All foreign NGOs operating in Uzbekistan are supposed to register with the justice ministry by 1 March, according to an existing law on foreign NGOs, a government official told IRIN on Thursday.
"In 1999 our parliament adopted a law and according to this, international non-governmental, non-commercial organisations, their representative offices and branches operating in the republic of Uzbekistan should be registered with the justice ministry," Ilkhom Zakirov, the foreign minister's press-secretary, told IRIN from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. He added that the law had existed for five years and the decision to transfer the registration of foreign NGOs to the justice ministry was based on that.
"The only thing is that we should have done it before," he maintained, noting that until now, foreign NGOs had only registered with the foreign ministry. According to the ministry, the number of such organisations in the former Soviet republic had increased 13 times since 2002, to over 100. Because of this growing number, it was decided to enforce the law and start registering the NGOs with the justice ministry.
His comments came a week after reports that a number of international NGOs in the country, including those involved in promoting human rights, democracy and good governance, could face difficulties with re-registration in Uzbekistan. The respected international media NGO, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), was recently denied re-registration by the foreign ministry.
Some observers have said the move is due to fears by Tashkent that international organisations are training potential opposition forces to stage a Georgia-style revolution in Uzbekistan. But Zakirov said such official fears were groundless. "To compare Georgia and Uzbekistan, they are absolutely different issues, we have our own traditions, existing principles and specifics. So, unsubstantiated comparison is not based on anything."
He also said that the only thing that international NGOs with branches in Uzbekistan, like Human Rights Watch (HRW) - that has actively criticised Tashkent's human rights record - had to do to register was just to submit their founding charters and some additional information about their activities. "I think there shouldn't any problems with the registration," he ascertained.
As for the case of IWPR, Zakirov said that this was a technical issue and that IWPR was now being treated as an NGO rather than a foreign media outlet. "They submitted their documents, according to which they work - memorandum and charter, and after thoroughly analysing these documents, we haven't found anything saying that this organisation is a mass media outlet."
This means that IWPR comes under the new ruling and therefore has to register with the justice ministry along with other foreign NGOs, the ministry explained.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions