Introduction

In light of the current humanitarian crisis and the large number of refugees that have entered the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the presence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is vital in order to assist affected local communities and refugees. As the call for aid increased, the number of registered NGOs in the Kurdistan Region has surged, reaching over 2,800 operating NGOs in the region.

In this respect, NGOs wishing to operate in the Kurdistan Region must comply with applicable laws and regulations in order to secure a legal presence in the region. Therefore, forming an understanding of the laws that govern NGOs in the Kurdistan Region and the related registration process lies at the core of enabling NGOs to effectively conduct their activities and achieve their objectives.

From a legal perspective, the right to form and join associations is a constitutional right guaranteed in Article 39 of the Constitution. In order to safeguard these rights further and enhance their practice, the Kurdish Parliament enacted the Non-governmental Organisations Law 1/2011, thus marking a significant development in the region's support of NGO activities.

This law introduced various changes that resulted in facilitating the process of NGO registration, mainly by creating a new governmental authority, the independent NGO Department which functions under the Kurdistan Region's Council of Ministers' authority.

Moreover, subsequent amendments such as the removal of any restrictions imposed on the associational rights of foreigners in the Kurdistan Region, thus enabling them to form and join NGOs freely, or serve on their board of directors, are a significant milestone in the development of the civic society's activities in the Kurdistan Region.

Among this law's various provisions, the process for NGO registration is comprehensively detailed, dividing NGOs into three different categories with varying requirements.

Required information and documents

Local NGOs In order to register a local Kurdistan Region NGO, its founders must submit a written request to the department, signed by all of its founders, along with its bylaws and the below information and requirements:

  • the number of founding members, which must exceed three members;
  • the name of the NGO, its purposes and objectives;
  • the name, title, gender, nationality, age, profession, level of academic achievement and domicile of each of the founding members; and
  • the organisational structure of the NGO and the plan according to which it intends to conduct its activities.

Iraqi NGOs It must be noted that NGOs previously registered in federal Iraq are automatically deemed registered in the Kurdistan Region; nevertheless, they are required to provide the department with the following documents, in both Arabic and Kurdish:

  • the name of the NGO and its authorised representative in Kurdistan Region;
  • the address and telephone number of the NGO's headquarters in federal Iraq;
  • the scheme of operations detailing the NGO's intended activities in the Kurdistan Region; and
  • a certified copy of the NGO's federal registration documents.

International NGOs International NGOs are required to submit the following information and documents in the language of the country of initial registration, and a Kurdish translation thereof, in order to successfully apply for registration at the department:

  • the name of the NGO;
  • Registration Form 3, as per the last update published by the department;
  • the address and contact information of the NGO's prospective headquarters in the Kurdistan Region;
  • the objectives and activities of the NGO in the Kurdistan Region;
  • a certified copy of the NGO's bylaws;
  • any additional supporting documents proving the registration as an NGO at the country of origin; and
  • a power of attorney or resolution appointing the authorised representative of the NGO's Kurdistan Region branch.

Registration process

Upon the department's issuance of a dated acknowledgement of receipt for the registration application, it is required to issue its decision regarding the registration within a period of 30 days as of the application receipt date. In case this period lapses without the issuance of a formal decision, the NGO is automatically deemed a duly registered NGO in the Kurdistan Region, and the department is subsequently obliged to issue its registration certificate upon request.

In the event that the registration application's documents are incomplete or do not meet all legal requirements, the department will return the application to the NGO within a period of 15 days in order to make the needed corrections. Upon the NGO's submission of the corrected application, another 30-day period will begin for the department to make a decision.

In the event that the department rejects a registration application, it must notify its decision to the NGO with a justified letter, stating the legal grounds for its rejection.

NGO networks and mergers

The law's general principles allow two or more NGOs to create a network of NGOs. In order to create this network and acquire a separate legal identity, a registration application must be submitted to the department and must fulfil the same establishment requirements as a local Kurdistan Region NGO.

Furthermore, two or more existing networks of organisations may join together. In this case, it is worth mentioning that all categories of NGOs may form networks together, and any natural or legal person may become a member of such networks.

On another note, two or more NGOs may merge together in order to form one organisation in accordance with their respective bylaws. In this case, all moveable and immovable assets are automatically transferred to the newly established NGO.

Annual registration renewal

In order to renew the registration of an NGO, an official request along with the following information and documents must be submitted to the department:

  • an original copy of the NGO's registration documents;
  • an annual operations scheme detailing the NGO's intended monthly and daily activities for the upcoming year, in both English and Arabic or Kurdish;
  • a detailed financial and operational report of implemented activities as per the previously authorised operations scheme, both in English and Arabic or Kurdish;
  • information concerning all of the NGO's staff (ie, full name, position, address, residency or resident support, age, gender, ID number and telephone number); and
  • for foreign NGOs, confirmation of their full address at the country of origin in both English and Kurdish.

Comment

The Kurdistan Region's legislative authority has definitely made a notable improvement in terms of formulating a comprehensive and effective legal framework for NGOs operating or looking to operate in the region, especially with the establishment of a department that is exclusively devoted to the work of NGOs.

This progress was long overdue, mainly due to the fundamental role NGOs play in the Kurdistan Region and the major aid that they have provided in a time when the region is facing serious difficulties in several sectors.

For further information on this topic please contact Alain Hannouche or Amanda Mezher at Hannouche Associates by telephone (+964 771 444 7447) or email (ahannouche@hannouchelaw.comor amezher@hannouchelaw.com). The Hannouche Associates website can be accessed at www.hannouchelaw.com.

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