Friday, November 04, 2011

Azerbaijan: Human rights experts finds Norway's participation in domestic partisan politics "perplexing"

SOURCE Joint Working Group

"With most of the 55 officially registered political parties in Azerbaijan supporting the Opposition, and dozens of Opposition newspapers that publish freely, Azerbaijan is a gradually evolving democracy with freedom of speech in which Opposition parties are playing an increasingly outspoken and prominent role in civil society," according to an international working group of prominent European academics and human rights experts that met on Wednesday in Baku for their semi-annual conference.

The country's social and economic development was proceeding, along with religious tolerance, and diversification of the energy-driven economy was promising, the Joint Working Group for the Implementation of International Human Rights Standards said in a statement issued after completing its meetings.

The Joint Working Group, composed of judges, human rights experts, economists and other proponents of civil society, added that Azerbaijan's commitment to remaining "a strategic energy partner" of the European Union was also encouraging at a time when EU leaders need to ensure energy security.

During its gathering, the Joint Working Group's main focus was on the penitentiary system of Azerbaijan, including a fact-finding visit of a detention complex, on the issue of the presence of alleged prisoners of opinion, and on progress to better define prisoners of opinion under the umbrella of the 47-nation Council of Europe.

"The Government's commitment to freedom of expression appears to be evolving in the right direction, as was evidenced by its recent compliance with a European Court of Human Rights judgement and the pardon last Spring of an opposition-leaning militant journalist, together with the payment of compensation to him," said Judge Jean-Paul Moerman, a member of Belgium's Constitutional Court who attended the Joint Working Group's meeting here.

"I think the fact that the release of this journalist was praised by Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, indicates that Azerbaijan is taking steps in the right direction as a maturing post-Soviet state just two decades after it became independent from the Soviet Union," said Senator and former Judge Manuel Altava of Spain, also a member of the Joint Working Group.

Last May, Ms. Ashton welcomed this release as "an important step taken by the authorities of Azerbaijan," and said she encouraged the Azerbaijani efforts "to further strengthen democracy and rule of law," as well as its "international commitments related to democracy and human rights."

Some Azeri members informed the Joint Working Group about a plan by the Government of Norway to support the launch of a private initiative led by two political activists, who are said to be planning to issue a list of alleged Azeri political prisoners on November 4th.

This action, should Norway participate on Nov 4th, the Joint Working Group noted, implied that Norway could be seen to be involved in "an event which might configure itself as an intrusion in another sovereign country's internal affairs," which the Joint Working Group described as "perplexing."

The publication of any purported such list by Norway's domestic political allies in Azerbaijan takes place at a time when objective criteria defining political prisoners across the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe have yet to be finalised and the absence of such a definition creates a serious risk for double standards and unwanted precedents, the Joint Working Group noted.