IREX Online Forum on Human Rights Features US Second Secretary to Azerbaijan
Through IREX's Regional Library Information Centers (RLIC) in Azerbaijan, and network of Internet Access and Training Program (IATP) sites across Central Asia and the Caucasus, online forums regularly take place to exchange ideas on everything from women's issues to international education. Across Azerbaijan, more than 40 people gathered at RLIC centers and IATP access sites for an online forum on human rights and democracy with US Second Secretary to Azerbaijan, Mr. Paul Narain.
A broad range of participants, including students, librarians, alumni of US government-sponsored exchange programs, government employees, and nonprofit representatives asked Mr. Narain questions about a variety of topics. The forum was organized by RLIC and IATP staff to give the Azeri users the opportunity to ask an American representative for information about US policies on human rights and promoting democracy.
One user from Gobustan asked Mr. Narain if he was satisfied with the protection of human rights in Azerbaijan.
He replied, “I don't think you can ever be ‘satisfied’ with the protection of human rights here or anywhere in the world. Benjamin Franklin, a great American statesman (and the father of the American diplomatic service) once called America ‘a great experiment’ in democracy and after 200 years we are still working hard to realize all the promise of his legacy. So no, no one should ever be satisfied with the status quo.”
Other users questioned Mr. Narain about the definition of democracy and how the United States supports democracy around the world. A user from Ganja asked “Sometimes people mix democracy up with anarchy. Are there boundaries to democracy and freedom? If so, how could you clarify it?”
Mr. Narain said, “Democracy should never be confused with anarchy. To the contrary functioning democracies are wonderful places where freedom of thought, expression, and civil liberties thrive within an organized governmental system that respects the rule of law so that everyone's rights are protected. One of the reasons why my government advocates the rule of law is because a functioning democracy requires that everyone, the government, society, business, adhere to the same set of governing principles which are rooted in this respect for the rule of law and democratic values. The law, and in particular, the Constitution of a democratic country are the limitations on the power of the government as well as a statement of the responsibilities of the citizenry.”
Online forums with US and local officials offer opportunities to foster discussion about current affairs and local issues. The Azeri participants now have a better understanding of human rights and democracy as well as the United States government's position, but more importantly perhaps realize how citizens can improve conditions in their own countries.