Overall situation and state of civil society
As part of the Eastern Partnership, geographically-located in the South Caucasus, the Republic of Azerbaijan is a member of the several international organizations such as the United Nations (since March 2, 1992) and the Council of Europe (since January 25, 2001).
The presidential elections held in April 2018 resulted in the re-election of current President Aliyev for a period of seven years. The Consitution 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. The ruling party is the New Azerbaijan Party, which has the majority of seats in parliament. The reporting period is characterized by the easing of relations between the government and CSOs, reducing pressure on civil society representatives. Despite improved relations with the government, the attitude towards CSOs in the society is ambiguous. CSOs are often referred to as “anti-government,” “foreign agents,” etc. Although CSOs have reduced the use of volunteer services compared to the previous years, a number of large CSOs continue to use the services of volunteers. However, one of the largest institutions in the Republic of Azerbaijan that utilizes the most of its volunteer services is the ASAN service centers established under the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Donations and membership fees received by CSOs are tax-exempt.
After a crackdown of CSO sector since 2014, compared to previous years, for the first time in 2017-2018, there has been a series of positive fluctuations in government-civil society relations. As a result, the volume of financial resources allocated to the NGO sector (with some 4350 registered entities) has increased, and a number of positive changes have been made in the tax legislation that will stimulate the activities of NGOs. However, despite some changes, most of the issues related to NGOs have not been solved. Lengthy and troublesome registration process as well as restrictions as to foreign funding remain the main issues of NGOs in Azerbaijan.
NGOs also encounter difficulties with informal procedure for obtaining a permit from the presidential administration and local executive authorities for NGOs’ activities in the regions.
The main funding sources for NGOs are grants, service contracts, donations and membership fees. However, complicated registration procedure for foreign grants, donations and service contracts is one of the main constraints that hinders the access of NGOs to foreign funding. Besides, according to the legislation, foreign citizens and stateless person can not donate to NGOs. Additionally, a number of mechanisms, such as “cash boxes” or “crowdfunding” are not envisaged in the legislation. On the other hand, the legislation does not define the criteria for “charitable organizations” to enable certain NGOs to operate more effectivly.
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.
Public financing is popular in Azerbaijan and there are twelve state bodies that can issue grants to NGOs. The biggest local donor is the Council on State Support to NGOs under the President as well as the Youth Fund under the President. Every year these two bodies finance hundreds of projects by local NGOs. However, the amount of individial grants is rather limited and does not usually exceed 3000-5000 euro.
reporting obligations and penalties exist for NGOs. Obligations of NGOs related
to fighting against terrorism, money laundering or corruption are burdensome
and most of the NGOs are not aware of such requirements. NGOs widely use
volunteers in their day-to day activities. In society, the attitude towards
NGOs is gradually improving. Defamation remains a criminal offense. Azerbaijan
ranks 163rd out of 180 countries in media freedom index in 2018.