Kyrgyzstan President Signs Long-Awaited NGO Law on Non-Commercial Organizations

15 October 1999

Developing the non-commercial sector has become as growing priority for countries of the Central Asian region. The non-commercial sector, generally consisting of non-profits or “NGOs”, is vital to overall economic and democratic development. Although international trends demonstrate that NGOs play a key role in a developing a nation’s economy and democracy, NIS countries are cautious with NGO law reform and lag in its development. Last Thursday, Kyrgyzstan set itself apart by adopting a modern and comprehensive law on NGOs – “On Non-Commercial Organizations”.

The new law abandons the Soviet system of regulation of non-commercial entities. The existing law “On Public Associations”, with its out-of-date provisions related to compelled registration and geographical limitations on activities, will no longer be applied to NGOs. The new NGO law allows to significantly reduce the costs for creation, registration and regulation of all NGOs (both locally and regionally within Kyrgyzstan).

This long awaited law has been more than two years in the making and during that time, has continued to be a source of debate and discussion among deputies, NGOs and the international community. The draft law was finally passed by Parliament last Spring, only to be vetoed by the President on technical grounds in July. On October 1st, deputies of Parliament addressed the President’s objections and sent it back to his desk for signature. Amid tense political developments and forthcoming elections, the law’s passage was in question. The initial veto warranted speculation that the law would be put off until after 2000. However, on October 15th, President Akaev finally affirmed his administration’s commitment to NGO law reform by signing this new piece of legislation.

Over the course of two years, the law gained considerable attention. The initiative began in 1998 with an official working group of deputies who combined competing NGO law initiatives into a single draft NGO law. This was done with assistance from the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and local attorney, Mirgul Smanilieva (President of the Kyrgyzstan Lawyers Association). The drafters also actively sought the input from local NGOs and assistance from international organizations (such as USAID sponsored NDI).

Although the collective effort on this particular draft was unprecedented, the history of the draft was not free of controversy. Many human rights organizations criticized the draft for not providing distinct advantages to NGOs. Meanwhile, the government was seemingly concerned with the potential for political factions to use the new law to subvert the distinct laws governing political movements -- a growing concern to Kyrgyz authorities. Despite these adversities, the draft law was continually modified by its drafters into an acceptable form and eventually passed by Parliament and President.

Of primary importance are the changes under the new law -- a series of progressive provisions that alter the legal and regulatory environment for NGOs and non-profit entities. Although the law's effectiveness really depends on its implementation by government authorities, the law itself may be the most progressive of its kind in the entire NIS.

In general, the new law establishes a solid organizational-legal basis for the creation of non-profits. In this respect, this new law potentially strengthens the status of all non-commercial organizations, and establishes their clear distinction from commercial organizations. The new NGO law also clearly defines the legal status of the organizational-legal forms of legal entities or NGOs (associations, foundations and institutions). Certain organizational legal forms, such as property-based foundations, were previously non-existent in the legislation. It will also be possible to create these foundations by testamentary act. Also, the specifics of governing structures and control issues within a foundation will be clarified (i.e. creation and powers of Board of Directors and Advisory Councils).

However, passage of the law does not make NGO law reform complete. Much still depends on the government authorities (ministries) that must implement the new NGO law. Narrow interpretations and potential tightening of regulations may occur in the form of follow-up instructions – a move which may threaten the law's utility. At least for now, the initial step by the parliament to enact contemporary NGO legislation is time-tested and Presidentially approved. It only remains to be seen whether the government can follow-through with this initial progress.