European Union urges South Caucasus governments to implement changes ahead of elections.

On May 15, the European Union issued its annual package assessing its relations with its neighbouring countries in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The package was introduced to journalists by High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security, Catherine Ashton and by Enlargement and ENP Commissioner Stefan Fule.

In the documents, the EU sends a clear and unequivocal message to the three South Caucasus countries to make improvements on a number of issues related to elections and the broader aspects of democracy and human rights. Whilst recognising that some progress has been made, particularly in Armenia and Georgia the reports highlight serious shortcomings in all three countries.

The message to the three countries included:

To Georgia:

  • Ensure free and fair parliamentary elections, in line with internationally recognised democratic standards;
  • address identified shortcomings in the electoral legislative framework, in a consultative and inclusive manner, in good time before the elections.
  • Continue to strengthen freedom of expression and opinion;
  • implement the Law on Transparency of Media Ownership;
  • ensure balanced media coverage and equal access to the media and advertising in the run-up to the elections.
  •  Continue the reform of the justice system and strengthen the independence and efficiency of the judiciary;
  • ensure further liberalisation of criminal justice policies and practice in line with Council of Europe standards;
  • revise regulations on administrative detention in compliance with fair trial norms;
  • reflect the recommendations of the Public Defender’s Office in policy making.
  • Increase accountability and democratic oversight of law enforcement agencies;
  • combat impunity and investigate fully any accusations of human rights violations by law enforcement agencies.

 To Azerbaijan

• Extend full cooperation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on political prisoners.

• Swiftly implement the Human Rights Action Plan adopted in December 2011.

• Step up efforts together with Armenia to reach agreement on the Madrid Principles in accordance with the commitments made by the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the framework of the Minsk Group.

• Provide unconditional access for representatives of the EU to Nagorno Karabakh and surrounding regions.

• Ensure transparency in implementing the laws governing the process of demolitions, expropriations and forced evictions in Baku and the regions.

• Adopt the draft law on defamation which provides for the abolition of criminal liability for defamation and insult.

• Bring legislation on elections, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and media freedom into line with international standards and ensure its full implementation

• Step up reform efforts in all aspects of the judicial system: prosecution, trial, sentencing, detention and appeals.

To Armenia

• Ahead of the upcoming presidential elections scheduled in 2013, address the shortcomings identified by OSCE/ODIHR concerning the May 2012 Parliamentary elections, in order to fully meet recognized international democratic standards

• Fully investigate the deaths that occurred during the clashes of March 2008 and the allegations of ill-treatment in police custody and violation of due process.

• Ensure finalisation and implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy and Action Plan.

• Adopt amendments to the legislation on broadcasting in compliance with the recommendations of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and ensure pluralism in the broadcasting media.

• Finalise the draft law on Conscience and Religious Freedoms, in line with international standards as well as the legislation on alternative civilian service, in conformity with Venice Commission and OSCE recommendations.

• Adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, including further steps leading to the harmonisation of legislation with the EU acquis in the areas of gender equality and non-discrimination.

• Strengthen enforcement of the Anti-Corruption Strategy and boost capacity for combating corruption.

• Strengthen the implementation of the reform agenda presented by the Armenian authorities, including measures to reform public administration and the judicial sector (especially increase the independence of the judiciary, improve the training of judges, review the code of criminal procedure, pursue the Police Reform Programme).

The full package of documents is available here.

source: CEW with the Press Service of the European Commission