Civil society organisations fight for the right of association in Mozambique

Civil society organisations in Mozambique have created a protest initiative called ‘In defence of the right to Freedom of Association in Mozambique. Image: Giovana Fleck/Global Voices

In Mozambique, civil society organisations (CSOs) have been protesting since late 2022 the proposal of a new law that aims to regulate the exercise of activities carried out by non-governmental entities. The proposed “Non-Profit Law” was sent to parliament in October 2022 by the government of Mozambique.

According to the CSOs, it is illegal to give excessive and discretionary powers to the government to recognise, control the functioning of, and extinguish associations and CSOs; to impose intrusive and excessive rules and demands on associations and their members; and to use unfounded reasons such as “to discipline…control inappropriate practices…and prevent the financing of terrorism…” to limit freedom of association.

The organisations allege that this law intends to limit the right to freedom of association in opposition to the role expected of the state to create an environment for the full enjoyment of fundamental rights. It is also in violation of the Constitution of the Republic (articles 52, 78, and 43) and the country's obligations under international and regional human rights instruments.

The government has defended itself on the need to approve the legislation as a way to combat the financing of terrorism that occurs in Cabo Delgado

To amplify their struggle, CSOs in Mozambique created a protest initiative called “In defence of the right to Freedom of Association in Mozambique.” It is “a movement of citizens and associations from the north to the south of the country, united to defend the right to freedom of association in Mozambique,” called into question by the draft law.

Website to challenge the new law. Photo: Screenshot taken by the author (February 2023)

On the website created for this purpose, the organisations have published several positions to reject the proposal. In one of the main messages, they repudiate the law for the fact that:

A proposta de lei das organizações sem fins lucrativos, depositada na Assembleia de República em Outubro de 2022, pretende revogar a Lei das Associações (lei n° 8/91 de 14 de Julho), o instrumento que regula as Organizações Não Governamentais internacionais (decreto n. 55/98 de 13 de Outubro) e trazer uma nova designação por uma das suas características.

A denominação ‘sem fins lucrativos’, não tem reconhecimento e garantia constitucional, pois no código civil e na constituição da República de Moçambique só estão previstas associações e organizações sociais. Não existe nenhuma razão para que a noção constitucional de associação se afaste da noção corrente do Direito Civil, ou seja, uma organização de pessoas (o que as distingue das fundações), sem fins lucrativos (o que as distingue das sociedades).

The proposed law on non-profit organisations, deposited in parliament in October 2022, seeks to repeal the Law on Associations (law no. 8/91 of 14 July), the instrument regulating international non-governmental organisations (decree no. 55/98 of 13 October) and to bring in a new designation for one of its characteristics.

The denomination “non-profit” has no constitutional recognition and guarantee, since in the civil code and the constitution of the Republic of Mozambique only associations and social organisations are provided for. There is no reason why the constitutional notion of association should depart from the current notion of civil law, i.e. an organisation of persons (which distinguishes them from foundations), not for profit (which distinguishes them from companies).

On Facebook, civil society organisations have been multiplying protest messages against the draft law:

Entre outras violações às liberdades fundamentais e medidas inconstitucionais, é importante que saibas que a proposta de lei das organizações sem fins lucrativos pretende dar poderes ao Governo e extinguir os conferidos pelo artigo 5 da lei das associações em vigor, retirando às autoridades judiciais a sua competência na extinção e contestação da recusa de registo – e também remover os prazos.
E que todos os artigos sobre o papel do poder judicial nas associações e organizações nacionais foram removidos. Explicamos-te mais nesta mensagem e convidamos-te a visitar o portal para mais mais informações sobre esta proposta de lei e os riscos que ela constitui.
Nada Para Nós Sem Nós!

Among other violations of fundamental freedoms and unconstitutional measures, it is important that you know that the draft law on non-profit organisations aims to give powers to the government and extinguish those conferred by Article 5 of the current law on associations, removing from the judicial authorities their competence in extinguishing and challenging refusal to register — and also removing time limits.

And that all articles on the role of the judiciary in national associations and organisations have been removed. We explain more in this message and invite you to visit for more information about this draft law and the risks it poses.

Nothing for Us Without Us!

Equal protests are multiplying on Twitter as a way to draw attention against the law. The first sign came from Rafael Machalela, a Mozambican journalist and activist.

We demand a law with constitutional dignity

Wilker Dias, an activist and political commentator, also shared the moment when the members of parliament were holding a hearing around the referred law. The event took place on February 16 in the capital Maputo.

The voice of the greatest in the way of “bars” by Mc Chamboco. Parliamentary Consultation on the proposed Law on Non-Profit Organizations

This law has already been denounced by several international organisations, in particular the deputy director of Human Rights Watch, Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, who said on February 10:

Mozambican authorities shouldn’t use the fight against the local Al-Shabab as an excuse to repress civil society organizations. The government should promptly withdraw the nonprofit organizations bill from parliament.

The Mozambique government should ensure that all the country’s laws are in line with international and regional standards. Even if the government never took action against a nongovernmental group, the very fact that such a law existed would have a serious chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and association in the country.

It has been announced in parliament that the draft law will be debated and approved before June 2023, but it is uncertain if it will be changed due to protests from civil society organisations.

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