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. They usually represent a community’s interests to other parts of society. However, in terms of national-level legislation, Afghanistan has two main formal categories of registered, non-governmental, not-for-profit organizations with legal entity status: non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations.
As an Islamic republic with a civil law tradition, Afghanistan also 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, in January 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 Hamid Karzai signed a new Law on NGOs, which replaced the Taliban-era regulation of NGOs. In September 2013, President Karzai then signed a new Law on Associations, which superseded the 2003 Law on Social Organizations. More recently, in December 2017, Afghanistan’s Parliament enacted amendments to the 2013 Law on Associations.
Several legislative initiatives also remain 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. A draft Regulation on Volunteerism was also submitted to the government in February 2016 and remains pending. With the technical assistance of NGOs, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) also developed and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation between the IDLG and NGOs and civil society networks at the sub-national level in July 2019. The MoU accordingly (1) promotes and strengthens cooperation between the IDLG, NGOs and civil society networks at the central and sub-national levels; (2) facilitates the participation of NGOs and civil society networks in provincial planning processes, provincial budgeting, citizen assemblies, (budget) hearing sessions, and social accountability campaigns in accordance with the relevant laws, regulations, procedures and guidelines of IDLG; (3) facilitates collaboration between the parties in order to share information according to the Access to Information Law and for receiving complaints; and (4) recognizes the needs of the people and reports on the activities of the parties to the people in the provinces. Please see the Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives section below in this report for more details.