4.4. Establishment of the Independent External Investigation Body on allegations of corruption within PACE

Proceeding from unjustified speculations and libels by Soros-funded European Stability Initiative (ESI) and other NGOs, the pro-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani forces in Europe further beefed up the persecution campaign at the end of 2016 and ahead of PACE’s 2017 winter session by making damaging allegations of corruption against Azerbaijan through reports produced one after another.

The intensity of reports in circulation on false allegations of corruption, to put it in military terms, resembled “artillery preparation” before an assault. Thus, on 21 November 2016, “Report” investigation program on Italian public television RAI 3 aired a documentary on corruption within the Council of Europe.

Following this, on 17 December 2016, European Stability Initiative published its second report, “The European Swamp (Caviar Diplomacy Part 2) – Prosecutors, corruption and the Council of Europe”.

On 20 January 2017, global anti-corruption NGO Transparency International and six of its European offices “called on top officials of the Council of Europe to investigate serious allegations of corruption in that organization, including organize an independent investigation, led by an expert in such matters, into the circumstances surrounding the PACE vote on political prisoners in January 2013, and into the behavior of members of the Azerbaijani delegation.”

In a letter  to the PACE leadership on 20 January, Amnesty International said that “the allegations regarding improper conduct of members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe with a view to influencing the content of and voting on the Assembly’s resolutions are serious”.

Thus, there emerged a very tense situation ahead of PACE’s 2017 session. The reason behind were attempts by the Presidential Committee within the framework of PACE’s 23-27 January 2017 session to have discussions around the issue of termination of competences of the Azerbaijani delegation and of its two members, whose names (Elkhan Suleymanov and Muslum Mammadov) were erroneously mentioned in corruption by some NGOs.

However, it was said at the Presidential Committee that it was contrary to the rules of the Assembly. Along with this, the Presidential Committee assessed interviews by two Armenian parliamentarians to Italian TV channel RAI 3 on the so-called cases of corruption in PACE as an unacceptable behavior in terms of parliamentary behavior. PACE Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki was instructed to send a letter to the speaker of the Armenian Parliament to ask him to look into behaviors of the two parliamentarians and inform PACE to this end not later than 25 January.

At the same time, the Presidential Committee assessed groundless accusations by the anti-Azerbaijani European Stability Initiative against members of the Assembly as an attempt to influence their will to vote freely and independently. The Committee instructed PACE Secretary General Sawicki to send a warning letter to the organization.

However, during the session, the anti-Azerbaijan forces managed to change the course of the events to another direction. On the first day of PACE’s 2017 winter session – on 23 January – a plenary meeting was accompanied by the appeals to investigate serious allegations of corruption that “affected the voting on the issues of human rights”.

At the plenary meeting, French MP Josette Durrieu and Danish MP Mogens Jensen, Dutch MP Tiny Kox, British MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, former PACE President Anne Brasseur called on for urgent investigation into the allegations of corruption.

PACE President Pedro Agramunt demonstrated his position on the issue and called the debate on corruption the matter of “honor”: “I cannot allow the honor of the Assembly or any of its members to be defamed. I cannot allow this Assembly to be misused to fight battles against states that some see as rivals or enemies. I cannot allow campaigns of hatred, verbal aggression, blackmail or pressure, orchestrated by those who are not satisfied with the results of a vote… It is important to understand that unlawful attacks on someone’s honor and reputation may require defending through the courts.”

It should be noted that on 25January, EPP Group Leader Axel Fischer wrote a letter to Agramunt, calling on him to investigate, not the behaviors of MPs, but the NGOs who had raised the issue: “We expect that all current and former members of the Parliamentary Assembly… respect the Assembly’s rules and, that prior to collaboration with NGOs, the members ascertain the work, objectives and financial arrangements of said NGOs…”

However, neither the Assembly leadership, nor the Assembly members paid heed to Axel Fischer’s calls for “ascertaining the work, objectives and financial arrangements of NGOs” that made allegations of corruption against PACE members. The anti-Azerbaijani “wheels” on allegations of corruption has already been set in motion…

Taking advantage of the situation, a group of MPs led by tough anti-Azerbaijani MP Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP) and MP Frank Schwabe (Germany, SPD) made a declaration on 25 January 2017 entitled “Parliamentary Assembly Integrity”.

This declaration, which was signed by 64 PACE MPs from 25 countries within a few hours, on the one hand, called on PACE to do two concrete things, and on the other hand, they called on all members from across political party groups to support this call.

The declaration, stating that “recent, serious and credible allegations of grave misconduct by some of its members risk undermining public confidence in the Parliamentary Assembly’s integrity”, read as follows: “We, the undersigned  members of the Parliamentary Assembly, believe that the Assembly must:

1. establish, without delay, an external, fully independent and impartial inquiry into all allegations of improper conduct or corruption that may have sought to influence the work of the Assembly in recent years, focusing in particular on allegations surrounding the vote on political prisoners in Azerbaijan in January 2013; the conclusions of the inquiry and its recommendations should be made public directly to the Assembly and the public at large;

2. To ensure that the Assembly’s Code of Conduct is strengthened in accordance with international best practice and recommendations requested from GRECO; and  that the strict observance of these standards  is monitored and  enforced by a permanent independent mechanism attached to the Assembly.”

Interestingly, Omtzigt and Schwabe approached MPs and blackmailed them, saying ” It would be better if you sign it: if you do not criticize Azerbaijan, you will be clearly suspected, criticized and blacklisted”. These gentlemen demanded MPs to sign their declaration, to prepare and send similar letters to the national delegations. Thus, in early March, the declaration was already supported by 88 PACE MPs.

The PACE Committee on the Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs adopted Pieter Omtzigt-Frank Schwabe Declaration on 26 January. The committee called on the Bureau to set up an independent investigation body to probe allegations of corruption within the Assembly and shed light on hidden practices that favor corruption.

At its meeting held on last day of the Assembly’s 2017 winter session on January 27, the Bureau made a decision on the issue: “An independent external investigation needs to be set up to shed light on hidden practices that favor corruption. The Bureau charged the PACE Secretary General with the preparation of a Memorandum on the draft terms of reference of the independent external investigation body”.

One of the noteworthy points is that the decision of the Rules Committee, calling on “setting up an independent external investigation body” was adopted only a day before the session of the Milan Court regarding the Volonte court case. The following day, in the afternoon, the PACE Bureau was forced to execute the “request of the Committee” under similar pressure, without even waiting for the decision of the Italian judge in Milan on this alleged accusation.

Nevertheless, on 27 January 2017, the Milan Court made a decision on the case of Luca Volonte. Given its importance, I would like to quote the following:

“In the name of the Italian People, the Court of Milan Declares the absence of conditions for proceedings against Luca Volonte Giuseppe in relation to the offence of corruption through the exercise of his function as in the first head of indictment, because the actions he is accused of are not subject to examination by the courts owing to the immunity clause provided by the combined effect of Paragraph 1, Article 68 of the Constitution; Law no. 140/2003 of the Lower House of the Italian Parliament; the Statute of the Council of Europe; Articles 14 and 15 of the General Agreement on Immunity of the Council of Europe; and Articles 3 and 5 of the Protocol to that Agreement.”

However, the PACE Bureau has already taken a decision. So, the blackmail and unfounded allegations by a group of MPs has completely violated the integrity among PACE members, and unfortunately; it openly undermined the PACE’s global credibility.

Incidentally, I would like to state that on 13 February 2018, Mr. Galli, judge of the 6th Court of Milan, dropped as unfounded the allegations of money laundering case against Luca Volonte Giuseppe. The Milan Prosecutor’s Office complained about the decision and appealed directly to the Court of Cassation. The Court of Cassation decided on 18 October 2018 that the reasons why the Milan Prosecutor’s Office had filed a complaint with the Court of Cassation against the previous decision were groundless, and thus the complaint was rejected.

Simultaneously, a logical question that arises is: what did the calls by a group of parliamentarians to investigate Strasser’s report and to annul the voting results, to appoint a new rapporteur on the so-called political prisoners in Azerbaijan as well as the issuance of a statement, demanding that an independent body be set up to examine these reports, plus the adoption of a decision by the PACE Bureau “to institute  an independent external investigation body” in disregard for the verdict of the Milan court prove? They proved that it is not of sporadic nature to exert political pressure on Azerbaijan at PACE, but part of a planned long-term anti-Azerbaijan strategy.

Finally, on 3 March 2017, PACE Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki prepared a draft memorandum, entitled “Allegations of corruption in the Assembly – setting up an independent external investigation body” and presented it to the 9 March Madrid meeting of the PACE’s Presidential Committee and the Bureau.

The Bureau decision on Sawicki’s draft memorandum submitted to the Madrid meeting read: “The Assembly took note of the memorandum prepared by the Secretary General and decided to invite the leaders of the five political groups to prepare a revised proposal for adoption at the next Bureau meeting”. However, the leaders of the political groups could not agree on drafting a single proposal.

Nevertheless, on 24 April 2017, the Bureau adopted a decision on the terms of reference of the Investigation Body, in fact, based on the memorandum ‘ legations of corruption in the Assembly – setting up an independent external investigation body” prepared by Wojciech Sawicki.

Simultaneously, the Bureau instructed the PACE Secretary General to hold talks on the composition of the body, to come up with a proposal and to take necessary steps to guarantee the investigation body with the required resources to ensure its proper functioning. On 28 April 2017, the Assembly approved the terms of reference of the Investigation Body.

On 29 May 2017, the Bureau ratified the composition of the Independent External Investigation Body comprised of three members. They are: Sir Nicolas Bratza (United Kingdom), former judge and former President of the European Court of Human Rights; Mr. Jean-Louis Bruguiere (France), former judge in charge of investigations and international expert on anti-terror­ ism issues; and Elisabet Fura (Sweden), former judge at the European Court of Human Rights and former chief parliamentary Ombudsman of Sweden. The composition of the Investigation Body was approved by the Assembly at its plenary session on 26 June 2017.

The terms of reference of the Investigation Body specified that the body should terminate on submission of its final report, or at the latest on 31 December 2017. However, it was also provided that the Bureau could extend the body’s terms of reference, if need be. Therefore, on 23 November 2017, at its meeting, the Bureau decided to extend the terms of reference, instructing the Investigation Body to submit its report by 15 April 2018.

It should be noted that the establishment of the Independent External Investigation Body by the Assembly contradicts the Statute of the Council of Europe. Thus, according to the Article 24 of the Statute, the Parliamentary Assembly “may establish committees or commissions to prepare opinions on all matters of procedure”. Thus, the Statute does not provide for any circumstances to set up any independent investigation body; consisting of external experts by the Parliamentary Assembly in order to conduct inquiry; investigation or legal examination.

At the same time, independence of the Independent External Investigation Body was wide of the mark. Thus, under the Bureau decision, “the PACE Secretary General” was instructed “to hold talks regarding the composition of the body, to come up with a proposal on it, to take necessary steps, and to guarantee the investigation body the resources required to ensure its proper functioning”.

However, it was obvious that PACE Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki was displaying a severe anti-Azerbaijani position and he was one of the major “conductors” of corruption charges against Azerbaijan. Therefore, as the PACE Secretary General was an interested party in the issue, his guarantee could in no way be impartial and neutral.

At the same time, the investigation body with external experts was granted special powers, such as questioning of any parliamentarian over activities of the Assembly members, pertaining to ungrounded claims, to make demands from member states and so on. Granting the external investigation body such powers was an obvious mistrust in and disrespect for PACE members. Because, it is the national parliaments  that  grant mandates to own members to become PACE members, it is the member states that  guarantee  immunity to parliamentarians and their immunity can be terminated by the relevant bodies of the member states if necessary. Therefore, PACE and any bodies it mandated cannot have such powers.

1.5. The decision that undermined PACE’s credibility: The criteria for political prisoners passed by 89-89 votes

Christoph Strässer’s report on “The definition of political prisoners” was included on the agenda of PACE’s autumn plenary session held on 1-5 October 2012.

On 2 October afternoon, two amendments were tabled to the draft report. Representatives of all political groups in PACE were among the signatories to the proposals on the amendments. The first amendment, as most of the MPs said, stipulated the de facto recognition that the Assembly had up to now never approved the criteria on the political prisoners. The second amendment envisaged a reference to the exclusive competence of the European Court of Human Rights with regard to the interpretation and application of any criteria.

The next day, on 3 October, meetings of the PACE political groups were held. After the meeting, members of the Socialists group were chatting excitedly and surprisingly in corridors and cafes that Andreas Gross, the group leader, showed disrespect for his colleagues at the meeting, made them to stand up one by one, compiled a name list, demanding them to vote for Christoph Strässer’s report. They were saying that in the history of PACE no such blatant injustice had ever been done against its members.

I should also add that no such an “indicative” voting has ever been traced in PACE’s practice. Andreas Gross forced members of the group to vote against the amendments through such an “indicative” voting, threatening to expel those who will vote the other way round. Consequently, he succeeded in compiling a list of 46 votes from the Socialists group.

At the meeting of the European People’s Party (EPP) group, members were allowed a free vote. The vice-president of the group, a Spanish MP was chairing the meeting. The vice-president, being in favor of the amendments, was subjected to heavy pressure by Dutch and German MPs at the meeting. Aggressive scenes that had never seen at the EPP group meetings earlier were registered there. Germans parliamentarians at the meeting even demanded an immediate resignation of the vice-president. Moreover, a few hours later, unfortunately, Italian EPP group chairman Luca Volonte, in a letter distributed among the members, said he was against the amendments.

According to some MPs, in the Liberal democrats group, German MP Marina Schuster called on all members to vote against the amendments. The majority of the group agreed to come out against and vote against the amendments. The formal opinion of the group towards the amendments was negative.

The amendments enjoyed more support in the Conservatives Group, but members were told to vote freely. The same referred to the small group of communists.

What did the Committee secretaries Andrew Drzemczewski and Gunter Schirmer, including the staff of the Secretary-General’s Office, who should have maintained neutrality, do immediately after the amendments were tabled?

On 2 October in the evening and on the following day before the Committee and Assembly meetings, resorting to different tricks, they approached PACE members in the corridors and cafes to purposefully lobby them to vote against the amendments and in favor of the report.

In a rush, they were trying to distribute among MPs various rough-and-ready statements and addresses, including the so-called articles by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Some members of the Socialists group said that the group leader Andreas Gross, rapporteur Christoph Strässer, as well as German MPs with the Secretariat’s support was lobbying the members of other groups to speak against the proposed amendments and vote accordingly for the report.

Forced by Christoph Strässer, the head and members of the German delegation were openly threatening members of other countries’ delegations facing economic difficulties at the moment, trying to force them to vote against the proposed amendments. German MPs did not even hesitate to threaten their counterparts by raising the issue of economic sanctions and preventing aid in the Bundestag against their countries if they vote for the amendments.

Finally, on 3 October, in the second half of the day, the two amendments on the draft report were put to the vote in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. At the Committee meeting, Mr. Drzemczewski, the head of the Secretariat, flagrantly violated the existing rules of procedure. He spoke before the voting on the amendments, stating that if the Committee adopts these amendments, the PACE chairman would veto them, using his powers. After heated discussions with rapporteur Christoph Strässer and many German MPs, the first amendment with two technical corrections was put to vote and adopted by the Committee.

The second amendment, the crux of the debates, triggered more protests. Nevertheless, the amendment was adopted by 30 to 28 votes. On the one hand, the approval of this amendment was the triumph of impartiality, on the other hand, it turned out to be a complete surprise for PACE. Of course, Christoph Strässer, German MPs and their allies in the Secretariat were extremely disappointed with the result of the vote.

After the committee meeting, several parliamentarians said that the amendments were actually backed by 34 votes as against announced 30. However, the Secretariat tried to lie in favor of the rapporteur and falsify the result. Nonetheless, the votes in favor were so persuasive that the final tally could not be falsified. As 30 minutes was allocated for the voting in the Committee, there was no opportunity to carry out anti-Azerbaijani campaign there. Consequently, the Committee members voted for integrity and justice.

An interval from the end of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights meeting and the assembly’s plenary session was two hours. During the two-hour interval, the leader of the Socialists group, members of the German delegation, Andrew Drzemczewski and Schirmer, Secretaries of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, were engaged in extensive lobbying activities to influence the vote in the plenary session.

Approaching members of delegations from the southern European countries, who were supportive of the amendments, they demanded them to change their positions on this issue and openly stated that they would seriously obstruct Germany’s support for their countries in solving economic and financial crises. The head of the German delegation urged heads of other countries’ delegations to follow the German directive.

Everyone knew that Germany did not hide behaving as the sole real power holder in Europe as it made own demands vis-à-vis other countries, threatened parliamentarians with informing their Foreign Ministries about the issue in question with application of personal and general sanctions against them. The dictatorial manners of German MPs with support of parliamentarians from Baltic and Scandinavian states were shocking for all observers.

A lot of Armenians, unable to speak at the committee, spoke in the general debates. Now, Armenians seized the opportunity to launch a serious attack against the amendments, to lend support for the Germans, as well as make attempts to influence the whole Assembly by directly attacking Azerbaijan in a very emotional and insulting manner.

The plenary session was addressed by handpicked representatives of the political groups: they were people, appointed and instructed by the group leadership in advance; particularly, it was obvious that representatives of the Socialists and Liberals groups were hostile and biased against Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, some MPs courageously defended the amendments. However, each time, after their positive speeches, a handful of MPs immediately came under overt and covert attacks and insults by socialist parliamentarians mainly from Germany, the Baltic and Scandinavian countries.

As if the plenary meeting that lasted two hours and a halfwas not debating criteria for defining the political prisoners because it was turned into a platform against Azerbaijan with the display of biased and hostile stances. The major actors of this ignominy were German MPs, representatives of the socialists and the liberals.

True, many MPs provided examples with reference to specific cases that the proposed criteria were obsolete and inapplicable. They also noted that the amendment proposed to paragraph 3 of the report provided for a fair and legal solution to the issue within the framework of the existing competences of the European Court of Human Rights as stipulated by the Convention.

However, Christoph Strässer, Maria Schuster and other socialists and liberals entreatingly appealed to participants in the plenary session and expressed their concern hysterically that in case the amendment to the paragraph 3 of the report was adopted, the report against Azerbaijan would not be passed in January.

Christoph Strässer was openly saying: “Do not get me wrong, if the amendment is adopted, my report against Azerbaijan would not be passed in January.” Exactly, speeches by these pro-Armenians, socialists and liberals pressured by Andreas Gross had a serious impact on positions, and even after such a political clownery, the voting ended in 89 to 89 votes.

While exerting pressure on their colleagues, the leadership of the Liberal Democrats group demonstrated biased position towards Azerbaijan’s activities in the Council of Europe and levelled accusations against our country, using inappropriate phrases that run against the reputation of this organization.

For their part, members of the Azerbaijani delegation displayed tolerance, did not succumb to provocations and even during the discussion of Christoph Strässer’s report, they remained tight-lipped. The first amendment to the draft report was approved with two technical corrections. The result of the voting on the second amendment was 89 to 89 with 5 abstentions. One vote was needed for the passage of the amendment.

Regrettably, this is a rule and nothing can be done about it. Once again, regrettably, the president of the Conservatives group, the chairman of the plenary session, was not allowed to vote. His vote could have changed the result for the approval of the amendment. Some experienced MPs said they had not seen such a tie and major disagreement in the Council of Europe!

The latest voting was about the final approval of the report. The majority of the PACE members did not understand the importance of the general voting after the amendments were not made to the paragraph 3.

A noteworthy moment was that though the report was theoretically applicable to all member states of the Council of Europe, all speeches pertaining to the issue of political prisoners were against Azerbaijan. On many occasions, during this general discussions, Azerbaijan over the issue of political prisoners came under fierce attacks from all directions and all these affected the result of the vote.

The appeal of Germans and their allies was very emotional. They were making dramatic appeals in the debates and this had an outright negative impact on the result. The discussion on a legal issue ended up in squalls and personal insults. Many were surprised that despite outright and critical speeches against the amendments, the vote on the second amendment was equal (89/89).

After this rare political thriller ever seen in Strasbourg, this debate and voting, no doubt, shook PACE’s credibility on this issue and revealed a deep crack in the Assembly. It became clear that Christoph Stràsser focused on an attack against Azerbaijan, and was indeed never interested in discussions on defining the criteria for political prisoners.

Also, now more MPs found out that his upcoming report on Azerbaijan carry a serious risk of interfering in the exclusive competences of the European Court and the discussions revealed that such a risk was very high.

Finally, Christoph Strässer’s proposal to paragraph 3 was adopted by 89 to 89 votes. Neither he, nor PACE as a whole had moral right to be proud of the “victory”. Thus, 50% (89 persons) of MPs, who attended the vote, did not want the Assembly to interfere in the European Court’s exclusive competence on this matter.

I think this political game that ended in a draw, i.e., 89 to 89 votes, went down in history as a stain on the influence of such an influential organization as the Council of Europe. If football teams end a game in a draw – they and their fans both leave the stadium disappointed. Even when the first and second halves of a final football match ends in a draw, the teams go to extra time until one of the teams score. By this comparison, I would like to say that the result of a football match impacts only teams and their fans, but the decisions of the Council of Europe has a pivotal role on the lives of all people, therefore, this institution needs perfect regulations.

Thus, this “victory” with 89 to 89 votes in the Council of Europe caused by disputable procedures, seriously damaged the reputation of this institution, its image as a guardian of justice and fairness. As if democracy died on the day when the decision was passed with 89 to 89 votes in Strasbourg. So, in order to succeed in a result of 89 to 89 votes:

-Leaders of the Socialists and Liberals violated their commitments of neutrality for the purpose of preventing a democratic discussion and by conducting anti-Azerbaijani lobby activities;

-Rumors were rife that Andreas Gross, the leader of the Socialists Group from Switzerland, forced group members at meetings of the political group to vote against the amendments, threatening them with expulsion from the group and compiled nominative lists;

-The German delegation threatened members of foreign delegations facing economic difficulties with suspension of crucial financial aid, forced them to vote in favor of Christoph Strässer’s report. The voting was accompanied by political blackmail and even personal threats;

-During the discussion, Christoph Strässer’s demonstrated organized, biased and hostile position against Azerbaijan instead of a planned, unbiased debate on defining the criteria for political prisoners that could be applied to member states, saying “Do not get me wrong, if the amendment is adopted, my report against Azerbaijan would not be passed in January”.

In the context of such biased anti-Azerbaijani hysteria, Christoph Strässer’s report on the “Definition of political prisoners” was legally passed due to imperfect procedural rules. However, this decision went down in the history of the Council of Europe as a politically, morally and ethically shameful incident.

4.3. Post-Strasser wave of political prisoners allegations against Azerbaijan

The anti-Azerbaijani forces became disappointed after Strasser’s report “Follow-up to the issue of political prisoner in Azerbaijan” was rejected at the January 2013 session of PACE. Nevertheless, shortly after their defeat, they were making efforts to put back the issue on the PACE’s agenda again and again.

They have mobilized their forces to devise new strategies so that to get new opportunities for political influence against Azerbaijan in PACE. The revival of the so-called issue of political prisoners and putting it back on the agenda by all means and making use of it against Azerbaijan underlay these strategies. Thus, the issue of political prisoners is the most effective instrument of influencing any PACE member state, including Azerbaijan.

Along with it, Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories of Azerbaijan, retaining the Sarsang reservoir under occupation and the use of water as a weapon against civilians and the deliberate deprivation of the Azerbaijani population from water, and Azerbaijan’s continuous struggle against Armenia’s aggression, the drafting of new draft resolutions, and finally, the adoption of Resolution 2085 (2016) made Armenia, pro-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani forces to join their efforts to inflict damage on Azerbaijan’s international image and disseminate bogus claims of rife corruption at the state level in the country.

However, they needed motives for proving that Azerbaijan is involved in corruption at the state level and they found them. They were the rejection of Strasser’s report from 2013; the success in preparation of a report on the escalation of the tension in Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan; the adoption of Resolution 2085 (2016) on “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water” and the positive assessment of the 2008, 2010, 2013 elections by the PACE observation mission that led to the launch of a campaign, alleging that they were possible thanks to bribing PACE members  by the government of Azerbaijan. The PACE members, who contributed to Azerbaijan’s success, were accused of taking bribe.

To add confidence to their claim, the anti-Azerbaijan forces claimed that the defeat of Strasser’s report was possible because of bribing of former PACE member, Luca Volonte, by me (Elkhan Suleymanov). Thus, for the purpose of continuing and stepping up pressure against Azerbaijan, corruption allegations were put forward against me (Elkhan Suleymanov) and Muslum Mammadov, and members of PACE – an international organization in defense of the supremacy of law – believed in the groundless allegations without a court decision.

In order to persuade both PACE members and international community, the anti-Azerbaijan forces succeeded in drafting reports through European Stability Initiative, broadcasting programs on Italian RAI TV and  disseminating a series of stories in other media outlets, circulating delirious allegations that me (Elkhan Suleymanov) bribed former PACE member Luca Volonte and turned PACE into a den of corruption.

At this point, the anti-Azerbaijani forces made use of a thesis by Goebbels, main ideologist of Nazism: “If you repeat a lie of­ ten enough, it becomes the truth”.

Therefore, it was not a coincidence that ahead of 14 May 2014 when Azerbaijan was going to assume the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, the supreme body of the Council of Europe, several traditional anti-Azerbaijan organizations launched a wide-ranging campaign against our country.

As part of this campaign, European Stability Initiative, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs began circulating materials full of allegations, claiming rampant corruption, dramatic deterioration of democracy and human rights situation and an increase in the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

One of such attempts was made at PACE by Irish MP McNamara. On 8 April2014, McNamara and others put forward a motion, titled “Azerbaijan’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe: What follow-up on respect for human rights?”

This draft resolution with the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights aimed at drafting a new report, similar to the defeated notorious one by Strasser. Over 70 per cent of the signatories to the motion were from the Socialists Group. This was a fresh attack against Azerbaijan.

We should note that the motion mentioned the names of three alleged political prisoners. One of them was llgar Mammadov, Director of the School of Political Studies of the Council of Europe in Baku. As he was to some extent directly related to the Council of Europe, llgar Mammadov’s detention frustrated some of the PACE leaders very much.

The Presidential Committee considered the draft motion at its 10 April meeting, both Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki and the head of the Socialist Group Gross insisted on an “accelerated” procedure. In other words, the Bureau could already consider the issue on 11 April and immediately refer it to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for drafting a report.

The “accelerated” procedure was very exceptional, and therefore, a full consensus needed on the issue. The aim of the authors was dearly to restart a new version of Strasser’s report on political prisoners, which had been previously defeated. It was a very well-prepared attack against Azerbaijan and was kept completely confidential. However, after prolonged discussions, the Presidential Committee could not reach any agreement.

Later, a gentleman’s agreement was reached among the members and it was approved at the Bureau meeting on 23 June 2014. Under the gentleman’s agreement, the motion was not to be referred for a report, but should be included in the current Monitoring report on Azerbaijan only for information and be reflected in the report of the Monitoring Committee slated for presentation at the January 2015 session.

However, at the end of the 23 June meeting, PACE President Anne Brasseur caused confusion by de-facto challenging the Bureau’s resolution and announcing a decision on referring the issue up for a report only after the voting with a dozen parliamentarians in attendance. In my opinion, this practice proved that the anti-Azerbaijani forces were unable to win struggle in a normal way and sought solutions beneath the dignity.

At the 25 June meeting of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, after a lengthy; tiring and heated debates on the election of a rapporteur, Pedro Agramunt won Dutch MP Omtzigt and was appointed a rapporteur to prepare a report on ‘ Azerbaijn’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe: What follow-up on respect for human rights?”

After Pedro Agramunt was elected the president of PACE, Alain Destexhe, chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, was appointed a rapporteur. Alain Destexhe prepared the report and submitted it to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights ahead of the 2017 summer session and the committee adopted the report. Nevertheless, following the biased criticism and accusations at the summer session of PACE, Alain Destexhe resigned as the committee chairman, as a rapporteur and all together from PACE membership. His report was approved at the Assembly’s 2017 autumn session.

I should note that resorting to every kind of trick, the anti­Azerbaijan forces were continuing their attacks against Azerbaijan in PACE from different directions. For this purpose, under various pretexts, they were initiating draft resolutions, trying to succeed in drafting reports. This time they chose a new tactic and did not openly mention Azerbaijan’s name in the title of draft resolutions, showing issues raised in those draft resolutions in the context of the Council of Europe member states.

Among similar issues, I feel compelled to mention two re­ ports, entitled “Protecting human rights defenders in the Council of Europe member states”, prepared by MP Mailis Reps (Estonia, ALDE), and “How to prevent inappropriate restrictions on NCO activities in Europe”, prepared by MP Yves Cruchten (Luxembourg, SOC).

Although both reports were formally applied to the Council of Europe member states, or European states, their main target was Azerbaijan. In addition, both rapporteurs – Mrs. Reps and Mr. Cruchten have always displayed virulent anti-Azerbaijani critic and have become popular for their biased and hostile attitudes towards our country.

For instance, I would like to point out that Mrs. Reps abused her powers as a rapporteur on “protection of human rights defenders” and over recent years, she made absolutely unreasonable and biased attacks against Azerbaijan.

With active support of the PACE secretariat, she published very biased statements against Azerbaijan on the PACE website and in the international media outlets. During each debates in committees and plenary sessions, she voiced tendentious allegations against Azerbaijan irrespective of PACE’s official position.

Moreover, PACE Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki and his secretariat remained loyal to her outright anti-Azerbaijani position and were actively supporting Mrs. Reps. Instead of the official texts adopted by the Assembly, her personal statements were attached great emphasis on and covered in depth in the media.

4.2.Anti-Azetbaijani network and traces of Soos inside PACE

On 24 January 2017, Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Ariev, a rapporteur of the PACE’s media freedom report. entitled “Attacks against journalists and. media freedom in Europe”, in a post on his Facebook page said 1hat over recent years, some MPs have been using the Parliamentary.Assambly of theCouncil of Europe for personal interests without taking heed of the truth.

Simultaneously. Volodymyr Ariev shed light on the activities of three Armenian PACB members – MPs Samuel Farmanyan, Naira Karapetyan and Nalra Zohrabyan.They all egedly attempted to bribe Ariev in order to persuade the Ukrainian parliamentarian to make changes to his report on the media freedom and respect for lnternational law. As was stated publicly, the Armenian MPs’ attempts to bribe the parliamentarian were meant to have all mentions on the occupation of the.Azerbaijan’s Nagorno­Karabakh territories removed from Ariev’s report However, Ariev said the three MPs tried to bribe him with a 40-year-old bottle of vintage Armenian cognac worth around 1,400 euros.

The European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre (ESISC) investigated this information and presented a report on the outcome of the study on 6 March 2017. The report said: “Ariev’s refusal to succumb to the demands of the Armenians resulted in a violent pressure and a libel campaign. The members of the Armenian delegation, including members from Ariev’s political party, spearheaded these attacks throughout the 2017 winter parliamentary session.”

The most dangerous claim was that “Ariev’s grandmother is an Azeri woman”, alluding that he also might be an ethnic Azeri man. ESISC report revealed that the most concerning aspect is that the Ariev case is just the tip of the iceberg of an even more worrying and systemic problem, and is an outright proof of an organized network of several MPs on behest of Armenia and in violation of the international laws.

Thus, the investigation brought to light that a group of PACE members conspired with Armenia and the Armenian diaspora organizations in Europe and set up a broad and deep-rooted bribing network in PACE to organize the European Stability Initiative’s pressure campaigns against Azerbaijan.

In the report, the year of 2012 was regarded as the crucial year when “Armenian connection” began to expand its roots in the Council of Europe. The report showed that in 2012, Christoph Strasser built relations with Gerald Knaus, head of the European Stability Initiative, known as “think tank” of the George Soros Foundation. It was emphasized that several other NGOs, financed by Soros and disguised under non-commercial activities, actually influenced the Council of Europe and served the interests of Armenia.

The ESISC report revealed that in 2012, certain individuals came together and got quickly involved in playing an important role in political manoeuvers aimed at discrediting the Republic of Azerbaijan. It was noted that Christoph Strasser, as a member of the German Socialist Party, joined the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2006, and in 2012, he met with Gerald Knaus, the mastermind of the conspiracy against Azerbaijan. Gerald Knaus is an Austrian-born economist, who founded the European Stability Foundation (ESI) in Berlin in 1999. The ESI is one of the multiple think tanks associated with the George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

Knaus is a well-known in the network of NGOs funded by the American billionaire George Soros. He was suspected of attempts to destabilize stability in certain eastern European states, formerly socialist bloc countries. This provides conditions for the ESI and other NGOs to introduce themselves as civil society supporters that allegedly defend just causes but instead act as lobby groups on behest of George Soros, insuring the control of the Council of Europe and advocating interests of the Republic of Armenia.

The ESISC said that according to ONG Monitor, an organization specialized in the analysis of transparency and good-governance of NGOs, the Soros Foundations has an endowment of 4 billion euros and contributes to the funding of over 50 European NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights House Foundation, Open Dialogue, European Stability Initiative, and Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.

Underscoring that each of the Soros-funded organization has transparency problem, the ESISC experts emphasized that regardless of slogans of Georgia’s Rose Revolution, or Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, during those events the focus should be put on the role played by the network of NGOs and think tanks under Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

The document claimed that the United States, under President Obama’s administration, allegedly used the Ukrainian popular revolution to organize a coup to set Ukraine against Russia. Referring to other leaked documents, it was noted that George Soros personally played a pivotal role in the Ukrainian politics and that he benefited from privileged relations with President Obama’s higher cabinets as well as with European national and international institutions.

The transcript of a phone conversation between Victoria Nuland, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, clearly substantiated the theory of a Washington-led coup in Ukraine. The ESISC report noted:

“As for George Soros, documents released by the French web-site Mediapart confirmed Soros’ significance and the role for advising officials in Ukraine’s highest power echelons on taking economic, financial and defense-related decisions and even advised the Ukrainian armed forces to undergo training by U.S. instructors in the NATO-member country of Romania.”

We should note that this “private diplomacy”by George Soros is forbidden by the Logan Act. The Logan Act is a United States federal law that criminalizes negotiation by unauthorized per­ sons with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States. The intent behind the Act is to prevent unauthorized negotiations from undermining the government’s position. However, George Soros takes no heed of the requirements of this law and believes he is above the law.

Multiple NGOs played an important role in the Ukrainian crisis. Many of them, including those funded by the Open Society Foundations, participated in the Ukrainian popular uprising. However, it was not ruled out that George Soros put pressure on Ukraine. For dozens of years, his network of NGOs and think tanks has spearheaded a campaign of libel and slander against Azerbaijan, attempting to describe one of the most stable and secular Caucasus nation Azerbaijan on the border of Iran as an autocratic and corrupt dictatorship.

The NGOs circulated information about a new wave of political arrests, but turned a blind eye to the criminal offences committed by convicts. As an example, it should be noted that this information did not mention that among those arrested were many people who fought in Iraq and Syria in the ranks of the illegal armed formations.

This is an obvious proof of disinformation.  Thus, contrary to steps taken by European democracies on similar issues, they intend to discredit the Azerbaijani government despite perfect legal and justified measures to fight the problem within its borders.

We should note that Soros does not only interfere in the back­yard of European continent. He is still active in the United States where he uses his philanthropic network to conduct an intense pro-Armenian strategy. To this effect, he made the Open Society Institutes’ (OSI) Yerevan branch a key element to the Armenian diplomacy.

Simultaneously, Soros relies on the powerful American Armenian lobby to reinforce his strategy to “play with Armenia in order to destabilize Azerbaijan”.

On 25 January 2001, Azerbaijan and Armenia both became members of the Council of Europe, holding out hope that a common loyalty to the European ideals would incentivize construcive dialogue between both states. Unfortunately, on the contrary, Azerbaijan has become the target of unjustified and continuous attacks.

Gerald Knaus, the president of the European Stability Initiative and a member of the board of the Soros Foundation, instigated hostilities towards Azerbaijan by describing it as a corrupt country, without, however, backing up these accusations with proofs.

Using all available resources to try to destabilize stability in Azerbaijan, Gerald Knaus attacked the reputation of the Azerbaijani Republic and managed to achieve his purpose.

In 2012, when an anti-Azerbaijan network started shaping inside the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Stability Initiative published a slanderous and particularly damning report, entitled “Caviar Diplomacy”.

This report, based on slander, backed by a climate of suspicion was deprived of any objective apart from providing conditions for the formation of a network of MPs engaged in a political war against Azerbaijan. To act efficiently within the Council of Europe, the man of the Georges Soros Foundation needed to infiltrate faithful partners in the Parliamentary Assembly.

While it was easy for him to gain unconditional support of the Armenian MPs, he needed the help and loyalty of MPs from other countries and preferably representatives from European Union member states. This task was successfully achieved when Christoph Strasser and several PACE members joined the anti­ Azerbaijani project.

Christoph Strasser, a close friend of Knaus, was until February Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid under the Federal Republic of Germany. He resigned from the post when an investigation was launched by the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU).

We should note that after the report “Follow-up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan”, prepared by Strasser, was rejected during the Assembly’s 2013 January session, he began to collaborate with the Italian journalist Milena Gabanelli in order to attack the Republic of Azerbaijan.

In November 2016, Gabanelli, a renowned Italian journalist in charge of Italian public Television channel RAI 3 backed by the country’s political leftists, aired a scandalous and deceptive program that openly defended interests of Armenia and attacked Council of Europe MPs. This left-leaning woman is both a successful TV-anchor and a realist manager as she was shocked and perplexed by the fact that George Soros through his foundation supported her program. One of the aspects of worth attention is that in 2013 Milena Gabanelli was a member of the jury of the Tiziano Terziani literary contest in Italy, where Georges Soros won for his book “Financial Turmoil in Europe and in the United States”.

It is also important to underscore that Gabanelli is an “old friend” of Armenia. During the war in Nagorno Karabakh, she was a media correspondent on the Armenian side and since then she has always backed official Yerevan without expressing her concern about the fate of the Azerbaijani refugees or the illegality of the Armenian occupation without taking into consideratian the debatable level of democracy in Armenia. Her display of unilateral commitment made her nearly a star of the Armenian media.

As for Christoph Strasser, along with doing favor with Gabanelli, he appeared in a program of Samuel Farmanyan, one of the Armenian MPs that tried to bribe the Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Ariev. This intimacy is highly suspicious and reveals the extent of Christoph Strasser’s impartiality.

In the context of what was said above, the activities of Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt from the European People’s Party and a PACE member since 2010 draw attention. During the first two years of his mandate, Omtzigt repeatedly expressed his concern about the political situation in Armenia. However, out of sudden, in 2012, Omtzigt made a complete U-turn and started targeting Azerbaijan. He unexpectedly decided to “get interested” in the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. This change was in no way connected with changes in Azerbaijan’s politics.

ESISC experts consider that the sudden change in the position of Pieter Omtzigt towards the Azerbaijani Republic coincided with the 2012 legislative elections in the Netherlands. His political party lost the elections in that year. However, Pieter Omtzigt run an impressive election campaign and was surprisingly elected to the parliament with a big majority (36,750 votes).

Later, Omtzigt went on with his baseless and unjust attacks on the Republic of Azerbaijan from PACE. Later Pieter Omtzigt made no effort to hide his relations with Gerald Knaus’ European Stability Initiative and collaborated with him in the drafting the second part of the report, titled “Caviar Diplomacy”. He was assisted by Frank Schwabe in this biased and scandalous attack against the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Frank Schwabe joined the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2011. Since then, he has aligned his political views with his colleague Christoph Strasser in order to find support in climbing the career ladder of the Social-Democrat Party (SPD), the German socialists. This strategy made him a perfect recruit of the anti-Azerbaijani network.

Strasser and Schwabe have been the leading actors of the campaign in the Social-Democrat Party in spearheading the recognition of the 1915 fabricated genocide of Armenians. Schwabe does not hide his purposeful biased position against Azerbaijan.

Rene Rouquet, the president of the French-Armenia socialist parliamentary friendship group, and the centrist Franҫois Rochebloine, who supports the interests of the France-Karabakh Friendship Circle, are active members of the anti-Azerbaijan campaign. Rochebloine has repeatedly organized illegal visits to Armenia-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, and hereby, showed disrespect for the internationally-recognized territorial integrity and the state sovereignty of Azerbaijan.

Rene Rouquet, the former head of the French delegation to PACE and PACE’s Vice-President, has always been biased and hostile against Azerbaijan. In 2010, without consent of the Azerbaijani government, Rene Rouquet and several other French MPs visited Nagorno-Karabakh occupied by Armenia and met with the “leadership” of the separatist regime. The Azerbaijani authorities declared Rene Rouquet a persona non grata and banned his entrance into the country.

During the debates on the report “Functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan”, drafted by Andres Herkel and Joseph Debono Grech, co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan, Rene Rouquet maliciously criticized Azerbaijan, as well as justified the trip of several French parliamentarians to Nagorno-Karabakh, and condemned the response of the Azerbaijani government to this issue.

In October 2011, 32 PACE members made a joint statement on the recognition of the separatist formation of “Nagorno-Karabakh republic” as an independent state created in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Rene Rouquet was among the signatories of this document.

During the PACE’s summer session in 2016, Rene Rouquet put forward an anti-Azerbaijani proposal on behalf of the French delegation regarding the April escalation of tension on contact line of troops and the ensuing clashes.

I should note that Rene Rouquet was not issued a visa to travel to Azerbaijan in order to attend the meetings of the PACE Bureau and the Standing Committee held in Baku on 22-23 May 2014. On 22 May, the Bureau debated the issue of the visa rejection to Rene Rouquet due to his illegal trip to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, and decided not to hold the committees’ meetings scheduled for two years in Azerbaijan.

Thus, the brief analysis proves that since 2012, there has been a secret network within the Council of Europe that was mobilized against Azerbaijan. The tactic of the network has been to multiply slanderous attacks and smear campaign directed at destabilizing Azerbaijan by putting pressure on it under different pretexts with the end goal of dissimulating the illegal occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region by the Republic of Armenia.

This network incorporates numerous parliamentarians and international NGOs and is financed by the Open Society Organizations. The dangerous policy pursued by this network cast a doubt on the credibility and principles of PACE.

4.1.Alliance of a group of international NGOs against Azerbaijan

Ahead of 14 May 2014 – the day when Azerbaijan was slated to assume the post of the chairman of the Committee of Ministers – the statutory decision-making body of the Council of Europe – several traditional anti-Azerbaijani organizations kicked off a new wave of campaign against our country. As in the past, among those organizations, European Stability Initiative, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Freedom Files and others showed great zeal.

Well, actually, these organizations have never given up their biased campaign against Azerbaijan. Over the recent several months, their campaign has dynamically gained strength and come to the peak ahead of the visits to Azerbaijan of Council of Europe Secretary General Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland and French President Franҫois Hollande on 8 and 11 May respectively as well as prior to the 14 May accession of Azerbaijan to the office of the chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Remarkably, this time again, the above listed organizations were trying to conduct their anti-Azerbaijani campaigns in an accurate and synchronized manner. I would like to mention another interesting aspect. This time, as always, they were using the same methods against Azerbaijan, and their “favorite” topic was the issue of “political prisoners”.

So, on 22 April 2014, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to French President Franҫois Hollande. On 23 April, European Stability Initiative addressed a letter to public and political figures of several European countries and to 114 PACE members, and on 6 May, Freedom House issued a statement. Interestingly, the crux of these addresses was absolutely identical as if they were prepared by the same center.

The letter by Human Rights Watch claimed that “the government have detained and imprisoned dozens of political activists and government critics, broken up peaceful public demonstrations and adopted a law that bans fundamental freedoms” in Azerbaijan. The letter expressed the hope that during his visit to Baku on 11-12 May 2014, the French president would urge Azerbaijan “to behave in line with the Council of Europe standards”.

In its statement, Freedom House stated that democratic states “should hold the government of Azerbaijan accountable for its poor human rights records, the most serious problem in the country as Azerbaijan prepares to take up the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.”

European Stability Initiative went further, accusing PACE members of voting down a draft resolution by the rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan in January 2013. The ESI claimed that “as the draft resolution was rejected” by PACE members and “no new rapporteur was appointed”, “a wave of new arrests” was kicked off in Azerbaijan, alleging that the human rights situation in the country dramatically deteriorated and politically-motivated arrests were made.

The newsletter called on the Azerbaijan president for pardoning several activists before Azerbaijan assumes the chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The newsletter also urged the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to pay an urgent trip to Azerbaijan and to speak out strongly and forcefully over the issue of political prisoners; and, finally, to support  an initiative of appointing a new rapporteur on political prisoners. European Stability Initiative did not calm down with this newsletter and circulated a new material on 5 May after a decision was made public on the 8 May visit of CoE Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland to Baku.

In this newsletter, the organization overstepped the boundaries of all ethical norms by describing the relations between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe as a game of cat and mouse, without refraining even to influence Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, reminding that he is also the Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. It also urged him “to seriously address the issue of political prisoners due to commence in May of the chairmanship of Azerbaijan in the Committee of Ministers”.

European Stability Initiative, notorious for its outright anti­ Azerbaijani rhetoric, published a newsletter on 14 November 2014. This time, European Stability Initiative targeted not only the Azerbaijani government, but also organizations and official representatives of European organizations, who demonstrated balanced positions or didn’t express any view on the issues concerning Azerbaijan.

Characterizing the period when Azerbaijan was chairing the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers between May and November 2014, European Stability Initiative said that “recent events have made the Council of Europe in Strasbourg a stage for political theatre of the absurd”.

European Stability Initiative head Gerald Knaus, who authored the material, referred to the sentencing of Anar Mammadli to five-year imprisonment in May to prove his allegations. He furiously stressed that “up until today, neither the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, nor the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and also former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland have called for his unconditional release”.

The authors of the newsletter could not cope with their anger. Realizing that the Azerbaijani government ignored their groundless and biased allegations, this time, they chose CoE Secretary General Mr. Jagland as the main target in order to take revenge. They got even more furious about the fact that in The Guardian newspaper article, Mr. Jagland described Azerbaijan as “a young democracy which needs help”.

The head of European Stability Initiative, Gerald Knaus, nagged at Mr. Jagland’s statement that “we are closely following several other trials against human rights defenders in Azerbaijan”, and said that on the contrary, he should have called for “these trials, travesties of justice, to stop”.

As can be seen, European Stability Initiative feels uncomfortable “not only with positive, but also with neutral views on Azerbaijan”. It should be noted that issues in question (irrespective of whether or not they were blown out of proportion or actually existed) should be unambiguously addressed legally. However, European Stability Initiative urged that these issues be addressed in a form of pressure on the Azerbaijani government.

According to European Stability Initiative, any claims mentioned in the newsletter are absolute truth. This organization considered that NGO activists, who were convicted for unlawful acts, should be released without taking into account any court verdict and without following any legal procedures. In a nutshell, European Stability Initiative considered itself the highest court instance. This organization actually considered that its allegations and demands themselves were the law, and those allegations were to be treated more authoritative than decisions of courts, including the European Court of Human Rights.

European Stability Initiative did not also forget to comment on the new Working Group on Human Rights. The newsletter reminded the agreement between Mr. Jagland and President Ilham Aliyev in June 2014 on the re-establishment of the Working Group, noting that its composition should include “human rights defenders, parliamentarians, officials of the presidential administration and a Council of Europe expert”. The newsletter further claimed that “this group, handpicked by the Azerbaijani government, included mostly the so-called activists, distinguished by vicious public campaigns against the current political prisoners”.

The head of European Stability Initiative treated issues not in essence but in accordance with pre-programmed  purposes and deliberately deceived the international community by claiming that the newly-established Working Group included “activists” of the vicious public campaigns against current political prisoners and showed no remorse at all.

European Stability Initiative was very well aware that the members of the Working Group, which functioned from 2005 to 2010, were the representatives of well-known NGOs. Most of them are now members of the newly-established Working Group. For instance, Novella Jafaroglu, Saida Gojamanli, Saadat Bananyarli, Eldar Zeynalov, Zaliha Tahirova, Sahib Mammadov and others. Thanks to the efforts of these NGO representatives, over the period in question, many prisoners were released through various legal mechanisms or were pardoned. Thus, allegations that these people were notorious for the vicious public campaigns were, at best, hypocrisy.

On the other hand, the establishment of the new Working Group on Human Rights revealed the readiness of the Azerbaijani government for dialogue, its intention to address the existing problems in the field of human rights, and its determination to implement the recommendations prepared with the participation of representatives of well-known NGOs and the Council of Europe. Laying the groundwork for the Working Group to carry out monitoring of the human rights situation in order to ensure the efficiency of the decisions to be taken in this sector were worthwhile.

However, these aspects were not interesting at all for European Stability Initiative. In line with its predetermined purposes, this organization was opposing any steps taken for objective solutions to the existing issues and was not considering accept­ able to settle legal issues that triggered discussions on the political plain by legal means. In this regard, the opinion of Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, expressed at his meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on 24 June that the final say on the issue of political prisoners should be with the European Court of Human Rights annoyed European Stability Initiative very much. This organization was blaming PACE, the European Court of Human Rights and the Secretariat for such attempts.

European Stability Initiative was apparently opposing  the fact that the assessment of human rights violations and fundamental freedoms stipulated in the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols fall under the competences of the European Court of Human Rights.

The material highlighted that “in 2012, Azerbaijan and its allies in a debate in PACE strongly backed an amendment that read: “The Parliamentary Assembly confirms that the interpretation and application of any criteria, defining a political prisoner are the exclusive competence of the European Court of Human Rights, which is the only authority to assess violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, as stipulated in the European Convention for Human Rights and its Protocols”. The policy behind this amendment- which was not adopted-has now been resurrected by the Secretary General. PACE, the Court and the secretariat… all are performing their roles in Baku’s theatre of the absurd”.

With regard to what was mentioned, I would like to emphasize that the issue of political prisoners is a legal issue and should be solved legally. Therefore, I fully support the opinion of Mr. Jagland that the final say on the issue of political prisoner should be with the European Court of Human Rights.

At the end of its newsletter, European Stability Initiative made an interesting, and in my opinion, a dangerous call: “The time to act is now. Business as usual is not an option any longer”. We wonder, to what actions was this organization calling by making such a call and stressing that “business as usual is not an option any longer”?

We can only logically interpret the essence of this call. To what actions can this organization  that is against the assessment of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the European Court of Human Rights by demonstrating disrespect for the rule of law – one of the fundamental  values of Europe – demands the immediate release of persons imprisoned for committing specific violations without observing any legal procedures, call? The answer is only to unrest.

Thus, the predetermined purposes of European Stability Initiative become clear: to undermine the political stability in Azerbaijan and to cause unrest. However, there is only a single aim behind the attempts of international organizations, including European Stability Initiative, to put pressure on Azerbaijan by alleging the deterioration of the human rights situation and the presence of political prisoners in the country, to justify the Armenian aggression and to divert Azerbaijan’s attention from the efforts to liberate the territories under occupation.

Human Rights Watch, international NGO, published its next anti-Azerbaijan statement in late March and early April 2015. The statement was circulated ahead of the visit of EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn to Azerbaijan. I would like to remind that a group of foreign NGOs made a similar anti-Azerbaijani statement ahead of the official visit of EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis to Azerbaijan on 23-26 February.

We should note that Human Rights Watch once again remained loyal to its “tradition”, claiming without any proofs that relentless pressure on human rights in Azerbaijan has been stepped up and repression has increased. Certainly, it was not novelty and Human Rights Watch was trying to prove itself as a driver of the biased campaign against Azerbaijan.

Interestingly, though this statement was of anti-Azerbaijani nature, it was addressed not only to the Azerbaijani public, but to the EU and its Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hans, who had visited Baku. In the statement, Human Rights Watch reproached the EU due to its cooperation with Azerbaijan. The authors of the statement claimed that “as far as remorseless pressure on human rights in the country has been mounted, the European Union often stands aside” and “despite the deepening repression, the EU intends to further strengthen the ties with Azerbaijan”.

All these facts shed light on the malicious purposes of Human Rights Watch. As was obvious that a major purpose of this organization was to achieve severing the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU and the international community as a whole by isolating our country from the world, and consequently; to turn it into a “rogue” state and have it destroyed as a state.

On the other hand, if the primary goal of Human Rights Watch was to protect human rights, this organization would have taken steps to put an end to the occupation of Azerbaijani territories under occupation for over 25 years and restored rights of hundreds of thousands of people. However, the major purpose of this organization is not to protect human rights, but to increase pressure on Azerbaijan, to protect Armenia and to extend the occupation of Azerbaijani territories.

On the third hand, the analyses of the developments show that the international anti-Azerbaijan campaign under the pre­ text of human rights is systematic and is managed from a single center, and the statement by Human Rights Watch is an integral part of this campaign. This campaign was used as one of the key instruments for forming a negative image of Azerbaijan internationally during the First European Games and the 2015 parliamentary elections.

Ahead of PACE’s 2017 April session, another Soros-funded NGO Freedom Files Analytical Centre, carried an extensive re­ port, titled “European values bought and sold”. The report contained allegations, such as systemic corruption in Azerbaijan and the formation by Azerbaijan of a network of international lobbying and corruption activities though they were not substantiated by any proofs.

Like the materials prepared and distributed among PACE members by another Soros-funded NGO European Stability Initiative (ESI), the report prepared by Freedom Files Analytical Centre was also of an anti-Azerbaijani nature and biased.

The analysis of the recent anti-Azerbaijani reports by European Stability Initiative (ESI), Freedom  Files and several other international NGOs allows us to conclude the following:

– biased attacks of various international NGOs, including European  NGOs (Amnesty  International, Human  Rights Watch, Freedom House, ESI, Freedom Files, etc.) are not a coincidence, but  part  of far-reaching  malicious  anti-Azerbaijani campaign. The majority of these NGOs are funded by the Soros Foundation, and their activities are managed in a planned manner from a single center.

– in some mass media  outlets, the publication  of anti-Azerbaijani materials, the preparation of reports by Soros-funded NGOs, filled with allegations of repeated biased and non-confirmed accusations, were aimed at undermining Azerbaijan’s international image. The main target was to cast a doubt over the legitimacy of the elections to be held in Azerbaijan in 2018 and to create conditions for unrest during the elections.

Thus, due to the efforts of the anti-Azerbaijan forces, a large­ scale campaign with the allegations of political prisoners against Azerbaijan through international NGOs was again launched. In order to achieve their aims, this time the international NGOs were functioning simultaneously under a single network.

We should note that several Azerbaijan-based national NGOs collaborate with these anti-Azerbaijani forces. These national NGOs compile different lists of the so-called political prisoners by orders of foreign centers, which finance them and together with their patrons, who are anti-Azerbaijani forces, actively take part in campaigns of international organizations, by alleging that there are many political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

The analyses of the global developments, particularly in the Council of Europe, show that the human rights situation in Azerbaijan does not differ so much from that of other member states of the Council of Europe.

However, except for Azerbaijan, the issue of political prisoners has not been so far applied to any PACE countries so far. Here appears a logical question: Why is it alleged that only in Azerbaijan, among 47 member states, there are political prisoners, and as I mentioned above, why is criteria of a doubtful nature applied only to our country?

Isn’t it a violation of the principle of equal right membership of states in PACE and a demonstration of apparent discrimination against Azerbaijan?

Each person mentioned in the lists of the alleged political prisoners was convicted for specific crimes and there are court decisions on them. In case, these people protest at decisions of the national courts, they have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The issue of political prisoner is a legal matter, and there are court decisions on people who are currently serving prison terms. Therefore, the court decisions can only be altered through existing legal mechanisms. However, several national NGOs, international organizations acting as their patrons, and anti-Azerbaijani forces did not want to make use of this legal mechanism and were purposefully politicizing the issue by re­ moving it from legal context.

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…