Farangiz Bakhtiyorova

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Non-government non-profit organizations (shortly known as NPOs) were officially recognized as such in Article 71 of the UN Charter. These organizations, whether working on a broad scale or locally, are instrumental in encouraging social and political transformation, and promoting citizen engagement. The right to freedom of association is enshrined in international human rights treaties, to which Uzbekistan is a signatory, the Constitution of Uzbekistan also acknowledges such organizations as the cornerstone of civil society. However, exercising this right in Uzbekistan is often impeded by the formidable administrative hurdles associated with establishing non-governmental non-profit organizations, characterized by extensive time investments and the necessity of compiling numerous documents. In the context of NPOs, the legal landscape and practical challenges surrounding their establishment and operation warrant scrutiny.

In this blogpost, I will discuss the challenges of establishing and managing NPOs, navigating legislative frameworks, and strategizing solutions to address the inherent complexities and barriers associated with engaging in non-profit activities in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan’s image in global society on the right to freedom of association

Uzbekistan has gained relatively negative international image concerning the right to freedom of association, attracting investigations from human rights organizations. The recent human rights report by Human Rights Watch (international non-governmental organization) highlighted significant obstacles to implementing this fundamental right in Uzbekistan. In the report, organization cited instances where Uzbek authorities hindered independent human rights activism by denying registration, such as a six-time rejection to Human Rights House in Tashkent (2020), on arbitrary grounds, such as “documents were not prepared as prescribed (as hard copies), for not addressing its branches operations in other regions although this was explicitly indicated in the charter of organization”. However, there are no such grounds according to Article 25 of the Law on Non-governmental Non-profit Organizations, which outlines grounds for refusal. Furthermore, the failure of Uzbek authorities to progress a draft code for NPOs in 2023 and the imposition of new regulations on receiving foreign funding for NPOs further accentuated the limitations on freedom of association.

Amnesty International also echoed these concerns, emphasizing the restricted independence of NPOs in managing international grants and funding. Such negative perceptions result from difficult registration process, bureaucratic hurdles, and instances of rejection that individuals seeking to establish NPOs may encounter.

The obstacles that associations of individuals are facing or may face are as follows:

Burdens for the right of freedom association imposed by legislation

I.The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), an international non-governmental organization, asserts that registration requirements for NPOs are notably more rigorous than those for commercial entities. This poses challenges for independent initiative organizations which want to register. Irina Matviyenko, the founder of the NeMolchi.uz anti-violence project, also mentioned the persistent difficulty in registering such independent initiative organizations. For example, to set up a NPO there must be at least ten founders with detailed personal information of all of them. In some cases, an idea for association may be owned by two or three people, and in order to implement the idea, they have to convince eight or seven other people about project, additionally, collect their legally-required information. This will lead to further prolongation of organizational issues and the failure of most of the NPOs that minority want to associate. According to Article 23 of the Law on NPOs, registration process takes one month, only if a positive response is received at the first attempt. In contrast, in many European countries, NPOs can be registered in a short period of time without any obstacles. For example, in Estonia and Latvia it is possible to register such organizations when there are two founders  and procedure takes at least 5-10 days. It helps civil society easily enjoy their right to associate.

II. During the registration process of NPOs, registration body (Ministry of Justice) reserves the right to refer applications for “expertise” to unknown organizations, as outlined in Regulation on the procedure for state registration of non-governmental non-profit organizations (Paragraph 19). The lack of transparency in this procedure, including the list of organizations to expertise has not provided and the absence of definite timelines or documented proceedings. It raises concerns about the infringement of the principles of Law on Administrative Procedures, such as openness, transparency, and clarity of law. Consequently, people’s trust in the government may fade because of an unclear norm.

III. Another notable obstacle to the exercise of the right to freedom of association is the discretionary grounds for denial of registration, exposing the process to potential government overreach. One prime example, in April 2021, the Ministry of Justice denied registration to Shukhrat Ganiev, the head of the Humanitarian and Legal Center, for the ninth time, due to the alleged failure to pay the full registration fee and the apparent lack of clarity regarding the center’s board members. This occurred despite the fact that an employee carefully checks that all necessary documents are submitted and fees paid at the time of application, and that the full names of board members were filled in on the relevant form. Another case is the “Oltin Qanot” Youth Volunteer Center which faced 21 rejections. There have been many such cases in the last years. Legal expert Leonid Khvan noted how such denials, often based on trivial grounds, violate administrative procedure principles and set concerning precedents for bureaucratic formalism which is creating difficulties for interested parties through obligations, only formal rules and administrative bodies are prohibited from denying them rights or restricting their rights in any other way only in order to comply with the requirements.

IV. Uzbek NPOs face evolving regulatory challenges, particularly regarding international financial support and grants. The approval of Regulation number 527 by the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan on October 4, 2023, was a noticeable recent development. Although this regulation has created positive transformations, it reversely impacts the registration of foreign grants received by Uzbek NPOs and the activities funded through these grants. The regulation introduces a restriction relevant to the registration of funds from foreign organizations operating in Uzbekistan. While the regulation allows NPOs to receive funds and property from external sources without Ministry of Justice approval for administrative expenses, a key shift emerges in its scope. Under the previous regulations, registration exemption applied to assets provided to representative offices and branches of international and foreign non-profit organizations by their headquarters. However, the new requirement under Regulation 527 narrows this exemption to cover only administrative expenses rather than broader program activities. This alteration poses potential challenges for foreign organizations operating in Uzbekistan, especially if funds received for issuing grants or contracts to local entities do not align with the categorization of “administrative expenses”.

The Gap Between Policy and Implementation

Despite Uzbekistan’s stated goals to enhance the NPO sector, tangible progress remains limited due to a gap between policy and implementation. On March 4, 2021, the President of Uzbekistan issued a Decree approving the Concept paper on Development of Civil Society in 2021-2025 and the Road Map on Implementation of the Concept (jointly referred to as the “package”). The Concept and the Road Map envision improvements to the legal framework for civil society, partnerships between NPOs and the government, and state support for NPOs’ activities, among other issues.

However, despite these positive plans, there has been little observable progress. The government may be suspicious of NPOs, especially those advocating for sensitive issues, or perceive foreign funding to NPOs as external interference that may destabilize the political environment. Combined with stringent regulations and bureaucratic hurdles, this has blocked meaningful change. The absence of effective implementation of the roadmap and strategies has prevented tangible improvements in the sector. For Uzbekistan to achieve progress in this field, it is not enough to have roadmaps or strategies. The government must move beyond planning and take definitive steps to simplify regulations, reduce bureaucratic barriers, and foster a supportive environment for civil society to flourish.

Feasible solutions

The analysis reveals that ordinary citizens may be discouraged from exercising their right to freedom of association due to heavy legal requirements. Primary deterrents include prolonged registration processes, ambiguous legal terminology, discretionary rejection practices, and burdensome reporting requirements on financial and other activities of such organizations. To address these issues effectively, the following action should be accomplished:

  • A long-awaited adoption of legislative framework (code) for NPOs is crucial. It should simplify registration procedures, reduce the amount of time for registration period and rethink of requirements for the number of founders.
  • It is essential to ensure that the Ministry of Justice’s registration departments harmonize their practices with established administrative procedures. Imposing accountability for procedural violations can enhance the registration process’s fairness and efficiency.
  • Addressing vague legal provisions that impede understanding among population is important. Hosting legal counseling sessions for NPO founders and the broader community can elevate legal literacy and dispel uncertainties. By increasing legal awareness and clear understanding of regulations, barriers to exercising the right to freedom of association can be alleviated.


In conclusion, by eliminating barriers to the right to association, it will not only honor human rights standards but also nurture environments where people can freely associate, express themselves, and make positive change in their communities. It is vital for state to make such reforms, as defined in the “Fundamental Principles on the Status of Non-Governmental Organizations in Europe” manifestation of NPOs signifies members’ right to freedom of association and their host countries’ commitment to democratic pluralism.

Cite as:  Farangiz Bakhtiyorova, “Empowering NPOs: Overcoming Legal Challenges for Civil Society in Uzbekistan”, Uzbekistan Law Blog, 11.06.2024.