Azerbaijani FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Azerbaijan

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 24 August 2016

Update: On December 28, 2015 the Collegium of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) adopted The Rules on Studying the Activity of NGOs and Branches or Representations of Foreign NGOs, which was made public on February 13, 2016. These rules provide broad powers to the MoJ to inspect and punish NGOs in Azerbaijan.

Introduction

Civil society in Azerbaijan has been developing dynamically since the country gained independence in 1991. Currently, there are more than 2,700 NGOs registered in the country, and an estimated 1,000 unregistered groups carrying out activities.  NGOs are engaged in diverse spheres of activity, including human rights, education, culture, health, social protection, environmental protection, etc.  The NGO sector received a significant boost in development when the 1992 Law on Non-Governmental Organizations was replaced by a much more progressive law in 2000.

In 2007, the Government of Azerbaijan established the NGO Support Council, with the goal to provide financial and informational support to Azerbaijani NGOs, and to facilitate NGO/government cooperation.  The NGO Support Council has provided financial assistance to hundreds of NGOs, based on transparent and competitive grant procedures, which are considered among the best in the former Soviet Union.  The NGO Support Council also initiates legislation to improve the regulatory environment for NGOs, and engages NGOs in the legislative drafting process.

Registration still remains a challenge for NGOs.  It is very difficult to register as either a domestic or foreign NGO in Azerbaijan.  The Government of Azerbaijan has lost at least five cases before the European Court of Human Rights, which has found denials of registration to violate the freedom of association.  In addition, Azerbaijani NGOs have difficulty complying with financial reporting requirements.  Many NGOs have limited capacity to comply with such requirements and are under threat of being punished for non-compliance.

In addition to the aforementioned concerns, on February 3, 2014, November 16, 2014, and November 20, 2014, changes were made to the Law on Grants, the Law on State Registration of Legal Entities and the State Registry and the Code of Administrative Offences, which have the potential to significantly impair the work of both Azerbaijani and foreign organizations. They introduced many obligations for organizations, including new registration requirements, and rules regarding receiving and using grants and reporting to the government. In addition, the new changes established harsh penalties for those who violate both new and previously existing obligations under the law.

On December 28, 2015 the Collegium of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) also adopted Rules on Studying the Activity of NGOs and Branches or Representations of Foreign NGOs, which was made public on February 13, 2016. These Rules provided broad powers to the MoJ to inspect and punish NGOs in Azerbaijan.

Also on October 22, 2015, Rules on Obtaining the Right to Provide Grants in the Republic of Azerbaijan by Foreign Donors were adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers on October 22, 2015, and entered into force with their publication on December 4, 2015. The Rules established the procedure according to which foreign donors obtain registration (pre-approval) from the government in order to provide grants to Azerbaijani NGOs.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Public union, foundation and union of legal entities
Registration Body Ministry of Justice
Approximate Number 2,700 registered NGOs (as of May 2013)
Barriers to Entry Foreigners and stateless persons can be founders of an NGO in Azerbaijan only if they have permanent residence.

Registration procedures are problematic, specifically due to the exercise of government discretion in denying applications.

Legal representatives of foreign NGOs operating in Azerbaijan need to have permanent residence in Azerbaijan, and a document attesting to this fact must be submitted to the MoJ as part of the registration package.

Agreements with foreign NGOs must include a specific expiration date.

The registry of legal entities must also contain the expiration date for the permanent residence permit of the CoP (head) or legal representative, if s/he is a foreigner.

Foreign NGOs can establish only one branch in Azerbaijan.
Barriers to Activities There are broad powers of the Ministry of Justice to supervise NGOs and subsequently to dissolve them in court.

In the regions NGOs need to inform regional executive authorities about their events in advance.

Foreign NGOs cannot conduct activities in Azerbaijan without registering with the Ministry of Justice.

MoJ has broad powers to conduct inspections with few guarantees for protecting the rights of NGOs.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy The law defines harsh penalties for violation of provisions of NGO legislation, such as failure to adjust constituent documents of NGOs (including foreign NGOs) to local legislation, conducting any activity on the changes made to the constituent documents if such changes were not yet registered, failure to register grant agreements, failure of NGOs to maintain registry of members, and failure to conclude contracts with volunteers, etc.

All NGOs, including branches of foreign NGOs, should have contracts on all goods, property, and other rights they receive in the form of assistance.
Barriers to International Contact No barriers
Barriers to Resources NGOs are required to provide an application letter and supporting documents to the Ministry of Justice within 15 days of the date of the grant agreement. Cash donations (under 200azn) can be received only by NGOs whose statutory purposes include charitable purposes. Anonymous donations are prohibited. 

NGOs face difficulties in registering grants, donations and service contracts from foreign donors. 

The requirement for individuals to register their grants with the MoJ on the same grounds and rules as registered NGOs makes it difficult for non-registered NGOs to receive grants. 

The donations and service contracts shall also be registered at the MOJ.
Barriers to Assembly 5-day advance notification requirement; must be over 18 years old to organize an assembly; restrictions on assemblies near government buildings; and excessive criminal penalties.

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Key Indicators

Population 9,593,000 (2015, State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)
Capital Baku
Type of Government Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth male: 71.6 years
female: 76.8 years (2014 est. State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)
Literacy Rate 99.8%  (2010 est. US Department of State)
Religious Groups Muslim 93.4%, Russian Orthodox 2.5%, Armenian Orthodox 2.3%, other 1.8% (State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)
Ethnic Groups Azerbaijani 91.6%, Lezgi 2.0%, Russian 1.3%, Armenian 1.3%, talyshs 1.3%, other 2.5% (2009 est. State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)
GDP Per Capita $7985 (2014 est. State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 78 (2015) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 30.8 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 7.9 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 119 (2014) 1 168
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6 (2016)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 81 (2016) 178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1992
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 2001
Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (ICCPR-OP2) Yes 1992
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1992
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1992
Optional Protocol to The Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography Yes 2002
Convention on the Political Rights of Women Yes 1992
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees Yes 1992
Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War Yes 1993
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women Yes 1995
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Yes 1996
Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid Yes 1996
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide Yes 1996
Convention on the Non-applicability of Statutory Limitation to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity Yes 1996
Convention on Slavery Yes 1996
Protocol amending the Slavery Convention Yes 1996
Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery Yes 1996
Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others Yes 1996
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman  or Degrading Treatment of Punishment Yes 1996
Convention on Nationality of Married Woman Yes 1996
Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness Yes 1996
Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons Yes 1996
Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages Yes 1996
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families Yes 1998
Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Yes 2000
Convention on the Legal Status of Children Born out of Wedlock Yes 2000
Framework convention for the protection of national minorities Yes 2000
Convention Concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour Yes 2000
Convention on Legal and Civil Liability for Corruption Yes 2003
Convention on Elimination of Discrimination in Education Sphere Yes 2006
Key Regional Agreements Ratification* Year
European Culture Convention Yes 1997
European Convention on the Compensation of Victims of Violent Crimes Yes 2000
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Yes 2001
European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Yes 2001
European Charter of Local Self-Government Yes 2001
European Convention on Extradition Yes 2002
European Convention on Criminal Liability for Corruption Yes 2003
European Social Charter Yes 2004
Protocol No. 15 to the European Convention on Human Rights Yes 2014

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan was adopted on 12 November 1995 (and subsequently amended on 24 August 2002 and on 18 March 2009).

Relevant provisions include:

Article 26. Protection of rights and freedoms of a person and citizen
I. Everyone has the right to protect his/her rights and freedoms using means and methods not prohibited by law.
II. The state guarantees protection of rights and freedoms of all people.

Article 49. Freedom of assembly
Everyone has the right to freedom of assembly with others. Everyone has the right, having notified respective governmental bodies in advance, peacefully and without arms, to meet with other people, organize meetings, demonstrations, processions, place pickets.

Article 58. Right to associate
I. Everyone is free to associate with other people.
II. Everyone has the right to establish any union, including a political party, trade union and other public organization or to enter existing organizations. Unrestricted activity of all unions is ensured.
III. Nobody may be forced to join any union or remain its member.
IV. Activity of unions intended for the forcible overthrow of legal state power on the whole territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan or on a part thereof is prohibited. Activity of unions which violates the Constitution and laws might be stopped by decision of law court.

Article 60. Guarantee of rights and freedoms by court of law
I. Legal protection of rights and freedoms of every citizen is ensured.
II. Everyone may appeal to law court regarding decisions and activity (or inactivity) of state bodies, political parties, trade unions, other public organizations and officials.

Article 151. Legal value of international acts
Whenever there is disagreement between normative-legal acts in legislative system of the Republic of Azerbaijan (except Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan and acts accepted by way of referendum) and international agreements wherein the Republic of Azerbaijan is one of the parties, provisions of international agreements shall dominate.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:

  • The Constitution of Republic of Azerbaijan, 12 November 1995 (subsequently amended on 24 August 2002 and on 18 March 2009);
  • The Civil Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan (28 December 1999, with subsequent amendments);
  • The Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Public Associations and Foundations) (13 June 2000, with subsequent amendments);
  • The Law on the State Registration and State Register of Legal Entities (12 December 2003, with subsequent amendments);
  • The Concept of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations of the Republic of Azerbaijan (27 July 2007);
  • Regulations on the Council of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan (13 December 2007);
  • The Tax Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan (11 July 2000, with subsequent amendments);
    Code on Administrative Offences of the Republic of Azerbaijan (11 July 2000, with subsequent amendments);
  • Labour Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan (1 February 1999, with subsequent amendments);
  • The Law on Grants (April 1998, with subsequent amendments);
  • The Law on Obtaining Information (30 September 2005);
  • The Order of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan #376 on International Humanitarian Organizations and their Representatives Offices in the Republic of Azerbaijan (2 November 1994, with subsequent amendments);
  • The Law on State Fees (4 December 2001, with subsequent amendments);
  • The Law on Voluntary Activity (9 June 2009);
  • Rules on Conducting Negotiations for Preparation and Signing of an Agreement for the State Registration of Branches or Representative Offices of International Non-governmental Organizations in the Republic of Azerbaijan (16 March 2011);
  • Law on Public Participation (adopted on 22 November 2013; will enter into force as of 1 June 2014); and
  • The Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan # 216 on approval of “Rule on Registration of Grant Agreements/Contracts (Decisions/Orders)” (5 June 2015). 
  • Rules on Studying the Activities of Non-Governmental Organizations, Branches or Representative Offices of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations (December 28 2015).

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. On December 22, 2011, the concept on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was opened for public discussion. Many CSOs have expressed concerns that (1) no separate law on CSR is needed and that (2) a separate law may easily be used to restrict CSR, by, for example, imposing a new tax in the form of obligatory contributions for philanthropic ends. As an alternative, some have proposed introducing a 5% tax deduction for cash and in-kind contributions made by legal entities and individuals.  

2. Other draft laws initiated by the NGO Support Council include the Law on Social Orders and the Law on Professional Associations. 

3 . Furthermore, there is a law on charity, which was prepared by a group of CSOs in Azerbaijan and has been pending in the Parliament since 2007.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

The legislation of Azerbaijan uses both the terms “non-governmental organization” (NGO) and “non-commercial organization” (NCO). The Civil Code defines a non-commercial legal entity as one whose main purpose is not generating profit and which does not distribute profit among its members. Such entities include public unions, foundations, and unions of legal entities. The Law on Non-Governmental Organizations sets out the legal framework for public unions and foundations.

The available forms of NCOs are defined as follows:

A public union is a voluntary, self-governed, non-governmental organization, established on the initiative of several physical and/or legal persons, joined on the basis of common interests. The purposes, as defined in the constituent documents, should not be aimed primarily at gaining profit and profit shall not be distributed among its members. (Article 2.1 of NGO Law)

A foundation is a non-governmental organization without members, established by one or several physical and/or legal persons through the contribution of property, and aimed at social, charitable, cultural, educational or other public interest work. (Article 2.2 of NGO Law)

Unions of legal entities are associations of legal entities, where the founding legal entities may either be commercial organizations or NCOs. Such unions may be formed in order to coordinate activities and to represent and protect (e.g., before state and other bodies, international organizations) their common interests (including property interests). (Articles 117.1, 117.2 of Civil Code).

The vast majority of the more than 2600 registered NGOs in Azerbaijan are public unions.

Public Benefit Status

The Tax Code defines a charitable organization as a “non-commercial organization which conducts charitable activities.” (Art. 13.2.36 of the Tax Code)  The Tax Code defines charitable activity as “activity performed by a natural person and/or charity organization, which consists of rendering direct assistance, to include the transfer of monies, without compensation, to physical persons in need of material or other assistance (aid), or to organizations and charitable organizations that directly provide such assistance (aid), including charity organizations, or scientific, educational or other activities performed in the public interest, except where otherwise stipulated in this Code.” (Art. 13.2.35 of the Tax Code)

The Tax Code provides that “charitable organizations” are exempt from the profits tax, except with respect to income received from entrepreneurial activities. There is, however, no procedure for obtaining the status of charitable organization; hence it is practically impossible to take advantage of this exemption. (Article 106.1.1 of the Tax Code)  No laws in Azerbaijan address the “charitable organization” status as defined in the Tax Code. In addition, no objective procedures exist in the Tax Code or elsewhere for identifying an organization as “charitable” on the basis of its intended and/or actual activities. As a result, it is quite difficult to determine with any certainty which NCOs might be eligible for this benefit, or how an NCO might go about claiming the benefit. It is equally unclear whether an organization must conduct only charitable activities in order to qualify for this status, or, alternatively, whether any NCO that conducts charitable activities (in addition to other non-charitable activities) may qualify. (Charity in Azerbaijan: Prospects for Developing Legislation and Practice, M. Guluzade and N. Bourjaily)

There is a special procedure for the registration of “international humanitarian organizations and other branches of foreign entities engaged in charitable activities.”  In order for such an organization to commence its activities in Azerbaijan, it must obtain consent of the Cabinet of Ministers, which would provide a basis for registration with the Ministry of Justice. Domestic NGOs do not need such approval in order to register with the Ministry of Justice.

Barriers to Entry

Azerbaijani legislation allows for the establishment and existence of informal associations (Article 15 of NGO Law); moreover, in practice unregistered (unincorporated) NGOs are not restricted. However, with the legal changes adopted on December 17, 2013, the operation of unregistered foreign NGOs in Azerbaijan has been prohibited and subject to a financial penalty.

The founders of an NGO may include legal persons (except state bodies and local self-governments) or physical persons who have reached the age of 18 (physical persons reaching the age of 16 may be the founders of youth public unions). Foreigners and stateless persons may serve as founders of an NGO (as well as legal representatives of a foreign NGO) if they have permanent residence in Azerbaijan. There are no restrictions preventing foreigners and stateless persons from becoming members or assistants [1] of NGOs.

A February 2014 change to Article 5.4.4-1 of the Registration Law requires that the legal representative of a foreign NGO have permanent residence in Azerbaijan. In accordance with Article 52.1 of the Migration Code of Azerbaijan, permanent residence is issued only to foreigners and stateless persons who reside temporarily in Azerbaijan for no less than 2 years. The application for permanent residence is considered within 2 months of submission. Azerbaijani legislation does not have a specific definition of ‘legal representative.’ The head of a representative office or a branch of a foreign NGO may be considered a legal representative of a foreign NGO. Since May 6, 2015, registration is also available in regional branches of the Ministry of Justice.

Registration is available only in the capital Baku, which creates problems for NGOs that are founded in rural areas, as they must travel to Baku to apply for registration and/or submit missing documents.

The Registration Law of Azerbaijan provides an exhaustive list of reasons for denial of registration of a legal entity, including an NGO. The permissible grounds for denial include the following: when another organization has been registered under the same name; when documents submitted for registration of an NGO contradict the Constitution, the Registration Law, and other Azerbaijani laws; when the goals, purposes and forms of activities of the NGO contradict legislation; or when an NGO does not correct all deficiencies in its submitted registration documents within 20 days after the Ministry of Justice returns them. (Article 11.3 of the Registration Law, December 12, 2003)  Regulatory officials reviewing registration applications have exercised broad discretion in applying the grounds for denial. This has led to unwarranted denials of registration of NGOs and resulted in judgments against Azerbaijan in the European Court of Human Rights.

The February 2014 change to Article 12.3 of the NGO Law introduces a requirement that the registration agreement between the MoJ and a foreign NGO must have an expiration date. Such agreements had been required since 2009, but there was no requirement for all agreements to have an expiration date. Therefore, at least potentially, agreements between a foreign NGO and the MoJ could have been indefinite (although few, if any, such agreements exist in practice). This change to Article 12.3 will be important for NGOs if the expiration date of agreements with the MoJ and foreign NGOs that are implementing projects do not cover the entire term of multi-year projects.

The state fee of 11 AZN ($14) must be paid at the time of registration of a public union. For registration of a foundation, a minimum deposit of 10,000 AZN ($12,700) must be paid as initial capital; this sum can be withdrawn if the Ministry of Justice does not register the foundation.

Due to changes to the Code of Administrative Offences in January 2012, NGO registration applicants are now subject to a penalty for providing false information during the registration process. The new penalty is fixed at 4000 azn (more than 5100 USD). The law does not define the term "false information". In addition, according to December 2014 amendment, the new Article 7.1-1 of the NGO Law allows foreign NGOs to establish only one representation or branch in Azerbaijan.

[1] NGO assistants include physical and legal persons (excluding governmental bodies) who participate in the NGO's work, subject to its charter, and provide any assistance or services, without making their relationship with the NGO official.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Azerbaijani law erects a number of barriers to the operational activity of NGOs:

  • All bank or any other operations on sums received as grants are banned unless the NGO registers such grant agreements with the Ministry of Justice. Legal entities violating this prohibition are subject to a penalty of 5000-8000 AZN.
  • The law defines serious financial penalties for violation of provisions of NGO legislation, such as failure to adjust constituent documents of NGOs (including foreign NGOs) to local legislation, conducting any activity based on changes made to the constituent documents where such changes have not yet been registered, failure to register grant agreements, failure of NGOs to maintain registry of members, failure to conclude contracts with volunteers, etc. It is unclear when and why the maximum amount of these penalties would be imposed. For example, the failure to register a grant agreement with the Ministry of Justice may be penalized in an amount ranging from 1000-2500 AZN; the margin is very broad and is applied in a discretionary manner.
  • The law entrusts the Ministry of Justice with broad powers to supervise NGOs and to issue warning letters. According to the law, if an NGO receives receives more than two warnings within a year, the Ministry may initiate involuntary dissolution through the court.
    In the regions outside the capital, NGOs are expected to seek approval of the regional executive authorities in order to conduct their events, despite there being no such requirement in the law.
  • According to Article 2.4 of the NGO Law, “A non-governmental organization may not participate in presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections of the Azerbaijan Republic, and it may not provide financial and other material assistance to political parties.”
  • According to a presidential decree, the State Committee for Statistics is responsible for receiving statistical reports “with regard to labor protection, labor conditions and on the results of the measures taken to adapt them to the existing norms” that the owners of property and employers are obliged to provide “within time and in the manner determined by the State Committee for Statistics.” Changes were made to the Code of the Administrative Offenses that establish fines for the “non-provision” of these reports ranging “from 1000 to 2000 AZN.” This is a serious penalty which is also applicable to NGOs.
  • There are barriers on receiving information. Almost all requests for information regardless of content can be charged an arbitrary fee in advance. In addition, rules do not specify under what standard the conclusion of a contract to receive information may be refused, and why requests must provide such extensive information about how the information will be used.
  • With the changes to NGO legislation introduced on February 3, 2014 individual recipients of grants are now required to register grants with the MoJ in the same way as organizations; branches and representative offices of foreign NGOs must provide information to the MoJ about the chief of party as well as his/her deputy (including the name, surname, citizenship, and place of residence); the agreement which foreign NGOs must sign with the MoJ as part of its registration must have the expiration date; and an NGO’s activity can be suspended by court on the basis of a lawsuit filed by its members.
  • With the changes to NGO legislation introduced in October 2014, all NGOs, including branches and representations of foreign NGOs, should have contracts on all goods, property, and other rights they receive in the form of assistance.

In addition, on December 28, 2015 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) adopted Rules on Studying the Activities of Non-Governmental Organizations, Branches or Representative Offices of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations (the "Rules"), which were published on February 13, 2016. The Rules establish the procedure for the MoJ to inspect the activity of local NGOs and foreign NGOs with registered offices in Azerbaijan.There is concern that the Rules grant very broad powers to the MoJ to conduct inspections with very few guarantees for protecting the rights of NGOs.

For example, the Rules define the procedure for "studying" (similar in actual meaning to "inspecting") an NGO’s activity based on its compliance with its charter (regulation) and the legislation of the Republic of Azerbaijan. According to the Rules, the activities of both local NGOs and the registered offices of foreign NGOs can be studied by the MoJ, which can engage other government bodies (and even other NGOs) in carrying out the "study" of the NGO's activities (Article 1.7). If an NGO violates the terms of the Rules related to the "studied" activities, such as failure to respond to inquiries, failure to submit required documents and information, or giving false information, sanctions will be imposed on the NGO in accordance with the Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Administrative Offences

The following issues are examined during the "study" of NGOs’ activities:

  • compliance of the NGO’s activities with its charter (regulation);
  • compliance with the requirements of legislation, including conducting mandatory meetings of management bodies of NGOs as well as maintaining a register of members, utilizing income in accordance with organizational charter (regulation), and ensuring transparency of activities (it is not clear what is meant by the latter provision);    
  • compliance with the requirements of the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan ‘On state registration of legal entities and the state register,’ including timely submission by non-commercial entities and educational institutions of information necessary for the state registry, and compliance of the documents in the state registry with legislation;       
  • submission of annual financial reports, observance of legislation on grants and accounting, legal compliance of financial and economic activity;
  • observance of relevant normative legal acts relevant to the activity of the NGO.

The MoJ can conduct a "study" through various methods. The Rules specifically mention that the MoJ may request documents through the e-information system “Personal e-window.” Local experts believe that "studying" may also include site visits by the MoJ and other government bodies, requests for hard copies of documents, and requests for NGO personnel to visit the MoJ’s office.

During the "study," NGOs have a number of obligations, such as allocating a special office space for the MoJ inspector and providing a copy machine, computer, and other facilities. At the same time, the MoJ inspectors have very few restrictions under the Rules for "studying." In particular, the Rules do not specify how many MoJ representatives may participate in a "study" at an NGO’s office, or whether they are permitted to stay beyond normal office hours. The Rules only state that the "study" shall be completed within the period up to 60 days. The Rules also state that the MoJ representatives cannot impede the work of an NGO during the a "study," but there are no specific guidelines to enforce this provision.

While it remains to be seen how the Rules will be implemented in practice, they nonetheless provide a basis for unrestricted intrusion into the activities of NGOs.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

Article 47 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan provides that “Everyone may enjoy freedom of thought and speech.”  Generally, Azerbaijani legislation does not limit NGO participation in framing and debating issues of public policy. In practice there are no barriers to speech for NGOs.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers to international communication and contact.

Barriers to Resources

While there are no special permits required to receive foreign funding, NGOs are required to provide an application letter, original of any grant agreement as well as several other supporting documents to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) within 15 days of the date of the grant agreement. In practice, the failure to apply to the Ministry does not limit NGO access to the foreign funding, but may subject NGOs to administrative penalties of up to 7,000 AZN ($8,970), in accordance with Article 223-1.1 of the Administrative Code.

Furthermore, according to changes to the  Law on Grants and Administrative Code in February 2013, receiving any financial or material aid that is not a donation without a grant contract is punishable by the confiscation of the unregistered grant or assets from the recipient NGO. In addition, such NGOs will be subject to a fine of 8,000-15,000 AZN ($10,200-19,100), and NGO managers will be subject to fines of 2,500-5,000 AZN ($3,185-6,370). These penalties apply to local NGOs as well as to representative and branch offices of foreign NGOs.

NGOs may engage in economic activities. Profit from the economic activities of NGOs, including charities, is generally taxed in the same manner as for commercial organizations.

In March 12, 2013, amendments to the NGO law entered into force. The amendments to the NGO law define what constitutes donations with regard to the NGOs. Donations are defined as an “aid in the form of funds and (or) other material form given to a non-governmental organization in accordance with this law without a condition to achieve any purpose.”

The law prohibits both donating and receiving parties to promise or receive anything in return for a donation. At the same time the donating party “cannot, either directly or indirectly, in return for donations made or promised demand or accept for itself or any third person material or other gift, or any privilege or discount, or agree to such a proposal or a promise.”

The amendments to the Law on Grants and Administrative Code in February 2014 also restrict the types of financial aid that can be received by NGOs to donations (according to conditions explained above) and grants registered by the MoJ by prohibiting any other “financial or material assistance”. This provision is also applicable to representative and branches of foreign NGOs operating in Azerbaijan.

On February 3, 2014 new changes affecting NGO legislation entered into force. They introduced many obligations for organizations, including new registration requirements, and rules regarding receiving and using grants and reporting to the government. With the changes, the Rules on Registration of Grants of 2015 (Rules) are now applied to individuals, in addition to registered NGOs. The new penalty for individuals that receive grants but fail to register them grant with the MoJ enforces the provision of the Rules for individuals (a change to Article 223-1.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). Previously, according to the Law on Grants, individuals had the right to receive grants. Many non-registered NGOs in Azerbaijan used this right to receive grants in the name of their founder or chairperson. While individuals had the right to receive grants, there was no clear requirement in the law that individuals should register their grants with the MoJ. Now with the new change, they must register their grants with the MoJ on the same grounds and rules as registered NGOs.

Furthermore, the NGO Law prohibits NGOs from receiving cash donations, with a few exceptions stipulated in the NGO Law. As a general rule, donations must be received “as a bank transfer to the bank account of a non-governmental organization”, with the exception of cash donations of up to 200 AZN for NGOs that indicate charity as a primary purpose in its charter.

On October 17, 2014, Milli Majlis adopted amendments to the Laws on NGOs and on Grants. On November 16, 2014, the changes made to the Laws on NGOs and on Grants were published in an official newspaper and entered into force. According to the changes, local NGOs can receive donations from foreign donors only if the foreign donor has an agreement with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of the Republic of Azerbaijan. An NGO recipient of a donation, including branches or representations of foreign NGOs, shall submit information on the amount of the received donations and on the donors to the MoJ and the Ministry of Finance (MoF). No bank operations or any other operations on donations can take place without submitting information about such transactions.

In regards to local donors, the list of local public donors was extended. All state bodies who want to provide grants to NGOs must coordinate with the NGO Support Council.

According to the  November 2014 changes, foreign legal entities may provide grants to Azerbaijani NGOs if they have an agreement with the MoJ and a registered branch or representation in Azerbaijan, and they have obtained the right to give a grant in the Republic of Azerbaijan. An opinion on the financial-economic expediency of the grant issued by the relevant executive state body is required for obtaining the right to give a grant. The procedure for obtaining the right to give grants in Azerbaijan has not been adopted by the date of October 14, 2015

Barriers to Assembly

Notification. Organizers of an assembly, which is defined as a “gathering of several people,” must provide notification at least 5 days in advance. The regulatory authority must respond to the notification request within 3 days and, in the case of a denial, organizers have the right to appeal to an administrative and judicial body within 3 days.

Restrictions on Organizers. The organizers of an assembly must also participate personally in the assemblies they organize, be at least 18 years old, and wear distinctive signs during the assembly.  Foreign citizens, stateless persons, and minors may not serve as organizers of an assembly.

Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions. Assemblies may be banned within a 200-meter radius of the Milli Majlis, the Presidential Palace, high-level government buildings of the Nakchevan Autonomous Republic, the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, and highways, tunnels, bridges, electrical networks exceeding 1,000 volts, and places used by local government executives for public events. Assemblies may be banned within a 150-meter radius of military facilities, prisons and hospitals.

Local executive authorities may also allocate “special places” for holding assemblies, change the time of an assembly “if the limitation is necessary and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued,” and ban assemblies on the eve of days of “national importance.” Assemblies may also be limited during emergencies in accordance with the Law "on State of Emergency,” on election days, or when the assemblies have “political content.” The use of amplifiers above 10 watts are banned. Counter-demonstrations are generally allowed, but the executive authority can suggest the counter-demonstrators change time and place of their demonstration.

Criminal Penalties and Enforcement. If permission is not received, the participants and organizers can be fined, even if they hold an assembly that did not cause any harm or disturbance. Organizers and participants in assemblies that are not agreed to by the executive power and entail “substantial violation of the rights and legitimate interests of citizens” are subject to a fine of 5,000 to 8,000 AZN, or correctional labor for up to two years, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years under Article 169 the Criminal Code. Police use of force on organizers and participants in assemblies is not uncommon.

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports

Universal Periodic Review: Azerbaijan (2013);

Comparing States' Treatment Of Businesses And Associations WorldwideMaini Kiai's Report (2015)

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Azerbaijan
U.S. State Department 2015 Human Rights Reports: Azerbaijan
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
Amnesty International AI Report 2014/15: Azerbaijan
Human Rights Watch HRW’s World report 2015: Azerbaijan
International Federation for Human Rights Human Rights Azerbaijan
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Azerbaijan

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News and Upcoming Events

General News

Welcoming the Release of Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan (March 2016)
The Steering Committee of the Civil Society Forum welcomes the release of several political prisoners, including our colleague Anar Mammadli, in Azerbaijan on the occasion of the Novruz holiday. This gesture marks a first step towards the establishment of a relationship of trust between the government and civil society at large in Azerbaijan. In addition we appeal for the lifting of restrictions on the activities of civil society organisations, thus enabling them to fully contribute to Azerbaijan's future wellbeing.

European Parliament adopts a Resolution on Azerbaijan (September 2015)
On September 10, 2015 European Parliament adopted a Resolution 2015/2840 on Azerbaijan. The Resolution in particular emphasizes the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, highlighting that EU was able to issue only 2 out of 13 grants due to restrictive legislation and that it ‘continues to encounter severe limitations on its ability to fund independent civil society groups and activists in Azerbaijan; whereas many of the EU grantees are either in prison or have fled the country and closed their operations’. At the same time, with the Resolution the European Parliament “strongly condemns the unprecedented repression against civil society in Azerbaijan”.

Khadija Ismayıl and Leyla Yunus are listed for US State Department’s campaign (September 2015)
On September 1, the US State Department started campaign for releasing 20 women in detention in the world. Human rights activists Leyla Yunus and investigating journalist Khadija Ismayil are included in that campaign.

Baku closes OSCE Office (June 2015)
On June 5, the government of Azerbaijan decided to shut down the local representative office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). According to Turan News Agency, the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan sent a letter to the OSCE head office in Vienna informing them of the decision. The letter reads: "The government of Azerbaijan has reported that there is no need for further activities of the OSCE Project Coordinator in Baku. Therefore, the Government of Azerbaijan considers the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Azerbaijan and the OSCE on the OSCE Project Coordinator in Baku, signed September 24, 2014, null and void as of yesterday, June 4, 2015. The government provides the OSCE one month to complete the technical operations that arise in such situations." Two years ago, Baku lowered the OSCE representative’s level from that of an embassy to that of a project coordinator.

ECHR announces a new decision against Azerbaijan (May 2015)
On May 7, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced its decision in the case of Emin Huseynov, the director of the Institute of Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS), who was forced into hiding at the Swiss embassy in Baku in August 2014. In a case which originated from a 2008 incident with law enforcement, the ECHR found Mr. Huseynov’s rights had been violated under Articles three (prohibition of torture), five (right to liberty and security,) and 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court awarded Mr. Huseynov 15,000 Euro in damages and another 5,000 Euro for legal costs.

Azerbaijan's status in EITI downgrades to candidate (April 2015)
Azerbaijan's status in a prominent international transparency organization - Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) - has been downgraded. Representatives of EITI cited Azerbaijani authorities' ongoing crackdown on individual liberties as the reason for the demotion. Azerbaijan’s troubles with the EITI date back to 2013, when some organization representatives expressed concern about a crackdown on government critics, and launched a probe into the country’s commitment to the transparency standard.

European Court: Azerbaijan violated NGO's freedom of association (November 2014)
On November 13, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Islam-Ittihad Association and others v Azerbaijan  (No. 5548/05), finding that the dissolution by the State of the Islam-Ittihad Association violated the right to freedom of association under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Court ruled that although three warnings had been issued by the Ministry of Justice to the Association ahead of its dissolution, instructing it to cease its "religious activities", no clear definition of activities was provided. Prof. Bill Bowring commented: "Although it has taken more than nine years for this important case to be decided by the European Court, the judgment and its message as to the true meaning of freedom of association comes at an opportune moment, when civil society is under enormous pressure from the government of Azerbaijan."

NGO Bank Accounts Frozen (August 2014)

Azerbaijani Activist Faces Imminent Arrest for Creating Peacebuilding Website (December 2013)

Government arrests leading members of civil society ahead of high-level diplomatic visit (December 2013)

Penalty for unauthorized assemblies increased (June 2013)

Rights to freedom of expression eroded even further (May 2013)

Mood darkens in Baku amid crackdown on civil society (January 2013)

PACE rapporteurs express concerns about freedom of assembly and expression in Azerbaijan (November 2012)

Azerbaijani MP: NGOs’ state funding should be increased (November 2012)

Can Facebook become substitute for live opposition protests?  (November 2012)

Ahead of Presidential elections in 2013 Azerbaijani government proposes to toughen legislation on public protests (November 2012)

New Azerbaijani law on unsanctioned public gatherings  (November 2012)

OSCE appreciates Azerbaijani authorities’ readiness for dialogue on freedom of speech  (November 2012)

Azerbaijani parliament adopts tougher legislation on unauthorized rallies (October 2012)

Joint submission outlines concerns related the CSO environment in Azerbaijan for UPR (October 2012)

Cabinet of Ministers adopts rules that hinder access to information (July 2012)

President promulgates changes to the law “on commercial secrets” (July 2012)

Azerbaijan scores 4.7 out of 7 on USAID “CSOSI” (July 2012)

“Non-provision” of statistical reports means new penalties applicable to NGOs (June 2012)

Crackdown in Azerbaijan after the 2012 Eurovision contest (July 2012)

Top official: Most issues raised by NGOs fully coincide with Azerbaijani government’s policy (July 2012)

Azerbaijani civil society condemns proposed amendments to draft laws on Freedom of Information (June 2012)

Increased support needed for civil society in Azerbaijan after Eurovision contest (May 2012)

One-stop shop for registration of NGOs and Civil Society Concept suggested in Azerbaijan (May 2012)

European Parliament resolution on Azerbaijan mentions pressure on NGOs (May 2012)

Venice Commission expresses views on Azerbaijan's NGO law (April 2012)

Law on Social Service set to enter into force in June 2012 (March 2012)

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