May 18, 2015 (JUBA) – An umbrella group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in South Sudan have expressed fears over potential humanitarian repercussions of a bill that would impose 20% limit on foreign staff.
The NGOs group warned that a new law that would force aid agencies working in South Sudan to ensure that no more than a fifth of their staff are foreigners could cost lives and have “catastrophic effects” on those most at risk in the aid-dependent and conflict-riven nation.
On Wednesday last week, South Sudan’s parliament passed the NGOs bill, which, according to the office of the president, Salva Kiir, is intended “to regulate the NGOs, international and local.”
Although the bill is still awaiting Kiir’s signature, the South Sudan NGOs forum expressed fears it could jeopardise humanitarian activities and operations once enacted.
They cited the resulting conflict – which has split the country along ethnic lines, pitting Kiir’s Dinka against Machar’s Nuer – and has killed more than 10,000 people, forced about 1.5 million from their homes, and left 2.5 million facing severe food shortage.
The NGO Forum, which represents 160 national and 140 international NGOs working in the country, said that while it welcomed the prospect of a strong regulatory framework to make it easier for its members to operate “within a coherent and consistent legal environment,” it was worried about the bill’s humanitarian impacts.
“There are still significant concerns that certain provisions of the NGO bill will not regulate NGO operations, but rather hinder their ability to serve South Sudanese people at a time when needs are escalating due to the ongoing conflict,” the forum said in a statement Monday.
They also argued that the NGOs were not currently operating unregulated, saying they have been operating under national laws as well as rules and regulations of individual government bodies.
“If the bill is implemented in a way that creates a more regressive environment, then this will have potentially catastrophic effects for the large amounts of the South Sudanese population that rely on NGOs to provide basic services and lifesaving aid,” said the forum.
NGOs are already under mounting administrative pressure and often subject to arbitrary enforcement of rules and regulations. There are increasing incidents of harassment and violence against NGOs.
For instance, the ongoing government’s full scale offensive on positions of the rebel faction led by former vice president, Riek Machar, in greater Upper Nile region has not spared NGOs operating in the areas, forcing them to evacuate and leave populations vulnerable.
With the conflict intensifying, said the forum, food was becoming scarcer and NGOs were finding themselves trying to help people in increasingly difficult circumstances.
The statement added: “If the bill makes getting assistance to people harder rather than easier, it could cost lives at a time of tremendous suffering for South Sudanese communities.”