MENA-region webinar on impact of AML/CFT regulations on civil society

In October 2020, the MENA Regional Office of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL MENA) conducted a webinar on the Impact of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML/CFT) regulations on the Not-for-Profit sector in the MENA region. The webinar was attended by civil society organizations (CSOs) and other stakeholders from various countries in the region, including Jordan, Palestine, Morocco and Tunisia. The meeting started with an introduction to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and its role, the Mutual Evaluation process, Recommendation 8 (R8) on NPOs, and issues NPOs face resulting from the implementation of R8, including blanket regulation for the sector and financial access challenges (bank de-risking). The introductory presentation emphasized the need for states to carry out a Risk Assessment of the sector in collaboration with NPOs, for more effective implementation of Recommendation 8, and in line with the FATF Best Practices Paper, which states that: ‘Not all NPOs are high risk, and some may represent little or no risk at all.’

The webinar hosted speakers from Jordan and Tunisia who presented case studies on successful CSO engagement with government agencies on the FATF Mutual Evaluation and Risk Assessment processes. The speakers, members of the Global Coalition's Expert Hub, highlighted the challenges NPOs face in their countries due to AML/CFT regulations which are not risk-based or proportionate, and the impact such measures have on NPO operations and access to funding. They also stressed the important role NPOs can play in the sectoral Risk Assessment process, such as the case of Tunisia where CSO collaboration with relevant government agencies and international expertise improved Tunisia’s rating on Recommendation 8 from Partially-Compliant to Compliant, and helped preserve the progressive legal framework governing CSOs.

During the webinar, ICNL MENA launched a study on the conformity of CFT regulation in Tunisia to FATF standards and international protections for freedom of association. The study highlights areas in Tunisian national legislation which could be improved to be consistent with international standards on protecting the NPO sector from being exploited for terrorism financing without prejudice to the right of association. It also aims to raise awareness among Tunisian CSOs and help them participate effectively with the relevant agencies to improve AML/CFT laws and regulations to better conform to FATF standards and procedures.

Finally, through poll questions that were run during the webinar, 67% of those participating stated that they had no knowledge or only little knowledge of FATF and AML/CFT regulation for NPOs, 70% said that NPO work was affected by AML/CFT measures imposed in their countries, and 90% of the attendees thought that there was an urgent need to collaborate with relevant government stakeholders to conduct a Risk Assessment of the sector.