Open letter to PACE by Elkhan Suleymanov
Ms. Marija Pejčinović-Burić
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland
Former Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Ms. Liliane Maury Pasquier
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Chairpersons of the Political Groups of PACE
Chairs of the National Parliaments of Member States of PACE
All members of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Baku, 4th July 2019
During its summer session in 2019, PACE adopted the Resolution 2287 (2019) “Strengthening the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly concerning credentials and voting”. Taking into account the importance of the provisions included in this resolution, I feel compelled to note the following on these provisions.
Thus, in paragraph 2 of the resolution, it is underlined that the Assembly “intends to constructively analyse the consistency, relevance, effectiveness and legitimacy of its procedures and mechanisms”. The document also brings to the attention that the Assembly may find it “necessary to change its practices and adjust its rules”, were “a revision of its machinery and procedures to prove indispensable to uphold more resolutely the Council of Europe’s fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights”.
The Assembly recalls the decision adopted by the Committee of Ministers in Helsinki on 17 May 2019 on “A shared responsibility for democratic security in Europe – Ensuring respect for rights and obligations, principles, standards and values” (paragraph 4). The document also says that the Assembly is firmly committed to making the proposal operational as soon as possible, which was made in Resolution 2277 (2019) and Recommendation 2153 (2019) “Role and mission of the Parliamentary Assembly: main challenges for the future”, to set up a joint procedure of reaction, which could be initiated by the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers, and the Secretary General, “in order to strengthen the organization’s ability to react more effectively in situations where a member State violates its statutory obligations or does not respect the fundamental principles and values upheld by the Council of Europe”.
The Resolution notes that the member States are entitled and have an obligation to participate on an equal basis in the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe, in accordance with the Statute of the Organization. Furthermore, it is recalled that all parliamentary delegations enjoy the same rights under its Rules of Procedure and are subject to the same obligations in accordance with the procedures that apply equally to all (paragraph 8).
In the resolution, it is recalled that the members’ rights of participation or representation in the activities of the Assembly and its bodies that may be withdrawn or suspended by the Assembly are not listed in the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure. However, in order to ensure the coherence of the Council of Europe´s internal legal framework, as well as to ensure that the member States’ right and obligation to be represented or to participate in both statutory bodies of the Council of Europe is respected, the Assembly decides to supplement Rule 10 of its Rules of Procedure as follows: “The members’ rights to vote, to speak and to be represented in the Assembly and its bodies shall not be suspended or withdrawn in the context of a challenge to or reconsideration of credentials” (Paragraph 10).
Finally, at the end, “the Assembly considers that the issue of supplementing its Rules of Procedure with regard to introducing a procedure for challenging the credentials of individual members of a national delegation on substantial grounds deserves further consideration” (Paragraph 11). It can be presumed that the Assembly understands that the mandates are granted to the individual members of the national delegations by the national parliaments they represent. Therefore, by mentioning the absence of the issue of a challenge to credentials of individual members in the Rules of Procedure, it says that this issue deserves further consideration.
Thus, on the eve of 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe, PACE’s efforts in improving and further strengthening its decision-making process concerning credentials and voting, at first sight, seem as a very positive step. Is it true that the PACE, when adopting this resolution, solely brought the issue of “revision of its machinery and procedures to uphold resolutely the Council of Europe’s fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights” on the agenda as an objective need in the year of 70th anniversary of the organization?! In that case, didn’t the Assembly respect the values set forth in the Statute of the Council of Europe so far?! If so, how can we evaluate this organization’s statements and decisions on upholding values such as ensuring democracy, the rule of law and human rights in member States? To what extent, are the decisions within the framework of PACE to date on member States in line with the declared values of the organization?! Could these decisions be considered objective?! Are the member States’ equal rights in PACE respected, or are they subject to discrimination and partiality? Even the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly do not provide for punishment of and challenge to the credentials of individual members, how did the PACE Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs adopt a decision, with fabricated grounds, on punishment of individual members, who cooperated with Azerbaijan?
Weren’t the Assembly leaders so far aware of the fact that the members’ rights of participation or representation in the activities of the Assembly and its bodies may be withdrawn or suspended by the Assembly are not listed in the Statute of the Council of Europe and the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly? In this case, on which grounds, the PACE imposes sanctions on any member State and makes every effort for this attempt?
As can be seen, there are a lot of questions. However, it is necessary to have a look at the practice of adoption of decisions in PACE in order to find answers to these questions. When analysing this practice, the reasons for adoption of the resolution “Strengthening the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly concerning credentials and voting”, which we briefly commented on above, and the factors that condition it become absolutely clear.
I should note that Azerbaijan has been subject to biased attitudes and discrimination on different issues in PACE for many years. Thus, regularly, allegations of political prisoners only in Azerbaijan, out of other member States of this institution, were put forward and documents were adopted. Even in order to increase tensions against Azerbaijan, paradoxical situation arose in PACE in connection with the issue of political prisoners: two tasks, namely the definition of the criteria for the “political prisoner” and the follow-up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan were entrusted to one MP, Christoph Strasser. Adoption of such a decision was a clear example of the existence of biased attitude and double standards against Azerbaijan in the structures of the Council of Europe.
During PACE 2012 October Session, after tense debates, Strasser’s report on the definition of political prisoners was considered legally adopted by 89/89 votes being against and for, due to the imperfect rules of procedure. This vote undermined the credibility of PACE on this issue and proved that there is a serious disruption in the Assembly. Strasser’s biased report on the follow-up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, which was of merely anti-Azerbaijani nature, was rejected by serious vote margin in 2013 January Session – the vast majority of the Assembly members voted against this biased report.
The anti-Azerbaijani forces became furious over the rejection of Strasser’s report, and thus, with various pretexts and means tried to bring back the allegations on the agenda as if there are political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Those forces began to form an opinion, alleging that the achievement for the preparation of the report on escalation of tension in Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan and the adoption of Resolution 2085 (2016) “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water” have been possible thanks to bribing PACE members by the Azerbaijani authorities. As I (Elkhan Suleymanov) and my colleague Muslum Mammadov were distinguished by our special activities in achieving successes in the name of Azerbaijan, accusations of corruption were put forward against us.
The anti-Azerbaijani forces, who were convinced of the impossibility of achieving malicious plans against Azerbaijan through putting the reports on the agenda, namely through the internationally recognized democratic voting, chose a new strategy. The imposition of sanctions on and the punishment of the PACE members, who cooperated with Azerbaijan and demonstrated independent position during the discussions on the issues related to Azerbaijan, should have stood in the centre of this strategy. For this purpose, with the support of the PACE secretariat, the allegations were made by those forces that as if the members, who voted against the Strasser report, have been party in the business with Azerbaijan of corruptive nature. Several reports were prepared by the European Stability Initiative NGO on the corruption within PACE. Thus, investigation of the allegations of corruption within PACE was put on the agenda and the decision was made on setting up the Independent External Investigation Body. It should be noted that the desire to turn Azerbaijan into a political battlefield through bringing back the issue of political prisoners on the agenda was standing behind the creation of the Investigation Body to look into allegations of corruption within PACE.
Indeed, the members of the Investigation Body, when preparing the report, had limited their mandates to Azerbaijan. Thus, only one page (out of 219 pages) of the Investigation Body’s report of 2018 was dedicated to other member States, while the rest of the report (218 pages) to the issues related to Azerbaijan.
Despite no proof and evidence was shown in the report, the PACE members, who were the co-rapporteurs on Azerbaijan and the heads of election observation missions, committee chairpersons and chairs of the political groups, who were cooperated with Azerbaijan, between the years of 2008 and 2017, were suspected of allegations of corruption. Allegations of breach of the Assembly’s Code of Conduct were put forward against them and they were threatened of suspension of their activities. Even the PACE Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs adopted a decision on deprivation of 14 MPs, cooperated with Azerbaijan, of the right to access the Council of Europe and Parliamentary Assembly premises for life.
It should be noted that regular discrimination on several member States in PACE was obvious. However, this institution adopts Resolution “Strengthening the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly concerning credentials and voting”, even there is no serious change in the international situation, including interstate relations of member States. In this resolution, it states that “The members’ rights to vote, to speak and to be represented in the Assembly and its bodies shall not be suspended or withdrawn …”.
By making this decision, the PACE acknowledged that the decisions (at least majority of them) adopted in the Assembly so far have not served Council of Europe’s values; the Statute of this organization was not respected when adopting these decisions; and in other words, the adopted decisions served corporate purposes.
A Question arises: what stands at the root of this de-facto acknowledgement? When looking at the opinions of the leaders of the Council of Europe regarding organization’s financial situation in the last two years, it becomes clear that the organization has faced serious financial problem. Indeed, it draws particular attention that in paragraph 13.2. of the Resolution 2292 (2019) on the ratification of credentials of the Russian Federation, the Assembly calls on the Russian authorities to “immediately pay all fees due to the Council of Europe budget”. It seems, currently, the solution of the financial problem in PACE has become top-priority and more fundamental matter for the Assembly.
Who plans and controls these processes? It should be noted that these processes serving corporate interests in PACE relates to the institution’s Secretary General Wojciech Sawicki. As a consequence of Sawicki’s active work, the discrimination and biased attitudes against the member States of PACE have been on the agenda. Thanks to Sawicki’s unprecedented efforts, and despite being contrary to the Statute of the Council of Europe, the Independent External Investigation Body to look into allegations of corruption within the Assembly was created, and significant amount of money was spent to ensure the functioning of this Body, in spite of serious financial problems the organization faced. Based on Sawicki’s demands, the PACE members, who were co-rapporteurs on Azerbaijan and the heads of election observation delegations, and who have demonstrated objective and independent position on the issues related to Azerbaijan, were suspected of allegations of corruption and punished without any proof and evidence and despite going against the Statute and the Rules of Procedure of the organization.
Merely, as a result of Sawicki’s activities, PACE has become a guarantor of interests of a certain group, but not the European common values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Actually, at present, PACE’s Presidential Committee and Bureau, as well as political groups are led by Sawicki and they are not in a position to make decisions independently, bypassing his will. In general, current situation in PACE can be characterized like “If I am here – the organization exists, if I am not – the organization does not”. This situation in the Assembly has begun to be formed by Sawicki since 2006, and currently, has reached its peak. Two years later, the election of Secretary General is due to be held, and Sawicki will have to leave this position. Therefore, he is absolutely not interested in the future of the Assembly and he continues his dirty deals based on the principle of “If I am here – the organization exists, if I am not – the organization does not”.
Today, as a consequence of Sawicki’s activity based on “divide and rule” principle, an environment of distrust and no confidence has been formed in the Assembly. As an example, it would be appropriate to note that immediately after the adoption of Assembly Resolution 2287 (2019), the delegations of seven member States left the organization as a sign of protest and sent an address to their national parliaments on suspension their activities in the Assembly.
As a result of Sawicki’s destructive activity, the individual members of the Assembly lost their confidence in the political groups. Thus, the Free Democrats Group of the Assembly was abolished on 1 July 2019, due to the fact that it couldn’t increase the number of its members to meet the new requirements of the Rules of Procedure, which were changed by Sawicki in April of this year. This confirms the abovementioned facts.
These processes prove that, on one hand, the member States have already lost their trust and confidence in PACE, on the other hand, the PACE actually turns itself into an unnecessary institution.
With my best regards,
Member of Milli Mejlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Former Member of Azerbaijani Delegation to PACE