STATEMENT OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND SOUTH CAUCASUS NETWORK OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

November 9th, 2009
The Human Rights House Foundation, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Rafto Foundation and the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders are concerned about the rising tendency in Azerbaijan to put local non-governmental organisations under increased government control following the recent amendments to the NGO law. The amended law allows the government to collect information on NGOs without referring to any specific goal articulated in this or other laws.   

The most recent manifestation of increased government control over NGOS was the inspection of the office of Institute of Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) by the Ministry of Justice. On 29 October 2009 representatives from the Justice Ministry's Registration and Notary Head Office called the IRFS office at 12:30 p.m. to announce that they would conduct an inspection at 3:00 p.m. Despite the fact that the IRFS´s employees informed the Ministry of Justice that the organisation's chairman, Emin Huseynov, was abroad participating in the Black Sea NGO forum in Romania and would only be able to answer their questions upon his return on 1 November, the Ministry of Justice carried out the inspection at IRFS office.

The representatives of the Ministry of Justice were in the IRFS office for an hour and questioned the organisation's employees about the organisation's founders, members, grants, and its legal and actual address. According to IRFS, they presented with a letter, signed by Mehman Soltanov, Deputy Chief of the Registration and Notary Head Office of the Ministry of Justice, stating that the purpose of the inspection was "to determine if IRFS's activities comply with the legislation and the organisation's charter." The letter was addressed to the chairman Emin Huseynov.

We notice a trend from other countries, such as Belarus and the Russian Federation, that tax inspectorate and other administrative agencies are frequently used as administrative instruments to pressure NGOs.

Inspections similar to the one carried out on 29 October 2009 in respect of IRFS unnecessary burdens NGOs and can hinder their ability to carry out their work effectively.

We call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to respect Azerbaijani Constitution, in particular article 58.2 which provides that “unrestricted activity of all unions is ensured,” as well as articles 10 (freedom of expression) and articles 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention of Human Rights to which Azerbaijan is a party to. In addition to adhere to Azerbaijan’s commitments to “secure freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the media” undertaken by the country under the National Indicative Programme for the European Neighbourhood and partnership instrument 2007-2010 as well as to UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.