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Statement by PACE monitor, ending visit to Azerbaijan

Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC), co-rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Azerbaijan, has expressed strong concern at the recent escalation of the situation along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories and the reports of civilian casualties and deaths on both sides.

Speaking at the end of a three-day fact-finding visit to the country (6-8 April 2016), Mr Schennach said he had welcomed the cease-fire and insisted that negotiations should urgently resume towards a peaceful resolution of this ongoing tragedy. He noted that the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group were also in Baku at the time of his visit to help find an agreement between the two sides.

The co-rapporteur had a very constructive meeting with the President of the Republic. Mr Schennach welcomed the release of some human right defenders and political activists earlier in March after a presidential pardon and court decisions, describing this as a positive step. “I discussed with the authorities the cases of activists currently in detention and the recent developments in the country give us reason to hope that there will soon be further releases,” he said. Issues related to the legislation governing NGOs in Azerbaijan and its implementation were also discussed, in particular the need to facilitate the work of activists, independent media and NGOs, and to bring the legislative framework fully into line with Council of Europe standards: “NGOs contribute to the richness of the democratic process, and should be encouraged, not impeded.”

Various interlocutors, including representatives of civil society, expressed their concerns and lack of confidence in the independence and functioning of the judiciary. “During my meetings, the authorities assured me that the country remains committed to fulfilling its obligations and commitments towards the Council of Europe, and I was informed of recent reforms in this field,” Mr Schennach said. “It is of the utmost importance however that further reforms be carried out to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and to restore trust in the judicial system.”

Discussions also focused on the political situation following the November 2015 general elections. “It is important to take the necessary measures to improve the electoral legal framework in conformity with Council of Europe recommendations,” the co-rapporteur said. He welcomed the authorities’ reported efforts to organise partial elections soon in constituency No. 90, where the results of the last elections had been cancelled based on irregularities.

Mr Schennach said it was essential to maintain the current momentum and continue dialogue in the above-mentioned priority areas. “The Council of Europe is ready to assist the competent authorities with finding ways to align domestic law with Council of Europe standards and to ensure that the law is applied in line with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights,” Mr Schennach said. “I believe the Secretary General’s initiative under Article 52 of the Convention can be instrumental in finding solutions to some of the outstanding problems,” he added.

The co-rapporteur expressed his concerns regarding a parliamentary initiative that would impede the unconditional implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which is a binding obligation on all members of the Council of Europe.

During his visit, the co-rapporteur met with the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament, the President of the Constitutional Court, the Ombudsperson, the Justice Minister, the Prosecutor General, the Chairman of the Central Election Commission and members of parliament, including the Azerbaijan delegation to the Assembly. He also met representatives of extra-parliamentary opposition parties, civil society and the international community, lawyers and media representatives. He visited Khadija Ismayilova in detention and had meetings with persons who were recently released, including Leyla and Arif Yunus, Intigam Aliyev, Tofig Yagublu and Rashadat Akhundov.