23 Nov Through hardship to the registration of NGO in Uzbekistan
Illustration: Eldos Fazylbekov / Gazeta.uz
Despite some positive changes in the development of civil society in Uzbekistan, registration of public organisations is still an extremely frustrating process. I have analysed the recent case of an initiative group of young volunteers in Tashkent, who have already received 18 (!) official rejections from the Tashkent city Department of Justice. Below I provide a brief translation of the article that I wrote for Gazeta.uz in Russian.
At the beginning of this year, we published a series of articles on artificial barriers and obstacles in the registration of self-initiative NGOs in Uzbekistan. In response, the Ministry of Justice asked to clarify the names of NGOs that were facing problems in registration. We have presented two specific cases of initiative groups – the Youth Volunteer Center “Oltin qanot” (“Golden Wing”) and the Republican Public Association of Disabled People “Inklyuziv Hayot” (“Inclusive Life”).
NGO “Inklyuziv Hayot” was registered with the Ministry of Justice on September 28 after the initiative group of disabled people received 12 refusals. However, a group of young activists trying to establish the “Oltin Qanot” Youth Volunteer Center has received eighteen refusals to register NGOs from the Tashkent Justice Department since October 2018. In the article, I provided a detailed chronology of the rejections and the reasons given by the registering authority (in Russian).
Did the registering authority have the opportunity to list the shortcomings in the constituent documents immediately? If refusal No. 1 was due to the fact that a bank payment document was not attached to the application, and refusal No. 2 was due to the fact that the minutes of the general meeting was not attached, then further shortcomings in the charter were revealed step by step. After the applicant corrected the mistakes found in the charter, the city justice department finds more and more errors that could be indicated in the first refusal to register.
This practice openly violates the provisions of the Law “On Administrative Procedures”, which was analysed in detail by Leonid Khvan, Candidate of Legal Sciences, concerning the review of applications for registration of NGOs.
Moreover, such attitude of the justice authorities hinders the implementation of the new Law “On volunteering”, which was the first legal document to define the concept of a “volunteer organisation” – an NGO created and carrying out volunteer activities per the law. In other words, until a volunteer organisation is registered with the status of an NGO, it is not considered established.
As can be seen from the chronology of 18 refusals received from the Tashkent City Department of Justice, opening a volunteer organisation in practice is extremely painful. A question to officials from the Ministry of Justice: how will we develop volunteering activity in Uzbekistan if it so difficult to register volunteer organisations?
A quick search in the open register of NGOs and their divisions using the keywords “volontyorlik”, “volontyorlik tashkiloti” or “volontyor” (including words in Uzbek Cyrillic) did not provide any results. This raises additional concerns that as of today, not a single NGO may be registered as a “volunteer organisation” in Uzbekistan.
One gets the impression that the registration process for NGOs is designed to make the initiative group of young people upset and ultimately abandon their idea. However, Sanatbek Muzaffarov, a student of the National University of Uzbekistan majoring in “Social work”, one of the initiators of the Youth Volunteer Center “Oltin qanot” is not giving up:
“After two years, our organisation has not been yet registered. But we have established an Academy of Volunteers with the status of an LLC. We have recently submitted the constituent documents for registration of our NGO for the twenty-third time. When I applied for the last time, a representative of the Department of Justice of Tashkent took me aside and asked me not to submit any more, saying that they had received approval from four or five organisations and were still waiting for a response from two or three organisations. We were told that if these organisations give a positive answer and the documents pass the examination, our NGO will be registered. Otherwise, we will not be able to register our organisation. But we are not giving up and will continue to apply.”
Sanatbek claims that they have not received a written response from the city justice department to four applications for registration of NGOs dated June 15, August 19, September 30 and October 16 this year. The last time they submitted their documents was on November 9th.
According to clause 19 of the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 57 of March 10, 2014, “the registration authority has the right to send the documents submitted for state registration of NGOs to the relevant organisations for examination”. The list of organisations that have the right to conduct such an “examination” is not disclosed. According to the decree, such organisations are required to provide their opinion within 20 days.
At the same time, the conclusion of anonymous expert organisations may contain an opinion on the advisability of refusing state registration of NGOs, and in this case, the organisation must substantiate its conclusion in the framework of the cases provided for in paragraphs 2-10 of clause 24 of the Regulation on the procedure for state registration of NGOs. However, the initiative group for the creation of the NGO “Oltin Qanot” is not given the opportunity to get acquainted with the expertise of third organisations.
An interesting fact for comparison – it took them only one hour to register LLC “Academy of Young Volunteers” at the Center for State Services of the Almazar District, the organisation was registered after the first submission of constituent documents.
“The employee of the center [for State Services] himself entered our data into the ready-made template of the charter of the LLC and did not require any documentation,” says Sanatbek Muzaffarov.
The paradox here lies in the fact that despite the fact that young people want to carry out voluntary socially oriented and socially useful activities on a free basis, a spoke is put in their wheels, and all paths are opened for business and entrepreneurial activity.
No light visible at the end of the tunnel
Why does the registration process of the NGO “Oltin qanot” take so long? Could it be that one of the “expert organisations” gave an opinion about the inexpediency of registering an NGO, which does not fit into the officially admissible reasons for refusal?
We only have to guess, because the initiative group is not informed about the exact timing of the agreement with the third organisations, about the minutes of meetings and negotiations of the registering authority with the relevant anonymous organisations, which makes the whole process of registration of NGOs non-transparent.
It is a shame that the motivation of the volunteer group falls in the protracted struggle for registration of NGOs. Instead of supporting grassroots youth initiatives in every possible way, the city justice department repeatedly denies registration.
Of course, based on this specific case, it is impossible to say that all initiative groups in Uzbekistan face such barriers. Nevertheless, the system and procedure for registration is the same for everyone, but it is unclear what criteria are used to make a decision on registration of NGOs. Why, for example, NGO “Inklyuziv hayot” was registered at the thirteenth submission of documents, but NGO “Oltin qanot” still does not see the light at the end of the tunnel?
All hope for a new code on NGOs
The draft Code on NGOs must have been submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by February 1, 2020. At the end of January, the director of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, a member of the Advisory Council under the President of Uzbekistan, candidate of legal sciences Sayora Khodjaeva stated that the original version of the code developed by the Ministry of Justice was prepared in a hurry and without the participation of civil society representatives.
“In many European countries, one person can easily register an NGO within three days. Our founders must be at least 10 people, and the registration process takes a month. In the new code, we proposed to reduce the number of founders to at least five people, and the registration period to 10 days, but they did not hear us,” Sayora Khodjaeva said in January.
Then the civil activists expressed their extreme dissatisfaction with the draft Code on NGOs proposed by the Ministry of Justice, and began to develop their alternative documents. Several independent groups were created with the participation of representatives of self-initiative NGOs. The Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, together with the Center for the Study of Legal Problems and the Fergana branch of the Center for Support of Civil Initiatives, prepared their own version of the Code on NGOs (in Russian).
In addition, the Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan with the participation of representatives of more than 50 self-initiative NGOs and international experts has also developed an alternative Code on NGOs (text in Uzbek and Russian). Alternative versions of the code were sent to parliament. The chairperson of the Association, lawyer Oybek Isakov proposes to include the following provisions regarding the registration process of NGOs:
“Registration of NGOs must be carried out through notification in online form within 7 working days from the date of submission of documents. It is necessary to provide the right to create NGOs with the status of a legal entity and without it. At the same time, it is necessary to register only those NGOs that intend to carry out their activities with the status of a legal entity. In our version of the code, we propose to transfer the function of registration of NGOs to the Agency of State Services, where NGOs could simultaneously register with the tax service and statistics bodies.”
The developers of the alternative NGO Code propose to prohibit “refusal of registration, extension or postponement of registration due to grammatical, stylistic and other technical errors in the text of documents, as well as technical flaws in the design.” If the registering authority discovers errors and technical deficiencies in the execution of the constituent documents, then the applicant must be given the opportunity to eliminate the shortcomings with the assistance of the registering authority employees within three days from the date of their discovery.
It is also proposed to prohibit the refusal to register on grounds of the inexpediency of creating an NGO. Moreover, when resubmitting documents, the applicant is given the right to submit to the registering authority only those documents in which errors were previously identified.
Activists also propose in the new Code to remove restrictions on the territorial activities of NGOs so that they have the right to carry out their activities throughout the country, regardless of the place of registration and location of the legal address.
However, according to the information of the Human Rights Watch, “promises to bring the code of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in line with international standards remain unfulfilled.” Alternative codes on NGOs prepared by civil activists were sent to the Ministry of Justice and the Presidential Administration.
The roadmap for the implementation of the National Strategy of Uzbekistan on Human Rights provided for the completion of work on the draft Code on NGOs by August 1, 2020. However, the Ministry of Justice has not yet published the final draft of the Code on NGOs on the portal for public discussion of draft regulatory legal acts.
The Executive Director of the Development Strategy Center, Eldor Tulyakov, reported that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the development of the draft Code on NGOs and the Strategy for the Development of Civil Society has been delayed.
How many social projects to support vulnerable groups of the population could young volunteers implement if their youth center “Oltin qanot” had been registered before the pandemic? Indeed, in order to hold an event or charity campaign, you must be an officially registered organisation.
In addition to problems with registration of NGOs, a number of issues related to the development of civil society remain unresolved. Despite promises by officials to open an “NGO house” in Tashkent by March 2020, there is still no official information about this by the end of the year. According to the presidential decree, such “houses” were to be created on the basis of empty and inefficiently used state property by January 1, 2019 in every region of the country.
The structure of the Public Chamber has not yet been formed, which, together with the interested ministries and departments, within three months had to develop and submit to the Presidential Administration a draft regulation on its apparatus, as well as develop and submit to the Cabinet of Ministers a draft law “On the Public Chamber under the President of the Republic Uzbekistan”. Unfortunately, more than seven months after the signing of the presidential decree on April 16, 2020, nothing has been done to create the Public Chamber.