ICNL logo

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2013

A publication of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor

Changing Legal Environments for Civil Society Organizations

The South African NPO Crisis: Time to Join Hands
Ricardo Wyngaard

Bill on Societal Organizations (RUU Ormas) and Freedom of Association in Indonesia
Eryanto Nugroho

What’s New in the Governance of Canadian Not-for-Profit Corporations?
Terrance Carter


Responsible Investments by Foundations from a Legal Perspective
Dominique Jakob and Peter Picht

My Brother’s Keeper: Challenges in Gifting in the Kenyan Context
Henry Otieno Ochido

The Role of NGOs in Independent Tajikistan
Firdoos Dar

A Network Approach to NGO Development: Women's NGOs in Mongolia
Byambajav Dalaibuyan

- - - - - - - - - -

PDF Download this issue (PDF)

Editorial Board

The Role of NGOs in Independent Tajikistan

By Firdoos Dar[1]

Over the past three decades, world politics has changed significantly, with many nonstate actors providing alternative support for development. The fall of Soviet Union has fundamentally altered the conditions for the emergence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Central Asia in general and Tajikistan in particular. This article analyzes the role of NGOs in the sociopolitical development of Tajikistan. It discusses the NGOs, their emergence, and their role in democratization. It also considers the relationship between NGOs and the state.


The end of Cold War and the hastening of the globalization process have created opportunities for nongovernmental organization (NGO) activity on a global level. Over the last three decades, the pace and involvement of NGOs have attained new heights.

The growing role of NGOs in Central Asia makes it necessary to evaluate their nature, types, and procedures. A more comprehensive approach is needed, one that goes beyond traditional analyses based on the interactions between nation-states. This article assesses the impact of the NGO sector on the sociopolitical fabric of Tajikistan as a case study with potential applicability to the rest of Central Asia. It considers the longstanding communal, self-help approach in Tajikistan; the status of organizations under communism; the loosening of restrictions and the growing impact of Western NGOs after the emergence of Central Asian republics in 1991; the contrast between these NGOs’ liberal approach and the traditional, communal approach; the government’s stance toward NGOs; and future challenges.

Traditional Communal Societies

At the outset, it is appropriate to provide a brief overview of the traditional communal societies[2] of Tajikistan, which form an important part of the present-day NGO sector. Traditional organizations like hashar, Shariki, Avlod, Mashvarat, Mahalla (neighborhood) Councils, Jamoat, Gup, and Gashtak (gatherings)[3] have a long history in Tajikistan.[4] Tajikistan trust and solidarity networks were primarily built around kinship ties. In these communal societies, individuals were able to join other like-minded people in groups based around particular interests (merchants’ guilds, for example) in order to support one another and perhaps work to promote the interests of the group. Through these kinship-based groups, individuals were able to address, express, and defend their common interests.

In Tajik society, the dominant institution of power was the Avlod (clan). For generations, this Avlod system provided survival, autonomy, and adaptability to its members, bolstering traditionalism and sustainability. The Avlod extended its membership through marriage. Today, the Avlod continues to provide assistance to obtain housing, employment, marriage partners, and certain political influence.[5]

Other forms of mutual help with roots in the pre-Soviet era were what would now be called rotating savings groups, centered on smaller family or neighborhood groups. These would not necessarily be based on cash, however; they could be more of an opportunity for social gatherings. In Uzbek, these institutions are called “gaps,” from the verb “to talk,” while in Tajik they are known as gashtak or “taking in turn or a turn.” Traditionally, these were held among men, who would invite other group members to their homes or to teahouses for a meal or entertainment.[6]

In addition, pre-Soviet era mahallas (neighborhood councils) developed in urban areas as relatively independent associations of citizens. They brought people living on the same territory together on a voluntary basis. Mahallas were self-governing, and members gathered regularly to exchange information, decide community problems, provide support for life-cycle rituals, and define public opinion in neighborhood mosques and teahouses (Chaihana).

Also, Shura Aksakal, a territorial unit similar to that of neighborhood or the council of elders, has for a long time served as an organizing principle of community life in Tajik society.

Hashar represent a voluntary sort of labor for implementing projects in Tajikistan. Their work is guided by cultural traditions at both the local and national levels.[7] Their role in adjudicating domestic and community disputes and the respect they command locally suggest an ability to take an objective stance and to draw on years of experience when deciding what is best for their community.

Tajik Organizations Under Communism

In the Soviet era, a wide array of political, professional, cultural, and social institutions existed, dominated and controlled by the Communist Party-state apparatus.[8] The Pioneers’ League was set up in 1922 as a voluntary community organization of children and teenagers, aged ten to fifteen. By end of the 1970s there were 23 million members of the Pioneers’ League across the Soviet Union. On leaving the Pioneers’ League, ambitious young people would join the Leninist Young Communist League, more commonly known as the Komsomol.

The women’s councils were also an integral part of the Soviet system of social organization, which operated through branches organized hierarchically from the republic level down. These committees worked under the guidance of the Party to foster civic activity and ensure the communist future of the constituent republics. They were primarily involved in moral education and the organization of cultural events, as well as ensuring adequate working conditions and living standards for women, and encouraging women to become involved in the Supreme Soviet (parliament) and government structures so as to fulfill quotas.

Other organizations existed, too. There were scientific associations of teachers, surgeons, architects, miners, inventors, and innovators. These associations worked under Party guidance and control. The Red Cross, managed from Moscow, had branches throughout all the Soviet republics. In subbotniki, people would provide labor on their days off (from subbota, Saturday). Introduced in the 1920s, this was an important mechanism for organizing communal work through local Party people.[9]

Although many people believe that the Soviet regime eliminated all traces of traditional or religious associational life, it did not. Alongside the Soviet forms of associations linked to the state, other, less visible organizations existed, such as parent associations, as well as bodies focused on the needs of particular sections of society, such as pensioners, veterans, and women.

In Soviet Tajikistan, the traditions of community-based voluntary action (hashar) aided those who were in need (sadaqa); these traditionswere largely maintained in rural areas. Mahallas, or neighborhood councils,were reincarnated in the kolkhoz, where they provided some services, maintained local infrastructure, and resolved community disputes.[10] At times, the communal civil society organizations worked with state; in Tajikistan’s history, the organizations rarely opposed the state. The Soviet authorities, however hostile they were towards traditionalism, did not succeed in eliminating local traditions of self-help and community action, but rather reinforced them through their emphasis on voluntary work as part of the Soviet citizen’s consciousness.[11]

In the 1990s, during the more liberal atmosphere of the perestroika period, some sociopolitical movements began to appear, and a few independent parties were even granted official registration.[12] For most of this period, though, there were no NGOs in the real sense of the term. At that time, civil society’s emergence was linked to the empowerment of dissident opposition movements that sought to terminate the region’s socialist/communist experiment. Civil society was equated with enemies of the Communist State.[13] Governments often repressed NGOs, pushing their leaders into jail or towards emigration. Neoliberal civil society was thus primarily perceived as a political project, with activists engaging in lobbying and advocacy.

Besides this state hostility, NGOs in Tajikistan faced additional hurdles. For example, they did not have an adequate legislative base to support their activities. They often operated in a legal vacuum; normative acts were unclear and often contradicted each other.[14] Also, civil war and resistance from political forces were highly unfavorable to the development of independent initiatives. Finally, to the extent that one existed at all, the government-NGO relation was uncoordinated.

The Rise of NGOs

From the mid-1990s, NGOs gradually took root despite a deep economic and social crisis, with strong support from Western donors. By the end of the 1990s, relations between civil society and government had advanced, while the Western/World Bank agenda remained dominant in development issues. USAID, Swiss Development Cooperation, Counterpart International, Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), INTRAC, and IREX have made use of both the liberal and the communal models for improving Tajik society.[15]

These NGOs began by doing purely humanitarian work during the civil war period, with scant involvement in politics. In early 1993, the Tajik government welcomed U.S. engagement in humanitarian and related activities, but remained suspicious of any activity with a potential political agenda. The U.S. government’s democratization program remained confined to uncontroversial issues such as the rule of law,[16] with activities that included training courses for judges and lawyers. U.S.-sponsored democracy and governance programs were implemented in Tajikistan, although the government continued to monitor NGOs.[17]

But with time, the realization set in that civil society could contribute to democratic consolidation by stabilizing expectations and social bargaining. As changes swept the region, citizens in independent organizations were empowered to open a dialogue with the government to protect their interests. Ironically, the highest level of democratic mobilization occurred in Tajikistan, despite the fact that it was often than considered the most traditional state in terms of religion.[18] Above all, with the acceptance of the first Constitution of Independent Tajikistan in 1994 and the signing of the General Peace Accord in 1997, the process of introducing international standards in political, economic, and social reforms became more active, particularly the introduction of international legal norms.

NGO Law in Tajikistan

The government of Tajikistan now encourages the formation of NGOs. The law has evolved over time. Since 1996, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law has been carrying out programs in Central Asia and the Caucasus, helping governments to formulate law dealing with NGOs.

A law on Public Associations was adopted in 1991. At that time it covered both NGOs and other parties. But the diversity of NGOs meant that they could not be regulated by a single law. In 1998, new laws were introduced that differentiated their activities. The laws provide certain tax exemptions and registration fees.[19] Under the amended law, establishing an NGO requires three founder members along with the charter and other supporting documentation. The legislative process, which makes NGOs operational in a disciplined way, is mirrored through the legislation.[20] The law regulates the creation, activity, reorganization, and liquidation of various forms of NGOs in Tajikistan, and thereby establishes a strong legal base for NGOs.

This includes “the right to create, and to participate in the creation on a voluntary basis of public associations for the protection of common interests and the achievement of general purposes, the right of free access to existing public associations, or to abstain from entering into them and to voluntarily and freely leave public associations.” It should also be stressed that this law defines a public association as “a voluntary, self-management and non-commercial formation, which is created by citizens’ and legal persons’ initiative and on the basis of generality of interests for the realization of general purposes, as specified in the charter of the public association.”

Among the improvements in the law are:

In Tajikistan, ICNL helped the government in drafting new tax codes.[22] Tajik NGOs, along with international organizations, began to lobby the working group drafting a Civil Code to include the concept of “non-commercial organisation.” They were successful: the first part of the Civil Code, passed in May 1999, includes a definition of non-commercial organizations as organizations that do not aim to derive profit and do not distribute the profit they receive among the founders and members. The Code also includes the basic organizational-legal forms of noncommercial organizations: consumer cooperatives, religious and public organizations, public funds (foundations), institutions, and associations (unions).

The Law on Public Associations of 2007 required all local and international NGOs to re-register by the end of year and subjected NGOs that work with foreign organization to additional scrutiny. Many NGOs were unable or chose not to re-register, reducing their ranks from 3,700 to 1,400. The law has been praised for benefits it introduced. The report of AKF assesses the environment of Tajikistan as conducive to the development of NGOs, stating that while the laws might be not exemplary, in practice NGOs can choose their areas of work.

On May 19, 2009, the President signed the new Law on State Registration of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs. The Law envisions two channels of state registration for NGOs. Public associations are registered with the Ministry of Justice, in accordance with the Law on Public Associations. Other noncommercial organizations (including public foundations as well as unions and institutes) are registered with the local tax authorities. Registration with the local tax authorities is both simpler and subject to less discretion than registration with the Ministry of Justice. Indeed, requiring public associations (and political parties) to undergo the complex registration procedure with the Ministry of Justice distinguishes these forms from all other legal entities, including for-profit businesses and all other types of NGOs. The amended form of law on public associations of 2010 required registration of the branch and representatives offices of foreign public associations and non-commercial organizations with the Ministry of Justice, a more burdensome registration.[23]

The Tax Code has also changed in its treatment of NGOs. The Tax Code that came into force in January 2005 included the concepts of “charitable organisation,” “charitable activity,” “grant,” humanitarian assistance, and a list of activities that can be considered charitable. This was the result of a series of meetings and proposals made by NGOs to the working group responsible for drafting the Tax Code.

In 2011, the Governments of Tajikistan initiated to adopt a revised Tax Code and created a working group from the state ministries and NGOs to develop the draft. Proposals for a new draft Tax Code of the civil society organizations took place on December 26, 2011, in Dushanbe. The roundtable was organized by ICNL, in Tajikistan, with the financial support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), “Legal Support for Civil Society Organization in Central Asia.” At the roundtable, representatives of civil society organizations were given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the new concept of tax policy in Tajikistan for the medium term, to discuss problematic issues of taxation, as well as to prepare suggestions to improve the draft Tax Code and make them available to a government working group. The new Tax Code was adopted in September 2012.

The effects of the changes to Tajik law can be gauged by the rising number of NGOs. ICNL estimated that a total of 1,241 NGOs were registered in Tajikistan in 2002, compared with 33 groups in 1993.[24] According to the Ministry of Justice, as of January 1, 2012, 2,500 public associations were registered in Tajikistan, an increase of close to 200 since the end of 2010. This number does not include Public Foundations and Associations (unions) of legal entities as NGOs, as from 2009 they are not registering in the Ministry of Justice. Approximately 600 to 800 of these NGOs are active. According to the Mountain Societies Development Support Program (MSDSP), the number of village organizations and associations also increased, by 10 percent and 15 percent respectively.[25]

NGO Activities in Tajikistan

From the mid-1990s until today, the NGO became the most prevalent form of neoliberal civil society to develop. NGOs began to address a wide range of issues, including human rights, women’s leadership, elections monitoring, environmental protection, education, micro-credit, microeconomic development, health, and family planning. While much of the state-run welfare system and infrastructure began to crumble, NGOs took over many of the functions previously reserved for government.[26]

Women have increasingly found an alternative voice in the politics of Tajikistan through participation in NGOs. Tajik government has also acknowledged their potential contribution in women empowerment. Since 2005, the Tajik Governments have provided grants to NGOs working with women and women entrepreneurs through the state Committee on Women and Family issues. These NGOs are playing a key role in mobilizing women in Tajikistan by rendering services for solving problems related to gender. For instance, the European Commission’s ongoing projects in Tajikistan, “Organizing Women Support Services” and “Education for Each Girl,” are proving helpful.[27] The government adopted the “National Plan of Action” to increase status and role of women in Tajikistan from1998 to 2005.[28]

The 2005 elections reflect these efforts. Out of 195 candidates, 32 were women. Altogether, 11 women were elected, representing over 18 percent of the lower house.[29] In the parliamentary elections in 2010, 15 women out of 73 candidates (21 percent), who were registered under party lists, competed for the mandate out of 22 possible mandates. In 41 single-mandate constituencies, the 129 candidates included 17 women (13 percent). There were 13 women (20.6 percent) among 63 elected candidates. Seven women were elected in single-mandate constituencies and six women were elected under party lists. All elected women were from the PDP.[30]

NGOs are working for the betterment of women in number of other ways. These NGOs are engaging in women education, increasing their participation in the political process of country and giving them knowledge about rights, election and leadership.[31] Jane Falkingham gives information about 53 indigenous NGOs devoted to women’s issues, such as Union of Women in Tajikistan, Women in Development Bureau, Women of Science of Tajikistan, Women’s Initiatives, Open Asia, and League of Woman Lawyers. These NGOs encourage Tajik women to think in new ways about gender and about efforts to improve their position.[32]

There is now a growing awareness among both policymakers and NGOs that gender-based violence is a problem that needs to be addressed before progress towards equality can be achieved. In response to this a number of NGOs are active in this area and the National Plan for the Advancement of Women has the prevention of all forms of violence. Tajik nongovernment organizations held a roundtable at which they renewed demands for more effective action against domestic violence. Participants said it was urgent to adopt a bill that would help the country fulfill the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women[33] (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Tajikistan is a signatory to both.[34] A coalition of public associations “from legal equality to actual equality” has started preparations for the second alternative report on the implementation of the requirements of Tajikistan Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.[35] On July 28, 2011, the United Nations Women Office in Tajikistan hosted national public hearings with stakeholders on the draft law on domestic violence, which has been under discussion for many years. At the hearing, participants raised concerns about the growing number of domestic violence cases in Tajikistan, and stated their plan to submit recommendations to further strengthen the law, according to news reports.[36] The public hearings were opened with the presentation on the current situation in Tajikistan with regards to the domestic violence and analysis of the draft law worked out by the coalition From Equality De-Jure to Equality De-Facto. Access to Justice for Victims of Violence took place on the same day in Khujand, initiated by the branch of the Human Rights Center public association in Khujand under the support of the Swiss Cooperation Office and Helvetas.[37]

The NGO sustainability index is a summary of seven variables: a country’s legal environment, organizational potential, financial status, advocacy, service-delivery level, infrastructure, and public institutes’ image. In Tajikistan, local governments increased their monitoring of the NGOs’ work. Registration remains problematic in Tajikistan, too. Organizational capacity declined slightly in 2011. In Tajikistan, donors are pushing CSOs to evaluate their operations and become more results-oriented. State social orders, or government procurement of social services, are gradually increasing, but the procedures are not transparent and promote the establishment of GONGOs. CSOs in Tajikistan reported stronger dialogue and cooperation with national and local governments in 2011. For example, strong lobbying efforts by CSOs convinced the Tax Committee, a government agency, to withhold implementation of new tax provisions for CSOs until the end of 2011. Tajikistan has improved its sustainability dramatically, moving from the lower ends of Sustainability Impeded to the middle of the Sustainability Evolving category.[38]

Today NGOs have contributed to the solution of many social problems, and what is especially important, they play a vital role in the defense of human rights. They are also becoming an effective instrument for establishing stability and peace in the republic and for maximum involvement of citizens in the process of democratization. Their active lobbying led to the signing in May 1996 of the Agreement on Establishments of Peace and Social Accord between the President, Government, Parliament, public associations, and political parties, which has now been extended indefinitely. The Social Council set up by the agreement is a representative, expert-consultative and coordinating body. It should be pointed out that the Council was the first and only such body in Central Asia at that time which regulated partnership-based relations between the state and NGOs. Counterpart International provided local NGOs, including women’s organizations, with grants and training on a competitive basis. It is currently seeking donor support for the establishment of a permanent NGO internet resource center to be located in Dushanbe. It also maintains a regional NGO database and CANGO electronic information network.

Many NGOs in Tajikistan work to improve the conflict-prevention capability of the region and of the individual governments. The impact on the preventive capability has, however, been low and uncoordinated between organizations and states. The low impact is due to the lack of political will on the part of governments to be coordinated by foreign NGOs and the possible reduction of their sovereign rights. The Tajik state is uncomfortable with fully independent NGOs in the region, and in all states there are restrictions on the freedom of such organizations. It is crucial to strengthen the states and governments before the NGOs can have a positive impact on the conflict-prevention capability in the region, as NGOs are today considered to be more of a threat than a positive force. This is because the primary actors in security issues and conflict prevention in Central Asia remain states and governments, not individuals and NGOs.

There is no doubt that NGOs are critical for the survival and well-being of people in delivering social services in Tajikistan and filling in the gaps in those areas where the state lacks the capacity to act. However, concern remains as to whether these efforts contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty, increasing the capacity of the state to deliver services, influence the decision-making process at the national level, or debate about the future of the state.

The observation shows that in post-conflict situations, civil society can positively contribute to the process of state-building and policy formulation rather than merely performing humanitarian work. Civil society organizations in Tajikistan have increasingly engaged in dialogue with authorities and state institutions at different levels. They are trying to influence the norms and practices of the legal system as well as to monitor and improve the delivery of social services provided by the state. They have attempted to change existing legislation and norms within the state institutions. Civil society organizations are likely to make durable and sustainable contributions to the social life of the country, besides their potential of improving political accountability. The only prerequisite is to implement initiatives in coordination rather than confrontation with authorities.[39] NGOs in Tajikistan are now in a position to exert pressure on the government to modify the laws.

NGOs are monitoring the record of the government on its human rights obligations and holding it accountable for shortcomings in international forums. They broke new ground by submitting alternative reports on the government’s progress in fulfilling its obligations under human rights conventions. With the support of UNIFEM and SDC, a coalition of NGOs in 2006 drafted an alternative report to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).[40] This report identified areas of concern not covered in the official national report. In addition, an alternative report was drafted by civil society for the United Nations Committee Against Torture. With the facilitation of the World Organization Against Torture, coalitions of NGOs working in human rights were brought together in a series of meetings which included international organizations and government authorities.

Much NGO activity has focused on elections. More than half a million dollars was funneled through the American NGOs such as IFES, NDI, and IREX in an election-related grant program particularly targeted at women and first-time voters. One supported NGO in the Kulob region, Elim, administered a small grant to educate women voters through a project entitled “Vote and Win.” This is not an easy job in the field in Tajikistan, where news media are sparse: In many areas, such as Rasht valley, there are no newspapers, only a few Russian TV channels and the state-owned Televizioni tojikison. As per the OSCE reports, TV channels downplayed election events while devoting major coverage to the president. To work in local administration, one must have permission from the foreign ministry. Tajik NGOs are not specifically allowed to be national (local) observers in elections. Before the last parliamentary elections, the Coalition of NGOs for Fair Elections, comprising more than 15 organizations, established a working group to amend the national laws to allow for the possibility of local election observers. A recent and positive development has been the registration of candidates who are members of NGOs. These candidates ran for the Majlisi Namoyandagon as well as for regional, town, and district majlises. Ten of them were members of the NGO Coalition.[41] The Office of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe assists Tajikistan in modernizing its electoral legislation and procedures. It helps Tajikistan in a number of fields like local government, elections, and legal awareness, too.[42]

 NGOs also promoted good governance through public service reforms, civil service and administrative reforms, and greater transparency of public administration. In 2008-2009, an NGO called Rights and Prosperity carried out research aimed at increasing the accountability and transparency of public administration, which focused on the use of complaints (appeals) mechanisms by citizens from vulnerable groups.[43] The most common complaints received by government officials regarded land, water, energy supply, and privatization. In addition, NGOs improved transparency and rationalization of public budget management as well as effectiveness of policy planning.[44] NGOs have worked in Tajikistan to advance OSCE goals, including “Strengthening democracy and management through increasing the participation of women in politics” and “The role of local self-governance authorities in the democratization of society.”[45] The Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP), a program of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), works to strengthen governance and civil society in Tajikistan’s rural communities.[46] It is also supporting and improving the educational system of Tajikistan. Initially, its focus was on providing textbooks and supplies to schools. The foundation went on to provide scholarships to students as well as training to teachers and school administration. It has worked closely with the Tajik government to assist them in framing educational policies.[47]

NGOs have been instrumental in other activities as well. NGOs such as the League of Women Lawyers and Women of Science of Tajikistan continue to highlight the issues of violence against women. In 2006, the Swiss Cooperation Office in Tajikistan provided free legal aid for poor and marginalized individuals and groups in partnership with such NGOs as Madadgor, Human Rights Centre (in Dushanbe, Khujand, and Isfara), and League of Women Lawyers. NGOs also encouraged support for democratic institutions and fostered the development of civil society and media. Judicial reforms that seek to bring the judiciary in line with international practices are emerging in Tajikistan, too. The Association of Judges of the Republic of Tajikistan (AJRT) is supporting advocacy aimed at promoting judicial reform and furthering judicial independence.[48] The NGO community has also sought enhancement of the rule of law and equal access to justice, among other things.

It should be noted, finally, that NGOs themselves have changed. Tajik NGOs have exhibited growing professionalism. Transparency and internal governance have improved. A growing number of NGOs are releasing annual reports, for example. Resource centers established by NGOs are also proving effective in Tajikistan.[49]

Government Perception of NGOs

The relationship between NGOs and the state is crucial for fostering civil society. The government of Tajikistan has increasingly recognized the productive partnership between the state and NGOs. In the earlier years of Rakhmon regime, civil society organizations were not seen as partners; rather, the state saw them only as performers of services in the areas where the state could not deliver. The Tajik Peace Process brought together a number of international partners who were able to coordinate their efforts to support the end of civil war in Tajikistan. The International Committee for Red Cross played a significant role in helping to implement the agreement on the exchange of prisoners of war and detainees.[50] The Aga Khan Foundation made major contributions in alleviating the humanitarian crisis, particularly in the eastern part of Tajikistan. Recent developments reflect increasing recognition of the potential role of civil society not only in humanitarian areas but also in the process of policy formulation, institution building, and improving the system of law. NGOs are helping reduce the gulf between the state and the citizen.

On the whole, the Tajik Government has responded positively. In one Decree, the President seeks cooperation of the NGO sector for the welfare of Tajik society. Recently, the government of Tajikistan has been devoting considerable attention to NGOs, considering them to be potentially important factors in the democratization of society. The government representatives have noted that the poor legal system of Tajikistan has retarded the development and contributed to the weak level of cooperation between government and NGOs.[51]

As noted earlier, NGOs have worked to improve the representation of women in government. As a result of their campaigns, the government of Tajikistan during 1999 presidential elections issued decrees entitled On Increasing the Role of Women in the Society. Shortly after the President issued this decree, the number of women in both national and local governments increased remarkably.[52] Pursuant to the decree, on April 2, 2011, the government of Tajikistan established 40 annual grants of the President to support and promote women’s entrepreneurship in the amount of one million Somoni—about 210,000 USD—between 2011 and 2015. (Similarly, the Committee on Youth annually provides President’s grants to youth NGOs in Tajikistan.) NGOs in Tajikistan have also sought to advance the civil, political, social, and economic rights of women. These NGOs have promoted women’s participation in education and cultural activities.[53] They have also highlighted women’s issues in the media. Their efforts have been instrumental in leading the Tajik government to adopt international conventions for the protection of children, women, and other classes of society.[54] Finally, NGOs have worked with the Tajik government to promote human rights.

Problems and Prospects of NGO Community in Tajikistan

Yet several problems remain unresolved. To begin with, local elites have the upper hand while running NGO-sponsored programs. Low levels of volunteerism, resource constraints, and weak ties are among the challenges to their organizational capacity in Tajikistan. Local NGOs are small and lack local funding. Many are poorly managed.

More broadly, Tajik NGOs are discouraged from undertaking political activities. The government maintains strict control over any NGO suspected of having a political agenda, despite the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association. Such an NGO must obtain a permit to hold public demonstrations or rallies, for example. Even when the permit is granted, authorities have in some cases carried out reprisals against organizers. In particular, the government tends to view as political opponents those NGOs devoted to human rights, especially the ones that have been vocal in criticizing the government’s record.

For funding, many NGOs in Tajikistan still rely on foreign agencies and international organizations, which if stopped will disrupt the NGOs’ activities. Thus, local agencies should come forward to finance them. In addition, there is a need for better coordination of technical assistance and resources between NGOs and donors.

Foreign funding introduces a second complication: legal restrictions. Foreign organizations must inform the government in advance about projects they are going to conduct in Tajikistan. The government has made efforts to control the interaction between local entities and foreign funders. These steps are justified, it is said, not only to make a proper assessment of aid but also to ensure that funds are not used for any biased mobilization. Some of the NGOs most active in criticizing the government’s human rights record have received foreign funds and have been operated by foreign personnel. Similar restrictions exist in many parts of the developing world.[55]

In sum, the NGO sector in Tajikistan has attempted to go beyond the social or humanitarian sphere and impact the legal framework of the state, in order to build a system of political accountability. Whether the legal and political environment is favorable for the development of civil society is debatable. Nonetheless, promotion of democratization is the most important priority of NGOs in Tajikistan. They have acted as potential intermediaries between the population and decision-makers. Although the government continues to monitor politically active NGOs closely, acceptance of them has grown. They have pledged to enhance the ability of the government to contribute fully to the development of civil society and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.[56]


[1] Firdoos Dar is a Ph.D. Scholar, Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir (India).

[2] In the Central Asian context, communal societies should not be understood as opposed to the state, but rather in positive terms, in the context of the ideas and practices through which cooperation and trust are established in social life. Thus communal civil societies were less concerned with state-society relations, and the ability of citizens to resist amoral and power-hungry political elites, than with relations within society as well as community solidarity, self-help, and trust. The main aim of this civil society was to ensure that all members of the group had the means for survival. Based on informal mechanisms—family ties, friendship or good neighborliness—civil society organized to offer services, community infrastructure, and other essentials. Communal civil society could be located in “families, communities, friendship networks, solidarity, workplace ties, voluntarism, spontaneous groups and movements.” Paul Dekker and Andries van den Broek, Civil Society in Comparative Perspective: Involvement in Voluntary Associations in North America and Western Europe, Voluntas, vol. 9, no. 1, 1998, p. 13.

[3] In Gashtak, women organize gatherings. They play an important role in the interchange of information and represent an effective way of involving women in public life. They can play a key role in stabilizing the social relations in Tajik society. Yusufbekov Yusuff, Babajanov Rustam, and Kuntuvdiy Natalya, Civil Society Development in Tajikistan (Dushanbe, 2007), http://www.akdn.org/publications/civil_society_tajikistan_development.pdf, p. 18.

[4] Yusufbekov Yusuff, Babajanov Rustam, and Kuntuvdiy Natalya, Civil Society Development in Tajikistan (Dushanbe, 2007), http://www.akdn.org/publications/civil_society_tajikistan_development.pdf, p. 18.

[5] Marlies Glasius, David Lewis, and Hakan Seckinelgin, Exploring civil society: political and cultural contexts (New York, 2004), p. 131.

[6] Janice Giffen, Lucy Earle, and Charles Buxton, The Development of Civil Society in Central Asia (INTRAC), p. 67.

[7] S. Frederick Starr, Baktybek Beshimov, and Inomjon I. Bobokulo, Ferghana Valley: The Heart of Central Asia (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2011), p. 288.

[8]  Under the Soviets, of course, a number of associations or groups existed which in democratic countries would qualify as constituting a civil society, but they remained largely under the close control of the Communist Party, despite being labeled voluntary (dobrovolnyi). Elements outside that sphere included concepts of Islam. Sally N. Cummings, Oil Transition and Security in Central Asia (London, 2003), p. 87.

[9]  Janice Giffen, Lucy Earle, and Charles Buxton, The Development of Civil Society in Central Asia (INTRAC), pp. 71-73.

[10] Sabine Freizer, Neo-liberal and communal civil society in Tajikistan: merging or dividing in the postwar period, Central Asian Survey (September 2005) 24(3), p. 5.

[11] Ina Zharkevich, The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Political Accountability in Fragile States: The Case of Tajikistan (INTRAC, 2010), http://www.intrac.org/data/files/resources/682/The-Role-of-Civil-Society-in-Promoting-Political-Accountability-in-Fragile-States.pdf, p. 7.

[12] Aymn Sajoo, Civil society in the Muslim world: contemporary perspectives (London, 2002), p.172.

[13] Baken Babajanian, Sabine Freizer, and Daniel Stevens, Introduction: Civil society in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Central Asian Survey, 2005, vol. 24, no. 3, p. 211.

[14] Muatar Khaidarova, The Third Sector in Tajikistan: Building a Legislative Base, http://www.docstoc.com/docs/50682377/NGO-Law-in-Tajikistan-Problems-and-Perspectives, p. 4.

[15] Charles Buxton, NGO networks in Central Asia and global civil society: potentials and limitations, Central Asian Survey, 28: 1, p. 7.

[16] Donnacha Ó Beacháin, The colour revolutions in the former Soviet republics: Successes and failures (UK: Taylor & Francis, 2010), p. 198.

[17] NGOs came under increased pressure in the wake of the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan when the Tajik ministry of foreign affairs distributed a letter on 13 April 2005 to NGOs and local government offices requiring them to provide notification of all meetings, training courses, and seminars. Donnacha Ó Beacháin, The colour revolutions in the former Soviet republics: successes and failures (UK: Taylor & Francis, 2010), p. 184.

[18] Pauline Jones Luong, The transformation of Central Asia: states and societies from Soviet rule to independence (U.S.: Cornell University Press, 2004), p. 16.

[19] Amyn B. Sajoo, Civil society in Muslim world: Contemporary perspective (London, 2004), pp. 173-174.

[20] Law of 1998 on Public Associations is the principal act. It was adopted in 1990 and amended in 1992 and 1998. This provides a legal space for a public organization as a self-governed, not-for-profit association, including political parties, trade unions, and other social organizations, but not commercial organizations. For a long time after Tajikistan gained its independence in 1991, NGOs functioned on the basis of the 1990 Law on Public Associations in the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic.

[21] Yusufbekov Yusuff, Babajanov Rustam, and Kuntuvdiy Natalya, Civil Society Development in Tajikistan, Dushanbe 2007, p. 22, http://www.akdn.org/publications/civil_society_tajikistan_development.pdf  

[22] Tigran Martirosyam, Silvia Maretette, and Paul H. Nitze, Scholar’s Guide to Washington D.C. for Central Asia and the Caucacus Studies: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, M.E. Sharpe, NY, 2005, p. 32.

[23] Alexander Cooley, Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 181.

[24] Freizer, Sabine', Neo-liberal and Communal Civil Society in Tajikistan: Merging or Dividing in the Postwar Period, Central Asian Survey, 2005, 24: 3, p. 4.

[25] The 2011 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia 15th Anniversary Edition, by United States Agency for International Development, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, Office of Democracy, Governance and Social Transition, p. 206, http://transition.usaid.gov/locations/europe_eurasia/

[26] Baken Babajanian, Sabine Freizer, and Daniel Stevens, Introduction: Civil society in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Central Asian Survey, 2005,vol. 24, no. 5, p. 211.

[27] European Union Gender Watch, A Gender Analysis of European Union Development of Instruments and Policies in Tajikistan, representing Central Asia, http://www.ngonet.dk/Files/Filer/KN/Ressourcer/EU_GenderWatch
, p. 24.

[28] Adrain Karatnycky, Alexander J. Motyl, and Amand Schenetzer, Nations in Transit, 2002: Civil Society, Democracy and Markets in East Central Europe and the Newly Independent States, U.S.A, 2002, p. 377.

[29] Marina Safarova, EU Gender Watch, A Gender Analysis of EU Development of Instruments and Policies in Tajikistan Representing Central Asia, Dushanbe, 2007, http://www.ngonet.dk/Files/Filer/KN/Ressourcer/
, p. 7.

[30] Abdughani Mamadazimov, Cand. Sc. Alla Kuvatova, Political Party Regulations and Women’s Participation in Political Life in Tajikistan, Dushanbe, November 2011, p. 82, http://www.osce.org/odihr/87108 

[31] Women’s Organizations and Their Use of information and communication technologies in the Caucasus and Central Asian Region: An exploratory Assessment, United Nations New York 2001. http://www.unescap.org/

[32] Christa Hämmerle, Gender Politics in Central Asia: Historical Perspectives and Current Living Conditions of Women, vol. 18 of L'Homme Schriften. Reihe zur Feministischen Geschichtswissenschaft, Böhlau, Verlag Köln, Weimar, Germany, 2008, p. 66.

[33] The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 18, 1979, and entered into force on September 3, 1981. Tajikistan ratified the convention on June 29, 1993.Under the Convention, states are required every four years to report on the measures taken and the difficulties in the implementation of the Convention to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This reporting allows the Committee to assess the achievements of the participating countries and helps them to meet their obligations.

[38] The 2011 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia 15th Anniversary Edition, by United States Agency for International Development, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, Office of Democracy, Governance and Social Transition, p. 197, http://transition.usaid.gov/locations/europe_eurasia/dem_gov/

[39] Ina Zharkevich, The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Political Accountability in Fragile States: The Case of Tajikistan, INTRAC, 2010, p. 44.

[40] Civil Society and Human Development in Tajikistan, http://cfapp1-docs-public.undp.org/eo/evaldocs1
, p. 25.

[41] Dr. Abdughani Mamadazimov, Cand. Sc. Alla Kuvatova, Political Party Regulations and Women’s Participation in Political Life in Tajikistan, Dushanbe, November 2011, p. 40, http://www.osce.org/odihr/87108.

[43] Ina Zharkevich, The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Political Accountability in Fragile States: The Case of Tajikistan, INTRAC, 2010, p. 32.

[44] Marina Safarova, EU Gender Watch: A Gender Analysis, Dushanbe, 2007, p. 29.

[45] Kuntuvdyi N., Ulmasov R. Development of Civic Education in Tajikistan: Problems and Prospects; Peaceful Development Academy, 2007, pp. 48-49. The project’s target groups were heads of mahallas (small area within a village) and heads of women councils in mahallas. In total, the project covered 19 mahallas of the different districts. Participants were taught the main principles of the democratic state.

[48] Marina Safarova, EU Gender Watch: A Gender Analysis, Dushanbe, 2007, p. 20.

[49] Adrian Karatnycky, Alexander J. Motyl, Amanda Schnetzer, Nations in Transit, 2001: Civil Society, Democracy, and Markets in East Central Europe and the Newly Independent States; USA, 2002, p. 366.

[50] Vladimir Goryayev, Architecture of International Involvement in the Tajik Peace Process, 2001, http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/tajikistan/international-involvement.php, p. 4.

[51] M. Holt Ruffin, Daniel Clarke Waugh, Civil Society in Central Asia, Washington, 1999, p. 366. By an order of Tajikistan president Emomali Rakhmonov on August 28, 1997, a seminar was held titled Cooperation Between Government and Social Associations in Contemporary Condition.

[52] Alla Kuvatova, Gender Issues in Tajikistan: Consequences and Impact of the Civil War, http://graduateinstitute.ch/webdav/site/genre/shared/Genre_docs/2888_Actes2001/11-kuvatova.pdf. During the 2000 parliamentary election, eight women were elected to the new lower chamber of the Parliament, Majlisi Namoyandagon, compared to five women in the old Majlisi Oli. These women represent 13 percent of the total number of seats in the lower chamber compared to 3 percent in the old Majlisi Oli. Id., p. 133.

[53] Jane Falkingham, Women and Gender Relations in Tajikistan, 2000, p. 132.

[54] In 2005 Tajikistan adopted a law on Gender Equality and Equal Rights for Men and Women. The law defines its purpose as “ensuring equal rights for men and women in the social, political, and cultural spheres, and in any other sphere in order to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex.” Violence Is Not a Family Affair: Women Face Abuse In Tajikistan, Amnesty International, London, 2009, p. 41.

[55] Steve W. Witt, Changing Roles of NGOs in the Creation, Storage, and Dissemination of Information in Developing Countries, Netherlands, 2006, p. 99.

[56] NGOs in the Caucasus and Central Asia: Development and Co-operation with the Organization for Security and Conference in Europe (Warsaw: ODIHR, 2000), http://www.osce.org/odihr/16686, p. 4.

Copyright © 2013 The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)
ISSN: 1556-5157