Unexpectedly Critical Report from PACE Co-rapporteurs

The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called on Azerbaijani authorities to step up efforts to implement legislation to enhance the functioning of democratic institutions.

The call came Wednesday after approval by the Committee meeting in Paris of the report by co-rapporteurs on Azerbaijan, Pedro Agramunt and Joseph Gresh. The report called for the implementation of commitments made by Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe and the relevant recommendations. The PACE press release noted that the Committee recognized the cooperation of Azerbaijan under the monitoring procedure.

The report noted that from entry to the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has made progress in various fields, including on creating the legal framework for functioning of democratic institutions. However, "the restrictive application or violation of some laws is a growing concern for the rule of law and respect for human rights." There are still problems with the independence of the judiciary.

Regarding political pluralism, the co-rapporteurs noted, "some well-known Azerbaijani opposition parties are not represented in parliament." At the same time, ruling party New Azerbaijan is the only one that has the right to form a political group in the Parliament. In the Monitoring Committee’s opinion, the lack of ‘political dialogue’ was regrettable as well as the lack of parliamentary representation by opposition parties. The authors are worried about the status of certain fundamental freedoms - of expression, assembly and association.

There is concern regarding reports from human rights activists that allege arrests of journalists and activists on so-called false charges.

Restrictive implementation of freedom combined with unfair trials leads to systematic arrests of people who may be considered "prisoners of conscience." Recent amendments to the legislation to increase penalties for organizers and participants of "unauthorized" demonstrations are also a concern for the Monitoring Committee. The co-rapporteurs note information about alleged cases of torture during pre-trial detention in police stations and while prison sentences are being served.

Despite the progress made in developing a legal framework to combat corruption and organized crime, the main problem is the need for "effective implementation of this legislation." The Monitoring Committee approved draft resolution calls for action to address these issues.

Among the recommendations, there is a review of cases against arrested journalists and activists, using all available legal tools to free them. The report also recommends the release on humanitarian grounds of those alleged political prisoners whose state of health is a concern. It was recommended that there be a full realization of the previous PACE resolutions relating to alleged political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

Additionally, PACE recommends improvement to the electoral system in Azerbaijan based on proposals by ODIHR and the Venice Commission, the removal of obstacles to the registration of NGOs, facilitating the registration of international NGOs, and the creation of an opposition faction in parliament.

The resolution also addressed the unresolved Karabakh conflict and supports settlement of the conflict based on the recommendations of the UN Security Council, PACE, OSCE, and the European Parliament. The documents expressed support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Earlier, there was speculation that the co-rapporteurs would refrain from commenting on human rights problems in Azerbaijan. Sometimes their position, or lack thereof, even was regarded by the local opposition and human rights activists as conformity.

In general, after the May 2012 appearance of the report on "caviar diplomacy" in PACE, the actions of its structures and individual members in relation to Azerbaijan began to revise the approach, which existed in the first half of the 2000s.

The draft resolution will be submitted for approval by the Assembly in the winter session in Strasbourg on January 21-25. -06D-


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