Afghanistan FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Afghanistan

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated: 5 January 2018


Civil society in Afghanistan has deep roots, with traditional local councils called shuras or jirgas operating at the village or tribal level on an informal (unregistered) basis, usually to represent a community’s interests to other parts of society.  Based on its national-level legislation, Afghanistan has two main categories of registered, nongovernmental, not-for-profit organizations with legal entity status: non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations.

As an Islamic republic with a civil law tradition, Afghanistan has a hybrid legal system, based on both civil and Sharia law.  Afghanistan's legal system has undergone several dramatic changes since 2002, with profound consequences for civil society and not-for-profit organizations (NPOs).  First, January 12, 2003. , the Transitional Government of Afghanistan adopted the Law on Social Organizations, which was enacted in accordance with Afghanistan's 1964 Constitution.  Second, in January 2004, a new Afghan Constitution was adopted, with provisions recognizing fundamental rights and freedoms.  Third, in June 2005, President Karzai signed a new Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which replaced the Taliban-era regulation of NGOs. In September 2013, President Karzai signed a new Law on Associations, which supersedes the 2003 Law on Social Organizations. Finally, in June 2014, the Council of Ministers approved a Regulation on Procedure of Establishment and Registration of Associations.

Several legislative initiatives are pending, including proposed amendments to the Law on NGOs; a draft Law on Foundations; and proposed amendments to the tax code, which, if enacted, would introduce tax incentives for donors to give to tax-exempt organizations. They are expected to be introduced to the Afghan National Assembly in mid-2017. A draft Regulation on Volunteerism was submitted to the government in February 2016 and may take a year to be passed by the Council of Ministers.

Back to Top

At a Glance

Organizational Forms Non-Governmental Organizations Associations
Registration Body Ministry of Economy (MoE) Ministry of Justice (MoJ)
Approximate Number There are 4338 registered Local NGOs; there are 445 International NGOs.

There are 2069 active NGOs in the MoE database; there are 278 active International NGOs in the MoE database.
As of Decemer 28, 2017, there are 2,700 associations.
Barriers to Entry Domestic NGOs: two-tiered registration process by Technical Commission and High Evaluation Commission.

Foreign NGOs: two-tiered registration process by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Economy.

Foreign citizens prohibited from serving as founders.
Barriers to Activities Prohibited from participating in construction projects.

Required to submit “committed project documents” to Ministry of Economy for approval, prior to starting work.
Potentially restricted from carrying out any financial business activity (although this restriction may not be enforced in practice).
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Restrictions against participation in “political” activities Restrictions against participation in “political” activities
Barriers to International Contact No legal barriers No legal barriers
Barriers to Resources No legal barriers No legal barriers
Barriers to Assembly Right to assembly only for Afghan citizens; restrictions on assemblies before elections; and use of excessive police force to disperse protests.  

Back to Top

Key Indicators

Population 32,564,342 (July 2015 est.)
Capital Kabul
Type of Government Islamic Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth 50.87 years
Literacy Rate 28.2%
Religious Groups Muslim 99.7% (Sunni 84.7 - 89.7%, Shia 10 - 15%), other 0.3% (2009 est.)
Ethnic Groups Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%
GDP per capita $1,900 (2014 est.)

Source: CIA World Factbook

Back to Top

International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 171 (2015) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 0.1 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 15.8 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 166 (2015) 1 – 168
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 6 (2017)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 9 (2017) 178 – 1

Back to Top

Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1983
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1983
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1983
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 2003
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1994
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) No --
Regional Treaties    
None known

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was adopted in January 2004. (The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Official Gazette no. 818/2004).

Relevant constitutional provisions include:

  • Article 34 [Expression, Press, Media] (1) Freedom of expression is inviolable. (2) Every Afghan has the right to express his thought through speech, writing, or illustration or other means, by observing the provisions stated in this Constitution. (3) Every Afghan has the right to print or publish topics without prior submission to the state authorities in accordance with the law. (4) Directives related to printing house, radio, television, press, and other mass media, will be regulated by the law.
  • Article 35 [Organizations, Parties] (1) The citizens of Afghanistan have the right to form social organizations for the purpose of securing material or spiritual aims in accordance with the provisions of the law. (2) The citizens of Afghanistan have the right to form political parties in accordance with the provisions of the law, provided that: …
  • Article 36 [Demonstration] The citizens of Afghanistan have the right to un-armed demonstrations, for legitimate peaceful purposes.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

At least four law reform initiatives affecting civil society are pending in Afghanistan, which will undergo lengthy review by relevant government departments before they are introduced to the Afghan National Assembly in 2017:

  1. On May 31, 2016, the Minister of Economy established an NGO Law Amendment Committee to amend the Law on Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs). The Committee includes government representatives (the NGO Department of the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Labor, and the Ministry of Finance); NGO coordination bodies (the Afghan Coordination Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR), the Afghan Women's Network (AWN), and the Afghan NGOs' Coordination Bureau (ANCB)); and ICNL. The working group of the Committee met between June and October 2016 to review and propose amendments to the Law on NGOs, which were finalized in late October 2016. In order to make sure all recommendations of members of the Committee are incorporated into the draft NGO Law, the Committee met again in February 2017. The proposed amendments were sent to the Ministry of Justice in March 2017. After the proposed amendments are approved by the Ministry of Justice, they will be sent to the Council of Ministers and then to Parliament. The working group is benefiting from the concrete concerns and suggested modifications collected from NGOs during eight regional consultations convened in 2014 and 2015 and discussed at a national conference in March 2015.
  2. The Ministry of Justice is supporting the development of a draft Law on Foundations, which has been prepared with input from NGOs through a task force on private giving.
  3. A civil society supported task force on private giving has developed proposed amendments to the tax code affecting tax-exempt organizations. The amendments would introduce tax incentives for donors giving to tax-exempt organizations.
  4. The Ministry of Labor is supporting the development of a draft Regulation on Volunteerism, which has been prepared with input from civil society organizations and submitted to the Ministry of Labor in February 2016.

We are unaware of any other pending legislative/regulatory initiatives affecting NGOs.  Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at    

Back to Top

Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

There are two primary forms of registered, not-for-profit organizations in Afghanistan: Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Associations.

NGOs are defined broadly in the 2005 Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO Law) to include both domestic and foreign non-governmental organizations. A domestic NGO is simply "a domestic non-governmental organization which is established to pursue specific objectives." (Article 5(2))  A foreign organization is a “non-governmental organization which is established outside Afghanistan according to the laws of a foreign government and which accepts the terms of this law.”  (Article 5(3))

The Law on Associations (September 2013) addresses a more specific category of organization. "Associations refer to communities, unions, councils, assemblies and organizations which are voluntarily established by a group of real or legal persons as non-profit, non-political entities, in accordance with this law.” (Article 2(1))

Public Benefit Status

Both NGOs and Associations are able to pursue both public benefit and mutual benefit activities. 

Afghanistan follows the U.S. approach by creating a category of "tax exempt organizations" in the Income Tax Law. Article 10 of the Tax Law restricts "exempt organization" status to those organizations "organized and operated exclusively for educational, cultural, literary, scientific, or charitable purposes." Organizations dedicated to these public benefit purposes and meeting other mandatory criteria are exempt from taxation on "contributions received and income from the necessary operations." (Income Tax Law, Article 10)

Barriers to Entry

The Law on NGOs generally creates an enabling framework for the formation of NGOs.  To establish a domestic NGO, the Law requires at least two founders, who may be domestic or foreign, natural or legal persons, at least one of whom has a residence and exact address in Afghanistan. (Article 11(1)) To become registered, NGOs must apply to the Ministry of Economy. (Article 4)  The registration process, however, is a two-tiered, overly bureaucratic process, with review of applications required by both the Technical Commission and the High Evaluation Commission; the High Evaluation Commission is composed of representatives from no fewer than 5 government ministries.  Associations must seek registration with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The Law on Associations does not specify the required minimum number of founders for an association, but the Regulation on Procedure of Establishment and Registration of Associations requires the existence of not fewer than 10 founding members in order to establish an association. (Article 6.2 of Regulation on Procedure of Establishment and Registration of Associations) Foreign citizens, stateless persons, and youth under the age of 18 are restricted from serving as founders of associations (Article 7).  The Law on Associations requires first-time applicants to pay a registration fee of 10,000 AFD (about 150 USD). (Article 13(3)) Finally, the Law on Associations implies that registration is mandatory – that is, that associations cannot carry out activities as an unregistered group; specifically, Article 14 expressly states that “An association initiates its work after receiving a registration certificate.”

Under the Law on Associations, organizations calling themselves ‘foundations’ were initially not able to register because the law only allows associations to register with the MoJ. However, association representatives, including members of the advocacy group on the Law on Associations, recommended to the MoJ to register foundations temporarily until the Law on Foundations enters into force. The MoJ sent an official letter to the Supreme Court of Afghanistan in late 2014 to ask for an advisory interpretation of the current Law on Associations. The Supreme Court interpreted the Law on Associations to allow for the registration of so-called ‘foundations’ provided that the foundation have at least 10 founding members. In effect, therefore, foundations that meet the definition of association (as a membership organization) are able to seek registration under the Law on Associations

Barriers to Operational Activity

The Law on NGOs includes barriers to NGOs’ operational activity, through direct prohibition as well as invasive supervisory oversight. 

First, NGOs are prohibited from participating in construction projects and contracts, but for those exceptional cases where they are granted special permission by the Minister of Economy.

Second, NGOs are required - prior to the commencement of work, and after the examination and assessment of the line department – to submit committed project documents to the MoE for verification and registration.  The real impact of this legal barrier depends of course upon implementation; compliance is low.  In addition, NGOs are required to submit semi-annual reports, with a separate reporting form required for each project. 

Furthermore, the MoE has repeatedly terminated NGOs for the failure to submit reports.  Article 35(1) provides the grounds for dissolution, which include "Where the organization does not provide the MoE with its annual report within one year of the end of the fiscal year."  In January 2012, for example, Minister of Economy Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal announced that 600 Afghan and 195 foreign NGOs were closed because they failed to send biannual reports to the MoE detailing their activities, progress, and budgets. "These NGOs either didn’t send us their work reports or committed other violations," he said. "If NGOs don’t send us their reports every six months and if we continue not to receive them for two years, these NGOs are considered to be inactive." Most recently, in March 2015, the MoE terminated 119 NGOs, including 113 local and 6 international NGOs.

The Law on Associations, in Article 13(3), limits the validity of an association’s registration certificate to just three years, at which time it must be extended. The association must pay another 5,000 AFG fee (about 75 USD) for the renewed registration certificate (Article 9.3 of Regulation); such a requirement is a significant burden on an association’s continuing operations.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are no legal barriers targeting the expressive activities of either NGOs or associations.
There are, however, restrictions against NGO participation in “political activities.”  Among the illegal activities listed in Article 8 of the NGO Law are "(1) Participation in political activities and campaigns" and "(2) Payment to and fundraising for political parties and candidates." Although the Law does not define "political activities," the context suggests that the phrase refers to campaigning and electioneering, as opposed to public advocacy.  

Similarly, Article 5(2) of the Law on Associations restricts associations from performing “political activities” without defining what is meant by “political activities.”  The expectation is that the phrase is intended to limit campaigning and electioneering and not public advocacy.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers to international communication or contact.

Barriers to Resources

Foreign Funding

There are no legal barriers against foreign funding for NGOs or associations.

Domestic Funding

We are unaware of any legal barriers being applied to restrict domestic funding of civil society organizations.

NGOs are permitted to conduct economic activities “to reach the statutory not-for-profit goals of the organization” and provided that the income is used only “to carry out the specified goals of the organization." (NGO Law, Article 22.2)

The Law on Associations neither specifically allows nor prohibits the carrying out of economic activities.  The Civil Code, however, specifies that an association “may not carry on any financial business” (Civil Code, Article 418), which could be interpreted to restrict economic activity for associations.  We have, however, received no information that such a restriction is being enforced; indeed, in practice, associations are performing economic activities without interference from government.

Barriers to Assembly

The Afghan Constitution protects the freedom of assembly. The citizens of Afghanistan have the right to participate in unarmed demonstrations for legitimate peaceful purposes in accordance with the law. (Afghan Constitution 2004, Article 36) The Afghan President endorsed a new law, The Law on Gatherings, Strikes and Demonstrations, on March 13, 2003 (Official Gazette 805). The Law identifies three types of assemblies:

- A “gathering” is the regular and public assembly of more than 30 persons in a static mode at a public place to attract public opinion, in order to support or oppose specific goals, in which people can participate voluntarily. (Article 3.1)
- A “strike” is the refusal to perform work or carry out legal obligations and duties, in order to achieve specific goals. (Article 3.2)
- A “demonstration” is the regular and public gathering in which people demonstrate their specific goals through a procession on designated routes.  (Article 3.3)

Notably, however, the right to participate in these assemblies is only available to Afghan citizens. (Article 16)

Advance Notification

According to the Law on Gathering, Strikes and Demonstrations, in case a gathering, strike or demonstration is organized through associations, organizations or individuals, the organizers have to inform the police in writing 24 hours ahead of the event. (Article 7.1)

To “inform” the local police does not imply receiving approval of an assembly. In practice, the organizers inform the police in writing about the assembly. If there is any kind of security concern, the police will immediately or subsequently (within 24 hours ahead of the event) tell the organizers not to hold the assembly. (Article 7.1)

Dispersal of Assemblies

The police may take action to disperse the gatherings, strikes and demonstrations through (1) issuance of warnings; (2) surrounding participants and demonstrators and moving them to a safe place; (3) water spray; and (4) technical obstacles. (Article 9)

If the local police cannot terminate and disperse gatherings and demonstrations through the aforementioned means, they will take action in accordance with the Police Law. (Article 10) Article 22 of the Police Law allows the police to announce the decision to use weapons or explosives against participants through a loud speaker and the firing of three gunshots in the air. Weapons and explosives shall not be used if bystanders may be injured.

Time, Place and Manner Restrictions

The participants of gatherings, demonstrations, and strikes and the individuals who organize or lead them may not broadcast baseless propaganda that creates terror among people. (Article 13)

Gatherings, strikes and demonstrations may not be organized (1) between sunset and sunrise; and (2) 48 hours prior to the presidential and parliamentarian elections and Great Assembly elections and referenda. (Article 8.4-5)

Citizens of Afghanistan may organize demonstrations and gatherings in order to ensure the political, economic and social goals of foreign countries and their citizens, unless they contradict the national interest and national unity of Afghanistan. (Article 15)

Excessive Force
In response to a peaceful assembly, the police do not usually use excessive force. But in response to violent protests, the police have killed and wounded protesters. On November 12, 2002, for example, Afghan police fired on student protesters who were angered about a lack of food and electricity in their dormitory; the police killed at least four students and wounded 30 others. On May 18, 2011, 12 people were also killed and 80 injured after protests over a NATO-led raid in the northern Afghan city of Taloqan. There have been many other events similar to these. On June 21, 2013 during a demonstration in Behsood district of Maidan Wardak Province, protesters began storming the police headquarters. Police opened fire, resulting in injury to six protesters. On April 22, 2015 police dispersal of a youth unemployment demonstration before the Afghan parliament resulted in some minor injuries to the protesters.

Back to Top


UN Universal Periodic Review Reports

Country Report
Compilation of UN Information
Summary of Stakeholders’ Information

Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs

2001 Report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan

2011 Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Country Recommendations: Afghanistan

Council on Foundations Country Notes

Report on Afghanistan

U.S. State Department

2014 Human Rights Report: Afghanistan

Fragile States Index Reports

Foreign Policy Fragile States Index

IMF Country Reports

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: 2014 Article IV Consultation

International Commission of Jurists

Afghanistan's Legal System and its Compatibility with International Human Rights Standards (2003)

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library


Back to Top

News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at

General News

List of NGOs Dissolved in Afghanistan (April 2016)
More than 113 national NGOs and 6 international NGOs were dissolved in March 2016, according to government reports. Most of the organizations were dissolved due to lack of reporting to the Ministry of Economy. However, some international NGOs also voluntarily terminated operations when their projects ended, while some others reportedly requested to be dissolved.

Threats Build Against Journalists In Afghanistan (January 2015)
A new report by Human Rights Watch detailed the dangers Afghan journalists face from the Taliban. NPR's Rachel Martin talked to Najib Sharifi about the government's failure to protect journalists. 2014 was the most violent year on record for Afghan journalists according to one media advocacy group.

Afghanistan gets first non-violence training manual (September 2013)
While civic groups in Afghanistan practice nonviolent tactics from time to time, that practice takes precedent over actually understanding the dynamics at play. Without that understanding, Afghans are missing the opportunity to increase the size and effectiveness of their campaigns, as well as prevent the proliferation of destructive agents who might incite violence, cause the loss of human life and ultimately destroy the campaign. This is why the Organization for Social, Cultural, Awareness, and Rehabilitation, or OSCAR, started teaching courses on nonviolent civic mobilization to a large number of Afghan youths and members of civil society — including women — in the Kunduz and Kunar provinces in 2011. Over time, however, it became clear that OSCAR needed to develop a teaching manual of its own — one specifically for Afghanistan and in the Pashtu language. That manual, called Nonviolent Civic Mobilization Guide, was published in September 2013 and contains information on how to organize a nonviolent campaign within Afghan society.


Top UN envoy praises role of government, civil society and election commission ahead of 2014 presidential elections (October 2012)

Can civil society save Afghanistan? (August 2012)

NGO's funding axed after critical Afghan report (July 2012)

Aid alone cannot solve Afghanistan’s problems (July 2012)

As foreign aid dries up, Afghan NGOs fight to survive (July 2012)

EU urges Afghan government to hold credible elections, guarantee human rights (May 2012)

NGOs remain committed to Afghanistan for the long-haul (April 2012)

Attack near UN offices in southern Afghanistan kills 4 (October 2011)

"Pay your taxes," government tells NGOs (February 2011)

Afghan government control of women's shelters worries advocates (February 2011)

Dangerous aid in Afghanistan (January 2011) 

Afghanistan: Donor funding missing mark (December 2010)

How much development aid will leave with the troops? (December 2010)

Aid groups seek safety pacts with taliban (November 2010)

"Civil society is almost non-existent in Afghanistan" (November 2010)

NGOs under pressure in government anti-corruption drive (November 2010)

Karzai makes concession on security firm ban (October 2010) 

Foreign Policy: The plight of Afghan women (July 2010)

Kabul wants to change the way foreign aid is spent (July 2010)

The foregoing information was collected by ICNL and the ICNL, LLC Legal Advisor based in Kabul.

Back to Top