On 13 June 2017, the governing parties led by Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban passed the Law on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Foreign Funds. This widely-criticised law requires civic groups receiving over €24,000 in foreign funding to register as “foreign-supported” and announce in most of their online and printed publications that they are foreign-funded. Non-governmental organisations will also have to list any foreign sponsors granting them more than €1,600 a year. Failure to comply will carry the risk of fines or closure.
While the government cited the need to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism as the basis for the legislation, the international community has expressed grave concern that this is purely an attempt to hinder NGOs’ work in Hungary and that it is in clear violation of Hungarian Fundamental Law and EU law, in particular freedom of association as protected in the European Convention of Human Rights. Amnesty International described the law as a “vicious and calculated assault on civil society”, claiming that the true aim of the law is to intimidate organisations critical of the government. By forcing NGOs to label themselves as “foreign funded”, the government hopes to discredit their work. The Venice Commission also published a Preliminary Opinion on the Draft law, pointing to the fact that only minimal changes were made to the law based on its recommendations.
Unfortunately, this move is not unprecedented. Hungary already passed a law in 2011 imposing extensive reporting requirements on NGOs. Other countries have also used similar legislation as a guise to stifle dissent. Russia passed a ‘foreign agents’ law in 2012 which is strikingly similar to that adopted in Hungary and led to nearly 30 organisations being closed since its adoption. In October 2016 Bangladesh adopted the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, imposing burdensome limitations on the work of civil society in Bangladesh.
Many organisations in Hungary rely on foreign funding and several receive support from Open Society Foundations, founded by George Soros, a Hungarian-born American philanthropist who appears to be the main target of this legislation. One of the organisations that will be strongly affected by this legislation is the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), with whom the Human Rights Litigation Foundation recently established a collaboration in the preparation of a joint intervention before the European Court of Human Rights. The HHC conducts credible and crucial work in Hungary and its continued functioning is essential to ensure that Hungary complies with its human rights obligations. The Foundation stands in solidarity with the HHC in these trying times and supports any attempts it will make to have the law reviewed. Click here for more information on the steps the HHC plans to take in response to the adoption of this law.