Transparency Azerbaijan (TA), the national chapter of Transparency International, terminated its regional Advocacy and Legal Aid Centers in Ganja and Quba on 1 August.
The closedown of TA’s regional centers was precipitated by the failure of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Justice to register the amendment to the organization’s sole source of funding - its grant agreement with USAID/Azerbaijan, entitled “Azerbaijan Partnership for Transparency”, to extend the grant period. TA formally requested the registration of the amendment on 17 February of this year, but received no official response from the Ministry of Justice, now more than four months having passed after the maximum statutory period of 30 days for official reaction expired. Azerbaijan’s legislation bans NGOs from undertaking grant related activities without the grant’s registration.
Meantime, TA’s main office in Baku has substantially scaled down its activities and is planned to operate on a voluntary basis by the end of September 2017. TA will continue to provide limited legal aid pro bono for individuals from vulnerable groups.
TA’s ALACs provided 8,080 people, many of them underprivileged members of their communities, with free legal aid from September 2012 through June 2017. Over the period of its existence, TA has offered free legal assistance to more than 40,000 people. TA further developed policy recommendations to address the gaps in the legislation and public administration based on the analysis of the cases filed by the citizens from across the country. The closing down of the ALACs will further erode the civil society’s role in the implementation of the government’s anti-corruption policies.
TA’s position on the existing grant and NGO regulations remains one of deep skepticism, as expressed in its previous public statements. The blanket ban on foreign grants has brought the country’s civil society to a halt and has dealt a devastating blow to civic initiatives across the board. The principled stance of international donor community and Azerbaijan’s civil society should be one of continued advocacy for the reversal of illiberal amendments made into law in 2013-2014. The existence of a vibrant civil society is in the best interest of all relevant stakeholders in Azerbaijan – the government, the civil society organizations and the citizens, as the ultimate beneficiaries and the co-owners of civic initiatives.
As TA, we are convinced that the ultimate cost of dismantling civil society institutions will be borne by the society, especially, vulnerable segments of the population. Moreover, Azerbaijan’s international stature risks to suffer further in the face of the onerous restrictions imposed on the country’s NGOs.
We would like to thank our staff in the regions who have served the victims of corruption and abuse of power with integrity and professionalism.
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