Azerbaijan: Civic space in focus as country is listed as ‘inactive’ by OGP

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ARTICLE 19

05 May 2016

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Publish What You Pay (PWYP), ARTICLE 19 and CIVICUS welcome yesterday’s unprecedented decision by the Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to list Azerbaijan as ‘inactive'.  Through this decision, the OGP – a voluntary initiative promoting government transparency and accountability – reaffirms how vital civil society is for an open government and the importance that OGP members attach to the protection of civic space.

Prior to the decision, these three organisations had sent a letter to the OGP Steering Committee raising concerns about the situation for civil society in Azerbaijan, and calling on them to list the country as inactive. 

The decision represents the first time that the OGP Steering Committee, the highest decision making body of OGP, has taken action to address unresolved issues around civic space in one of its member countries. The decision was made under the framework of the OGP Response Policy – Policy on Upholding the Values and Principles of OGP, adopted in 2014.

As an ‘inactive’ member of the OGP, Azerbaijan will continue to receive assistance from the OGP steering committee, but will be excluded from high-level events. Azerbaijan will have one year in which to implement reforms in order to create an enabling environment for civil society, as a result of which it will be able to participate as a full member again.

“Over the past year, Azerbaijan has adopted increasingly restrictive legislation and policies to prevent civil society from operating. At the same time, it has continued its concerted crackdown on civil society, independent journalists and opposition, involving both judicial and informal harassment. It is currently impossible for genuine civil society to work with the government, and the OGP had no choice but to make this decision if it wanted to retain its credibility.

We hope that the imposition of clear milestones for reform in Azerbaijan, and ongoing support from OGP to the government to implement these, will provide an opportunity to re-establish an enabling environment for civil society in the country where human rights can be fully realised,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19. 

“In recent weeks, we have seen encouraging signs of positive engagement on the part of the authorities, who have freed several political prisoners, lifted the seizure of bank accounts for member organisations of the Increasing Transparency in Extractive Industry coalition and finally signed the OGP National Action Plan. While welcome, these changes do not address the profound restrictions that civil society in Azerbaijan continues to face. We therefore felt it was important to send a strong signal to the Government of Azerbaijan that more permanent reforms are needed, including with regards to conducting open and inclusive consultations on the OGP National Action Plan,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General, CIVICUS.

“An open government is an inclusive government and we hope that the Government of Azerbaijan sees the OGP decision as an opportunity to continue on a path towards an open civic space. This effort will also go a long way in the context of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), where a decision is expected soon regarding Azerbaijan’s progress in completing the corrective measures defined by the EITI international Board in April 2015. PWYP will work with partners in the country to ensure that both the EITI and OGP remain spaces of open collaboration between civil society actors and the government,” said Elisa Peter, Executive Director, PWYP.

Background

In March 2015, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS and Publish What You Pay submitted a joint letter to the steering committee of the OGP, raising concerns about the deteriorating situation for civil society in Azerbaijan, and calling on them to ensure that civil society organisations can participate in and influence Azerbaijan’s OGP action plan. In its review of the submission, the OGP Criteria and Standards Subcommittee deemed the complaint substantial and made a series of recommendations to the Government of Azerbaijan, including the development of an OGP National Action Plan to the lack of civic space.

The Government of Azerbaijan had until the 30th of January 2016 to complete the recommended steps but failed to do so. This failure prompted the Criteria and Standards Subcommittee to advise the OGP Steering Committee to list Azerbaijan as inactive in OGP at a meeting in Cape Town on 4th May 2016.

The decision of the OGP Steering Committee provides that Azerbaijan’s progress in meaningfully addressing the original concerns will be re-assessed in twelve months’ time. However, Azerbaijan could be re-instated as a full member much earlier if it decided to make headway on the recommendations made by OGP.

ARTICLE 19 is an international non-governmental organisation, working on freedom of expression and information at the international, regional and national levels.

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is an international alliance of civil society at the local, national, regional and international levels, dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.

Publish What You Pay (PWYP) is a global network of civil society organisations that are united in their call for an open and accountable extractive industry that contributes to improving the lives of women, men and youth in resource-rich countries.