The Constitution of Azerbaijan defines the Republic of Azerbaijan as a democratic, law-governed, secular, unitary republic with separation of powers. Azerbaijan has a multi-party system.
Civil society in Azerbaijan is relatively small, with only about 4,500 NGOs registered in the country. The NGO sector is primarily regulated by the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Law on NGOs), the Law on Grants, and several decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers.
Complex and burdensome registration procedures present a formidable barrier for those who wish to form and operate NGOs. It is difficult to register as either a domestic or international NGO in Azerbaijan. The Government of Azerbaijan has lost at least 32 cases before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which has found denials of registration to violate the freedom of association. NGOs also encounter difficulties in complying with informal requests to obtain a permit from the presidential administration and local authorities in order to carry out activities in the regions.
Since 2015, access to foreign funding for domestic NGOs in Azerbaijan has been seriously impeded, as the Government has introduced restrictive requirements for donor registration, registration of foreign grants, service contracts and donations. As a result, hundreds of NGOs have been left without substantial funding and thousands of skilled professionals have fled the sector. The funding restrictions reflect an often mistrustful and hostile government attitude toward NGOs, which are often referred to as “anti-government,” “foreign agents,” etc.
At present, the NGO sector is partially financed through public funding mechanisms, which provides small grants to NGOs. However, the amount of individual grants is rather limited and does not usually exceed 3000-5000 euro. On April 19, 2021, the President signed a Decree on Establishing a Public Legal Entity Agency for State Support to NGOs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which replaced the NGO Support Council established in 2008.
Despite the existence of a good legislative framework for the participation of NGOs in the decision-making process (for instance, the Law on Public Participation), the role of civil society in the adoption of laws is limited in practice.