WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, met with Azerbaijani parliamentarians to urge that Baku hold free and fair parliamentary elections this November. The Azerbaijani legislators, led by Sattar Safarov, are in Washington to participate in the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly’s 14th annual meeting.
“I was very disappointed to learn that Azerbaijan’s parliament passed an election law this week that does not incorporate key proposals of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe,” said Smith who is serving as the Co-Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly. “Especially problematic is Baku’s refusal to change the composition of election commissions, as the Venice Commission and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights have been recommending for several years.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“In 2003, the Azerbaijani elections fell short of international standards,” added Smith. “That must not happen again. The only way to ensure stability in Azerbaijan is through democracy, which assumes an electoral process perceived as fair by Azerbaijani society and international community.”
Rep. Smith is an original co-sponsor of House Resolution 326, which calls on the Azerbaijani Government to assure that November’s elections are “orderly, peaceful, free and fair,” with the full participation of opposition parties on an equal basis. The resolution is expected to be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives after its Independence Day recess.
Azerbaijan has come under strong international criticism for election irregularities and human rights abuses, including the imprisonment of opposition politicians, restrictions on political rallies and pressure on independent media. After the 2003 elections, several international organizations including the OSCE, urged Azerbaijan to reform its Unified Election Code. However, the suggested reforms have never been fully implemented.
“Fair elections will assure that Azerbaijan has a stable and prosperous future and will mark a watershed in the political development of the entire Caucasus region,” noted Smith.