REGIONS:

SUBSCRIBE:

Sign up for weekly updates

Parliament cancels plans to create information ombudsman

(RS/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has strongly condemned a parliamentary vote on 21 December 2010 that overwhelmingly overturned a plan to create an ombudsman for news and information.

With just one dissenting vote, parliament amended its constitutional law, adopted in 2005 on the advice of the Council of Europe, with the effect of cancelling the creation of both an ombudsman and of an institution with the role of addressing issues relating to public access to information.

As a result of neither of them seeing the light of day, the job will go to an existing mediator, responsible for protecting the rights of citizens, Elmira Suleymanova. The amendments, examined by the parliamentary committee for legislative policy, state construction and human rights, were initiated by President Ilham Aliyev. The Azerbaijan authorities therefore flew in the face of the Council of Europe's recommendations.

The amendments will reduce the Azerbaijan people's right of access to information, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. The turnaround on the part of the authorities also represents a serious backward step in the protection of the rights of media and journalists that are already largely being flouted. They simply abolish the body responsible for mediating between journalists and the authorities, to avoid resort to the courts, as recommended by the Council of Europe.

This means that current ombudswoman, Elmira Suleymanova, will have to defend both the rights of citizens and the rights of journalists. Some members of parliament pointed out that this expansion of her powers could complicate her already heavy workload, or more seriously still destroy the spirit of the 2005 law, turning it into an empty shell. The detractors of the information ombudsman argued that its creation could mean splitting up the roles of the different ombudsman. Elmira Suleymanova illustrated this point with the example of Sweden which originally had nine ombudsmen but now has no more than four.

Such a mandate however appears to be too important to be filled by a single person. All the more so since the question of the rights of citizens is very different from that of access to information and the rights of journalists.

Moreover, the current ombudswoman has pro-government leanings, which is incompatible with the Council of Europe recommendations. These call on member states to ensure that the ombudsman has complete independence, sufficient financial means and equipment, access to information required for the job, presentation of an annual progress report to parliament, and as far as possible for his or her decisions to be applied.

As in any constitutional law, the application of the amendment will require a second vote in six months' time. Reporters Without Borders urges the Council of Europe and member governments to call on Azerbaijani members of parliament to vote against it.

Latest Tweet:

منظمات المجتمع المدني الفلسطينية تطالب: الإفراج الفوري عن جميع المعتقلين في التظاهرة السلمية في حيفا والتحقيق في اس… https://t.co/RGRuM1v7HL