Introduction & Background
On September 6, 2022, the Council of Ministers of Mozambique approved a draft bill (the “Bill”) on the creation, organization, and operation of non-profit organizations. A government spokesperson publicly announced that the purpose of the bill was to “fight against money laundering [and] financing of terrorism”.
Mozambique gained independence in 1975 and emerged from a 15-year civil war in 1992. The Mozambique Liberation Front (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, or FRELIMO) has been in power since independence. In 1994 Mozambique held its first multi-party elections, with FRELIMO retaining power. Its current President is Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, who came to power following the 2014 elections and was re-elected in 2019. During the 2019 election, civil society organizations (CSOs), human rights defenders, and journalists were reportedly harassed and intimidated for reporting on the election or distributing related materials. Opposition parties rejected the results and alleged that the election was marred by violence and fraud.
Mozambique is fighting a terrorist insurgency in Cabo Delgado, its northern-most province, off the coast of which lie lucrative oil and gas reserves. The first violent attacks were documented in October 2017. A local group known as Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ) is believed to be responsible, with the involvement of foreign extremist groups. ASWJ has been deemed an ISIS franchise and designated an FTO by the U.S. State Department. Press reports indicate an estimated 2,500 civilians have been killed and over 700,000 others have been displaced. Extremist groups have reportedly been responsible for burning homes, killing and beheading civilians, and looting property. In 2020, violent attacks in the area intensified. Various government forces have been accused of human rights violations in their response to the insurgency, including harassment, intimidation, and excessive use of force against civil society organizations (CSOs). Mozambique is also facing a financial crisis, accentuated when three companies took more than $1 billion U.S. in state-backed loans without parliamentary approval (or even parliamentary awareness), in violation of the Constitution. CSOs “advocating for accountability in relation to the debt” have also “faced retaliation.”
This context underscores the importance of preventing terrorism and money laundering and indeed, Mozambique is obligated to do so under international law. However, reported violations against CSOs in the context of the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, the debt, and the recent election equally underscore the need for legal safeguards.
Unfortunately, the Bill is deeply problematic from this perspective. Far from providing legal safeguards for CSOs, it imposes excessive requirements on the creation of organizations; grants government officials overbroad discretion in deciding whether to authorize the creation of new organizations; imposes burdensome and unjustified reporting requirements; allows for the arbitrary dissolution of organizations; and imposes excessive civil liability on the officers and members of organizations. In doing so, it violates the Mozambican Constitution and Mozambique’s obligations under international and regional human rights instruments.