Azerbaijan’s civil society open letter to PACE President Anne Brasseur Silence is not an option First Anar Mammadli, then Leyla Yunus, now Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev – and perhaps next, Emin Huseynov: one after another, prominent human rights defenders are sacrificing their freedom for promoting Council of Europe core values in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe has coincided with its increasingly ruthless campaign of repression against human rights defenders. The stakes are high on all fronts: the Council faces an unprecedented threat to its credibility, while Azerbaijan’s political prisoners continue to suffer for exercising their basic rights. The disparity between the values pledged in Strasbourg and the brutal repression enacted at home has never been bleaker. The Council appears trapped between its commitment to human rights and its “better in than out” approach to those states which continually flout the basic principles of membership. The question now is whether Strasbourg is even in a position to protect the fundamental rights and well-being of the Azerbaijani people from the increasingly authoritarian government. There is available procedural recourse. If a state seriously violates Council of Europe standards, the Assembly has the power to suspend national delegations, or deprive them of their voting rights – a sanction it has used on several occasions. In the worst cases, it can recommend that a state be expelled from the Council of Europe. However, it appears that the Council has chosen
silence as the best option.
At a time where courageous Azerbaijani human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and bloggers are either languishing behind bars or living under threat of immediate arrest – for exercising their right to freedom of expression – it is quite simply unacceptable for you as President of the Parliamentary Assembly to remain silent. It is your moral and institutional duty to call for sanctions as set out in the Parliamentary Assembly Rules of Procedure and the Council’s statutes. When in Baku, go and meet with those behind bars— those men and women who have sacrificed their freedom for promotion of the Council’s values. President Aliyev will tell you these people are criminals, and that Azerbaijan is a country where the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are fully guaranteed. He will tell you there is a “constructive dialogue” with civil society. Probably, he will invite you and other members of the Assembly to participate in a “roundtable”. We urge you not accept the invitation unless the roundtable is organized in Kurdakhany, a pre-trial detention facility, which is currently home to many journalists, bloggers, activists and human rights defenders.
Will you tell President Aliyev that Azerbaijan should relinquish this key leadership role in the Council of Europe, an organisation that claims to be central in the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe?
Will you consider challenging the credentials of Azerbaijani delegation on substantial grounds under Rule 8 of the Assembly Rules of Procedures unless the regime guarantees the immediate and unconditional release of those who have been imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression?
Silence is not an option.
The institutional credibility of the Council of Europe is on the line.