The Legal Landscape of NGOs in Libya: Current Challenges and Potential Solutions. Recent developments affecting the legal framework governing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Libya have generated significant confusion and uncertainty. This article will explore the current, unsatisfactory state of the law and discuss some potential ways to address these existing challenges.
Law No. 19 of 2001 on the Reorganization of NGOs (“Law No. 19”), and its executive regulation, Decree No. 73 of 2002 (“Decree No. 73”), have traditionally served as the primary guidelines for NGOs in Libya. Under Law No. 19, the General People’s Congress (now known as the Parliament) had the authority to oversee the registration of foreign NGOs, while domestic NGOs were registered by the Council of Ministers on the national level and the relevant City Council on the local level. This framework was significantly modified following the 2011 revolution.
In particular, Council of Ministers’ Decree No. 1160 of 2018 established the Civil Society Commission (the “Commission”) to assume comprehensive responsibility for registering both foreign and domestic NGOs in Libya. Although subordinate to the Council of Ministers, the Commission was granted the power to issue decrees to regulate the NGO registration process. One of the crucial decrees issued by the Commission was Decree No. 5 of 2023 on the Establishment of Regulations for the Registration and Publication of Domestic and Foreign NGOs (“Commission Decree No. 5”), which outlined the legal requirements for the registration of foreign NGOs in Libya.
The Current (Confused) State of the Law
In March 2023, the Law Department of the Libyan Ministry of Justice issued a legal opinion (the “Legal Opinion”) which concluded that all NGOs registered in Libya after 2011 were, in effect, operating in the country illegally. According to the Legal Opinion, Law No. 19 is the only legitimate governing law for the NGO sector in Libya in light of Articles 14 and 15 of the Libyan Constitution, which stipulate that political parties, civil society organizations and NGOs can only be regulated by laws enacted by the Libyan Parliament (and, therefore, not by decrees of the Council of Ministers). As a result, the Legal Opinion deemed the establishment of the Commission and the issuance of decrees by the Commission, including Commission Decree No. 5, to be in violation of these constitutional provisions and recommended dissolving the Commission and holding all NGOs registered by it to be illegitimate.
Needless to say, the Legal Opinion has created significant uncertainty about both the status of previously registered NGOs in Libya and the appropriate process for new NGO registrations. The Council of Ministers attempted to clarify the situation by issuing Decree No. 7 of 2023 (“Decree No. 7”), which allows previously-registered NGOs to continue operating in Libya so long as they take certain steps to rectify their legal status through procedures established by the Commission. Additionally, the Council of Ministers issued Decree No. 312 on the Formation of a Committee to Support and Organize the Work of Civil Society Organizations (“Decree No. 312”), which envisages the creation of a comprehensive database of registration data for all NGOs.
Although Decree No. 7 and Decree No. 312 are positive steps, they are only temporary stop-gap measures that fail to fully resolve the legal dilemma arising from the Legal Opinion. Indeed, a comprehensive fix will only be achieved once the Libyan Parliament addresses the concerns raised in the Legal Opinion by enacting a new law that specifically regulates the registration and governance of NGOs in Libya.
Such a draft law is currently under consideration by the Libyan Parliament. Itkan Law has reviewed this draft law, and we believe that it has the potential to resolve this legal dilemma. However, it is essential that the final law establish a transparent and streamlined registration process for both domestic and foreign NGOs while also establishing clear mechanisms for oversight and accountability to ensure the effective functioning of NGOs while safeguarding public order and national interests.
The issuance of the Ministry of Justice Legal Opinion has generated significant confusion and uncertainty. Although temporary measures, such as Decree No. 7 and Decree No. 312, have sought to address the situation, a full resolution will require the Libyan Parliament to enact a comprehensive law regulating NGOs that complies with constitutional provisions and meets the needs of both domestic and foreign NGOs. The draft law currently under consideration holds promise, but its final form should ensure a transparent registration process and mechanisms for oversight and accountability.
In the interim, NGOs operating in Libya should take steps to adhere to Decree No. 7 by rectifying their legal status in accordance with the procedures established by the Commission while staying informed about future developments in the legal landscape. Itkan Law stands ready to help NGOs engage with the relevant authorities and actively participate in the registration process so that they can continue their important work in Libya while complying with all applicable legal requirements.