AGO group concerns satisfaction with the progress in the implementation of CE obligations by Azerbaijan, a delegation of the Ago Group of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which visited Baku from 29 June to 2 July 2005, made a statement during the hearings on the 6th visit of the Group to Azerbaijan and Armenia in te Ministerial Committee.
The delegation met with the President of the Republic, members of government as well as representatives of the opposition and civil society. The 6th visit of the Group a couple of days before the meeting of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly in Baku, underlines the importance which the Council of Europe attaches to AzerbaijanвЂ™s democratic development at a decisive juncture in its political history.
The President expressed his determination to have completely free and fair elections and underlined that he had given clear instructions to all public authorities concerned to that effect through issue of a decree on Improvemnt of Elections System, dated 11 May 2005. He stressed that this is, indeed, a major opportunity for creating a normal political environment in the country.
The forthcoming parliamentary elections were very much at the centre of the discussions. The recent presidential decree was warmly welcomed by the delegation. It, however, noted the concerns raised regarding the composition of the election commissions, the accuracy of the voters lists, the right for the opposition to campaign without harassment in the whole country, as well as equal access to the media for all parties and candidates.
The Group noted that a number of important steps have been taken which, if sustained, will without doubt improve democratic practice in Azerbaijan. The initiation of dialogue between ruling and opposition parties and the adoption of a code of conduct, the fact that rallies can now be freely held by the opposition are noted in this context. Further progress on the question of political prisoners has also been made through the two recent presidential pardons and the setting-up of a task force between the authorities and NGOвЂ™s to solve all the remaining cases once and for all.
The delegation welcomed the announcement, after the first day of its visit, of a court decision allowing two of the opposition representatives arrested during the October 2003 events to run for the parliamentary elections, as the delegation had urged. It expressed the hope that the remaining five personalities will also be allowed to participate.