With a view to the forthcoming general elections to be held
in November 2015, the Monitoring Committee has looked into the functioning
of the democratic institutions in Azerbaijan and assessed the state
of implementation of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary
Assembly in January 2013. It has focused, in particular, on questions
relating to the system of checks and balances, the independence
of the judiciary, as well as electoral matters. Alarmed by reports
about the intensification of the practice of the criminal prosecution of
NGO leaders, journalists, their lawyers and others who express critical
opinions, the committee decided to look specifically into the state
of implementation of paragraphs 18.2 and 18.4 of Resolution 1917 (2013).
While acknowledging the free, fair and transparent electoral
process overall around election day in October 2013, the committee
regrets the lack of implementation of some of the most important
recommendations of the Venice Commission with regard to the election
legal framework. Despite the efforts of the authorities, the committee
notes the lack of independence of the judiciary, and expresses concerns
over fairness of trials, equality of arms and respect for the presumption
of innocence. While supporting the country's efforts to promote
transparency and fight corruption, terrorism financing and money
laundering, the committee calls for an adequate balance between
the rights of association and freedom of expression, as guaranteed
by the European Convention on Human Rights, and the State's legitimate
fight against organised crime.
The committee expresses deep concerns over the crackdown on
human rights in Azerbaijan, where working conditions for NGOs and
human rights defenders have significantly deteriorated, and by the
increasing number of reprisals against independent media and advocates
of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. It calls on the authorities
to end this systemic harassment of those critical of the government.
The committee welcomes the resumption of the activities of a Joint
Working Group on Human Rights Issues following the agreement between the
Council of Europe Secretary General and the President of the Republic
of Azerbaijan in August 2014.
Taking these concerns and developments into account, the Assembly
should call for the full implementation of the judgments of the
European Court of Human Rights in conformity with the resolutions
of the Committee of Ministers. It should also make a number of recommendations
in the areas of the separation of powers, electoral processes, judiciary,
freedom of expression and freedom of association.