Stand-off in Vienna as Azerbaijan tries to change the mandate of the OSCE Office in Baku.

A meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in the...

A meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in the Hofburg in Vienna, Austria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The diplomatic row between Azerbaijan and the OSCE regarding the mandate of the OSCE Office in Baku went public last week in Vienna.On 14 May 2013, whilst in Vienna accompanying President Ilham Aliev who was on a state visit to Austria, the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, took time to address formally the representatives of the 57 participating States of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at a meeting of the Organisation’s Permanent Council.

Couched in diplomatic language the Minister’s speech, and the response to it from many of the diplomats present, highlighted a serious stand-off on the issue of the role of the Office of the OSCE in Baku. The office was established in 1999 and was seen as an important mechanism to accompany Azerbaijan’s programme of reforms aimed at bringing it in line with OSCE commitments.

Over the recent months Azerbaijan has been asking for the mandate of the office to change, in practise reducing its role to that of a technical office. Since the budget of the office is part of the OSCE budget, and since the budget needs to be approved by consensus by all the member states Azerbaijan has been hinting that it may veto the whole budget unless its request is satisfied.

This is only one of many issues that have emerged over the last year in Azerbaijan’s relations with the EU and other countries as a result of a crack-down against all form of dissent in the country.

read the current mandate of the OSCE office in Baku here.OSCE Baku office mandate

Mammadyarov outlines support for OSCE but reiterates request for review of the status of the OSCE Office

Outlining his country’s support for the OSCE as a platform for addressing security threats and its historic success in forging consensus between diverse states, Foreign Minister Mammadyarov urged states to use the ongoing Helsinki+40 process to strengthen the OSCE as an “action-oriented organization” in the run up to the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act in 2015. Mammadyarov said that the Organization’s “comparative advantage lies in its comprehensive security concept” and stressed its role in enhancing security for countries not part of other security groupings.

Calling for wider discussion within the OSCE on protracted conflicts, including on Nagorno Karabakh, he said: “Azerbaijan believes the potential for reaching peace on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is not exhausted.” He said that there was a need to “reinvigorate” the Minsk Group format, urging “more substantive talks, not just talks for talks.”

Addressing the OSCE’s work in Azerbaijan, Mammadyarov stated his country’s intention to invite international monitoring teams to observe the upcoming presidential election, in line with OSCE commitments. He also reiterated Azerbaijan’s desire to review the status of the OSCE presence in the country, suggesting that its work could be refocused on project coordination.

EU “surprised” by Azerbaijan’s request

In a statement in reply to Mammadyarov’s speech, the Head of the EU Delegation to the OSCE, on behalf of the 27 member states of the European Union, together with Croatia, Norway, Iceland, Bosnia Herzogovina, Montenegro and Macedonia, whilst reaffirming that the EU remains committed to strengthening its relations with Azerbaijan in all sectors also stated that “we remain concerned at a number of developments on the domestic political situation in Azerbaijan which not only challenge the implementation of its OSCE commitments but also have an impact on EU-Azerbaijani relations.”

The EU statement added:

“The 2013 Presidential elections will be important for Azerbaijan’s democratic development. Azerbaijan should be able to conduct free, fair and transparent elections, in accordance with international standards, where opposition candidates are given a real platform to present their views and programs and can compete on an equal footing. We look forward to a timely and unrestricted invitation to OSCE/ODIHR and other international observers to monitor the elections, including the period of the pre-election campaign. We would also urge effective follow-up co-operation with the OSCE/ODIHR, especially with regard to implementation of recommendations including those from previous election observation missions.

Azerbaijan has demonstrated substantial progress in the socio-economic sphere in recent years. However, we are of the view that Azerbaijan needs to do more in order to meet its commitments on democracy, including the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the independence of the judicial system.

We remain concerned at the situation of freedom of expression, of the plurality of the media and the safety of journalists, as well as of freedom of assembly and association. Citizens should be given a chance to address their legitimate concerns by peaceful protests. We also remain concerned about arrests of political activists and the independence of the judiciary.

With this in mind, the EU was surprised by the recent Azerbaijani request to review the mandate of the OSCE office in Baku. The EU strongly supports the mandate and the activities of the OSCE office in Baku which we believe can provide the best support to Azerbaijan in the implementation of its OSCE commitments. While we remain to be convinced by the arguments for amending the existing mandate, we are ready to engage in a constructive dialogue with Azerbaijan on the continuation of the work of the OSCE Office in Baku. In these forthcoming discussions we will, as always, listen carefully to the views of the host nation. However, we will make the point that we believe that the mandate of any OSCE presence in Baku should also remain meaningful both for Azerbaijan and the OSCE.”

United States “troubled” by Azerbaijan’s actions.

Speaking at the OSCE Permanent Council on behalf of the United States, Ambassador John Kelly said that the US wants “to see Azerbaijan succeed as a democratic, prosperous, secure, and sovereign country.”

The Ambassador added,

“It is for this reason that my government is troubled by the Azerbaijani government’s reaction to protests this year, including the arrest and interrogation of democracy activists, pressure on civil society organizations and political parties, and closure of Free Thought University’s facility. Respect for rule of law and all fundamental freedoms: the freedom of expression—including for members of the media—as well as the freedoms of assembly and association, will help Azerbaijan to advance as a prosperous, democratic nation. In 2010 in Astana, both Azerbaijan and the United States, as well as all other OSCE participating States, reaffirmed that we are all accountable to our citizens and responsible for the full implementation of all our OSCE commitments.

The United States also attaches great importance to our cooperation in multilateral organizations such as the OSCE. This Organization is a valuable forum for furthering our relations based on the principle of comprehensive and co-operative security.

The OSCE Office in Baku provides valuable support for Azerbaijan’s democratic development and dialogue between the Government and civil society based on these common commitments. Its work has made substantial and positive contributions to Azerbaijan’s reform agenda; yet much remains to be done. The United States reiterates its full support for the current mandate and work of the OSCE Office in Baku, and we hope that Azerbaijan will continue to ensure a robust field presence that works in all three dimensions in the country and engages with the full spectrum of Azerbaijani society. While we note the concerns raised by Azerbaijan as host to the OSCE Office, we urge that the government engage in constructive dialogue and address these matters at the appropriate time in the OSCE’s calendar of work.OSCE

We look forward to Azerbaijan’s invitation to the OSCE to deploy a full observation mission, an unrestricted invitation to observe the upcoming presidential election on October 16.”

Source: CEW with the web sites of the OSCE, the EU Delegation to International Organisations in Vienna and the US Delegation to the OSCE.