Human Rights House Foundation and members of the Network of Human Rights Houses urge the Parliament of Georgia and the National Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska to drop proposed “Foreign agent” legislation that can damage civil society and media irreversibly, to respect international obligations undertaken by their states under Council of Europe and the UN instruments, and to uphold fundamental freedoms underpinning free and independent civil society.

We, the undersigned members of the Network of Human Rights Houses, condemn the decision of the Georgian authorities to re-introduce a draft law on Transparency of Foreign Influence, which almost entirely copies the legislation defeated by mass protests in Georgia in March 2023. We are equally concerned by the planned second reading of a similar law in the National Assembly of Republika Srpska. The (re)introduction of the bill violates Georgia’s and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s human rights obligations and threatens to stifle the essential and legitimate work of civil society and media in these countries. We call on the authorities in Tbilisi and Banja Luka to uphold their political and legal commitments and reject the pieces of legislation directly taken from Russia’s authoritarian playbook. 

On 3 April 2024, the draft law on Transparency of Foreign Influence was initiated in the Georgian Parliament. Smear campaign against foreign funders of civil society accompanies this process. On the same day, 3 April 2024, the Law on the Special Register and Publicity of the Work of Non-profit Organisations was published on the website of Republika Srpska’s Ministry of Justice. The draft has undergone further negative changes since adopted by the first reading in September 2023 which we condemned in a joint statement at the time.   

Both laws aim to create a separate registry for the non-governmental organisations receiving funding from foreign sources. They will be labeled as “agents of foreign influence” (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and “organisations carrying out interests of a foreign power” (updated term suggested in Georgia): pejorative notions carrying negative connotations linked to Stalinist repressions. Such organisations will be required to follow additional burdensome reporting requirements. State organs will gain sweeping powers to carry out excessive inspections.  

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, “agents of foreign influence” will be barred from “political activities”, as well as any activity that “undermines the integrity of the Republika Srpska”. These unidentified terms deflate the core nature of civic advocacy which is aimed at influencing state policy and decision-making in favour of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. 

Non-compliance with the legislation would result in heavy fines. Additionally, in Republika Srpska, the sanctions appear starkly harsh and disproportionate: prohibition of activities and criminal punishment against “responsible individuals”. 

It seems that in Georgia, the revival of restrictive legislation against non-governmental organisations is part of the larger pattern of assault against broader human rights and democratic values. On 4 April 2024, the Parliament hastily abolished mandatory gender quotas for women within political party lists, while constitutional amendments threatening to outlaw LGBTQI-related expression and protest were initiated on 3 April.  

Contrary to the declaratory aims of the Georgian and Republika Srpska authorities to increase transparency in the already open civic sector, experience in other countries shows that the real aim of “foreign agent” laws is to vilify defenders and delegitimise their vital work. The phenomenon of so-called “foreign agent legislation” is inspired by Russia’s 2012 law. Over the years we have observed and documented how Russian authorities use this legislation to attack freedom of association and expression, decimate independent civil society; stigmatise, silence and subdue human rights defenders, media, and critical voices.  

Using Russia’s authoritarian playbook against civil society has become a wider regional trend, simultaneously unfolding in the South Caucasus, Western Balkans and Central Asia. On 2 April 2024, the President of Kyrgyzstan signed a similar law, targeting civil society and free media under the comparable pretext used in Georgia and the Republika Srpska.  

Foreign agent law contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights, to which both Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are parties. The European Court of Human Rights found Russian foreign agent legislation to violate the requirement of foreseeability and predictability and thus, fail the test for the quality of law, infringing freedom of association. The proposed pieces of legislation are inconsistent with the European Union Charter on Fundamental Freedoms too. The Court of Justice of the EU found similar legislation in Hungary to violate, amongst others, freedom of association guaranteed by the Charter, which is relevant for both Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as EU candidates.  

The Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR concluded that the Republika Srpska law would violate the freedom of expression and association. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights “underscored the already restrictive environment” for the civil society in Bosnia and Herzegovina and assessed the draft to be detrimental to the enjoyment of freedoms.  

Following the country visit to Georgia in November 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders outlined the narrative of “an internal enemy” directed at the civil society and noted with concern the damage already done by the prevalent discourse on foreign agent legislation. She called on the authorities to reverse the deteriorating situation for the defenders. 

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders requires states to create an enabling environment for civil society, not restrict the funding and not delegitimise human rights activities based on the geographic origin of such funding. Everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to solicit and receive funding for the promotion and protection of human rights, including from foreign sources

We urge the Parliament of Georgia and the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska to respect international obligations undertaken by their states under the Council of Europe and UN instruments, uphold fundamental freedoms underpinning free and independent civil society, and withdraw the bills that can damage civil society and media irreversibly.

Belarusian Association of Journalists

Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv and its member organisations:

  • Human Rights Vector NGO

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)

Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Human Rights House Banja Luka and its member organisations:

  • Banjaluka Centre for Human Rights
  • Centre for Environment
  • Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly
  • Hi Neighbour
  • Transparency International

Human Rights House Belgrade and its member organisations:

  • Civic Initiatives
  • Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM

Human Rights House Crimea and its member organisations:

  • Human Rights Centre ZMINA
  • CCE Almenda

Human Rights House Tbilisi and its member organisations:

  • Rights Georgia
  • GCRT – Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims
  • Human Rights Centre
  • Media Institute
  • Sapari

Human Rights House Yerevan and its member organisations:

  • Pink Human Rights Defender NGO
  • Sexual Assault Crisis Center
  • Socioscope NGO
  • Women’s Resource Center NGO

Human Rights House Zagreb and its member organisations:

  • Centre for Peace Studies
  • Documenta – Center for Dealing with the Past

Legal Education Society (Azerbaijan)

Mental Health and Human Rights Info  (Norway)

Sarajevo Open Centre

The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House