UNAIDS commentary on the draft Overseas NGO Management Law

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The UNAIDS China office – after cooperating with their Bangkok office and Headquarters in Geneva – have publicly commented on the second draft of the overseas NGO law, which was recently put up for a month-long period of public consultation. The focus of the commentary looks at the possible impact of the law on the AIDS sector in China. UNAIDS points out that the proposed law would not only impact foreign NGOs, but also grassroots Chinese NGOs that offer a lifeline to the most vulnerable people affected by HIV/AIDS.

Background: AIDS in China

According to the UNAIDS commentary, AIDS affects 0.06% of the Chinese population. It impacts particularly on the LGBT community, drug addicts, and sex workers. There had been 437,000 reported HIV cases in China up to 2013 and this number had increased to 500,000 by the end of 2014. The main channel for infection remains sexual intercourse (which has grown from 33.1% in 2006 to 90.8% in 2013), while 21.4% of HIV positive people in 2013 had contracted it through male-to-male sexual intercourse (up from 2.5% in 2006). In 2013 7.3% of Chinese homosexual males were HIV positive.

The UNAIDS commentary makes it clear that community-based organizations are vital in controlling AIDS. They are capable of accessing high-risk people; they understand the effect of AIDS on communities; and they are a bridge of trust between the government and AIDS communities. According to UNAIDS over the past ten years, China’s AIDS control has been relatively successful. NGOs, including grassroots organizations, have played an important role. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria committed 800 million USD to China from 2003 to 2013. 324 million USD of this money was devoted to AIDS control. In 2012 and 2013, over 1000 NGOs participated in AIDS control. 858 of them received funding from the Global Fund and initiated 948 projects. The Global Fund stopped giving grants to China in 2013 and this negatively impacted the dynamic relationships that existed between civil society, government, and the AIDS community. The Chinese government promised to take over from the Global Fund’s role in China and has been building a mechanism supporting NGOs involved in AIDS control. Michel Sidibe, the director of UNAIDS, met with Premier Li Keqiang, who promised to devote 30 million RMB in supporting NGOs and another 20 million yuan to fill the gap left by the Global Fund.

The impact of the draft Overseas NGO Management Law

In general the UNAIDS commentary recognizes the Chinese government’s past efforts in the fight against AIDS while pointing out that the draft Law could deal it serious future setbacks if it is implemented in its proposed form.

Firstly they highlights the fact that the proposed legislation would restrict funding going to grassroots Chinese NGOs. They point out that according to Article 27 of the draft law, funding can only be transferred to a bank account that was filed with the registration management authorities. Individuals, legal persons, and organizations in China also cannot receive funding from overseas NGOs that are not legally registered. Overseas NGOs that are not capable of registering in China will therefore have great difficulty continuing to support local grassroot organizations.

The law also puts in place a barrier to access high-risk AIDS communities. Many of these communities choose not to go to public hospitals and clinics. Currently the best way to reach them is through various programs run by grassroots NGOs. The new NGO law, however, does not specify what kinds of events are allowed. Instead, Article 5 of the draft legislation points out activities that are forbidden (e.g. those that impact China’s security or national and ethnic unity;disrupt public order and morality; or harm China’s national interests, societal public interests, or the legal rights of other groups and citizens). This Article may hinder those NGOs serving high-risk communities that are unable to register, since under the new law overseas NGOs are only able to support legally registered Chinese partners.

UNAIDS also points out that the biggest challenge for grassroots Chinese NGOs is capacity-building and that through cooperating with foreign NGOs, these grassroots organisations have improved their capacities. Articles’ 11 and 12 of the draft Law state that all overseas NGOs must have a Professional Supervisory Unit (业务主管单位), and UNAIDS points out that those organizations who focus on high-risk populations may be unable to find such a Unit to sponsor them.