ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS and Publish What You Pay have submitted a joint letter to the steering committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) calling on them to ensure that civil society organisations can participate in and influence Azerbaijan’s OGP action plan.
Azerbaijan is a member of the OGP – a multilateral initiative that promotes open government by securing commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens and fight corruption. In order to become a member, states have to pass OGP’s eligibility criteria, declare their commitment to open governance and create action plans that demonstrate practical commitments to promoting transparency and ensuring citizen participation. Member governments are obliged to work closely with civil society to ensure reform is undertaken.
“The aims of the OGP couldn’t be further from the reality on the ground in Azerbaijan. In the last year and half, the Azerbaijani government has orchestrated a crackdown on independent NGOs and freedom of expression more broadly”, said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS.
In February 2014, the government of Azerbaijan introduced legislative restrictions on NGOs, including the creation of new administrative offenses, higher financial and criminal penalties and new grounds for authorities to deny registration or close NGOs. At the same time, a wave of arrests of NGO leaders and investigative journalists has contributed to the deterioration of the climate for civil society in Azerbaijan, preventing their genuine participation in the OGP.
In September 2014, the OGP steering committee adopted a new policy on Upholding the Values and Principles of OGP. This letter is the first submission under the new policy.
“It’s ironic that Azerbaijan is a member of the OGP – an initiative committed to civil society participation – and is at the same time silencing all independent voices. The OGP steering committee should ensure that their newly adopted policy on upholding the values of the OGP applies in the case of Azerbaijan”, said Thomas Hughes Executive Director at ARTICLE 19.
“How can civil society participate in Azerbaijan’s action plan when all the independent NGO leaders are languishing in prison on trumped up charges or have fled the country” said Marinke van Riet, International Director at Publish What You Pay. “We are having similar challenges in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) where civil society is calling upon the EITI board to take the strongest action possible to uphold civil society principles”, she added.