4.6.The Independent External Investigation Body report passed… intentions shed light on…

After the Assembly approved the report of the Independent External Investigation Body, the Committee on the Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs held hearings to follow-up the recommendations and findings with regard to behaviors of the Assembly members whose names were mentioned in the report.

On 8 June 2018, the committee chairwoman, Petra de Sutter, sent a letter to me, highlighting that the Investigation Body, in its report, established that “there are substantial grounds to believe that I was engaged in activities of a corruptive nature and that I seriously breached paragraph 12 of the PACE Code of Conduct” and I did not cooperate with the body. The committee chairwoman called on me to give evidence, stating that should I prefer to be heard directly by the committee, she would be ready to invite me to attend the committee meeting to be held during the June Assembly part-session in Strasbourg. I told her that I had not cooperated with the body in protest at the fact that the establishment of the Independent External Investigation Body contradicted the Statute of the Council of Europe, its terms of reference violated the sovereign rights of member states and the investigation body limited its mandate to Azerbaijan. In view of the above-mentioned reasons, I stated that I would not attend any hearings and make any comments on this issue in the PACE Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities  and Institutional Affairs.

On 27 June 2018, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs adopted a decision on the follow-up to the conclusions, pertaining to behaviors of Assembly’s incumbent and former members on the basis of the report of the Independent Investigation Body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly.

Under the Committee decision, 14 MPs were deprived of the right to access the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly premises for life. This decision of the Committee surprised me very much.

Thus, only one person out of 14 “sanctioned” by the Committee on the Rules of Procedure in a form of” deprivation of the right to access the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly premises for life” was a PACE member and the remaining 13 people were former PACE members.

On the other hand, as the most of the sanctioned people were former parliamentarians, they were no longer members of their national parliaments in their respective countries and consequently they were out of active politics and public job.

It is very surprising, isn’t it? If a person, who is not a member of any organization, is prohibited to access the premises of the Assembly, how would this prohibition be interpreted? Even if that person does not have a chance to apply for a membership status of the organization, namely, in our case, if he/she is not a member of his/her country’s parliament, what will happen in this case?

On the third hand, in the decision, the use of the phrase “deprivation for life” regarding each “sanctioned” person sounds very weird. Thus, PACE members visit Strasbourg to attend Assembly sessions and committee meetings, and these visits are financed by the national parliaments of those parliamentarians.

However, it was unreal for anyone, who is not a member of PACE and his/her respective national parliament and no longer in active politics, to visit the Council of Europe at the expense of his/her pension. Thus, as mentioned above, some of the sanctioned persons are no longer MPs and have ended their political activities for over ten years ago.

One may ask: if they were to meet any PACE member, could they not travel to his/her city or meet at a cafe in another European capital or just in Strasbourg? At the same time, to what extent does “punishment for life” of those, who have dedicated most of his/her live to public and political activities and are in advanced age, and primarily committed no crime, comply with often-voiced humanism principle of Europe? Is taking such a decision not of a foolish and tragicomic nature and dirty democracy game?

We wonder, what does PACE want to say by taking a decision, depriving the right to access the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary  Assembly premises for life of people who are not members of this organization and are mainly those who are retired and had engaged in public and political activities the most part of their conscious experience? Does it mean that PACE is now engaged in activities of imitative nature rather than the real work?

On the fourth hand, when we look through the list of persons “sanctioned” by the Committee, it appears clear that these persons are politicians who defended Azerbaijan’s just voice and time after time voiced objective opinions on the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. I believe that this point is very serious enough to cast a permanent doubt on the objectivity of the European institution that reveals the real face of the decision-makers.

It is clear that Azerbaijan’s recent achievements in PACE, particularly, the defeat of Strasser’s biased report in 2013 had seriously annoyed the anti-Azerbaijani forces. Those forces tried to bring back the allegations of political prisoners in Azerbaijan into the agenda under different pretexts and tricks.

The anti-Azerbaijani forces, convinced of the impossibility of achieving their malicious plans against Azerbaijan through putting the reports back on the agenda, namely through internationally recognized democratic vote, chose a new strategy.

In their opinions, at the heart of this strategy should be punishment of PACE members, who cooperated with Azerbaijan and demonstrated independent positions during discussions of issues related to Azerbaijan. To this end, backed by the PACE secretariat, those forces made allegations that PACE members, who had voted against Strasser’s report, were parties in the corruptive business with Azerbaijan, and several reports were prepared by European Stability Initiative NGO on cases of alleged corruption within PACE.

Thus, the setting up of an Independent External Investigation Body on the allegations of corruption within PACE was put on the agenda, and the decision was made on establishing the Independent External Investigation Body, in contrast to the Statute of the Council of Europe.

Thus, the reason behind the establishment of the Independent External Investigation Body to look into the allegations of corruption within PACE was to put back the issue of political prisoners again on the agenda and to use it as a tool of political pressure against Azerbaijan. Indeed, in spring of 2018, after the report of the Independent External Investigation Body was adopted, anti-Azerbaijani decisions were made in PACE.

First, Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt put forward a draft resolution on the preparation of a PACE report on the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and on the appointment of a new rapporteur. The Bureau made a decision on this issue in early June. During Assembly’s summer session, on 25 June, Icelandic MP Thorhildur Sunna Aevarsdottir was appointed the chairman of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and as a rapporteur on the report of “political prisoners in Azerbaijan”.

Second, during the Assembly meeting on 26 June, a report was adopted on the results of the 11 April 2018 presidential elections in Azerbaijan. In order to justify the unfair and biased pressures against Azerbaijan and mainly to cast a shadow on previous elections in Azerbaijan, the outcome of the 2018 election was negatively assessed in the report.

Third, on 27June 2018, the Assembly adopted the report by Luxemburg MP Yves Cruchten, known for his biased position against Azerbaijan, titled “How to prevent inappropriate restrictions on NGO activities in Europe?” Azerbaijan was specifically emphasized among the countries, where rights of civil society institutions are allegedly violated and conditions for the activities of the non-governmental organizations were seriously deteriorated in the country.

The report alleged that before that the Council of Europe called on the Azerbaijani government to abolish the law on NGOs and to take note of the opinion of Venice Commission. However, in 2015-2016, the Azerbaijani government made the legislation on NGOs stricter; banned the activities of foreign donors in Azerbaijan, took complete control over NGO activities, and in fact, banned NGOs from receiving foreign grants.

Fourth, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs in May 2018 imposed sanctions on Cesar Florin Preda, co-rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan. Consequently, during the Assembly’s summer session, Roger Gale with traditional anti-Azerbaijani position was appointed a new co­rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan.

It should be noted that after the report of the Independent External Investigation Body was adopted in PACE, decisions regarding Azerbaijan were passed in the European Parliament, too. In mid­May, the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs adopted a package of recommendations, containing the conditions with regard to the cooperation and partnership with Azerbaijan, with 56 votes for, 2 votes against, with 7 abstentions, and submitted it to the EU leadership. On 4 July, European Parliament approved these recommendations by 564 votes in favor, 69 votes against, with 47 abstentions.

The recommendations addressed to the heads of the EP European Commission and EU Foreign Policy Office stipulate that until the completion of the negotiations, it is necessary for Azerbaijan to release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and that the Azerbaijani government should bear in mind that if it does not conform EU’s fundamental values and rights, no comprehensive agreement will be ratified. The letter stressed that specific measures should be taken to fight against economic crimes, corruption, money-laundering, tax dodging, and the case of money laundering within the “Laundromat” should be investigated.

As can be seen, even the European Parliament put forward the issues of the political prisoners and corruption allegations as a condition for signing and ratification of cooperation and partnership agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU.