Time in Yerevan: 11:07:36,   23 August

The Economist reveals Azerbaijan-CoE corruption-based relations

YEREVAN, MARCH 23, ARMENPRESS: The Economist daily has published an analytical article, revealing specifics of Azerbaijani policy, mainly regarding the relations with Council of Europe. As reports Armenpress it is mainly noted in the article:

“Azerbaijan is not really a democracy according to Freedom House, a watchdog. Since the early 1990s, it says, elections have been deeply flawed. Parliament is rubber-stamping the government’s decisions. Corruption is widespread.

In theory only democratic countries can join the Council of Europe (CoE), which promotes human rights. Yet Azerbaijan has been a member since 2001. Back then, council members hoped that membership would accelerate Azerbaijan’s democratic transition. That has not happened. Indeed, political manipulation of elections may have increased over the past decade:  in a blistering report published last year, the European Stability Initiative, a think-tank, called Azerbaijan’s 2010 parliamentary elections the most flawed ever in the CoE’s member states.

Since joining the council, the ESI argues, Azerbaijan has used “caviar diplomacy”, including gifts, free trips and money, to create a group of apologists within PACE who consistently act in its interests and render the assembly impotent.

Following the deeply flawed 2005 parliamentary elections, some council members argued that PACE should suspend the Azerbaijani delegation’s voting rights. The majority in the assembly disagreed, and issued a strongly critical statement instead.  Five years later, it couldn’t even manage that: despite widespread violations in the 2010 parliamentary elections, PACE election monitors found far more positives in that year’s parliamentary elections than observers from the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

By far the most divisive issue is political prisoners. In December 2009, PACE asked Christoph Straesser, a German member, to define the term officially. The definition he presented in October 2012 was one that the Council had used since 2001. Several delegates then argued that PACE did not have the authority to assess such human rights violations; that belonged to the European Court of Human Rights. Their attempt to block the definition was defeated by the narrowest of margins. It followed lobbying by Azerbaijan that one delegate described as “unmatched in its brazenness”.

Worse was to come. Despite being refused a visa to visit Azerbaijan three times, Mr Straesser wrote a monitoring report on the situation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, which PACE debated on January 23rd. Arguments were polarized: some delegates called Azerbaijan’s refusal to let Mr Straesser visit unacceptable; others claimed his report therefore lacked credibility. Several members highlighted a “prisoner carousel”, in which people are arrested, released and re-arrested. Indeed, shortly after the co-rapporteurs published their report in December, a presidential amnesty led to the release of 13 out of the 14 prisoners mentioned.

According to Amnesty International, the government is cracking down on dissent in the run up to presidential elections in October this year. In February, it locked up Illgar Mammadov, a presidential candidate, for “organizing” apparently spontaneous riots in the town of Ismayili in January. Last week, the authorities jailed an independent journalist for nine years. Azerbaijan is due to assume the chairmanship of the council’s Committee of Ministers in May 2014. The Council of Europe’s credibility is on the line,” The Economist wrote. 

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