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On 15 February 2013 the Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan adopted new amendments to the law on Non-Governmental Organizations (public associations and foundations), the law on Grants, and the related changes in the Code of Administrative Offences. These amendments were rushed through Parliament without consultation of independent civil society organisations or relevant bodies of international organisations, such as the European Commission for Democracy through Law of the Council of Europe (Venice Commission).
NGOs already work under strict control by the State authorities in Azerbaijan, as all foreign grants have to date to be registered at the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice has so far not given any feedback to the NGOs that the grants have been approved or refused. This creates uncertainty regarding implementation of the activities. NGOs, which have lost or been denied registration in Azerbaijan, might face problems especially when the new amendments enter into force.
The strict State-control over civil society has been intensified since July 2009, when legislative amendments aimed at requesting foreign non-governmental organisations or non-governmental organisations fully funded by foreign governmental sources to register on the basis of an agreement concluded with the State. On 16 March 2011, the government adopted a decree on rules governing registration of foreign NGOs and negotiations with them on required agreements, leaving the Ministry of Justice with a broad and discretionary power in interpreting and defining those agreements. Today, the Ministry of Justice can indeed close down an organization without notification, after two warnings has been issued to the respective NGO.
Few days before the adoption of this decree, on 10 March 2011 the Azerbaijan Human Rights House (AHRH) was forced to suspend its activities until a required agreement with the State was approved. After a process of negotiations since April 2011, a final application was submitted on 3 November 2011. Nevertheless, to date, there has been no progress and no further instructions by the Azerbaijani authorities.
To date, the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre is still denied registration. Ahead of the Presidential elections to be held in October 2013, this situation is particularly worrisome.
On 19 February 2013, the Baku Administrative-Economic Court Nr. 1 rejected the appeal of the Human Rights Club (HRC) against the Ministry of Justice’s decision to deny HRC of registration, on grounds that HRC did not specify the responsibilities of its lawful representative in the decision on the establishment of the organisation.
The NGOs members of the Human Rights House Network and the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders urge the Republic of Azerbaijan to:
- Repeal the amendments to the law on Non-Governmental Organizations (public associations and foundations), the law on Grants, and the related changes in the Code of Administrative Offences, and ensure that national legislation is in line with Azerbaijan’s international human rights obligations;
- Eliminate the practice of ungrounded postponement of or refusal to register national and international non-governmental organisations, in particular those organisations that defend human rights;
- Immediately and unconditionally give the authorisation to the Azerbaijan Human Rights House to re-open and register the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre and the Human Rights Club without further delay or administrative burden;
- Take effective measures to protect human rights defenders and allow them to conduct their human rights work without hindrance, including by expressing their opinions freely, as well as creating and joining associations, as provided by Article 5 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 9 December 1998.
- HRHN letter of concern on NGOs and AHRH (March 2013)
Closure of the Azerbaijan Human Rights House: