Iraq: Draft law threat to independence of civil society

A hotly debated draft law to regulate the work of NGOs in Iraq will be discussed in parliament this month although its approval is not expected soon, a lawmaker told IRIN.
Many NGOs have opposed the draft bill, saying it would hinder their activities. “We already gave the draft law its first read in parliament and the second read will be in the coming two weeks to kick off discussions afterwards,” Maisson al-Damalogi, deputy head of Parliament’s NGOs Committee, told IRIN on 4 July.
Since early this year, the bill has faced wide criticism from Iraqi and non-Iraqi NGOs, saying it would put them under stringent monitoring and control from the government for their operations and funding.

“The draft is receiving a lot of objections; even our committee’s seven members are not agreed on it,” al-Damalogi said. “We have received a lot of comments from NGOs and we will include them when discussions start.”

She described it as a “very bad draft law that would impose the government’s control on all aspects [of NGO work] and would nullify any role these NGOs” can play.

“We are not against having a law to regulate the work of NGOs, but not in this shape. NGOs must enjoy freedom in their work and not be supervised by the government,” she said. “We will give ample time to the discussions; we are not in a hurry.”

Controversial regulations

While the draft law has not been made public, a government statement in March announcing Cabinet’s approval of it made reference to some of its points. The most criticized of the proposed new regulations is the requirement for government approval for all donations to NGOs, whether from within Iraq or from abroad.

However, the draft law has been welcomed by at least one NGO. “I see no major damage in the draft law; I think it is moderate,” said Tariq Harb, head of the Iraqi Society for Law Culture, a Baghdad-based NGO.

“Some of the NGOs receive, for instance, $200,000 and spend only $2,000 and some of them have committed crimes,” Harb said. “The law will benefit both NGOs and donors.”

5 July 2009

Source: IRIN