Azerbaijani government is on a good path: OSCE Office Head

By Nigar Orujova

AzerNews has interviewed the Head of the OSCE Office in Baku, Ambassador Koray Targay over the current activity and future projects of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Q: Some 20 years have passed since the establishment of relations between the OSCE and Azerbaijan. What were the key areas of the cooperation in this period?

A: Well, exactly 21 years have passed since the beginning of cooperation between OSCE and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Of course, every participating State of OSCE undertakes some obligations concerning the OSCE requirements, which means the three dimensions - politico-military, economic-environmental and human.

There are certain standards of the OSCE laid down in Vienna by the Permanent Council. So, Azerbaijan like other participating countries has undertaken to meet these requirements and these obligations, but not immediately and not overnight, in a timeframe, because Azerbaijan is a transitional country and for 70 years it was ruled by different regimes. Transition from the former regimes into the OSCE standards definitely takes time and the OSCE Office in Baku aims to assist and to stand by the Azerbaijani government in its meeting these obligations and requirements, as well as international standards as soon as possible.

So, our job and our mandate is to assist Azerbaijan in its endeavors towards the faster democratization process, towards higher level of rule of law within the country, towards protection of human rights that is at a higher degree, of course. All these elements, all these issues have to be upgraded, that is normal in every country. So, our program and our mandate has been to assist the government in every aspect, and also in economic development and environmental issues.

Q: Starting this year you have already implemented two projects in Baku, could you describe these projects and evaluate their effectiveness?

A: Let me start with the project on forced labor and human trafficking. Azerbaijan is a transit country and it is an economically prospering country at the same time. It draws a lot of attention from various parts of the regions, close and far, for both illegal labor and human trafficking, because these people as well as the merchants are interested in developing Azerbaijan for their illegal trafficking.

The Government's policy is to combat illegal human trafficking, whilst no country can cope with this plague alone. Strong international cooperation is necessary. The Azerbaijani government is very cooperative in this field to act with its neighbors and with the world community to combat illegal human trafficking. It is not only illegal human trafficking, but also drugs and arms trafficking. This is a large sector. We indeed organized large-scale studies and seminars in this field but this is not the beginning and also is not the end, as it is an ongoing project.

We have several projects, for instance, on the rights of suspects and accused persons. A wonderful piece of legislation was adopted by the Milli Majlis (the parliament) recently, a month ago. We are happy to have been awarded by the national assembly, Milli Mejlis, a privilege to take part in the drafting process at the relevant committee of the parliament.

We integrated the sense of responsibility and tried to provide our contributions and as a result a very modern and good piece of legislation came out of the parliament. Now we are following up the issue for training of personnel, because each law, whatever modern, advanced and detailed it is, needs experts and technicians for its implementation.

We are cooperating with the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs for training of personnel. This law should be implemented without any difficulty. It is also an ongoing project. We have several projects like this, for instance, the rights of juveniles and the right of inmates in the prisons. We are very much satisfied with the cooperation with Azerbaijani ministries, because without their full cooperation we cannot do anything. We are always in consultations to make sure that our efforts and our training go in the right direction and the best of benefit should be derived by the Azerbaijani authorities.

For this purpose, we bring foreign experts from such countries which have the best experience and the best practice in these fields, and utilize their services for the trainings in the country. We also organize study trips to the other OSCE countries, which have the best practices in relevant fields. We do that in every field, in the police training field, and in prison personnel training.

Q: Could you describe the projects the OSCE will be implementing in Azerbaijan this year? What are their major targets?

A: This year the most popular projects will be related to elections in the light of upcoming presidential elections. We have prepared projects, worth about 115,000 euros, in cooperation with the presidential administration and the Central Election Commission. We will organize trainings in Baku, but mostly in the regions. Our target will be mostly young Azerbaijani people, who will cast their votes for the first time in their life.

If we give training as good as we can to the young generation and try to improve the election process -- starting from the registration phase up to counting the ballots, we will be happy to contribute to fair and decent elections in the country. Of course, in every country there are some violations in elections -- that happens everywhere. Our target is to reduce this kind of deficiencies to the minimum in Azerbaijan. So, the world community would appreciate the election process in Azerbaijan and would not have much ground for criticism, which is good for the reputation of the country. And also for the ownership of the democratic principles by the people of Azerbaijan.

The legal infrastructure is good already and the presidential declarations for the treatment of fraud applications are very precise. So it comes down to the implementation of this infrastructure, which needs training. So, training and training, that's all that is needed. And it's a high level of education and also literacy in Azerbaijan, we don't have much difficulty in sharing our expertise and our opinions with the people. Especially people in the regions are very much interested in the progress for ownership of democratic rights and principles and also for active participation in the domestic political life. These are the main projects this year.

On the other hand, we will continue to cooperate with the Ministry of Interior for police training and that is an ongoing project; for example, the activities of the police forces at public rallies -- both authorized and unauthorized public assemblies. However, this is only one asset, we also train journalists to observe and to monitor public assemblies and to properly reflect it to the public.

For the police forces it is also important to know how to handle unauthorized assemblies, which happen everywhere in the world, it is a fact of life. To our satisfaction, we see good results at the police forces and in rapid deployment forces -- they are very successful. We are training again the trainers and have multiple effects.

As to further important projects in the rule of law, we cooperate with the Ministry of Justice in improving the quality of the justice service. The Justice Ministry is very active in establishing new court houses in the regions.

Now the Justice Ministry is spreading out these services to regions with a view to make life easier for the accused people, for the convicts, and also for their families, because at the end of the day there are accused people -- either acquitted or convicted to jail terms and the idea is to bring them back to the society in a healthy way to give them a better future. It's better to bring the legal services, the law services to the countryside and the ministry is doing a good job for it.

The quality provided by the country at the detention centers at the police stations mostly, and throughout the country, is increasing very fast. There is a good understanding on the side of the government to increase the quality of human rights in the detention centers, in prisons, and also the quality of legal services provided at the courts. This is an unfortunate heritage from the old system that the number of judges is not sufficient and the number of defense lawyers is not sufficient, the number of prosecutors is not sufficient; so we must cooperate to increase the quality and the quantity of these services because the demand is exceeding very fast. According to the Justice Ministry, people applying to courts have increased in number by six times over the last ten years, which is a good sign, because it means that people's trust in legal services provided by the state and the ownership of their rights is increasing, but it also burdens the authorities how to provide those services as fast as they can.

It is a difficult job but we will succeed together with the authorities. We are trying to do our best and the government is trying even better, more than the best indeed, within the range of the possibilities of course, as it takes time and efforts to change the whole system from the previous structure to a modern new one.

In terms of economy and environment we also have projects that are the so-called second dimension of the OSCE. We have important projects how to take preventive measures against the oil spills danger in the Caspian Sea. It is not the entire possibility of the government to take all the measures because the industry and the insurance companies, all the stakeholders, should take part in such a widespread project. Another one is cooperation with neighboring countries, namely Georgia, in the use of the Kura River for the use of the waters of the Kura River. Because the river's water is very important for Georgia and also more important as it crosses a large segment in Azerbaijan, to keep it clean and to present to the use of Azerbaijani people.

We have similar work on that also in wildfires. The region is beautiful, a gift of God, the mountains, the forest, but in case of a wildfire close cooperation is required. So, we also have such kind of projects in environment.

Again, for instance, there are very good moves in terms of an "electronic state" to reduce the bureaucracy and possible corruption. The President has issued the legislations and we try to cooperate with the government to assist and to stand by in the use of the best practices of other OSCE countries and we obtained a good success in it. The ASAN service center, which has been established recently in Baku, is a good example of this. It is really exemplary work, which means that if really given attention, support to this nation can create miracles. Indeed, I heard from my colleagues that the recently established center works perfectly. So, the government intends to expand the electronic services, so we try to do our best to stand by and to provide cooperation to the government in its efforts.

Q: How can you evaluate the already implemented projects?

A: After completion of each and every project we make self-evaluation and also we try to formulate the lessons learned and we want to upgrade our studies and we do that most of the times with Azerbaijani authorities so that the next phases of the project or new projects should be even more useful and successful than the previous ones.

So, this is an ongoing process and so far we did not have any serous failures and we did not have any serious problems and, of course, we are thankful to the local authorities not only in Baku but also in the regions.

The governors and the local authorities are extremely helpful to us. We have four legal resources and two legal advice centers in Ganja, Sheki, Mingachevir, Sumgayit, Lankaran, and Baku. The legal resource centers work hand in hand with the local authorities and provide free legal service to any Azerbaijani citizen who wants assistance from us. Legal advice centers are designed to help the entrepreneurs to establish their business, again in line with the government policies and the presidential directions to establish a strong middle class in this country, to promote the entrepreneurship. We provide advice to them also, and we are very happy with the results. We receive thousands of applications and try to satisfy all of them.

Q: Are there any spheres in Azerbaijan, which, in your opinion, still need reform?

A: In general, this is not a compliment, but the truth is that the government is on a good path in every aspect. So, in terms of democratization, in terms of increasing the effect of the rule of law, the performance, and in combating corruption, combating international or transnational crime like human trade, the government policies are good, the legislation passed by the Milli Mejlis (the Parliament) is also good. But we must be careful and must be patient, because this development does not give results and happen overnight. That is the reason the OSCE office in Baku was established and is working.

The target is to shorten the transition period of this country, because the country has huge economic potential and strategic, geographic and political location and does not have the luxury to spend decades and decades to increase these standards to the desired level.

The country, in general, must run fast, so we are here to have the authorities to assist in this struggle to pass development in every field. Indeed, if we compare the 1990s and the present situation of the country, in every field we will see enormous development. This should be borne in mind. Is it sufficient? Not yet, but bear in mind that the Western standards which we are aspiring to are established in hundreds of years.

300 years is the minimum and this country does not have this luxury. It must obtain all these standards in stability and peace in a much shorter time. The road is open, the path is good, the direction is firm, and everything is going in the right order, in the right direction, and we need to have more patience.