Position Paper on the meeting between the government and civil society organizations
The Institute for Democratic Initiatives (IDI) has been invited to meet with Assistant to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Hikmat Hajiyev, and members of civil society scheduled for September 17, 2020. We thank you for the invitation and inform the public that we have refused the meeting.
The purpose of the refusal is not to avoid any dialogue or to evade the meeting, but rather that we do not consider the chosen format of the meeting useful. We believe that a useful format and a pre-defined specific topic are the minimum conditions for the meeting to be turned into a reality and mutual dialogue. We believe that real institutional change will be beneficial, not the solution of individual problems.
Although IDI refuses to meet in the current format, it believes that if the government is determined to show real political will in resolving the issues, it can resolve the following institutional issues without meeting with us.
The activities of civil society organizations in Azerbaijan are based on both Article 58 of the Constitution and the right to freedom of association in international instruments to which the country is a party. Azerbaijan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and in these documents, freedom of association is considered a fundamental right. Article 22 of the Covenant and Article 11 of the ECHR state that everyone the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. Thus, ensuring the functioning of civil society is also the responsibility of the state.
On October 10, 2007, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) adopted Recommendations No. 1006 and an Explanatory Memorandum on those recommendations to define the framework of the legislation on the right to freedom of association (especially legislation on NGOs). According to this document, legislation, policy, and practice should be formed in Azerbaijan in accordance with the minimum standards provided for in the Recommendations on NGOs as a member of the CoE. Furthermore, the opinion of the Venice Commission of the CoE on the NGO legislation of Azerbaijan dated December 12-13, 2014, and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the violation of the right to freedom of association, especially in Azerbaijan, are key documents to be considered.
In practice, the main problems of civil society today are the registration and funding of NGOs. Expectations of civil society organizations from the government is the repeal of the restrictive amendments made to Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Public Associations and Foundations) (2000), Law on Grants (1998), Law on State Registration and State Registry of Legal Entities (2003), Law on Voluntary Activity (2009), and the Code of Administrative Offenses in 2013-2014 and the return of these laws to their status before 2013. Moreover, the procedure for registration of non-governmental organizations should be simplified and the period required for the registration of commercial organizations (3 days) should also be applied to non-governmental organizations.
In addition, restrictions on the establishment of NGOs, which are not provided for in the law but are applied in practice, such as obtaining the consent of the executive body (ministry) overseeing the area in which they will operate, must be removed.
The procedure for NGOs to receive grants should be simplified and registration for grants from foreign donors should not be required. An NGO should simply provide information about the grant it has received. The right of international organizations and other foreign donors to provide grants without obtaining the right to provide grants in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan must be ensured.
Donations should not require registration and donations of more than 200 AZN can be carried out without a bank transfer.
Conditions should be created for the free operation of NGOs in the capital and regions, and permit for the operation in the regions, which is not provided for in the law, should not be required by any executive body.
Finally, political authorities should see independent NGOs not as a threat to their power but as partners in solving social problems and make real efforts to eliminate the possibility of persecution, border controls, travel bans, and smear campaigns against civil society leaders.