On February 21, ICNL was invited to join a meeting hosted at the Afghan National Assembly by the Economic Commission, the parliamentary commission tasked with reviewing the 2005 Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Representatives of three Afghan NGO umbrella groups or coordination bodies also participated in the meeting.
At the request of the Commission, ICNL described the role it has played as a resource organization for the Afghan Government and NGO sectors since 2002. Further, ICNL shared specific recommendations regarding the Law on NGOs. The three coordination bodies represented all shared their own concerns with the Law, stressing, among other issues, (1) the importance of a clear definition of NGOs, with a strong formulation of the “not-for-profit” principle in the Law; (2) the need to ensure NGO accountability and transparency without bureaucratic waste and regulatory overreaching; (3) the important role NGOs are restricted from playing due to the prohibition against participation in construction activity (Article 8.8).
Significantly, the Commission members agreed that Article 8.8 should be removed from the Law, citing the example of certain NGOs that had made positive contributions in community construction projects. The timing of Parliament’s review of the Law on NGOs remains unclear.
On February 18-19, ICNL conducted a two-day training in Kabul for lawyers to raise legal capacity on civil society issues. Past surveys of the sector, and ongoing inquiries from various organizations, indicate that there is a severe lack of legal expertise available in Afghanistan, especially on civil society legal issues. The lawyer training marks an initial step to fill that gap.
Fifteen participants attended the training, all of whom were selected in cooperation with the NGO coordination bodies. The training focused on freedom of association, as protected by the Afghan Constitution and international human rights instruments, and the most significant “life cycle” issues for civil society organizations, with a particular focus on NGOs (as defined by the 2005 Law on NGOs), including establishment and registration, internal governance, NGO activities, sources of revenue and taxation, and government supervision. In an effort to instill both substantive knowledge and practical skills, ICNL relied heavily on interactive working group exercises, which afforded participants the opportunity to apply the knowledge to factual scenarios. ICNL plans follow up activities to continue building the capacity of a core group of lawyers.
ICNL is operating in Afghanistan through the USAID-funded Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society (I-PACS), which is led by Counterpart International. ICNL wishes to express its gratitude to USAID and Counterpart for their tremendous support and cooperation. In addition, ICNL expresses its appreciation to all local partners.