Azerbaijan: call for stronger parliamentary control over the executive, plus an independent judiciary

While welcoming the ongoing dialogue with the Azerbaijani authorities in the framework of the PACE’s monitoring procedure, the Monitoring Committee has expressed a number of concerns regarding, in particular, checks and balances, the functioning of the judiciary and freedom of expression and association.

In particular, the committee regrets the fact that the recent constitutional changes could make the executive less accountable to parliament and that judicial independence vis-à-vis the executive remains inadequate. At the same time, the parliamentarians welcomed the President of the Republic’s Executive Order on improvement of operation of the prison system and humanisation of criminal policies, and called on the authorities to quickly implement it.

Adopting a draft resolution based on a report by Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC) and Cezar Florin Preda (Romania, EPP/CD), the committee expressed concern about reports linking the Azerbaijani government to a large-scale money laundering scheme occurring in the years 2012 to 2014, used inter alia to influence the work of members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as regards the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. It urged the Azerbaijani authorities to start an independent and impartial inquiry into these allegations without delay and cooperate fully with competent international authorities and bodies on this issue.

The committee is also worried by the reported prosecution and ongoing detention of NGO leaders, human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, bloggers and lawyers, while welcoming the release in 2016 and 2017 of some so-called “political prisoners”/“prisoners of conscience”. It called on the authorities to release those prisoners whose detention gives rise to justified doubts. It is also concerned about allegations of a restrictive climate for the activities of the extra-parliamentary opposition and limitations imposed on freedom of assembly.

The committee therefore calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to promptly ensure full implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights; strengthen parliamentary control over the executive; pursue the reforms of the judiciary and the prosecution service so as to ensure full independence of the judiciary from the executive; enable journalists to work freely without any pressure being exerted on them; and create an environment conducive to the activities of NGOs, including those expressing critical opinions.