Transparency Azerbaijan (TA) has announced the closing of its regional Advocacy and Legal Aid Centers (ALACs) in Ganja and Guba, while the main office in Baku is scaling down its activities. According to TA’s press release, the closures were forced by the failure of the Ministry of Justice to register the organization’s sole grant, a procedure required by Azerbaijani legislation.
‘The closedown of TA’s regional centers was precipitated by the failure of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Justice to register the amendment to the organization’s sole source of funding – its grant agreement with USAID/Azerbaijan, entitled “Azerbaijan Partnership for Transparency”, to extend the grant period,’ reads the NGO’s
According to the organization, it sent a request to the Ministry of Justice for the registration of the amendment in February 2017, but there has been no official response from the Ministry. Without registration, Azerbaijani laws ban NGOs from undertaking grant-related activities.
This restriction was introduced in amendments to the law regarding NGO activities which
came into force
in 2014. According to the amendments the branches and representatives of local and international non-governmental organizations must submit documentation regarding the amount of donations received and information about the donor to the relevant executive authority.
In other words, an international donor organization that provides grants to Azerbaijani NGOs must register with the Ministry of Justice in advance. Moreover, banking operations related to unregistered grants are also prohibited by the amendments.
Since March 2005 when TA
its Baku office, the NGO has provided free legal assistance to more than 40,000 people, especially the underprivileged. TA also developed policy recommendations to address gaps in legislation and public administration based on analyses of the cases filed by citizens from across the country.
Although the activities of TA’s Baku office have been scaled back, it will continue to operate on a voluntary basis providing limited pro bono legal aid to vulnerable individuals and groups, according to TA’s statement.
‘TA’s position on the existing grant and NGO regulations remains one of deep skepticism, as expressed in its previous public statements,’ the statement continues. ‘The blanket ban on foreign grants has brought the country’s civil society to a halt and has dealt a devastating blow to civic initiatives across the board. The principled stance of international donor community and Azerbaijan’s civil society should be one of continued advocacy for the reversal of illiberal amendments made into law in 2013-2014. The existence of a vibrant civil society is in the best interest of all relevant stakeholders in Azerbaijan – the government, the civil society organizations and the citizens, as the ultimate beneficiaries and the co-owners of civic initiatives.’