News from Sudan
HAC New regulations stifle civic space - Part 1 of 5
In late February 2021 a new set of regulations governing organizations registered under the Sudan Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act (SVHWA) of 2006 surfaced on social media and caused an uproar and widespread discontent among civil society organizations and activists in Sudan. The new regulations were ratified by the previous minister of Labor and Social Development, Lena Al-Shiekh during her last days in office and were signed by her on 1 February 2021 (6 days prior to the Prime Ministers decree dissolving his cabinet of Ministers and relieving them of their duties).
The new regulations are comprised of 5 sets of regulations each dedicated to separate matters regarding organizations registered under the SVHWA of 2006, these being –
- Registration of national organizations
- Registration of international organizations
- Registration of networks
- Funding of national organizations
- Recruitment of foreign staff in national organizations
This article comes as a first in a series of five articles that seeks to provide an understanding of some important articles in these new regulations and the differences from the previous set of regulations (2013 regulations) which they have replaced. The article assumes some familiarity on the part of the reader with the old set of regulations (Arabic version accessible here)
In this first article we look at the regulation pertaining to the registration of national organizations (Arabic version accessible here) and present our findings and analysis on some of the important changes that have been introduced.
THE OPENING STATEMENT/CLAUSE
Both the old set of regulations of 2013 and the new regulations refer to the powers that are vested in the Minister under Article 32 of the SVHWA as the grounds on which the regulations are based. However, the opening statement in the old set of regulations was based on the powers vested by the law but also on the recommendation of the Commissioner General of the HAC.
What can be deduced from this difference (in the opening statement of the regulations) is that the outgoing Minister had issued the new set of regulations solely upon the authority granted to her by the law and without any recommendation of the Commissioner General (whom she had appointed) as was the case with the former set of regulations.
MANDATORY REGISTRATION AND CRIMINALIZATION OF UNREGISTERED ORGANIZATIONS
Like the old regulation, the new regulation criminalizes any person or group of persons who exercise any voluntary work in the name of an organization without having been registered.
For the registration requirements, in addition to the lengthy list of requirements stipulated in the old set of regulations the new regulations surpass go further to add a totally new article (Article 5.2) requiring that any member of the general association or the organizations preparatory committee (i) not to have been convicted of a crime that would disparage or impair his/her reputation and integrity, and (ii) Not to have been a member of any organization that may have been dissolved by a competent authority.
REFUSAL TO GRANT REGISTRATION
This is also a totally new addition that was not in the old regulation and only reaffirms the right of the registrar to refuse a registration application as per Article 13 of the SVHWA.
CONDITIONS FOR GRANTING REGISTRATION CERTIFICATES
Once the registrar reviews the documentation required for registration and confirms that all is in good order, he informs the establishment/preparatory committee (of the organization seeking registration) and authorizes them to convene their general assembly – this is the first part of Article 7.1. and that is no different from the previous regulation. However, a second part to this clause goes further and gives the preparatory/establishment committee a period of 2 months to convene their general assembly (Article 7.1). Article 7.2 (also newly introduced) gives the registrar the authority to extend the 2-months’ time limit should he/she deem that acceptable (and upon is own consideration/judgement) and based on a request from the preparatory/establishment committee of the organization seeking registration .
ISSUANCE OF THE REGISTRATION CERTIFICATE
The articles related to the issuance of a registration certificate have generally remained the same, but some have been further elaborated and made more complicated. Article 9.2 regarding the validity of the registration certificate and Article 9.3 (d) regarding the opening of a bank account. Whereas previously the article regarding validity of the registration certificate had indicated that the certificate would be valid for a period of one year and renewable for further periods, the new regulations has removed the term which stipulates that it can be renewed for a further period and stopped at stating that the certificate is only valid for a period of one year. Article 9.3.d which requires a registered organization once it has been granted its registration certificate to open a bank account under its name has been expanded and now requires the registered organization to provide the registrar after opening the account with a notification indicating the account number and the bank name where the account was established.
Organizations are required to apply for a license renewal once the validity of their registration certificate expires. The requirements for renewing a license have remained the same with only minor corrections to the wording. The most problematic of these requirements continues to be the need to first obtain an approval from the registrar before convening the organization’s annual general assembly, and to have the organization’s annual performance report approved prior to the assembly by the registrar.
HOSTING NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
Previous regulations were silent on the issue of organizations hosting other organizations within their premises.
Two new articles (Article 13.1 and 13.2) have been introduced in the new regulation and dictate that no organization can co-host more than 2 other organizations in its premises (Article 13.1), and that the registrar is responsible for assessing the suitability of the hosting facility taking into consideration the pace, the setup, and the nature of the activities of the organization (Article 13.2).
GUIDELINES AND DIRECTIVES FOR CONDUCTING BUSINESS OF NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
Article 15 and its sub-articles (15.a – 15.k) speak to several restrictions about what national organizations are NOT permitted to do. Not permitted to work in sectors/fields other than those approved - not permitted to receive any funds or goods or equipment in the country other than for the sole purpose of achieving it aims and within the channels authorized by law – not permitted to carry out any activity or sign/conclude any agreements with any government entity (federal or state) or international organization or national organization without having first received the consent of the commissioner – not permitted to undertake any research, surveys, or studies nor publish or disseminate any research or reports without the prior permission/consent of the commissioner – and the list goes on.
In summary the restrictions in this section have remained the same with the only change being the removal of a restriction regarding the hiring of national and international staff. Whereas previously this section-imposed restriction preventing organizations (both national and international) from hiring national or foreign staff without the approval of the Commissioner. In the new regulation this clause has been removed but is dealt with in another complete introduced set of regulations pertaining to the hiring of international staff.
Both the old and new regulations provides that the Registrar can cancel an organization’s registration in certain situations. These include if the organization has “contravened the provisions of [the HAC] Act, the regulations, or had obtained its registration through fraud, or if it two-thirds of its members request its dissolution. Organizations may appeal the Registrar’s cancellation decision within thirty days, in an appeal to the HAC Commissioner [Article 18(2)]. If the Commissioner does not respond or affirms the cancellation decision, the organization may submit a second appeal within fourteen days, to the Minister.
The regulations also provide a range of sanctions that may be levied on organizations and individuals for violations of the regulations and gives the Registrar and HAC discretion to issue a warning, suspend an organization’s activity, or prevent individuals from “practicing any voluntary humanitarian activity” in Sudan for up to one year. However, one slight but significant difference in relation to the sanctions in the new set of regulations is that whereas previously the registrar could suspend an organization’s activity for a period not exceeding six months, in the new regulations that limit has been removed and the registrar can suspend an organization indefinitely.