3.8. European parliamentary institutions are vulnerable to pressure of the OSCE/ODIHR

The joint observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) openly demonstrated a biased and non-objective position in their initial report on the 11 April presidential election in Azerbaijan and acted against the free and independent expression of the will of the Azerbaijani people.

The style of the presented report and the analysis of its content indicate that this document was submitted by the OSCE/ODIHR, and the members of the joint observation mission from the OSCE PA and PACE supported it.

Indeed, when comparing the OSCE/ODIHR’s preliminary reports on the 9 October 2013 and the 11 April 2018 presidential elections, we can see that these documents are essentially similar, and the biased position of the OSCE/ODIHR on Azerbaijan “was further developed” from 2013 to 2018 and became stricter. In this context, I would like to make some comparisons.

While the OSCE/ODIHR’s preliminary report in 2013 stated that “the 9 October presidential elections was undermined by restrictions imposed on the freedom of expression, assembly and association and did not provide equal conditions for candidates”, the relevant section of the preliminary report from 2018 stated that “the extraordinary presidential elections in April 2018 took place in a restrictive political environment and in a legal framework limiting fundamental rights and freedoms, which is a fundamental requirement for conducting the genuine democratic elections”.

The expression in the 2013 preliminary report that “candidate and voter intimidation and a restrictive media environment marred the campaign” was made stricter in the 2018 report and replaced with the expression “against this background and in the absence of pluralism, including in the media, this election lacked genuine competition. Other candidates refrained from directly challenging or criticizing the incumbent”.

If the OSCE/ODIHR on the 2013 presidential election said that “serious nature of the shortcomings that need to be addressed in order for Azerbaijan to fully meet its OSCE commitments for genuine and democratic elections”, it insisted in the 2018 presidential elections report that “widespread disregard for mandatory procedures, the lack of transparency, and numerous serious irregularities, such as ballot box stuffing”.

In general, the comparison of the above-said two documents reveals that their authors and the source of the idea did not change though the timespan between the reports is five years. And this tells us that the report was drafted in advance. This means that although the OSCE/ODIHR mission was to observe the elections in Azerbaijan, its purpose was quite different – to criticize Azerbaijan at any time, and thus, to launch a new wave of biased campaigns against our country.

It is enough to pay attention to the texts of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions’ reports on the 2008, 2013 and 2018 presidential elections in Azerbaijan to be sure that these statements are true. It is apparent that sentences, phrases, or words are repeated continuously in reports prepared during various election years, which are mostly just numbers that changed. Obviously, the leaders and members of the observation missions were different people during the elections.

So, how is it possible to identically repeat the same sentences and sentiments in the 2008, 2013 and 2018 reports, and who is responsible for this?

The identical repetitions of the OSCE/ODIHR reports on different elections, the persistent and biased position on Azerbaijan and the thoughts aimed at undermining political stability in a globally tense geopolitical situation raise doubts about reliability of this organization as an independent election observer.

The PACE mission together with the European Parliament and the OSCE PA’s missions disagreed with the position of the OSCE/ODIHR regarding the 2013 presidential elections and they issued a separate statement. The OSCE/ODIHR was left alone. Here emerges a question: Why did the PACE observation mission support the OSCE/ODIHR this time? In  my opinion, some factors should  be noted at this point.

First, the abilities of the PACE mission head and its members to demonstrate positions and act according to their will. By demonstrating their disagreements in 2013, the head of PACE observation mission and its members put forward a different assessment.

Second, disappointed by the 2013 post-presidential election events, PACE Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki, Azerbaijan’s arch enemy, immediately started negotiations with the heads of the OSCE PA, the EP, the NATO PA and the OSCE/ODIHR to form future election missions. Over the last five years, Sawicki held several meetings with the heads of the abovementioned organizations to continue the negotiations to this end.

During the negotiations, a certain agreement was reached on holding the future observation missions of these organizations under the leadership of the OSCE/ODIHR. The EP decided to maintain its independence concerning this issue. Despite certain agreement on holding the joint observation mission under the leadership of the OSCE/ODIHR, no document has been adopted on this issue so far.

Nevertheless, Wojciech Sawicki was particularly active with the formation of the PACE observation mission and the appointment of the mission head. I should also note that Azerbaijan’s decision to hold the presidential election on 11 April 2018 was unexpected for the anti-Azerbaijan forces in European institutions. This manifested itself in the actions of “irreplaceable” Wojciech Sawicki, who is always notorious for his anti-Azerbaijan stance and dedicated the important part of his activities to organizing remorseless pressure on Azerbaijan.

Addressing the Bureau members with letters, Wojciech Sawicki proposed the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE PA to observe the elections concertedly and hand in hand. According to Sawicki’s letter, the president of the Assembly “in this respect, suggests that an ad-hoc committee of the Bureau be set up and a pre-election mission be appointed”.

At first sight, nothing extraordinary has happened, that is., the PACE Secretary General delivered the position of the Assembly President to the Bureau members. It looks so at first sight, but in essence it indicates the occurrence of events that are far from democracy. Thus, the letter points out which decision should be taken by the Bureau members on behalf of the President of the Assembly: “An ad-hoc committee shall be set up and a pre-election mission shall be appointed.” As if the members of Bureau were ordered and instructed that they have exactly to accept this decision.

The point is that the president of the Assembly cannot give instructions to PACE members, he has no such authority. At the same time, he cannot point out which decision should be taken or rejected. Thus, the question is: since when has the Assembly President been vested with the powers to give instructions to the Bureau members?  Why does the Assembly President not convey his proposals to the Bureau members – heads of the Committees and political parties himself?

One of the surprising points in Wojciech Sawicki’s letter is connected with a decision to be taken by the Bureau. The Bureau members are directly instructed: “The decision shall be made if OSCE/ODIHR cannot send a mission for some reason; the observation mission of the Assembly shall be abolished”.

We all know that PACE and OSCE/ODIHR are the institutions of different organizations. PACE members are parliamentarians and mandated by voters. The OSCE/ODIHR staff members are appointed and are civil servants, and have no obligations before the voters and make decisions in accordance with instructions of their guardians. Nevertheless, Wojciech Sawicki’s letter makes the fate of the PACE mission dependent on the decision to be taken by the OSCE/ODIHR.

It turns out that PACE Secretary-General Wojciech Sawicki instructs the Bureau members on behalf of the president of the Assembly what decisions they should take. It turns out that the Secretary-General solves all issues related to the organization of the election mission in PACE: He decides instead of the President of the Assembly, the chairmen of the Bureau and committees and leaders of political groups as Secretary General. It turns out that any issue at PACE is resolved by the Secretary-General Wojciech Sawicki, which means that the status quo “PACE equals Sawicki” exists in the organization.

It is interesting that the Assembly is a parliamentary institution, where the decisions are taken at the plenary sessions, at the Bureau, at the Committees and at the political groups by parliamentarians. The Secretary General and his office are a technical and organizational body and this body cannot interfere in the activities of the parliamentarians. However, in practice, we see the opposite – all the issues are solved by Wojciech Sawicki. It reminds us the chiefs of the workshops at plants during former Soviet Union – all the issues should be addressed to them. The question is: what is the need for the Bureau, Committees and political factions if the Secretary-General, who is the executive officer, resolves all issues in PACE, considered as a temple of democracy and  human rights?

Within the framework of formation of PACE’s election observation mission, I would like to note that namely thanks to Wojciech Sawicki’s “tireless” activities and his excessive zeal, parliamentarians, who are traditionally in the anti-Azerbaijani “camp” in PACE, became the members of the election observation missions. Also as a result of Wojciech Sawicki’s destructive anti-Azerbaijani activities, intensive discussions were held at PACE’s Bureau meetings around the issue of appointment of the head of the mission.

At the January meeting of the PACE Presidential Committee, the agreement was reached to give a mandate of the head of the mission to the Group of Unified European Left political group. And Tiny Kox, chairman of the group with biased anti-Azerbaijani position, has assumed the leadership of the observation mission. However, later Tiny Kox turned down this appointment. Nonetheless, keeping it secret, PACE Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki appointed Michele Nicoletti and Marianne Mikko (SOC), members of the Socialists group as the heads of the observation mission.

Of course, the deal between the PACE President and the Secretary General was illegal since taking such a decision is the prerogative of the Bureau. On the other hand, the Socialists group was entrusted the leadership of the mission for the Montenegro elections, scheduled for 14 April 2018. Mandating the Socialists group with the leadership of the observation mission in Azerbaijan undermined the balance between political groups, and isolated PACE’s largest EPP political group from the processes.

Therefore, EPP Chairman Sezar Florin Preda spoke on the phone with both President Nicoletti and Secretary General Sawicki to protect the interests of his political group. Florin Preda described their decision as arbitrary and illegal, underlining that the decision on the appointment of the mission head should have been made at a Bureau meeting. At the March meetings of the Presidential Committee and the Bureau, Preda managed to have an EPP member appointed to the post of the head of the observation mission. For his brave and objective steps, Preda was subjected to serious pressure and faced sanctions in April-May of 2018.

Apparently, Sawicki seriously instructed the head of the PACE observation mission and its members over the support for any assessment to be presented by the OSCE/ODIHR. He stated that otherwise, they would face problems. Obviously, the head and members of the PACE mission faltered under Sawicki’s threats and sacrificed the right of demonstrating independent position.

We should note that observers of the OSCE/ODIHR are made up of junior officials who are prone to pressures, seconded by member states upon the request of this institution. These bureaucrats are appointed by other officials and they are not elected by voters. However, PACE is a parliamentary institution of the most influential and specialized European organization. The members of this institution enjoy a large number of the electorate; they are given mandate by their national parliaments.

So, there has emerged a conundrum: The PACE mission, made up of parliamentarians, who represent large groups of the electorate of the European countries, function under the supervision of the mission consisted of junior officials, named by various officials. This controversial situation has been realized due to the efforts of the anti-Azerbaijani centers and PACE- the parliamentary institution of the Council of Europe, and limited its powers as in the Charter of PACE to the ambitions of Wojciech Sawicki and his alike.

So, after the 11 April 2018 presidential elections, the preliminary report by the joint observation mission functioning in fact under the leadership of the OSCE/ODIHR was a project prepared by the anti-Azerbaijani centers in advance.

Thus, this might have been the end of the position of the OSCE/ODIHR on the 11 April 2018 presidential elections. However, the position of Vuqar Ahmadov, assistant on political affairs to the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, aired at a news conference on 13 April, two days after the elections, demonstrated a profound need for the analysis of the preparation mechanisms of reports drafted by this institution for many years.

Speaking at the news conference, the assistant on political affairs of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission said that he had participated in all meetings held by the election observation missions of the OSCE/ODIHR in the run up to presidential election. He noted that the department on political affairs of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission prepared an objective report based on the observations carried out in Azerbaijan. However, this report was suddenly thrown away and another report completely full of bias was submitted.

It emerges that either a special instruction was received from the center to change the report, or the center itself sent a report prepared in advance to the mission. Therefore, none of the positive points of our election observation on the Election Day was envisaged in the report submitted.  Positive moments that registered not only by me but also by other members of the election mission were not reflected in the report. This means that the instruction from the center to replace the report was met.

I protested at Corian Jonker, the head of the mission, that no views of the observation mission had been reflected in the presented report. In response, she said that the report submitted by the deputy head of the mission, Stefan Kraus, was enough. Probably, this report was also a report sent from the center. Journalists were absolutely right to challenge the submitted biased report of the Observation Mission.

The assistant on political affairs of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission said that the deputy head of the mission, Stefan Kraus, was actively involved in drafting of the report and that he was of negative attitude towards Azerbaijan. He said confidently that the report presented after the voting had been prepared in advance, and for this reason, he tendered his resignation in protest at it.

Well, as the saying goes, this all makes sense and no need for a comment…