17 June 2009, 11:47
Urgent Appeal Against the Amendments to the NGO Law of Azerbaijan
Statement of the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders on the Law of Republic of Azerbaijan "On Nongovernmental organizations (public associations and foundations)"
South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders is a network of 30 well established impartial and independent non-governmental organizations from the region of South Caucasus, aiming at supporting the human rights defenders in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders is alarmed about the draft amendments to the Law of Republic of Azerbaijan "On Non-governmental organizations (public associations and foundations)" that are due to be discussed on 19 June by the Parliament of Azerbaijan. Should these amendments be adopted as they stand, they would severely curtail freedom of association in contradiction with the Constitution of Azerbaijan, international obligations undertaken by the country, in particular obligations steaming from the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the commitments under European Union Eastern Partnership, Council of Europe and OSCE.
We regret that nor the civil society of Azerbaijan nor the international community was consulted on the amendments and had very limited time to respond on it.
The South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders is especially concerned about following issues arising from the proposed amendments:
- The ban of the activity of NGO until they receive registration. Up to this moment it is possible for the group of individuals to act as an entity. The proposed amendment contradicts to the requirement of the Article 11 of the European Convention and case law of the European Court related to the functioning of non registered NGOs.
- Setting the requirement of having 50% funding from the local sources will seriously hamper the work of the local NGO, as many get funding from international sources for carrying out watchdog activities.
- People without permanent residency or citizenship of Azerbaijan are prohibited to act as founders of the non-governmental organizations. This amendment creates unjustified discriminatory framework in contradiction of Article 25 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan and accepted human rights standards in relation to prohibition of discrimination.
- The proposed new criteria for classification of NGOs will require "nationwide" Azerbaijani NGOs to have branches and/or representations in 1/3 of Azerbaijan's regions. Considering that Azerbaijan has multiplicity of administrative territorial regions, it will be hard to meet these criteria and classify accordingly. This restricts the regional organizations to act nationwide.
- The operation of foreign organizations will depend on the intergovernmental agreements.
This amendment makes functioning of non-governmental organizations conditional upon the will of the state authorities.
Overall, the Draft Law contains serious shortcomings that contradict to the democratic values, infringes the rights of human rights defenders guaranteed by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Introduction of the laws of the similar character is a part of the recent tendency aimed at controlling the work of the non-governmental organizations. Failure to prevent the enforcement of amendments carries a danger of spreading the similar attempts to the neighboring countries.
The South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders calls upon the authorities of Azerbaijan to:
- Promptly establish a dialogue with international and national actors affected by the draft amendments and for further liberalization of the existing NGO legislation and bringing it in line the international obligations Azerbaijan has agreed to abide by.
- Postpone consideration of the amendments to the law until the expertise from international organizations, including the Venice Commission is obtained.
The South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders calls upon international community to:
- Put pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities not to pass the proposed amendments to the Law of Republic of Azerbaijan "On Non-governmental organizations (public associations and foundations).
- Urge Azerbaijan as a member of Council of Europe to respect the right to freedom of association and rights of the human rights defenders.
Human Rights Centre
South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders
3-A, Kazbegi Ave., Entrance 2, 4th floor, Apt. 22. Tbilisi 0160, Georgia.
Tel.: (+995 32) 37 69 50
Fax: (+995 32) 45 45 33