Thursday, October 18, 2012

Venice Commission Opinion Criticizes Azerbaijan Law On Religion; Government Responds

On Oct. 15, the European Union's Venice Commission  along with the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights issued a Joint Opinion (Opinion 681 / 2012) finding numerous problems with Azerbaijan's 2011 Law on Freedom of Religious Belief.  The Opinion concludes that the Law "sets a legal framework which is in several aspects contrary to international standards and would benefit from additional revisions in order to meet these standards." The Opinion sets out 15 key recommendations for change, along with 9 additional recommendations. The key recommendations include items such as expanding the law to include "belief" as well as religion, eliminating the ban on proselytism by foreigners, providing for alternative service for conscientious objectors and liberalizing restrictions on religious organizations. The government of Azerbaijan delivered its response to the Joint Opinion on Oct. 16 (full text). According to a report published in Turkish Weekly, the Head of Azerbaijani Presidential Administration Social and Political Department says he thinks that the Venice Commission now believes that the law fully meets the European standards.