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The Board of the Ministry of Justice has approved an official set of guidelines entitled “Rules for Studying the Activities of Non-Governmental Organizations and Branches or Representative Offices of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations.”
According to the Rules, regional Departments of Justice will observe the activities of NGOs and report to the General Department of Registration and Notary every six months (by June 30 and December 30). Representatives of the relevant state bodies and non-governmental organizations, as well as experts from various fields, may be involved in the monitoring process.
These Rules will subject NGOs to arbitrary inspection by yet another state body, representing another attempt by the government to increase control over NGOs. In democratic countries, NGOs help to check state power, while in Azerbaijan, NGOs themselves are the subject of extensive state controls. After the last government crackdown on NGOs in 2014, which consisted of legislative amendments restricting the activities of NGOs, arrests of NGO leaders on trumped-up charges, suspension of bank accounts, office closures, and steep tax penalties, independent local and foreign NGOs ceased their activities.
According to the Rules, the monitoring will identify whether their activities are in line with their statutes (regulations); whether they comply with the relevant legal requirements; whether they keep a register of their members and meetings of their senior management, executive and supervisory bodies; whether they use their revenues for the organizational purposes; whether they ensure transparency of their activities; whether they submit the information necessary for state register of non-commercial entities and educational institutions in a timely manner; whether the documents in the state register are in compliance with the legislation; whether the annual financial reports are submitted; whether the legislation on grants and accounting is observed; whether the financial and economic activities comply with the law; and whether the organization complies with the normative legal acts relevant to its activities. If violations of the ‘Law on the fight against legalization of criminally obtained funds or other property and financing of terrorism’ are identified, relevant measures shall be taken in accordance with the Rules on ensuring compliance with the requirements of the ‘Law of Azerbaijan Republic on fight against legalization of criminally obtained funds or other property and financing of terrorism’ by non-governmental organizations and branches or representative offices of foreign non-governmental organizations in the Republic of Azerbaijan.
NGOs should keep records of their correspondence; make copies of their project, financial and accounting documents, contracts and other paperwork; and maintain these records in a separate folder ready for submission to the regional Departments of Justice during the inspection.
Under the Rules, the inspection of an NGO’s activities shall be carried out within 30 days. This term may be extended by another 30 days on the basis of written consent from the head of the Regional Department of Justice . Inspections may be scheduled or unscheduled. Every December, a list of NGOs to be inspected during the following year will be presented to the head of the Regional Department of Justice for approval. The heads of regional Departments of Justice will coordinate the lists and the plans for unscheduled inspections with the General Department for Registration and Notary of the Ministry of Justice. Unscheduled inspections will be conducted in the event of dissemination of information by state agencies or in mass media outlets, upon requests of natural or legal persons or members of the NGO, or if violations are identified directly by the Regional Department of Justice . The NGO should be notified in writing 7 days ahead of a scheduled inspection, and 1 day ahead of an unscheduled inspection. The the Regional Department of Justice has the right to request the NGO to submit the documents necessary for the implementation of the inspection, and to respond to the questionnaire, to review this information (documents) and make copies of them. During the course of the inspection, explanations may be sought and discussions may be held.
If any of the requested information (documents) is unavailable, or the NGO fails to submit them on time, a protocol shall be compiled in this regard, containing a written explanation by an official of the NGO. Obstructing the inspection, failing to respond to queries, failing to present the requested documents or information, or providing false information will give rise to liability as defined by the Code of Administrative Offences. As part of the inspections, the Regional Department of Justice may submit queries to state and local self-government authorities as legal entities, and may obtain the required documents from natural persons.
If the results of the study of the organization’s activities reveal signs of an administrative violation (violation of the law on receipt (award) of grants; award of receipt of donated funds in cash; violation of the law on non-governmental organizations; obstructing the study of the compliance of the activities of NGOs and branches or representative offices of foreign NGOs with their statutes (regulations) and the legislation, etc.), a decision may be taken to initiate administrative proceedings within the terms and in the manner stipulated by the Code of Administrative Offences, to eliminate the violations. If signs of a crime are detected, relevant officials may decide to send the collected materials to the relevant Prosecutor’s Office or investigative authorities. In case of other violations, the collected materials may be sent to relevant agencies for implementation of the measures prescribed by law and elimination of the violations detected, it may be decided to issue a written warning to the NGO ordering them to address the violations.