Civil society organizations in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity are awaiting lawmakers to discuss a bill that restricts the work of non-profit organizations receiving foreign funding. Critics argue that the bill, inspired by similar legislation in Russia, resembles authoritarianism and could significantly impact the work of non-governmental organizations defending democracy, media freedom, and human rights in Republika Srpska. The draft, adopted by the Republika Srpska government in late September, will go to the assembly once a public consultation period concludes in mid-December.
If adopted, the legislation will create a special register of non-profits receiving foreign funding, regulating conditions and procedures for transparency in their operations. These organizations will be required to submit financial reports detailing their income and sources. They will be prohibited from engaging in political activity and given the government’s discretion to declare them “agents of foreign influence.”
Experts believe the move will have a devastating effect on civil society in Republika Srpska, as it is the latest restriction of rights under Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik. The draft also gives the minister of justice the right to ban a non-profit if it is deemed to have broken the law.
The draft bill for the Republika Srpska state-level justice ministry aims to regulate the work of NGOs registered in Bosnia’s Muslim and Croat Federation. The bill does not apply to international organisations registered in Republika Srpska, but it will apply to international organizations. If approved, Transparency International will have to submit all reports on projects funded by international donors, while others funded by state-level ministries will not.
This discriminatory law will also apply to Capital, a non-profit registered in Banja Luka. If the bill passes, all activities funded by foreign donors will be marked as “financed by foreign influence.” This would be posted on investigative articles, social media posts, and anything supported through project money. The draft does not currently regulate foreign grants given via third parties registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the Republika Srpska government may include this before the vote. The bill is seen as a continuation of the repression of freedom of speech, especially after defamation was criminalized again.
The European Commission has criticized the criminalisation of defamation in Bosnia as a significant regression, stating that the foreign agent bill would be another step backward. The draft does not classify the information field as ‘political activity’, but critics fear media will be targeted. The new media law will further limit the work of non-profit media, with small media outlets, often registered as non-profits, and investigative outlets most affected. The European Commission is making plans to protect themselves from the legal side, aiming to keep the ‘foreign agents’ mark low-profile. If the government sees the bill, they may include it before the final law is voted on.