EITI reaffirms its commitment to protecting independent voices at its Astana Board Meeting

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On 25 and 26 October, the 35th EITI International Board meeting took place in Astana, Kazakhstan. During this meeting, key agenda topics included the protection of civil society organisations and activists by the EITI and the decision on whether or not to suspend Azerbaijan, after its EITI status was downgraded in April 2015 due to restrictive legislations on civil society activities. By the end of the two day meeting, the EITI Board decided to give Azerbaijan a renewed opportunity to show that the country remains committed to the transparency initiative.

The EITI Board recognised progress made in certain policies pertaining to civic space in Azerbaijan. A few days before the Board meeting, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, signed a decree to ease some of the restrictions imposed on civil society in the country. However, this recent progress has not been enough to keep the country from the threat of EITI suspension. The country still falls short of the EITI Standard, to which 51 countries have committed, especially the requirement on the protection of free and effective civil society participation.

The EITI Board is now asking the government of Azerbaijan to reform domestic laws and policies in order to ease the registration of civil society organisations and allow them to receive foreign funding before the next Board meeting in February 2017 in order to avoid suspension.

“PWYP hopes that genuine long term change in how Azerbaijan treats its independent civil society organisations will be reflected in laws that respect fundamental civil liberties, including freedom of association and expression. Genuine reforms will contribute to enabling a meaningful public debate around the governance of natural resources in the country,” says Elisa Peter, Executive Director of PWYP.

This development sets the stage for renewed engagement by local civil society organisations with the government and companies to implement the EITI standard in the country.

PWYP encourages the Azerbaijan government to continue working with civil society on the implementation of corrective measures as outlined by the EITI Board. In addition, we call for the following improvements:

  • Put an end to politically motivated legal proceedings against Non-Governmental Organisations’ (NGO) leaders, in particular criminal prosecution, tax inspections and tax penalties;
  • Enact amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, Law on Grant, Law on NGOs and other relevant laws to eliminate heavy penalties and obligations for NGOs and simplify regulations on access to funding;
  • Clarify the criteria used to turn down applications for registration by civil society organisations;
  • Revoke requirements for re-registration procedures, which have imposed undue administrative burden on NGOs

Azerbaijan has until the next EITI Board meeting in February 2017 to implement the corrective actions when progress against the EITI Standard will be assessed again.

Astana, 26 October 2016
35th Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Board Meeting

Read more: PWYP, together with Human Rights Watch (HRW), recently highlighted how independent activists and groups that criticize the government have been subjected to smear campaigns, interrogations, politically motivated criminal investigations, and in some cases physical attacks.

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