OGP Agrees Azerbaijan Harassing Civil Society

18 May 2015

The Open Government Partnership has taken the first step in a process that could lead to Azerbaijan being declared an “inactive” member.

An OGP subcommittee announced May 18 that it agrees with complaints from civil society organizations (CSOs) that the Azerbaijan government is restricting CSOs and acting in ways inconsistent with OGP principles.

In the first action of its kind, utilizing a new “response” policy, the OGP’s Criteria and Standards Subcommittee said the CSO allegations were confirmed by OGP research. The government has denied the charges.

By design, the first level of OGP response seeks to engage the government. Stage I responses include “diplomatic outreach” with the government, an “offer to broker technical assistance to work on the issues raised,” and an invitation to the government “to work with the Criteria and Standards subcommittee in establishing a work plan with regular check-ins and a timeline for Azerbaijan to address the situation.”

The OGP review team’s report underscores the rationale for OGP concern. “We perceive an immediate and real threat to OGP’s credibility should OGP not take any action on the recently submitted letter of concern, in part because of the ongoing attention to the situation in Azerbaijan by the international community,” the report by the unnamed OGP review team said. The complaint was brought on March 2, 2015, by CIVICUS, Publish What You Pay, and Article 19. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The 79-page OGP report noted that the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) recently downgraded Azerbaijan’s participation in EITI to that of a “candidate country” following “deep concern for the ability of civil society to engage critically in the EITI process in Azerbaijan.” (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The OGP report quotes an April 15 response to the allegations by the government, noting at one point: “In its response to the OGP Support Unit, the government of Azerbaijan does not disagree with the factual assertions made in the complaint letter and rationalizes them as necessary for compliance and regulatory reasons.”

Addressing concerns raised about the government’s use of a registration law for nongovernmental organizations, the OGP report concludes:

While the Government of Azerbaijan argues that NGO registration law is in line with international best practice and that hundreds of organizations have successfully registered, a number of independent sources support the Letter of Concern’s claim that recent amendments to key laws provide the Azeri government excessive control over the registration and operations of NGOs, and allow the authorities to stifle the activities of NGOs they deem a hindrance.

The report also addresses complaints of harassment of civil society, finding:

While the Government of Azerbaijan claims that NGOs in the country are free to act and free of pressure, legal harassment, and discretionary action, the complaint letter’s arguments are supported by numerous independent sources, statements, communications, and reports.

The OGP could move to Stage 2 sanctions if the first interventions “fail to have the desired impact” within three months, although this time frame could be lengthened if a work plan is agreed upon.

Stage 2 actions could include inviting the government to attend a special meeting of the OGP Steering Committee and listing government as inactive in OGP until the concern is resolved.

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