Law on Freedom of Association in NGOs

After the war, Kosovo approved laws and good practices for regulating the civil society sector. Current legislation is mostly based on the good practices of countries with developed democracy. Also, regarding the Law on NGOs, Kosovo is an example to other countries of the region.

The Law on Freedom of Association in NGOs is the only legal act that directly and specifically deals with the civil society sector. The main elements that this Law regulates are: establishment, organization, internal governance, dissolution of NGOs, as well as the main elements of the Public Beneficiary Status.

Law on freedom of association in NGOs guarantees the right of each individual to associate in and establish an NGO. Within this law, there are two forms of organizing an NGO – as an association and as a foundation. An association is a membership based organization and can be established by at least 3 persons, where one of them has to be a permanent resident of Kosovo. The highest decision making body of the association is the Assembly of Members; a foundation is a non-membership organization which may be established mainly to manage property and/or assets. The foundation may be established by one or more persons, where at least one of those has to be a permanent resident of Kosovo. Also, a foundation may also be established through a will or bequest. The highest decision making body of a foundation is the Board of Directors.

The right to organize and associate in NGOs is also guaranteed for legal persons, including the NGOs themselves. They can establish an association or a foundation to further advance their common goals, be that in the form of the general public benefiting or for the benefit of the legal entities – founders of association/foundation. The most widely used names for associations of legal entities are: Network, Association, Platform etc.

The main document that determines the functioning of NGOs – be that an association or a foundation – is the Statute of the NGO. This document must contain: the name and abbreviation of the organization, the address of the organization, its organizational form – association or foundation -, personal and contact information of the founders, personal and contact information of the NGO Authorized Representative, the purposes of the organization, the highest decisions making body. Should the NGO be a foundation then it has to determine the procedure for electing and removing Board members; should the NGO be an Association it has to determine the membership criteria as well as those for the removal of members. The statute of the NGO should also contain the decision-making rules and procedures, amending the founding act and statutes of the NGO, rules for merger, split or dissolution of the NGO, as well as the disbursement of assets that remain after such dissolution. Besides the above-mentioned elements, the Statute of the NGO may contain any additional rules that are deemed necessary to the NGO, under the condition that they are in compliance with democratic principles and provisions foreseen within the Law on NGOs.

Within the internal organization of the NGO, the Law also determines managing conflict of interest – where each member of the NGO is prohibited from participating in discussions or decisions in which they have a direct or indirect interest. The Law also prohibits endorsing political parties or fundraising for political parties.

NGO income may stem from various sources and in compliance with the Kosovo laws. Regarding financing of the NGOs, there are no specific prohibitions, except in cases when those assets are used for activities that are not in accordance with democratic principles and the laws of the country. NGOs may also engage in economic activities, may own property, manage assets for the purpose of advancing their goal, namely the activities of the organization.

This Law foresees the creation of a special status for a segment of NGOs, i.e.  the Public Beneficiary Status.  To apply for this status, an NGO needs to have as a primary activity at least one of the following fields: humanitarian assistance and relief, support for persons with disabilities, charity activities, education, health, culture, environmental protection and promotion, economic reconstruction and development, protection and promotion of human rights, support to democratic practices and civil society, or any other activities that serve the public beneficiary status. The purpose of this special status is offering fiscal and other incentives for the NGOs, activities of which benefit the general public. Compared to other NGOs that do not have this status, NGOs with public beneficiary status must file a narrative and financial annual statement with the Department for Registration and Liaison with NGOs.

An NGO may be dissolved through a voluntary decision made by its highest governing body – Assembly of Members for associations and Board of Directors for foundations –  and in accordance with the statute of the organization, or with the expiration of the given time limits that it has been established for (usually applies to NGOs that are established for a specific reason, and on the day they are established they determine the date of the dissolution of the NGO with the assumption that until such time their goal will be achieved). Besides dissolution, an NGO may be unregistered (removed from the register) through a decision of the competent body in case it fails to present a tax statement within the foreseen reporting period, in case it does not fulfill obligations that stem from the decision to dissolve the NGO and based on a final  court decision.