NGOs hope to be released from legal 'grey area'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 December, 2009, 12:00am


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Activists have cautiously welcomed news that NGOs may soon get legal status on the mainland but they have doubts over whether it will go ahead.

They said the change in the law was necessary to save NGOs from operating in a 'legal grey area' and that the organisations played an important role in society.

The comments follow reports in state media that stringent regulations on operating and registering such social groups would soon be relaxed significantly.

The current law was out of date and was being revised, the China Daily quoted an official in charge of NGO registration as saying yesterday.

Sun Weilin , director of the Ministry of Civil Affairs' Bureau of Social Organisation Registration, said legal status would allow NGOs to have better working environments and the ability to develop in a sustainable manner.

The head of a government-backed Aids organisation said the change would be introduced imminently for groups helping people who were HIV-positive, the English-language paper reported.

'That will not only facilitate the work of these organisations, but also give a long-term boost to China's anti-HIV/Aids efforts,' Shen Jie , secretary general of the Chinese Association of Aids and STD Prevention and Control, told the paper. Yesterday was World Aids Day.

The status of NGOs on the mainland received a significant boost in the wake of last year's devastating earthquake in Sichuan .

However, they largely continue to operate on an unofficial basis, with most organisations being registered only as a commercial company, raising legal difficulties in a number of areas such as fund-raising.

The current law requires all NGOs to be attached to a government department or organisation, but many are worried they cannot operate independently if they are under an official supervisor.

Lu Jun , chief co-ordinator of the Beijing Yirenping Centre, which supports hepatitis-B suffers, said any change to the law should be implemented unilaterally.

'If such a change was introduced, it should apply to all NGOs,' he said. 'Very few organisations deal with only one problem; they tend to cover a wide range of issues. In any case, our situation is almost exactly the same as that of Aids charities, so there is no reason to treat us differently.

'There are similar reports in the official media every few years, and yet they have never come to anything. But I am still hopeful. If this were implemented, it would be a major step forward ... and bring us into line with international standards.'

Zhang Boju , an activist with the green organisation Friends of Nature, said NGOs often felt as though they were operating in a legal grey area.

'There is a real lack of clarity on the legal position,' Zhang said. 'At the moment, there seems to be no law that clearly defines which NGO activities are legal and which are not. That makes it difficult for our volunteers and means they have no legal guarantee.'