More than a year ago, in January 2006, the Ministry of Justice of Tajikistan developed a new draft Law “On Public Associations”, significantly tightening control over the activities of non-governmental organizations. Justifying this initiative, Deputy Minister of Justice Rustam Mengliev argued that many NGOs do not comply with the law. According to him, only 12-15% of NGOs comply with the established procedure for notifying the Ministry of Justice about changes in their activities, not all registered NGOs are registered in tax authorities in a timely manner and maintain accounting records in accordance with current legislation.
In fact, it was clear to everyone that the authorities are concerned not with these technical issues, but with the very existence of organizations that are not controlled by the state. Officials do not like the fact that NGOs are financed from abroad, and they fear that some of them are pursuing not so much social as political goals. Meanwhile, until this time, in contrast to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, NGOs in Tajikistan enjoyed considerable freedom. The liberal attitude to them from the government was explained by pragmatic considerations - organizations of social, charitable orientation help to solve numerous social problems for which the state that survived the civil war and post-war devastation lacks funds. However, there were enough negative points in the new bill. According to the general opinion of lawyers from NGOs, the draft law stipulated restrictions on the rights of public associations, and state bodies should have been given greater powers to control their activities. It was also supposed to introduce some restrictions on the creation and activities of NGOs. Soon enough, the draft law was submitted to the lower house of the Parliament of Tajikistan.
This caused concern among NGOs. Representatives of civil society tried to influence the situation and took all measures to ensure that their opinions were reflected in this law. At the initiative of the Tajik public organization “Society and Law”, the International Center for Non-Commercial Law (ICNP) twice, taking into account the amendments already made by deputies during consideration, analyzed the bill, making its proposals and wishes, and sent these documents to parliament. Similar appeals were received from many other NGOs in the country. The leadership of the Association of Civil Society Support Centers sent a letter to the chairman of the lower chamber of the Parliament of Tajikistan with a request to meet with representatives of civil society and discuss amendments to the adopted law. Given the increased public interest in the adoption of the law “On public associations”, its consideration was postponed.
Consideration of the bill lasted for almost a year, and during this time, the deputies, together with representatives of NGOs, held two round tables, and the proposals received were studied. And yet the last word remained for the deputies. The new Law of Tajikistan “On Public Associations” was adopted on February 14 of this year. In accordance with it, for a very short period, a little more than six months, that is, before September 1 of this year, NGOs, which currently number about 3,000, must be reregistered; not passed the procedure of re-registration will be closed. Annually, by April 1, NGOs are obliged to provide information about their activities, location of the governing body and the leaders of the association. They are also obliged to provide information on their activities, and to assist in informing the registering authorities in the implementation of inspections, examination of documentation, statutory goals and compliance with the laws of Tajikistan.
The deputies themselves assessed the new law very positively. But in their assessments the main motive for the adoption of this law comes through. Member of the Committee on International Relations, Public Associations and Information Nurali Rioev said: “Representatives of NGOs and international organizations have received many offers to expand the ability of foreign citizens to take part in the public life of the country. However, we should not forget that in addition to Europe, the USA and other democratic states, we are surrounded by other, non-democratic states that can take advantage of this, infiltrate our lives and contribute to destabilization in our country. ”
According to the new law, the activities of NGOs can be suspended only by a court decision, while in neighboring countries, for example in Russia, the activities of organizations can be suspended by the General Prosecutor’s Office and the registering body. "Only the court can determine the involvement of organizations in a terrorist or some other unlawful association," Rioev praised the law.
Deputy Galiya Rabieva reported that, at the request of NGOs, the law, taking into account the proposals of civil society organizations, was made significant easing. “The presented project, indeed, introduces some restrictions on the activities of NGOs, but during the discussions we introduced two new forms of existence of public organizations, increased the terms of duty-free reregistration and the procedure for suspending NGOs, stipulated in the new law. In addition, we specified the position that NGOs cannot be created by members of terrorist organizations, and this applies only to those persons whose guilt is proved by the court. We took into account the requirements of international standards, and I do not think that the new law will interfere with the activities of NGOs, ”she said.
But the opinion of NGO staff is somewhat different. The director of the programs of the Republican Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law Nigina Bakhrieva believes that the deputies really took into account many of the recommendations submitted by international and non-governmental organizations regarding this Law. “However, there are some rules that significantly limit the human right to freedom of association. The Constitution guarantees the right of everyone to create an association, but this law says that only citizens of Tajikistan can be founders and members of a public association. Foreign citizens and stateless persons who do not reside permanently in the country and do not have a residence permit cannot be founders and members of a public organization. Also, the new law introduces a restriction on the leadership and membership in the audit and control bodies, since persons who are not permanently residing in the territory of Tajikistan cannot belong to them, which constitutes discriminatory moments in the new law, ”said Bakhrieva. In addition, Bakhrieva added that “the Law introduces additional requirements for the registration of branches of a public organization. If an organization has the status of a republican organization and is registered with the Ministry of Justice, what is the need for additional registration of branches and representative offices with registration authorities? The law provides for a list of the organizational and legal form of public associations. This, in particular, public organizations, public movements and bodies of public initiative. Where do we include such organizational and legal forms of organizations as public foundations, public institutions and others provided for by the Civil Code? Does this mean that those organizations that have such an organizational and legal form should change it upon registration or not? In general, today, the new law raises many questions that need to be resolved. ”
These concerns are shared by the head of the NGO Society and Law, Muattar Khaidarova. “There are fears that not everyone will be able to re-register, since the types of NGOs are limited, and a too short period for re-registration reinforces these fears. It means that someone will lose the opportunity to work and support themselves, which is very sad with our unemployment, ”she says. Employees of the Ministry of Justice, in turn, declare that the actually working NGOs make up no more than 20% of the registered ones. In general, Khaidarova believes that thanks to this law, the state will strengthen control over NGOs and foreign participation in the work of civil society. “The law defines 4 categories of NGOs that must be registered in different instances, and commercial organizations are assigned 1 category. This infringes on the rights of NGOs, since it turns out that civilians are not equal, and this is contrary to the Civil Code, ”she said.
In addition, the law introduced accreditation of international NGOs to the Foreign Ministry, which was opposed by many NGOs. “Accreditation will be carried out on the basis of the procedure developed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is difficult to assess the consequences of such an innovation. If foreign organizations will be accredited only by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will not be registered with the Ministry of Justice, the innovation can be considered positive. However, if foreign organizations have to undergo a double process of legalization and registration in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, the process will become much more complicated. In the latter case, the regulation of foreign organizations will seriously deteriorate, ”said Khaidarova.
The head of the civil law department of the Russian-Tajik Slavic University, Khurshed Nasyrov, is also surprised by this position. “The law does not define accreditation for NGOs. And we do not understand what it will be: registration or some form of interaction, ”he argues.
So, a new law regulating the activities of public organizations has been adopted. And, as they say, "the law is bad, but it is the law." And it will have to be performed by all NGOs. And in the fall, we will all calculate what the losses in civil society organizations have been caused by the new law.