The Civil Society Defense Committee of Azerbaijan has posted an impassioned open letter to the Council of Europe, the Azerbaijan Republic Milli Mejlis, and the President. It's a well-reasoned appeal for the government to step back from its proposed repressive regulations on civil society organizations. If the changes are enacted, the group argues, then Azerbaijan will have reneged on the terms of its membership in organizations like the Council of Europe.
These are all valid points, but I think the rulers of Azerbaijan reason that Europe and the USA need Azerbaijan more than Azerbaijan needs the West. After all, the Russians would be quite happy work more closely with Azerbaijan in the sphere of energy production and transportation. And Russia won't raise any troublesome concerns about human rights or civil society.
Reprinted here is the note from Civil Society Defense Committee of Azerbaijan.
Baku, Azerbaijan 12 June 2009
On 9 June 2009 the in the Milli Mejlis Committee on Legal Policy and State Service a bill including a number of changes and additions to legislation related to the activities of civil society was approved. According to information regarding this, the bill to change and add to the Law on Non-governmental Organizations (Public Unions and Foundations) and other legislative acts will be put up for discussion in an extraordinary session of the on Milli Mejlis on 19 June.
The Civil Society Defense Committee (CSDC) is against conducting any sort of discussion about the proposed changes and additions because such discussions would politically legitimize the entire proposed legislative packet. From this perspective to achieve the complete removal of this document from the agenda and work plan of the Milli Mejlis, we were able to create on 11 June 2009 the Civil Society Defense Committee, composed of NGOs working in various spheres.
The NGOs joined together in the CSDC believe that proposed changes and additions contradict realization of the right to freedom of association envisaged in the country’s Constitution, conventions on human rights that our country is party to, obligations undertaken before the Council of Europe and OSCE, the entire philosophy of civil society and the goal of the “Non-governmental Organizations State Support Concept” signed by President Ilham Aliyev on 17 Jule 2007.
In the last 18 years, civil society brought to Azerbaijan one hundred million manat in resources and these resources have helped to defend human rights, government transparency, business freedom, freedom of expression and independence in other spheres and assisted in the creation of 10 thousand jobs and development of a skilled group of workers. As a result of work conducted in the past by NGOs thousands of people have had their health restored and their skill-levels increased, improving the quality of their lives. Civil society continues its tireless work to promote Azerbaijan’s fair position on the Nagorno-Garabagh conflict in the international community. Unfortunately the proposed bill will be a blow to all of these achievements.
Taking into consideration the fact that the packet of proposed changes and additions is in complete contradiction with Azerbaijan’s obligations before the Council of Europe, we request that Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Ago Group (Monitoring Committee) start taking the necessary steps now to freeze the mandate of Azerbaijan’s delegation in the forthcoming 22 June summer session. We also request that this issue be brought up before the Venice Commission. In the event that the proposed changes and additions are approved, then this process will meet its logical end.
We believe that these changes and additions contradict the obligations regarding freedom of association undertaken by Azerbaijan within the framework of the OSCE and UN, and that the approval of such a document could, through limiting the activities of NGOs, damage the foundations of political stability in the country. At the same time, if these changes and additions are approved, Azerbaijani civil society will in fact not be able to participate in the European Union Eastern Partnership and European Neighborhood Policy programs
The Civil Society Defense Committee (CSDC) will prepare analysis of the concrete content of the current proposed changes by June 18, conduct a roundtable discussion on this issue on 18 June, and conduct a picket in front of the Milli Mjelis. CSDC is willing to discuss the problems that have arisen as a result of the proposed packet of changes with any government official, including the President and Milli Mejlis.
CSDC calls for the country’s citizens and the international community to defend the increasingly narrow sphere of freedom. There is only one name for extreme government regulation and that is totalitarianism. We call for everyone to raise their voices to prevent our country from once again be ruined by the abyss of totalitarianism.
(I was going to post a link to the Civil Society Defense Committee of Azerbaijan, but on trying to navigate to its site, I get a message that the site is infected with "malware" and that "visiting this site may harm your computer." So - investigate the sites at your own risk! A little sabotage conducted by government-paid hackers?)