Civic Space – Institutional & Legal Reform Efforts in 2020

An update on efforts of civil society to reform the law and institutions governing organizations registered under the Sudan Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act of 2006, and the way forward.

In late 2019 following the establishment of the new transitional government (August 2019) a few civil society organizations – registered under the Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act of 2006 (SVHWA) and activists, undertook individual but uncoordinated advocacy efforts to reform/repeal the law (SVHWA). Two such efforts included a roundtable event organized by SUDIA (Sudanese Development Initiative) under the theme – Civic space and the transitional period in Sudan – Priorities for Institutional, Legal and Policy Framework, and the development of an alternative law by SUDO (Sudanese Development Organization) and that was submitted to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (Lena Al Shiekh).

On 26 January 2020 the Under-secretary of the MoL&SD (Mohamed Al Shabik) convened a meeting with a few representatives from civil society to discuss ideas on the way forward on reforming (or repealing) both the SVHWA of 2006 as well as the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) which falls under the Ministry and represents the body responsible for enforcing the law/act. The meeting culminated in agreement on the way forward and the establishment of a committee to oversee the reform process.

On 11 February 2020, the HAC Commissioner (Abbas Fadlala) issued a decree establishing a 10-member committee (which included representatives from civil society) that would oversee the legal and institutional reform process of HAC and the SVHWA. The main objectives of the committee were to commission an independent review of the HAC and to organize a workshop (under the auspices of the Ministry) which would bring a larger group of representatives from civil society to discuss the needed reforms.

The committee would also be tasked with following up and seeing the execution of the outcomes and recommendations from both the independent review as well as the workshop.

On 9-10 March, the Committee organized the consultation workshop in Khartoum (under the auspices of the ML&SD) to discuss the reforms needed with a wider representation from civil society. A report from the consultation workshop with recommendations on the way forward was produced by the Ministry and circulated to workshop attendees.

Recommendations from the workshop were –

(i) until such time as a new/reformed law is passed there is a need to revise the 2013 regulations and adopt of a set of new regulations which would improve the operational environment for CSOs

(ii) developing a roadmap for replacement of the 2006 Act inclusive of timelines, milestones, key actors and their roles and implementing the roadmap for replacement of 2006 Act.

An independent rapid institutional review of HAC was commissioned in late February 2020 to the consulting firm Partners for Development Services (PDS). PDS completed their review of the HAC and submitted their findings and recommendations to the Ministry. The independent review put forward a series of short- as well as long-term recommendations.

Key recommendations included:

(i) the development of a new civil society law that places registration of civil society organizations under the Ministry of Justice, and

(ii) the dissolution of HAC and the establishment of a Disaster Emergency Preparedness and Response Agency (DEPRA) that would fall under the Prime Minister office and would be the principal state entity responsible for overseeing, coordinating and managing any state and non-state efforts in response to natural or man-made disasters in the country.

In consultation with legal experts, the Committee developed a set of regulations that were intended to replace the 2013 regulations which governed civil society organizations (both national and international) registered under the SVHWA of 2006. These included regulations on:

(i) the funding of civil society organizations

(ii) registration of new organizations and renewal of licenses

(ii) registration/formation of networks, and (iv) recruitment of foreign/international staff in national CSOs. The new set of regulations were submitted to the HAC Commissioner for endorsement and ratification on 30 July 2020.

On 1 February 2021, following a reshuffle of the government, the outgoing Minister of the MoL&SD (Lena Al Shiekh) endorsed a new set of regulations replacing the 2013 regulations.

The newly issued set of regulations triggered widespread condemnation and criticism from civil society and were described as even more severe and restrictive than the regulations of 2013 that were issued by the former regime.

Members of the Technical Committee (formed by the HAC in 2020) spoke out against the new regulations and clarified that they were different from the regulations developed and submitted to the HAC/MoL&SD in July 2020. A campaign “Haqaq Tashariq” was launched by civil society organizations across the country rejecting the new regulations and calling for their repeal.

On 10 March 2021, a small delegation of civil society representatives from the former technical committee (established under the tenure of the former minister) met with the new incoming Minister of the MoL&SD (Ahmed Adam Bakhiet).

During the meeting the new Minister was briefed on the previous efforts of the Committee, specifically with regards to the controversial regulations that were issued by his predecessor. On the same day the Minster issued a ministerial decree revoking the regulations passed by his predecessor and reverting to the 2013 regulations.

Way Forward

Since the establishment of the transitional government in August 2019, civil society had adopted a strategy were reforming the institutional and legal context governing civil society in the country would best be served by partnering with the government on the reform process. Advocacy efforts on the part of civil society had succeeded in establishing the technical committee (which includes both government and civil society representatives) that was tasked to oversee these reforms.

Throughout 2020 civil society representatives as part of the technical committee worked diligently to push forward on the reform agenda. However as of 2020, no tangible results have been achieved, and many civil society organizations continue to be governed by the SVHW Act of 2006 and the accompanying regulations of 2013.

In 2021, the strategy will need to be revisited. An alternative proposed strategy would put civil society in the driver’s seat and allow them to push forward on their own with the reform agenda. Actionable steps would involve the following –

⦁ Convening roundtables/meetings with civil society organizations in different parts of the country to share the findings and recommendations of the independent study that was undertaken by PDS in 2020 and solicit input/feedback around the recommendations.

⦁ Re-establishing the technical committee that was formed in 2020 by HAC as an independent civil society committee and expanding its membership to include other civil society groupings/networks and representatives. The committee would be tasked with implementing the following revised version of the roadmap for the reform process that was set out in 2020 –

⦁ Draft the new law for civil society in Sudan

⦁ Carry out a consultation on the draft law with stakeholders across the country

⦁ Incorporate input/feedback from the consultations into a second draft of the new law

⦁ Carry out a strategic advocacy campaign around the new law, targeting policy and decision-makers in the government.

This brief update was developed by the Sudan Civic Space Monitor – a collaborative, online platform that monitors and tracks the state of civic space in the country.
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