Russia moves to ease legislative burden on NGOs, Azerbaijan postpones vote on potentially punitive legislation

Amid fears in the non-profit community of a crackdown on NGOs, Azerbaijan’s parliament has decided to postpone indefinitely a vote on legislative amendments that would place severe restrictions on the country’s NGOs. The news follows representations by the Azeri ombudsman Elmira Suleimanova, acting at the request of non-profit groups, to parliament to stop or to push back to the autumn a hearing on the changes. Among other measures, the amendments would require NGOs to limit their foreign funding to 50 per cent of their entire budget and would ban foreigners from setting up NGOs.

Meanwhile, Russian President Medvedev introduced legislation last month designed, he said, to ease the ‘pounds of regulations’ by which civic groups are burdened. The new measures, which will remove some of the bureaucracy involved in registering organizations and limit inspections by government agencies, were tentatively welcomed by human rights groups, which warned, however, that the proposed changes will constitute only a partial loosening of the constraints imposed in large part by the previous, Putin administration. Matthew Schaaf, author of a recent Human Rights Watch report which spoke of the Russian government subjecting civic groups to intense bureaucratic oversight and harassment by law enforcement and tax agencies, said the new legislation, if passed, would ease restrictions for only about a third of Russia’s NGOs and would not apply to any group that receives foreign financing.

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