On December 4, 2001 the National Assembly adopted a progressive Law on Public Organizations Law (the Law). While the Law is still not perfect, it significantly improves legal environment for NGOs in comparing with the previous Law on Public Associations. The new Law allows existence of non-registered public organizations, allows establishment of organizations for a broad range of purposes, reduces the required minimum number of founders to two persons, shortens the timeframe for state registration of an organization, considers organizations to be registered by default if the government authority to respond to the applicant on whether an organization is registered within the defined timeframe, and contains other improvements in regulating NGOs in comparison with the previous law.
Under the auspices of the World Learning Strengthening Program in Armenia, World Learning and ICNL are proud to associate themselves with the successful NGO advocacy campaign which occurred in conjunction with the adoption of this Law. It required over one year of work by the Armenian NGO community, ICNL, WL, and other international organizations. Nevertheless, this was the first largely successful advocacy campaign for Armenian NGOs.
The process of working on improving the draft Law demonstrated the effectiveness of the World Learning and ICNL partnership. While ICNL contributed to the process its international expertise in NGO legislation and moderated the NGO-government participatory process of working on the draft law, World Learning was able to mobilize the Armenian NGO community to launch an effective advocacy campaign by providing Armenian NGOs with training and support, and increasing their advocacy skills.
Assisting with the draft Law, ICNL worked closely with the Ministry of Justice by providing it with comparative law materials and in-person consultations regarding the draft Law. At the request of the Ministry of Justice, ICNL prepared comments to three versions of the draft Law with each subsequent draft being better than the previous draft. ICNL continued working with parliamentarians after the government introduced the draft Law to the National Assembly. Finally 95% of ICNL suggestions were incorporated into the final text of enacted law. However, ICNL legal expertise would not have been taken into consideration by the government if the Armenian NGO community had not placed significant pressure on the government to improve the draft law.
The campaign for improving the draft Law served as an excellent opportunity and test for World Learning’s advocacy-training component. NGO advocacy trainings in the abstract have proven to be less effective than training centered on a specific problem the sector seeks to resolve. Choosing a practical legislative issue, such as the Law on Public Organizations, as an objective for the lobbying campaign created cross-organizational and cross–sectoral collaboration among Armenian NGOs. Ecological, human rights, and youth organizations were all interested and active in trying to improve the draft Law.
ICNL addressed draft Law provisions with NGOs and lawyers. Armenian NGOs submitted more then ten sets of comments and recommendations to the draft Law which were transferred to and considered by the Ministry of Justice. These comments demonstrated NGOs’ serious interest and good understanding of NGO legislation. Their agreement with ICNL’s recommendations proved effective at the multiple roundtables and seminars on the draft Law held by ICNL for NGOs.
In spring 2000 NGOs created an initiative group that started to actively lobby the government and the Parliament to amend the draft Law. In its turn, the Ministry of Justice of Armenia, as the lead drafter of the Law, demonstrated exceptional openness and willingness to cooperate with NGOs to create a better Law.
However, the adopted Law is not perfect. The singe, but extremely important amendment proposed by NGOs and supported by ICNL—that NGOs have the right to carry out entrepreneurial activities directly without having to establish a separate legal entity—was dismissed by the government. Advocating for the right to conduct entrepreneurial activities is on the top of the agenda of Armenian NGOs while they consider launching campaign to amend appropriate provision in the Civil Code of Armenia.
However, Armenia is still a difficult place to work, and the legislative framework for NGOs is far from being good. While some progress has been achieved, much more work still has to be done. While the new progressive Law on Public Organizations has been enacted, many refinements are needed to the Civil Code, Law on the Registration of Legal Persons, and the new Law to fit the particular needs of civic society. However, adoption of good laws will improve the regulatory environment for NGOs only if they will be implemented properly. ICNL currently is focusing on assistance with proper implementation of the new Law.