Trend's exclusive interview with OSCE Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Jose Luis Herroro
Question: Over six months have passed since your appointment as the head of the Baku office of OSCE. What has changed in that period and was a strategy on the Baku office's further activities defined?
Answer: In general, it has been an extremely interesting learning period. We are going to get acquainted very closely with the situation in Azerbaijan. As you know, the OSCE is an organization that is mainly baced on cooperation, cooperation with government, civil society, with all the agencies of change. We continue the activities, perhaps putting more programmatic efforts to assist in transformation in some sectors that we consider particularly important. I think the administration of justice is one. Now we are beginning serious training for juristical personal and we assisting legislation reforms.
I would also highlight the question of the involving the media. We are beginning major programmatic efforts with the public TV channel ITV, as well as the Azerbaijan Press Council, the editors of newspapers and all media involved. Our effort is to contribute to systematic changes. I know sometimes public opinion gets anxious, because they do not see immediate changes or immediate impact of action. But as I said, what we want is to contribute to building solid blocks for democratic transformation in Azerbaijan. These changes are not immediate. I am not trying to say that they should be slow. We have to do thinks seriously. As I said, working with the administration of justices, media, all the political formations is important.
Question: On 9 October the OSCE commenced a new training program for new candidates to judges in Azerbaijan. However, there is an army of judges in Azerbaijan, who have held their positions for many years and are related to the problems that exist in Azerbaijan's legal system.
Answer: The reform of the justice sector is probably one of the most difficult parts of any democratic transition in any country that has gone through political transition and democratization. Why? Because it takes many years to generate professionals. You do not make a judge in two days, it takes many years.
I think the way is to start from the bottom, trying to make each single court of Azerbaijan more and more professional. If the system is strong enough, they may be able to deal with the most serious and delicate cases that touch right of the Court, system of justice. So, there is no immediate solution. It a cost of effort on the part of the authorities, part of judges themselves, part of personal administration of justices and part of public. The Public even are the most important actor. When they face a situation they believe are not correct, they should not give up immediately. They should insist and try the avenues proposed by the own justices system.
Also Azerbaijan has channel that should contribute this. This is the case of institution of the Ombudsperson, as well as ministry of the justice. But as said at the beginning it is not something that can change in a week. It requires time, but the effort should be such that it changes quite rapidly.
Question: Does the OSCE hold special training for Azerbaijani police?
Answer: That project has already been implemented and it has been going on for two years in Mingachevir. The idea is to change the attitude of the police under the perception of the population. The police is basically a service to the people. When a citizen sees a policemen in the street he has to feel comfortable rather than threatened. This is involves the cultural change. We tried it in Mingachevir quite successfully. A number of activities were put in place to bring the police closer to public, to make public understand that they have to serve them and to make the police also understand this. It is a very complex work.
In one hand they have to enforce the law, and they play a repressive role and that is normal. But they do that in order to help. There for attitude has to be one of constant a preoccupation for the citizens. That is the point.
We have been doing that we brought Azerbaijan a number of experts from several European countries, including countries are also in transition. Now we are looking for the possibility to broaden that to other parts of Azerbaijan. The contribution of the OSCE is moderate, we can just help, and then it is up to Azerbaijani institutions to decide if they like the idea to make really broad all through the country. But as I said challenges is big. People have to respect the police and the same time to be little bit demanding to render a serve. I think for the police it is much better thing, the pride of prestige associated with the profession will increase considerably if they are perceived by the citizen other serve to them.
Question: What should be done to increase the public trust in police?
Answer: I think it is problem that you are presenting now and it exists. But I would to be more optimistic. There is a new curriculum for the police that will beginning in January. The OSCE has contributed to the deformation of that curriculum. New police officer who will be trained through that curriculum will have a different prospective. The will have prospective there human rights plays more important role in the work and that perception to serve the community, rather than an instrument of control of the community. It takes time. The younger generation should play an important role. We cannot forget that the attitudes of the older generation are difficult to change, so we have to find a way of changing it systemically. The behavior of the whole sector.
Question: One of the important projects, which is carried out by OSCE in Azerbaijan is directed at improving the environment. It is very important for Azerbaijan with consideration to the dynamic growth of the country's economy. Could you elaborate on this?
Answer: Well, there are several aspects to it. One is the fighting corruption. This office does not have the capacity to do investigation, so we have a general perception that is shared by one that corruption is a problem. We are supporting the anticorruption program of the government together with civil society, in strong partnership with the civil society. We support under corruption centers, where normal citizens can go and complain and receive assistance.
Generally, economic growth is good. The question is how it is handled. I think there was serious effort with the question of the Oil Fund, that is major state forward. At least the macro parts of this issue are transparent and under the control. The interaction between corruption and the economy is certainly very negative. The wealth of the country, I think in Azerbaijan to the public is aware, to the government is aware that oil is not the only solution, that has to be an effort for diversification of the economy. You cannot really develop a healthy private sector if there is no competition. Corruption attacks at the court, this notion of fere competition. So, I think slowly everyone will control that. Particularly, entrepreneurs in the private sector. We are the first who should be more for clear environment and good business practice. Of course, it is related to the administration of justice. Everything goes together, that is why I said that we can not attack any specific problem alone or we cannot hope that this thing will be settled while the others remain unsettled. Progress has to be made at the same time in the strengthening the decision of the justices and fighting corruption.
Let me compare with other countries. Almost every country there democratic transition has been successful the economy immediately has boomed afterwards. When juridical guarantees place for the businesses the private sector grows and benefit for the population large. The most important the banking system. It is the case in Chili and number of other European countries. So, I think the business community should also join in the efforts to fighting corruption, trying to develop a clear, transparent, efficient market economy.
Question: The presidential elections will be the major event of 2008 in Azerbaijan. How does the OSCE plan to work in the period of elections?
Answer: Right now we are contributing to the process of the legislative reform, and that process took place through the analysis of the Election Code, and making suggestions and facilitating perhaps some changes to the Election Code. We are as well as trying to coordinate assistance by the international community, and there is total willingness of the international community to assist Azerbaijan, especially by the participating states of the OSCE and other entities wiling to help this country. We are trying to play a role in coordinating that.
Besides the legislative form work there are a number of things that require attention of Azerbaijan to the practices on prior to elections, on the day of the elections and after the elections, The practice is very important than the law. We are now in time to prepare. It is also important to generate a climate both in media and in the activities of the political parties. But the proposals to the people can be put freely and can be expressed without dramatic events, just like a normal democratic environment. It is up to the people to decide on the day of the election. It is difficult, because we now that there are a number of tensions but I think with the help of everyone and from now we could see considerable improvement.
Question: How do you estimate the ongoing process of the media in Azerbaijan? Some people relate it to insufficient professionalism of journalists, which criticize the Government in its attempt to suppress freedom of expression.
Answer: Well, you know that other institutions of the OSCE, as well as the participating states are concerned about the media situation in Azerbaijan. There is the question of how to deal with defamation, libel or lack professionalism in the media. The position of the OSCE institutions as many others is that criminalization is not an appropriate response. On that we maybe notice now some evolution that respect, but basically the system has to find a middle ground on how to protect the reputation of individuals and yet afford a public space where journalists can exercise their rights and freedoms.
We all know there is also a question of the responsibility on the side of the media. These ideas have been discussed with a number of donors willing to assist Azerbaijan on self-regulation of the media, on improving the media climate. The OSCE is involved in two major projects trying to address the situation. It is up to media and authorities to find responsible middle ground where all opinions can be expressed, yet the reputation of you or questions concerning national security are also respected. I think the question can be addressed prior to the elections and we will see.
Question: Perhaps, Azerbaijani media needs to increase the number of professional journalists?
Answer: I have seen in Azerbaijan this generation of younger journalists, who are extremely dynamic, capable, and extremely professional. We are working with them, we are helping some of them, and certainly these people present enormous potential. Now, they have to evolve and grow professionally and involvement that allows them to cultivate not only technical skills but also the sense of responsibility and engagement, because a journalist is a person who is engaged in public life. There is no way to avoid that. So, I think all journalists share the responsibility and we have to work count with them all. One of the problems is the economic mobility of the Azerbaijani media. For this reason not the strong media has developed in Azerbaijan. It would be good if financially the media strengthened. That would strengthen their independence and the capacity of the individual journalist as well. The development of the internet register is also important. It requires less investment. It is the future basically. May be the paper will slowly less relevant and Internet based media more.There is also encouragement to develop internet media.