Region 15:14 23/03/2013

The Economist: Since joining the CoE Azerbaijan has used ‘‘caviar diplomacy’’

Though in theory only democratic countries can join the Council of Europe (CoE), which promotes human rights, Azerbaijan has been a member since 2001, the British “The Economist” writes.

“Council of Europe 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.

According to Freedom House Azerbaijan is not really a democratic country, the article says. “Since the early 1990s, it says, elections have been deeply flawed. Parliament is rubber-stamping the government’s decisions. Corruption is widespread,” The Economist says.

Azerbaijan’s international significance lies in its energy resources and strategic location. Over the past decade, western diplomats have been quick to pull their punches over thorny human rights issues.

“Yet this is not merely a story of western indifference. 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,” the article says.

Following the deeply flawed 2005 parliamentary elections, some council members argued that PACE should suspend the Azerbaijani delegation’s voting rights. 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).

“Is PACE’s adoption of a recent monitoring report on implementation of Azerbaijan’s commitments to the council, written by Pedro Agramunt and Joseph Debono Grech, a step in the right direction?” the The Economist wonders and notes that according to ESI Mr. Agramunt a long-standing “defender of the Aliyev regime.”

By far the most divisive issue is political prisoners, the article says. In December 2009, PACE asked Christoph Straesser, a German member, to define the term officially. “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,” the article says.

Yet three days after PACE rejected Mr. Straesser’s report, the courts in Baku sentenced five more demonstrators to prison, the article says.

“While a record number of people voted against Mr. Straesser’s report, many others voted for it. A growing number of people are worried by Azerbaijan’s antics. 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 “organising” apparently spontaneous riots in the town of Ismayili in January. Last week, the authorities jailed an independent journalist for nine years,” the publication says.

It says that 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 says.

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