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NGOs in Armenia and Azerbaijan

NGOs in Armenia and Azerbaijan

How actively do NGOs operate in Armenia and Azerbaijan? Are any benefits or restrictions on the activities of NGOs envisaged by the law in Armenia and Azerbaijan? Experts from Armenia and Azerbaijan answered these and other questions. 

NGOs Must Work Closer with the Society


- When was the law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) passed in Armenia? Were later any amendments made to it and what was the reason of such changes?

- The Law of the Republic of Armenia on Non-Governmental Organizations was drafted based on experience. In mid 1990s when international donor organizations began to implement projects in Armenia, a need arose to legally register active civil groups. In 1996 the law was passed. In the future so many amendments were made to the law that they exceeded the volume of the main text. Taking this fact into consideration a new law was passed in 2001. In 2009 an attempt was made to make another amendment, and this was given a hostile reception by non-governmental organizations.

One of the groups acting against the amendments claimed that the amendments to the law would have a negative impact on NGOs, since it was with their help that the state was trying to establish control over NGOs. From the perspective of the second group of criticizers the problem was not the potential control, but the fact that the requirements put forth were not clear. Also critics from NGOs came about who not perceiving the logic of the changes were appealing to procedural issues. They claimed that any legal act should first of all be discussed by stakeholders, and that public hearings were supposed to be organized. This protest brought together many NGOs, demanding to hold public hearing sessions. Even though the law was at the time on the agenda of the Parliament, it was not yet presented for MPs’ discussions, and the process was frozen until 2011 when an active stage of legislative reforms was launched in our country. Teams were formed, and in the course of their work we understood that it is not amendments or reforms that we needed in this sphere, but a complete and global review of the law. It became clear that the law in effect did not meet the present-day requirements. At the moment the concept put forth by the Ministry of Justice of the RA is being discussed. It is based on the legislative and institutional reforms in the structures within the civil society.   

- To what extent does this law contribute to the formation of a strong and independent civil society in the country?

- The problems of NGOs are not so much related to the text of this law, as with the practical questions and the accompanying legislation. For example, one of the practical issues is that the non-governmental organizations have quite developed, and that today there are types of civil structures the requirements of which the enforced legislation does not meet. In particular, organizations structured as the so-called Think Tanks or research organizations are facing a serious problem. Professional labor force that does scientific research is important for these organizations. In fact, the management of such kind of an organization is more similar to the model of management in businesses. There is no need here to organize meetings, to admit new members and so on. And such organizations have to register themselves as NGOs, have to follow all formal procedures, envisaged for non-governmental organizations. This is a waste of their time and efforts.  

The problems posed by the legislation in force are related to, for example, accounting. Sometimes donors would like to see how much tax was paid from the project they funded, and this is a very complicated task for accountants. Why? Because with us they pay income taxes with a single document every month, and they cannot provide tax statements where it would be possible to show which part of the income tax was paid from the money of the sum from this project, and which part was paid from another fund.   

Here is another problem, volunteering, that is not regulated by our law. If the non-governmental organizations involve volunteers in their activities, in state structures they may be viewed as illegal workers. In the new concept of the law I mentioned, an attempt was made to propose the solution of all these problems. I hope that it will be adopted.

- How actively do NGOs in Armenia work, and where do you see the power and weakness of the civil society in Armenia?

- One of the best sides of this is that recently NGOs have started to actively work with the society. For example, I believe the efficiency of steps undertaken by environmental organizations is related to the fact that they will manage to mobilize citizens. 5 – 7 years ago there were only few NGOs that worked with the government. There are still few of them now, too, but their number is growing. And still, in general in Armenia the ties between NGOs and citizens are weak.

Public opinion polls show that only 6% of surveyed citizens trust NGOs. Three years ago this indicator of trust was 3%. But this 6% is quite a low indicator. But for this there are both objective and subjective causes.

One of the objective causes consists in the dependence of NGOs on donors, and essentially, they are more accountable to the party that provides the funds rather than the citizens. By the way, in the new concept of the law on non-governmental organizations I have mentioned earlier solutions for alternative funding are also provided. Among the subjective causes is the passivity of NGOs in presenting NGO activities to the society. For many these organizations are means of earning money, that is to receive huge amounts of money from donors.

- Does the law envisage many benefits or limitations in the activities of NGOs? What is the practice of the application of these benefits and limitations?

- I have already mentioned the limitations. Many assume that tax exemptions should be administered for NGOs. According to our legislation, those who are dealing with charity, have a right to cut their tax obligations by 0.25%. And these are their only benefits. 

From my perspective, there are more important steps than the ascription of benefits to NGOs. At this stage the process of legislative reforms and the formation of a culture for public accountability are more important.

Legislation Does not Provide Favorable Conditions for the Formation of a Strong and Independent Civil Society 


- When was the law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) passed in Azerbaijan? Were later any amendments made to it and what was the reason of such changes?

- The Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Non-Governmental Associations and Foundations) was passed on June 13, 2000. Ever since the adoption of this law 30 additions and amendments were made to it. Part of the amendments was of technical nature and did not seriously impact on the essence of the law. Another part of the amendments were of a more positive nature. In particular, the ban on the participation of NGOs receiving financial aid from foreign donors as observers at local and national elections was eliminated. Legal conditions were created for holding exit-polls in the elections. Besides, it was prohibited to create civil associations within state entities. At the same time, the larger part of amendments to the law led to the toughening of the law on the activities of NGOs. Among them a special place is occupied by the amendments, introduced on June 30, 2009 and on February 15, 2013. They toughened state control over the activities of NGOs, toughened the accountability of NGOs on the financial activities, introduced the ban on the reception of grant money without any grant agreement, toughened the norms on receiving donations, fantastic fines were introduced for the failure to submit financial statements and copies of grant agreements to the state bodies of the Azerbaijan Republic (the Ministry of Justice). In a word, the activities of unregistered NGOs have become more complicated, indirectly the activities of non-governmental organizations have been restricted, and the procedure of state registration of the representation of foreign NGOs is made complicated. Along with this the Law on State Registration of Legal Entities and State Registry that regulates the registration process of NGOs does not create any favorable legal basis for such kind of registration. This results in the existence of many NGOs in the country that do not pass state registration.

- To what extent does this law contribute to the formation of a strong and independent civil society in the country?

- In Azerbaijan the legislation does not create any favorable conditions for the formation of a strong and independent civil society. The legislation enforced in the country creates favorable conditions to intervene in the activities of independent NGOs and to put pressure on them. Similarly, the gradual amendments to the law and the additions of negative nature worsen the legal environment for the development of the civil society in the country. Unfortunately, at the current stage the tendency of the introduction of amendments in the legislation does not develop positively. Actually, the Law on NGOs passed in 2000 has to a certain extent ensured conditions for the creation of a strong and independent civil society in the first years of the new century.   

- How actively do NGOs in Azerbaijan work, and where do you see the power and weakness of the civil society in Azerbaijan?

- There is a large number of organizations of independent civil society in Azerbaijan that differ by their activity and have a positive impact on general processes. These organizations have a strong potential, they have professional human resources with rich experience and a possibility of implementing large-scale programs. In unfavorable legal and political conditions they come up with an initiative and realize a significant function in the formation of a civil society, the development of democratic institutes and the protection of human rights. In such conditions they also manage to resist the pressure applied by the power. Presently, professional NGOs are formed in Azerbaijan, and they cover fields such as human rights, democracy, rule of law, and environment. However, the organizations of an independent civil society also have weaknesses – absence of extensive cooperation with international NGOs, activities in the format of coalitions, feeble efforts for strengthening civil initiatives.

- Does the law envisage many benefits or limitations in the activities of NGOs? What is the practice of the application of these benefits and limitations?

- The legislation envisages very few benefits for civil society organizations. Mainly these consist in the exemption of NGOs from VAT to be levied from grant funds, as well as a few minor benefits.  We could say that the legislation levels not-for-profit NGOs with commercial organizations in terms of taxes and payments, though the approach here should be different. Besides, NGOs cannot participate in elections in any other capacity than as observers. NGOs can also realize functions of control and inspection. Such restrictions in the law give great opportunities to officials.


30 January, 2014
Right after the New Year, the citizens of Armenia were shocked by the gas and electricity bills for December.

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