Last updated: 9 April 2021

Coronavirus Response

On March 20, 2020, the Cabinet of Ministers introduced a strict quarantine, which has been tightened and eased at different times throughout the year. There was also an SMS permission system that allows citizens to go out of their premises for three hours. The government also introduced a penalty for failure to use mask. It is mandatory to wear mask in all indoor and outdoor spaces.

For more details, see ICNL’s COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker entry for Azerbaijan.


  1. Mr. Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant to President Aliyev and the head of international policy unit of President’s Office, recently held five online meetings with NGOs. These meetings were organized with support of the NGO Council. In total, more than 200 NGOs joined these discussions, including some that are critical of the government. During these meetings, each participant had the opportunity to speak. Nearly all participants complained of barriers in the NGO legislation and registration of foreign funding. At least one additional meeting is planned. Following these discussions, Mr. Azay Guliyev, the head of the NGO Council, established a working group comprised of NGO experts and lawyers to prepare recommendations for the government, to be submitted to the October session of Parliament.
  2. On September 9, 2020, the Parliamentary Committee on Labor and Social Policy set up a working group has been set up in the Milli Majlis to draft a law on charitable activities.


Civil society in Azerbaijan has been developing dynamically since the country gained independence in 1991. Currently, there are more than 4,500 NGOs registered in the country, and over 300 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 (Law on NGOs) 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 six 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 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, in 2014-2015 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 significantly impaired 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.

Other regulatory measures include the following:

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

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

3) On October 21, 2016, President Aliyev signed an important decree on Simplification of Registration of Foreign Grants in Azerbaijan (the decree), which provided that from January 1, 2017, a “one-stop-shop” approach be applied to the procedure for registering foreign grants in Azerbaijan. This service is provided by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to non-commercial entities and individuals; by the Ministry of Economy to commercial entities; and by the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations to religious organizations. The Cabinet of Ministers has also issued a decree and simplified issues of a technical nature in the current legislation. However, the requirement to obtain approval for the right to provide grants in Azerbaijan remains in force.

4) On January 25, 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers also made changes that simplified the procedure for registration of foreign. The key changes included the following:

  • A grant recipient (and not only a grantor) can submit documents to obtain the right for the grantor to issue a grant;
  • The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has one working day to check the grant/grantor registration package and inform the grantor or recipient (whichever is the applicant) if it is complete; if the package is complete, the MoJ shall send it to the MoF to obtain an opinion on the financial – economic expediency of the grant agreement;
  • The Ministry of Finance (MoF) has seven calendar days from the day it receives the package from the MoJ to provide its opinion (instead of 15 days), and the MoF can extend this period for an additional seven calendar days (instead of 15 days as before);
  • The grantor’s registration documents are no longer required as part of the registration procedure;
  • A notarized translation of the documents is not required; and
  • If the MoF’s opinion on the grant is negative, the MoJ must inform the grantor or recipient (whichever is the applicant) within 3 working days from receipt of the MoF’s opinion.

However, these changes do not eliminate government discretion on whether to approve or deny registration of a grant. These changes also do not eliminate the burdensome two-stage process of registering a grant.

Despite some of the improvements above, the government is still yet to dismantle the overall complex and burdensome legal environment for NGOs in the country. Since January 1, 2019, for example, changes to the Tax Code entered into force. These changes provide for a set of tax exemptions which are in the interest of NGOs as well (for example, zero rate income tax from salaries for 7 years, 75% tax exemption for entities generating less than 200,000azn/year with less than 10 staff members, etc.).

On June 30, 2020, Parliament made changes to NGO legislation to enable electronic submission of NGO documents to the Ministry of Justice (i.e for registration of grant agreements, agreements on provision of services, presenting the changes made in NGOs’ statutory documents, etc). However, this system is not yet operational as of February 2021.

Organizational FormsPublic union, foundation and union of legal entities
Registration BodyMinistry of Justice
Approximate Number4500 registered NGOs (as of 2020)
Barriers to EntryForeigners 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 ActivitiesThere 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 AdvocacyThe 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 ContactNo barriers
Barriers to ResourcesNGOs are required to provide an application letter and supporting documents to the Ministry of Justice within 30 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. Only foreign donors that have an office in Azerbaijan, signed an agreement with MoJ and have Ministry of Finance’s opinion on financial-economic expediency of a grant can give grants to NGOs in Azerbaijan.

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 Assembly5-day advance notification requirement; must be over 18 years old to organize an assembly; restrictions on assemblies near government buildings; and excessive criminal penalties.
Population9,981,500 (January 1, 2019, State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)
Type of GovernmentRepublic
Life Expectancy at Birthmale: 73.3 years
female: 78.2 years (2018 est. State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)
Literacy Rate99.8% (2010 est. US Department of State)
Religious GroupsMuslim 93.4%, Russian Orthodox 2.5%, Armenian Orthodox 2.3%, other 1.8% (State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)
Ethnic GroupsAzerbaijani 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$4851.2 USD (2019 est. State Statistic Committee of Azerbaijan)

Ranking BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index87 (2019)1 – 189
World Bank Rule of Law Index29.33 (2018)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index7.88 (2018)100 – 0
Transparency International126 (2019)1 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: Not Free
Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 8(2020)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
40 – 1
60 – 1
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index76 (2019)178 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes1992
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)Yes2001
Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (ICCPR-OP2)Yes1992
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes1992
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes1992
Optional Protocol to The Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornographyYes2002
Convention on the Political Rights of WomenYes1992
Convention Relating to the Status of RefugeesYes1992
Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of WarYes1993
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against WomenYes1995
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial DiscriminationYes1996
Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of ApartheidYes1996
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of GenocideYes1996
Convention on the Non-applicability of Statutory Limitation to War Crimes and Crimes against HumanityYes1996
Convention on SlaveryYes1996
Protocol amending the Slavery ConventionYes1996
Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to SlaveryYes1996
Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of OthersYes1996
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of PunishmentYes1996
Convention on Nationality of Married WomanYes1996
Convention on the Reduction of StatelessnessYes1996
Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless PersonsYes1996
Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of MarriagesYes1996
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their FamiliesYes1998
Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced PersonsYes2000
Convention on the Legal Status of Children Born out of WedlockYes2000
Framework convention for the protection of national minoritiesYes2000
Convention Concerning the Abolition of Forced LabourYes2000
Convention on Legal and Civil Liability for CorruptionYes2003
Convention on Elimination of Discrimination in Education SphereYes2006
Key Regional AgreementsRatification*Year
European Culture ConventionYes1997
European Convention on the Compensation of Victims of Violent CrimesYes2000
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental FreedomsYes2001
European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentYes2001
European Charter of Local Self-GovernmentYes2001
European Convention on ExtraditionYes2002
European Convention on Criminal Liability for CorruptionYes2003
European Social CharterYes2004
Protocol No. 15 to the European Convention on Human RightsYes2014

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

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan was adopted on November 12, 1995 (and subsequently amended on August 24, 2002, on March 18, 2009 and on September 26, 2016).
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
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of assembly with others.
2. 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 without violating public rule and public moral.
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 which intend forcible overthrow of legal state power on the whole territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan or in any part thereof and other objectives which are considered a crime, or the usage of criminal methods are 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. Everyone is guaranteed the protection of his/her rights and liberties in the administrative manner and in court.
II. Everyone has the right to an unbiased approach to their work and consideration of the case within a reasonable time in the administrative proceedings and litigation.
III. Everyone has the right to being heard in administrative proceedings and litigation.
IV. Everyone may appeal to court in the administrative manner against the actions and inaction of public authorities, political parties, legal entities, municipalities and their 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);

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. On December 22, 2011, the concept on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was opened for public discussion. Many NGOs 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. Draft laws initiated by the NGO Support Council include the Law on Social Orders and the Law on Professional Associations.

3. There is a draft Law on Charity, which was prepared by a group of NGOs in Azerbaijan and has been pending in the Parliament since 2007.

4. Lastly, there is a draft Law on the Procedure for the use of the Right of Legislative Initiatives by the Citizens, which is under discussion at parliament. On June 3, 2019, the Council of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations together with the Committee on Legal Policy and State Building of the Milli Mejlis held a public discussion of this draft Law. Among the participants in attendance were media representatives and CSOs. During the meeting, proposals were aired, and the MPs invited to the meeting answered questions from the participants of various CSOs. The organizers stated that it is worth continuing further discussions on the draft Law.

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 4,500 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). In accordance with changes to the Law on Youth policy of 2019, however, the founders and members of youth organizations shall be under the age of 35. 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 two years. The application for permanent residence is considered within two 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 MoJ.

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. In practice, the MoJ signs these agreements for a one-year period, which creates problems for multi-year projects as they have to reapply for its extension annually.

The state fee of 11 AZN ($6) must be paid at the time of registration of a public union. For registration of a foundation, a minimum deposit of 10,000 AZN ($5,700) must be paid as initial capital; this sum can be withdrawn if the Ministry of Justice does not register the foundation.

[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.”
  • 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 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 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. Moreover, NGOs have to comply with the legislation on combatting money laundering and introduce internal control mechanisms. Failure to comply with such legislation may lead to penalties up to 15,000 AZN ($8,823) in accordance with Article 598 of the Code on Administrative Offences. In practice such a penalty has not been applied yet, however.

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 the framing and debating of issues of public policy. In practice there are no barriers to speech for NGOs. This may change in the future, however, at least in the online space. For example, the new Article 148-1 to the Criminal Code states that posting slander or insults on the internet by using fake user names, profiles or accounts shall be punished by a fine of 1,000 to 2,000 AZN (approximately $500 to $1,000), or community service for 360 to 480 hours, or corrective labour for up to two years, or imprisonment for up to one year.

In addition, on March 17, 2020, amendments to the Law on Information, Informatization, and Protection of Information were adopted. One of the changes in the new Article 13-2.3.10-1 was that “The owner of the Internet information resource and its domain name or the user of the information-telecommunication network must not allow in that information resource (information-telecommunication network) the placement of the false information threatening to harm human life and health, causing significant property damage, mass violation of public safety, disruption of life support facilities, financial, transport, communications, industrial, energy and social infrastructure facilities or other socially dangerous consequences.” Some foreign and local experts raised concerns that such provisions can be interpreted broadly and used against CSO members to hinder freedom of expression on social media.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers to international communication and contact.

Barriers to Resources

NGOs in Azerbaijan can receive foreign funding only from foreign donors that have an office in Azerbaijan, signed an agreement with MoJ and haveMoF’s opinion on financial-economic expediency of a grant. Moreover, NGOs are required to provide an application letter, original document of any grant agreement as well as several other supporting documents to the MoJ within 30 days of the date of the grant agreement. Failure to apply to the MoJ may subject an NGO to administrative penalties of up to 7,000 AZN ($4,000) in accordance with Article 432 of the Administrative Code.

Furthermore, according to changes to the Law on Grants in February 2013 and new Administrative Code of 2016, receiving any financial or material aid without a grant contract (if not a donation) 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 ($4,570-8,570), and NGO managers will be subject to fines of 2,500-5,000 AZN ($1,430-2,860). 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 Law on NGOs entered into force. The amendments 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.”

On February 3, 2014 changes affecting NGO legislation 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. Now with the new change, they must register their grants with the MoJ on the same grounds and rules as registered NGOs.

Furthermore, the Law on NGOs 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.

According to the changes, foreign NGOs can receive donations from foreign donors only if they have an agreement with the 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 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.

Lastly, Decision #88 was issued on March 12, 2020 by the Cabinet of Ministers affecting corporate social responsibility (CSR). It was issued, however, without consultation from NGOs and other stakeholders. As a result, only NGOs in the area of culture will be able to receive funds from businesses because organizations in the social, science, education, and sports areas are unable to comply with the provisions of Decision #88.

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.

UN Universal Periodic Review ReportsUniversal Periodic Review: Azerbaijan (2018)

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

UN Human Rights CommitteeFourth Periodic Report of Azerbaijan (1 and 2 November 2016
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of associationAzerbaijan
U.S. State Department2019 Human Rights Reports: Azerbaijan
Fragile States Index ReportsForeign Policy: Fragile States Index
Amnesty InternationalAI Report 2019: Azerbaijan
Human Rights WatchHRW’s World report 2020: Azerbaijan
International Federation for Human RightsHuman Rights Azerbaijan
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online LibraryAzerbaijan

General News

HRW Says Azerbaijan Abuses COVID-19 Restrictions to Crack Down on Critics (April 2020)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is accusing Azerbaijani authorities of “abusing” restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus to arrest government critics. In less than a month, at least six opposition activists and a pro-opposition journalist were sentenced to detention of up to 30 days on “spurious charges” that included breaking lockdown rules or disobeying police orders, HRW said in a statement on April 16.

National Action Plan on Promotion of Open Government Approved (February 2020)
On February 27, 2020, President Aliyev signed a Decree On approving a National Action Plan for 2020-2022 on promotion of Open Government. This plan was developed with close participation of CSOs and individual experts and some 90% of recommendations of CSOs were taken into consideration. The National Action Plan is a 13-page document covering activities in such areas as fighting corruption, increasing transparency, simplification of grant registration, simplification of NGO registration, simplification of legislation on money laundering, improving state services, and increasing efficiency of Public Councils comprised of CSOs.

Presentation of CSO Meter (December 2019) (Azeri)
The NGO Council launched joint grant competitions with 18 state bodies and held several information sessions for NGOs to inform them about the rules and topics for the grant completion. The topics included raising awareness of the population about e-services and training for journalists on e-government and use of e-services.

New public funding for local NGOs (November 2019) (Azeri)
The NGO Council launched joint grant competitions with 18 state bodies and held several information sessions for NGOs to inform them about the rules and topics for the grant completion. The topics included raising awareness of the population about e-services and training for journalists on e-government and use of e-services.

NGO Support Council Presents 20 new e-services for CSOs (October 2019) (Azeri)
More than 100 representatives of parliament, government, NGOs, and media attended the event where the NGO Support Council made a presentation of its 20 new e-services for CSOs

New Accounting Standards approved for NGOs (January 2019) (Azeri)
The Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan approved “Rules for conducting accounting by non-governmental organizations based on general principles of the International Accounting Standards for the Sector” which were published on January 14, 2019. Local and foreign NGOs operating in Azerbaijan will have to comply with these new standards.

OGP Resolution on participation of Azerbaijan in the Open Government Partnership (December 2018)
On December 5, 2018 the Steering Committee resolved to extend the suspended status of Azerbaijan pending the completion of the specified milestones.

Restriction on establishing NGOs in armed forces (June 2018)
The establishment and activities of NGOs in the Armed Forces of the Azerbaijan Republic has been prohibited with changes made to Article 2 of the NGO Law on 12 June 2018.

Another ground for suspension of NGOs’ activity (May 2018)
The activities of an NGO, as well as a branch office or representation of an NGO of a foreign state may be suspended until the end of the circumstances that are causing the military situation and the implementation of measures with the changes made to Article 31 of the NGO Law on 1 May 2018.

U.S. committed to cooperation with Azerbaijan for sake of development (February 2018)
The U.S. is committed to the policy of cooperation with Azerbaijan in the field of development, Brock Bierman, Deputy Administrator of the Europe and Eurasia Bureau of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said during his three-day visit to Azerbaijan. The aim of the visit was to discuss the prospects for cooperation between USAID and Azerbaijan.

Public Legal Entities Can Receive Grants (July 2017)
On July 21, 2017 the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a decision whereby public legal entities are included on the list of entities that can receive grants. This form of legal entity is usually established by the state, such as universities.

Hotline established under NGO Council (May 2017)
The NGO Council has established a hotline to study the complaints and recommendations of NGOs. NGOs can call this number on issues relating to legal obstacles as well as other concerns that impede their work

Azerbaijan’s human rights record reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee(October 2016)
Azerbaijan’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee on 20 and 21 October in Geneva. As one of the 168 States that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Azerbaijan is required to undergo review by the Committee on how it is implementing the Covenant. Azerbaijan has submitted a report to the Committee on the implementation of its human rights obligations, and a number of non-governmental organisations have also sent reports for the Committee’s consideration, including on NGO legislation matters.

Council of Europe’s Venice Commission issues Preliminary Opinion on Referendum (September 2016)
On September 20, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission issued its Preliminary Opinion On The Draft Modifications to the Constitution Submitted To The Referendum. While positively assessing some of the suggested provisions, the Venice Commission nevertheless underlined that “The new powers of the President introduced by the Draft are unprecedented even in comparative respect; they reduce his political accountability and weaken Parliament even further”.

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 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)

“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)