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Aiding Embattled NGOs

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky says that "in spite of international commitments, we are witnessing a crackdown by some governments on N-G-Os [non-governmental organizations] and other civil society actors":

"A number of governments have passed or are selectively applying laws against N-G-Os and civil society groups in an attempt to restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly. The United States is committed to supporting these courageous men and women and to working with governments and civil society through programs and diplomatic initiatives to secure basic rights."

Russia last year adopted legislation which imposed onerous registration and reporting procedures which have already had some negative effects on N-G-O operations. Russian authorities exhibited negative attitudes toward, and sometimes harassed, N-G-Os involved in human rights monitoring.

Few truly independent N-G-Os are permitted in China. Only those with a government sponsor and registered with the government have legal status. While some international N-G-Os operate in China, there is no consistent registration policy for them and they have difficulty gaining legal operational status. Groups advocating for political rights and independent labor unions are denied legal status and often face harassment from authorities.

The U.S. budgets more than one billion dollars for human rights and democracy programming, including support for N-G-Os. And the U.S. has formulated ten principles for how N-G-Os should be treated by governments. Among these are that N-G-Os should be permitted to carry out work in an environment free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination; N-G-Os should be able to receive financial support from domestic, foreign, and international entities; and laws regulating N-G-Os should be applied apolitically and fairly. Likewise, the Department of State will set up a Global Human Rights Defenders Fund, which will provide small amounts of emergency funding to democracy and human rights activists who are in immediate financial need as a direct result of government repression.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron has characterized 2006 as the "year of the pushback" on democracy promotion and democracy and human rights activists. "Defending human dignity and supporting the growth of effective democracies across the globe," he said, "is a long-term effort." While this effort will experience setbacks and "progress may at times come slowly," he said, the U.S. and its partners will persevere.