December 12, the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) adopted opinion on the law on non-governmental organizations (Public Associations and Funds) legislation of Azerbaijan during the 101st Plenary Session. While the report mentions limited positive changes, the overall conclusions of the report are mostly negative.
Among positive changes is the provision of the period of up to 30 days during which NGOs can rectify their alleged violations brought to their attention by a notification from state authorities.
The rest of the conclusions focus on still existing limitations despite the recommendationscontained in the 2011 Opinion of the Venice Commission.
Specifically registration procedure remains limited and problematic and NGOs can still be dissolved for misgivings which are not serious enough to justify the imposition of the most severe sanction.
A number of new controversial provisions raise questions on operation of foreign NGOs and their representatives as they are placed in more disadvantaged positions and requirements. "Additional reporting obligations, special penalties, limited validity of the agreements signed with the state and the excessive discretion of the state authorities to intervene in the matters of their internal life (obligatory content of their internal documents etc.)."
The report finds some of the new obligations "to be intrusive enough to constitute a prima facie violation of the right to freedom of association."
"In general, the enhanced state supervision of NGOs seems to reflect a very paternalistic approach towards NGOs and calls again for sound justification. The same holds for new and enhanced penalties that can be imposed upon NGOs even for rather minor offences.
"Globally, the cumulative effect of those stringent requirements, in addition to the wide discretion given to the executive authorities regarding the registration, operation and funding of NGOs, is likely to have a chilling effect on the civil society, especially on those associations that are devoted to key issues such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Like the Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights has, the Venice Commission finds that the amendments, in an overall assessment, "further restrict the operations of NGOs in Azerbaijan" concludes the report.
The Commission notes its commitment in assisting the authorities of Azerbaijan in this and other areas.
No official comments or statements were made from the authorities yet reagrding the report.