Trend interviews Terry Davis, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Question: How does the Council of Europe estimate the current stage of the pre-election campaign in Azerbaijan? For instance, the current Election Code restricts the participation of NGOs in the monitoring of the November elections?

Answer: The Council of Europe focuses its work on sustaining and developing representative democracy. Transparency, awareness and accountability in the election process are of crucial importance.

I should also like to highlight the essential need for political parties to present a political programme, a platform to the electorate.

This would encourage the participation of citizens in the political process. Moreover, it is essential that the voter is aware of initiatives which a politician plans to introduce in parliamentary work, if elected.

It is important that concrete issues and alternatives are debated. A lack of political platforms seems to be the shortcoming of the campaign.

More generally, I should like to urge all the election campaigners to concentrate on concrete issues and to abandon all negative campaigning directed at individual persons.

The Council of Europe has suggested that NGOs receiving foreign financial support should not be barred as observers to the election, because their presence would be in line with good electoral practice and add to the transparency of the process.

Question: What is the Council of Europe’s position on the situation of the media in Azerbaijan? Does the policy on conduct of pre-election propaganda in the country meet Council of Europe norms?

Answer: On joining the Council of Europe in 2001, Azerbaijan committed itself to guaranteeing freedom of expression and independence of the media and journalists.

By working together with the media of Azerbaijan, the Council of Europe is helping to train media professionals in order to develop and strengthen their professional and ethical standards and improve the quality of the reporting of news and current affairs.

Since a negative “black propaganda” phenomenon has recently emerged in the press, I urge all media representatives to work in conformity with the general code of conduct of the media and, in particular, the recently agreed code of conduct during election campaigns.

Question: Do the Azerbaijani authorities still have time to implement the legislative changes recommended by the Venice Commission?

Answer: Unfortunately, some of the major issues, such as the composition of election commissions, as recommended by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, have not been taken on board.

Therefore, I think that at this stage it would be crucial to restore confidence in the eyes of the population in the transparency and impartiality of the work of the election commission at all levels.

The elections should be conducted in an honest and open manner. Fair elections are one of the cornerstones of democratic societies.

What attitude would the Council of Europe adopt if the elections in Azerbaijan differ essentially from “European standards”?

Answer: The Council of Europe has paid special attention to the conduct of the parliamentary elections, and we have drawn up a special election action plan to help Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has clearly made efforts as well. The Presidential Decree on the basic principles of fair and free elections and the start of public television at the end of August are very positive developments.

Naturally, the success of these initiatives depends on their correct implementation. Ultimately, assessment of the observation of the elections by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, together with the ODIHR/OSCE conclusions, will define the position of the Parliamentary Assembly regarding Azerbaijan.

Question: Are any debates scheduled during the October session of the Parliamentary Assembly in connection with Azerbaijan?

Answer: Since the report on the functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan was discussed during the June session of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), I do not think that there is a need to come back to this issue in October.

But, of course, this is a matter for the Assembly to decide upon.

Question: How do you estimate the commissioning of public television and radio in Azerbaijan?

Answer: One of the commitments undertaken by Azerbaijan in 2001 was to change the national television channel into a public channel managed by an independent administrative board.

In the light of the introduction of AZTV3, I should like to congratulate the authorities for their efforts in making sure that this public television channel is operational before the parliamentary elections take place.

Now it is very important to ensure that AZTV3 functions as a public service broadcaster which serves the public interest by making sure that news programmes present facts and events fairly and encourage freedom of opinion.

All democratic societies need impartial, reliable and objective public information.

Question: How do you regard the perspectives of the activities of the PACE Sub-Committee on Nagorno-Karabakh?

How will the resolution of the Committee affect the Council of Europe’s official standpoint on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict?

Answer: The Council of Europe follows actively the progress of these negotiations. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan undertook to make every effort to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict peacefully when they joined the Council of Europe.

However, as Secretary General, I do not interfere in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly, and therefore I am not well placed to discuss this issue further.

Also, since my visit to Azerbaijan focuses on election-related matters, I should like to concentrate on these.

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