and the ECJ judgment, NGOs continued to be attacked, with many unable to continue their operations in Hungary and leaving the country. The European Commission could have prevented this by requesting interim measures at the beginning of the proceedings, but it did not.

Following the judgment, Hungary should have repealed the law, but for eight months, it has shown no inclination to do so. It eventually repealed it in May 2021, following the Commission's threat to adopt financial penalties, and only to substitue it with another anti-NGO law that equally hinders civic space

At RECLAIM, we think interim measures should have been requested in 2017. We urge the Commission to ask the ECJ to impose pecuniary sanctions against Hungary, given the lack of respect of the ECJ ruling. The Commission should also support CSOs across Europe by litigating unjustified and systematic restrictions imposed on their operations.

 
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