Our Voices

Zimbabwe Must Withdraw the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill

March 2, 2022

Zimbabwean authorities should immediately withdraw the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill, which was gazetted on 5 November 2021 and announced in Parliament earlier this month. Public hearings on the PVO Amendment Bill have begun this week and are ongoing.

If passed into law, the PVO Amendment would provide the government with unfettered discretionary power to overregulate and interfere in nongovernment organizations’ governance and operations. For instance, its provisions provide the government with unchecked power to designate any PVO as “high risk” or “vulnerable” to terrorism abuse, thereby allowing them to revoke a PVO’s registration and remove or replace its leadership. In addition, to avoid civil penalties, PVOs would be required to receive approval from the government for any “material change” including changes to its management and internal constitution. Furthermore, PVOs would be prohibited from supporting or opposing any political party or candidate.

While the government claims that the PVO Amendment Bill is necessary to comply with counterterrorism and anti-money laundering recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), there are already laws in place to address them. Not only is the PVO Amendment Bill not necessary, but also its provisions are neither proportionate nor targeted in accordance with FATF (Recommendation 8) standards.

Civil society organizations have expressed legitimate concerns over the PVO Amendment Bill’s contravention of national, regional, and international standards of freedom of association. Notably, on 17 December 2021, four UN Special Rapporteurs sent a joint communication to the President of Zimbabwe, expressing their concerns of the PVO Amendment Bill’s legality and infringement upon the right to freedom of association. They stressed that the PVO Bill grants unchecked discretion to authorities and its provisions contain overly broad and vague language ripe for abuses against politically disfavored organizations.

The government’s unrestricted power to deregister, target, and harass PVOs deemed critical of the government not only violates the fundamental right to freedom of association, but also undermines the critical role PVOs play in a democratic society. Further, the potential barriers to registration of PVOs and the burdensome operating requirements will impact a broad range of PVOs, including churches and charities, disrupting vital services that these entities provide their communities such as legal aid work and humanitarian support.

Zimbabwe is a party to several regional and international treaties which guarantee freedom of association. Section 58 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe also guarantees this right. Instead of trying to pass the PVO Amendment Bill, which overregulates and restricts the operation of nongovernmental organizations in violation of regional and international law and the Constitution, the Zimbabwe government should consult and work with civil society to better foster an enabling civic space as promised in the country’s laws and policies.


Access Now
African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
AfricanDefenders the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network
African Sex Workers Alliance
Botswana Centre for Human Rights
Central African Human Rights Defenders Network – REDHAC
Centre for Democracy and Development
CIDH Africa
Gender Centre for Empowering Development
Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
Human Rights Defenders Solidarity Network
Human Rights Defenders Solidarity Network – Uganda
Human Rights Institute of South Africa
Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa
Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network
Nunca Más
Pan African Lawyers Union – Arusha, Tanzania
Protection International Africa
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Somali Journalists Syndicate
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network – Southern Defenders
Spaces for Change – Nigeria
West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network