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South Sudan: Laws Regulating Non-Governmental Organizations Enacted

(Feb. 16, 2016) On February 11, 2016, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, signed into law two bills: the Non-Governmental Organizations Bill, 2015 (NGO Bill) (repealing and replacing the Non-Governmental Organizations Act of 2003), and the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission Bill, 2015.  (South Sudanese President Signs NGO Bill into Law, SUDAN TRIBUNE (Feb. 11, 2016).)

This is not the first time that the National Assembly has sent the NGO Bill to the President.  In May 2015, the National Assembly adopted a similar version of the legislation and presented it to Kiir for his assent; however, he remanded the draft to the legislature.  (NGO Law Monitor: South Sudan, ICNL website (last updated Jan. 23, 2016).)  The version that Kiir has now signed is said to not be substantially different from the previous one.  (Id.)

Non-Governmental Organizations Act

The legislation requires NGOs to register and submit to constant monitoring by the government.  An NGO is “a non-profit voluntary organization formed by two or more persons, not being Public bodies, with the intention of undertaking voluntary or humanitarian projects.”  (Non-Governmental Organizations Bill, 2015,  § 5, LAWS OF SOUTH SUDAN, available at Gurtong website.)  Any NGO interested in operating in South Sudan is required to first register.  (Id. § 9.)  In order to register, the organization must must take a number of steps, including making available information regarding “all known or probable sources” of its funding.  (Id.)  In order to keep its registration, the NGO will also have to submit to government monitoring, evaluation, and auditing of all its activities.  (Id. § 14.)

Significantly, the legislation includes provisions mandating the use of local talent.  It requires that at a minimum 80% of the employees of an NGO, in all levels of the organization, be South Sudanese citizens.  (Id. § 18.)  In addition, when hiring to fill the remaining 20% of positions, it appears that the organization is required to give South Sudanese applicants “priority.”  (Id.)

Relief and Rehabilitation Commission Act

This legislation establishes an NGO regulatory body, the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.  Although set up as an independent legal entity, the Commission will be under the control of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management with regard to “policy making and oversight” matters.  (Relief and Rehabilitation Commission Bill, 2015, § 6, LAWS OF SOUTH SUDAN, available at Gurtong website.)  The Commission has various functions and powers including:

  • registering and licensing of NGOs;
  • directing the deployment of NGOs to areas in which it deems there is a need;
  • coordinating, monitoring, and evaluating any and all of the programs of NGOs in the country;
  • investigating NGOs suspected of violating the country’s laws; and
  • performing “any other function delegated to it by law or by the government.”  (Id. § 7.)

The Commission comprises a chairperson, a deputy chairperson, three members, and an executive director.  (Id. § 8.)  The chairperson, his deputy, and the three members are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister for a five-year, renewable term.  (Id. §§ 9 & 12.)  The executive director, who runs the day-to-day operations of the Commission, is appointed by the Minister in consultation with the chairperson.  (Id. § 12.)

A number of key functions of the Commission are to be carried-out by  a registrar who is appointed in the same manner as the executive director.  (Id. § 17.)  The functions of the registrar include: registering NGOs that meet all the applicable requirements under the NGOs Act, monitoring their compliance with the NGOs Act, and when appropriate, rejecting an application for or revoking the registration of an NGO.  (Id. § 18.)

Reaction to the Laws

Various entities, including the United States, the European Commission, and the United Nations, have criticized the adoption of these laws.  Before President Kiir signed the NGO Bill into law, Eugene Owusu, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, expressed concern, stating that “the adoption of [the NGO] Bill will have wide-ranging and negative ramifications for the humanitarian operation at a time when needs are higher than ever.”  (Press Release, United Nations, Daily Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General (Feb. 5, 2016).)  Citing the almost US$1.5 billion it had provided to South Sudan in humanitarian assistance since 2013, which was largely disbursed through NGO partners, the United States stated that it “is concerned the enactment of the bills as passed could disrupt the operations of these partners and adversely affect the lives of millions of South Sudanese who depend on assistance.”  (Peter Lokale Nakimangole, US Expresses Concerns Over Negative Impact on S. Sudan’s Humanitarian Assistance, GURTONG (Feb. 6, 2016).)  The EC echoed the same concern, stating “[t]he increasingly high needs and worsening humanitarian situation in South Sudan require unhindered assistance … .”  (European Commission, Statement on the NGO Bill in South Sudan, EUROPA (Feb. 9, 2016).)

The United States, the European Commission and the United Nations have also stressed the importance of ensuring that the laws comply with the terms of the 2015 peace deal.  After South Sudan obtained its independence from Sudan in 2011, disagreement among members of the country’s government, mainly President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, led to a violent civil war in December 2013.  (South Sudan Profile – Timeline, BBC NEWS (Aug. 27, 2015).)  In August 2015, the warring parties signed a peace deal brokered by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East-African regional organization.  (Daniel Finnan, South Sudan’s Kiir Signs Peace Agreement Despite ‘Reservations,’  RFI (Aug. 26, 2015).)  The agreement included language requiring the review of a 2013 version of the NGO legislation, including its submission “to a process of public consultation, to ensure that such legislation complies with international best practice.”  (Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan,  Ch. 3 § 1 (Aug. 17, 2015), Sudan Tribune website.)  The U.S., the U.N., and the EC indicated that the enactment of the NGO Act contravenes the peace agreement and they reminded the government of its obligation to uphold its terms.  (United Nations, supra; Nakimangole, supra; European Commission, supra.)