Doc. 8748

23 May 2000

Azerbaijan’s application for membership of the Council of Europe

Report

Political Affairs Committee

Rapporteur: Mr Jacques Baumel, France, European Democratic Group

Summary

Azerbaijan applied to join the Council of Europe on 13 July 1996. Since the beginning of the admission procedure, the country has made considerable progress towards the building of a democratic state in keeping with Council of Europe's principles and has substantially demonstrated its commitment to democracy and respect for human rights.

Azerbaijan is a party to a series of European conventions. Since 1996, it has been taking part in various activities of the Council of Europe at intergovernmental level as well as in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly. Its Parliament actively participates in the parliamentary co-operation of the South Caucasian countries, which takes place under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly.

Accordingly, the Political Affairs Committee proposes to the Assembly to recommend to the Committee of Ministers to invite Azerbaijan to become a member of the Council of Europe, on the understanding that the country will fulfil the commitments set out in the draft opinion within the stipulated time limits.

The committee believes that after four years of accession procedure, Azerbaijan would progress more rapidly along the path of democratic reform as a full member of the Council of Europe. Its membership would also help to establish a climate of confidence in the region, thus contributing to a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

I.       Draft opinion

1.       The Republic of Azerbaijan applied to join the Council of Europe on 13 July 1996. In Resolution (96) 32 of 11 September 1996 the Committee of Ministers invited the Assembly to give an opinion on this request in accordance with Statutory Resolution 51 (30A).

2.       The Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan obtained special guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 28 June 1996. This application was considered in the light of the adoption of Recommendation 1247 (1994) on the enlargement of the Council of Europe, in which the Assembly stated that “in view of their cultural links with Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would have the possibility of applying for membership provided they clearly indicate their will to be considered as part of Europe”.

3.       Assembly delegations observed the general election in November 1995 and the presidential election in October 1998. A delegation from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) observed the first municipal elections in December 1999 and in March 2000. Serious shortcomings in some elections were noted. Thus, the Assembly should observe the forthcoming parliamentary elections

4.       Since 1996 Azerbaijan has been taking part in various Council of Europe activities through the intergovernmental co-operation and assistance programmes, and in the work of the Assembly and its committees through its special guest delegation.

5.       Azerbaijan is already a party to the European Cultural Convention and to the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, as well as to the Open Partial Agreement on Prevention of, Protection against and Organisation of Relief in Major Natural and Technological Disasters. In March 2000, the country deposited the instruments of ratification to eight other European conventions, to which it will shortly become a party. Further requests by Azerbaijan to accede to Council of Europe conventions are currently under consideration.

6.       The Assembly considers that Azerbaijan is moving towards a democratic, pluralist society in which human rights and the rule of law are respected, and, in accordance with Article 4 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, is able and willing to continue the democratic reforms initiated in order to bring its entire legislation and practice into conformity with the principles and standards of the Council of Europe.

7.       In asking the Assembly for an opinion on the membership application, the Committee of Ministers reiterated that a closer relationship between the Caucasian countries and the Council of Europe would demand not only the implementation of substantial democratic reforms, but also their commitment to resolving conflicts by peaceful means.

8.       The Parliamentary Assembly considers that the accession of both Azerbaijan and Armenia could help to establish the climate of trust needed for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

9.       The Assembly considers that the OSCE Minsk Group is the optimum framework for negotiating a peaceful settlement to this conflict.

10.       The Assembly takes note of the letter from the President of Azerbaijan reiterating his country’s commitment to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and stressing that Azerbaijan’s accession to the Council of Europe would be a major contribution to the negotiations process and stability in the region.

11.       The frequency of the meetings between the Presidents of the two countries has been stepped up. The Speakers of the parliaments of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia have decided to institute regional parliamentary co-operation, consisting in particular of meetings of the Speakers of the parliaments and parliamentary seminars to be held in the capitals of the three countries and in Strasbourg. The first meeting in the region, which was held in Tbilissi in September 1999, made it possible to establish an atmosphere of trust and détente between the parliamentary delegations of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

12.       The Assembly calls on the Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities to continue their dialogue with a view to achieving a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and giving new impetus to regional co-operation.

13.       The Assembly takes note of the letters from the President of Azerbaijan, the Speaker of the parliament, the Prime Minister and the chairmen of the political parties represented in Parliament, in which they undertake to honour the following commitments:

i.       Conventions:

a.       to sign, at the time of accession, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as amended by Protocols Nos. 2 and 11 thereto, and Protocols Nos. 1, 4, 6 and 7;

b.       to ratify the ECHR and Protocols Nos. 1, 4, 6 and 7 thereto during the year following its accession;

c.       to sign and ratify, within one year of its accession, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its protocols;

d.       to sign and ratify, within one year of its accession, the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities;

e.       to sign and ratify, within one year of its accession, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages;

f.       to sign and ratify, within one year of its accession, the European Charter of Local Self-Government;

g.       to sign and ratify, within two years of its accession, the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation and its protocols and the Council of Europe conventions on extradition, on mutual assistance in criminal matters, on laundering, search, seizure and confiscation of the proceeds from crime, and on transfer of sentenced persons, and in the meantime to apply the fundamental principles contained therein;

h.       to sign the European Social Charter within two years of its accession and ratify it within three years of accession, and to strive forthwith to implement a policy consistent with the principles of the Charter;

i.       to sign and ratify, within two years of its accession, the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and the Civil Law Convention on Corruption;

j.       to sign the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities and the protocols thereto at the time of its accession, and to ratify these within one year of its accession;

ii.       The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

a.       to continue efforts to settle the conflict by peaceful means only;

b.       to settle international and domestic disputes by peaceful means and according to the principles of international law (an obligation incumbent on all Council of Europe member states), resolutely rejecting any threatened use of force against its neighbours;

iii.       Domestic law

a.       to revise legislation on elections, particularly the Law on the Central Electoral Commission and the Electoral Law, taking account of the recommendation put forward by the international observers during previous elections, so that the next general elections in autumn 2000 can confirm definitively the progress made and their results can be accepted by the majority of the political parties that will participate in the elections ;

b.       to amend, before the next local elections, the current legislation governing the powers of local authorities so as to give them greater responsibilities and independence, taking into account the recommendations made in this respect by the Congress for Local and Regional Authorities in Europe (CLRAE);

c.       to continue the reforms aimed at strengthening the independence of the legislature vis-à-vis the executive, so that the former can exercise the right to put parliamentary questions to members of the government ;

d.       to adopt, within one year of its accession, the Code of Criminal Procedure, taking account of the observations by the Council of Europe experts;

e.       to adopt, within one year of its accession, the law on the Ombudsman;

f.       to adopt, within one year of its accession, a law on combating corruption and, within two years of its accession, a state programme on combating corruption;

iv.       Human rights

a.       to sign an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) guaranteeing unrestricted and unreserved access by the latter to prisoners;

b.       to consider the cases of certain prisoners regarded as “political prisoners” by human rights protection organisations, and the possibility of releasing them;

c.       to prosecute members of the law-enforcement bodies who have infringed human rights (particularly the prohibition of torture) in the course of their duties;

d.       to guarantee freedom of expression and the independence of the media and journalists, and to exclude the use of administrative measures to restrict the freedom of the media;

e.       to turn the national television channel into a public channel managed by an independent administrative board;

f.       to adopt, within three years of its accession, a law on minorities which completes the provisions on non-discrimination contained in the Constitution and the penal code and replaces the presidential decree on national minorities;

v.       Monitoring of commitments

a.       to co-operate fully in the implementation of Assembly Resolution 1115 (1997) on the setting-up of a committee on the honouring of obligations and commitments by member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) and

b.       to co-operate fully in the monitoring process established pursuant to the Declaration adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 10 November 1994 (95th session).

14.       On the basis of these commitments, the Assembly is of the opinion that, in accordance with Article 4 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is able and willing to fulfil the provisions of Article 3 of the Statute, setting forth the conditions for membership of the Council of Europe: “Every Member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council (of Europe).”

15.       With a view to ensuring compliance with these commitments, the Assembly decides to monitor the situation in Azerbaijan closely, with immediate effect from the date of accession, pursuant to its Resolution 1115 (1997).

16.       On the understanding that the commitments set out above are firm and will be fulfilled within the stipulated time limits, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i.       invite Azerbaijan to become a member of the Council of Europe;

ii.       allocate six seats to Azerbaijan in the Parliamentary Assembly.

17.       Furthermore, in order to enable Azerbaijan to honour its commitments and obligations as a member state, the Assembly also recommends that the Committee of Ministers support the specific co-operation and assistance programmes required for implementation of the obligations and commitments entered into by this country.

II.       Explanatory memorandum by the Rapporteur

I. Introduction

1. The Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan applied for special guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 24 January 1992. In order to be in a position to decide on the application, the Assembly Bureau had to await the outcome of discussions on the Council of Europe’s geographical limits. This question was settled by Recommendation 1247 (1994) on the enlargement of the Council of Europe, in which the Assembly declared that “in view of their cultural links with Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would have the possibility of applying for membership provided they clearly indicate their will to be considered as part of Europe”.

2. The Assembly Bureau decided on 3 February 1995 to initiate the procedure for examining this application for special guest status. In this connection an ad hoc committee of the Bureau observed the parliamentary elections held in Azerbaijan on 12 November 1995.

3. The Parliament of Azerbaijan obtained special guest status on 28 June 1996. Some days later, on 13 July 1996, Azerbaijan applied for membership of the Council of Europe. In Resolution (96) 32 of 11 September 1996, the Committee of Ministers invited the Assembly to formulate an opinion on the subject.

4.       On 6 November 1996 the Assembly Bureau asked two eminent lawyers (Mr Rudolf Bernhardt, Vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights, and Mr Marek Nowicki, member of the European Commission of Human Rights) to examine the legal order of Azerbaijan for conformity with the Council of Europe’s fundamental principles on pluralist democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Accordingly, they visited Baku from 5 to 10 May 1997. The Bureau declassified the report on their visit (AS/Bur/Azerbaijan (1997) 1) on 7 November 1997 and its conclusions are appended to this report as Appendix 1.

5.       The Rapporteur visited Azerbaijan from 20 to 23 January 1998, accompanied by Mr Clerfayt, rapporteur for opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

6.       Subsequently the Rapporteur, along with the rapporteur on Armenia’s request for membership (Mr Volcic), considering that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh was crucial to the question of membership for both countries, decided to visit that region together. With the Assembly Bureau’s approval, and accompanied by Mr Clerfayt, they visited Baku, Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh from 14 to20 June 1998.

7.       The Rapporteur’s most recent visit (in the company of Mr Ruffy, Chair of the Political Affairs Committee, and Mr Clerfayt) took place from 6 to 9 December 1999. This document was finalised largely on the basis of the results of that visit, the programme of which is contained in Appendix 2.

8.       The Rapporteur wishes to thank the authorities of Azerbaijan, and particularly the National Assembly, for the excellent organisation of all the above visits and for their hospitality. He is also grateful to the Ambassadors of the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece and Italy for their help during the rapporteurs’ visits to Baku and, in particular, for arranging meetings there with members of the diplomatic corps of the Council of Europe member states concerned.

II.       The political situation

-       Compliance with democratic standards in the political system

9.       Currently, 34 political parties are registered, 8 of which have representatives in the National Assembly (parliament). The New Azerbaijan Party (NAP) is the largest (with 51 seats). It is the current ruling party, under the leadership of the President of the Republic, Mr Heydar Aliyev. The Rapporteur met representatives of this party and of the parliamentary opposition parties – the Azerbaijan Democratic Party (7 seats), the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (ANIP) (5 seats), the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) (4 seats) and the Moussavat party (1 seat). As part of the procedure for considering the membership application, he also met representatives of parties that have no seats in the National Assembly, including the Independent Party of Azerbaijan.

10.       In the opinion of all the political parties that took part in these meetings, the present Constitution provides a sound base for the country’s democratic development. The ruling party emphasises the progress made in building democracy and developing the economy – Azerbaijan has become a stable country with a pluralist political system, public order has been restored and democratic reforms are under way. Admittedly, however, progress remains to be made. Emphasis was laid on the importance of the Council of Europe’s assistance in consolidating democracy. Membership of the Council seems to have the support of all the country’s political forces. Opposition party representatives recommend rapid accession, as a means of accelerating democratic reform.

11.       With regard to the conditions under which political parties operate, the only serious problem raised was the cancellation of the Democratic Party’s registration in 1995, which was finally registered on 3 February 2000. The opposition is free to put its message across to the public. Thus, despite specific problems that may crop up from time to time, political pluralism is a reality in Azerbaijan.

12.       The main problem highlighted by the opposition was the preponderance of the executive over the legislative and judiciary. The eminent lawyers expressed concern about this matter and the Rapporteur has given it special attention.

13.       The National Assembly’s role has developed over recent months. It has become the focus for political exchange and an effective instrument for adopting the new legislation that the country needs in order to undertake democratic reforms. It must continue, however, to assert its independence from the executive. The Rapporteur therefore considers it very important that the parliament be able to exercise its right to question members of the government.

14.       The reform of the judiciary described under IV below has made it more independent. The Constitutional Court set up in 1998 has already delivered a significant number of decisions.

15.       At the same time, Azerbaijani society has yet to espouse fully the principle of the separation of powers, and its ability to do so depends largely on changing mentalities that took root under the totalitarian regime.

16.       Another serious problem for the democratic functioning of state institutions is corruption. Civil servants earn very low salaries, which makes the temptation even greater. The authorities assured us that the law is firmly applied in cases where corruption of civil servants and judges is proven.

-       General elections

17.       In its evaluation of the November 1995 legislative elections, the ad hoc committee of the Bureau concluded that “the elections were held peacefully, but with a certain number of irregularities and clear cases of fraud”. These deficiencies were apparent both in the preparations for the elections (when they took the form of violations of freedom of expression, and irregularities and discrimination in the registration of political parties and candidates) and during polling. The ad hoc committee nevertheless concluded that the elections represented an important, albeit partial, step towards democracy in Azerbaijan. A new constitution was adopted in a referendum held at the same time as the elections.

18.       The domestic political scene today is still coloured to some extent by the irregularities that occurred during the October 1998 presidential elections. The Parliamentary Assembly’s ad hoc committee observing these elections considered that, in comparison with the 1995 poll, they represented a step forward in the process of democratisation in Azerbaijan. Advances had clearly been made with regard to both the electoral procedure and the organisation of the campaign. The new law governing the election of the President of the Republic is a considerable improvement on the previous legislation.

19.       Nonetheless, the observers noted serious shortcomings in the overall conduct of the elections and considered that many more improvements were needed before there could be a truly democratic climate in Azerbaijan. Particular criticism was levelled at the law on the central electoral commission, the media coverage of the campaign, and irregularities at the polls.

20.       Most of the opposition parties claimed the elections did not measure up to democratic standards and demanded the official publication of the results - which has not yet taken place. Certain opposition parties also refused to recognise the outcome of the elections.

21.       The next general election will take place in autumn 2000. It is vital that the authorities learn the lessons of the previous polls, so that events this time unequivocally consolidate the advances made, and all the political parties unreservedly accept the election outcome. In the rapporteur’s view, the Parliamentary Assembly should send a large delegation to monitor the forthcoming election.

-       Local elections

22.       The local elections due to be held, according to the constitution, by 12 November 1997 finally took place on 12 December 1999 after the passing of legislation on the status of municipal councils and on elections to them. A delegation of observers from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) hailed these elections as a first step towards local democracy but noted a number of serious irregularities.

23.       Certain opposition parties decided to boycott the elections. Most of their candidates stood but protested by describing themselves on the ballot papers as “independent” (without signalling the fact that they represented parties boycotting the elections). Afterwards nine opposition parties published a joint statement calling for fresh elections and the prosecution of members of electoral commissions, who had committed fraud. At the same time, these parties stated in a letter to the Parliamentary Assembly that they believed Council of Europe membership would be a positive stimulus to reforms in this field.

24.       Under these circumstances, the authorities decided to cancel the election results in 74 municipalities and in the Narimanov district of Baku. New elections were held there on 26 March 2000. A CLRAE delegation, which observed them, noted this time a remarkable improvement in the voting and vote counting procedures, compared with last December (see CLRAE statement in appendix 3).

25.       These were the very first local elections since Azerbaijan gained independence, thus clearly indicating the country’s commitment to continuing with democratic reforms at local level. The CLRAE emphasised that these elections were simply the first step towards the establishment of a fully developed system of local self-government.

26.       Legislation fixing the status of the municipalities has been passed, although their powers still seem limited and they do not appear to represent a real counterweight to central government. While this situation is not unique among new member states, there is a case for giving Azerbaijan more help to consolidate local democracy.

III.       The Nagorno-Karabakh question

27.       The solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, because of its internal and international repercussions, is vital to Azerbaijan. In the above-mentioned Resolution (96) 32, the Committee of Ministers reiterated that significantly closer links between the Council of Europe on the one hand and Azerbaijan and the other Transcaucasian countries on the other “would demand not only the implementation of substantial democratic reforms, but also their commitment to resolve conflicts by peaceful means".

28.       The Assembly has addressed this issue on several occasions, its most recent text on the subject being Resolution 1119 (1997) on the conflicts in Transcaucasia, adopted following debate on a report presented by Mr Seitlinger (Doc. 7793). This resolution states that a political settlement must be based on the inviolability of borders, guaranteed security for all peoples in the area concerned, particularly through multi-national peacekeeping forces, and extensive autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh.

29.       The conflict has also been discussed by the United Nations Security Council, which in 1993 adopted Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 on the subject. Having asserted the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the other states in the region, these resolutions called, in particular, for the withdrawal of occupying forces from the “recently” occupied territory of Azerbaijan and urged Armenia to use its influence to ensure that the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh respected the resolutions.

30.       At the OSCE summit in Lisbon in December 1996, the participants - with the exception of Armenia - approved the following principles proposed by the OSCE Chair-in-Office Mr Flavio Cotti, the Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, as a basis for settling the conflict:

-       territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijani Republic;

-       legal status of Nagorno­Karabakh defined in an agreement based on self­determination, which confers on Nagorno­Karabakh the highest degree of self­rule within Azerbaijan;

-       guaranteed security for Nagorno­Karabakh and its whole population, including mutual obligations to ensure compliance by all the Parties with the provisions of the settlement.

31.       In September 1997 a plan to settle the conflict by stages was presented by the co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group, under whose auspices the talks on Nagorno-Karabakh are taking place. In addition to the co-chairs (France, Russia and the United States), the Minsk Group comprises Belarus, the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Turkey.

32.       The plan, which received the support of the Chair-in-Office of the OSCE at its last summit in Copenhagen in December 1997, envisages a two-phase solution. In the first phase Nagorno-Karabakh would withdraw its forces from the six regions of Azerbaijan that they hold (Agdam, Fizuli, Jabrail, Kelbajar, Qubatli and Zangelan) and displaced persons would be repatriated. In the second phase Azerbaijan would regain control of the regions of Lachin and Shusha, a corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia would be opened and the status of Nagorno-Karabakh would be determined. International peacekeeping forces would supervise the process. The Azerbaijani representatives, including President Aliyev, have emphatically confirmed their acceptance of the plan.

33.       After the optimism that followed the approval of this plan by the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia at the Council of Europe’s 2nd Summit in October 1997, the situation is once again in deadlock since the plan was rejected by the representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh, supported by the Prime Minister of Armenia and some members of the government there. The Nagorno-Karabakh question has played an important, if not decisive, role in the recent developments in Armenia that led to the resignation of the President and other leading figures there.

34.       The latest plan for settling the conflict, drawn up by the Minsk Group, is based on the concept of a “common state” of Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has rejected the plan on the grounds that it violates the principle of its territorial integrity, and has called on the co-chairs of the Minsk Group to redouble their efforts to find a settlement, and put forward new proposals as soon as possible.

35.       Since then the Presidents of the two countries have held more frequent meetings. They met six times in 1999 – once on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Two further meetings took place early this year.

36.       The declaration adopted at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in November 1999 applauded these contacts for creating opportunities to achieve a lasting and comprehensive solution to the problem, and encouraged continuing dialogue. It also confirmed that the OSCE and the Minsk Group remained the most appropriate format for finding a solution – a view fully shared by the Rapporteur.

-       Refugees and displaced persons

37.       It is difficult to verify the exact numbers of refugees and displaced persons. It is known, however, that the entire Azeri population of Nagorno-Karabakh (some 40,000 people) and of the occupied regions (almost 788,000 people according to Azerbaijani sources) has been forced to flee.

38.       The humanitarian plight of these refugees and displaced persons remains the most tragic consequence of the conflict. The Rapporteur would point out that, according to the June 1997 report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography on refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia (Doc. 7837), 150,000 of the 700,000 displaced persons are living in former administrative buildings; more than 200,000 are in other premises (eg nursing homes and hotels) adapted temporarily for the purpose; 150,000 are housed with relatives or friends and 100,000 are in refugee camps. These figures, supplied by the Azerbaijani authorities, are accepted in principle by humanitarian organisations including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

-       The official Azerbaijani position in outline

39.       Azerbaijan regards the conflict as a bilateral dispute with Armenia and refuses to negotiate with the representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh. It insists that Armenia recognise the principles accepted at the OSCE Summit in Lisbon and demands compliance with the above-mentioned UN Security Council resolutions.

40.       In order to settle the conflict, the Azerbaijani authorities are offering Nagorno-Karabakh the “greatest possible degree of autonomy”. President Aliyev, in response to a direct question from the Rapporteur, said he was prepared to accept any existing model for autonomy proposed by the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.

41.       With regard to the precise definition of the “greatest possible degree of autonomy” that Azerbaijan would be prepared to grant Nagorno-Karabakh, this could include giving the region its own legislature and executive to function in accordance with Azerbaijani law.

42.       President Aliyev has also repeatedly emphasised the importance his country attaches to resolving the conflict by peaceful means, excluding any use of force. Recently he stated publicly that a settlement would require compromise and that Azerbaijan was ready to make its share of concessions. He also told the Rapporteur that he was willing to contact the President of Armenia to agree a joint written declaration in favour of a peaceful settlement.

43.       On 11 February 2000 President Aliyev sent a letter to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly (see Appendix 4) reiterating his commitment to a peaceful settlement of the conflict and stressing that his country’s accession to the Council of Europe would greatly help the negotiation process and stability in the region, as well as intensification of regional co-operation.

44.       A further point to be noted is the Azerbaijani parliament’s constructive attitude towards the inter-parliamentary co-operation among the South Caucasus countries instigated by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly (see VI below). Although not directly concerned with the conflict, this co-operation could contribute to the confidence building needed to resolve it;

IV.       The rule of law

-       Setting up the legal system

45.       In 1997 the eminent lawyers noted considerable progress in the setting-up of a democratic legal system. However, they also “identified a number of areas in which the internal legislation practice did not meet Council of Europe standards”, and found that texts of law “frequently contain cross-references to other unidentified or future legislation”.

46.       Following their recommendations, a number of very important laws were passed, in many cases with the co-operation of Council of Europe experts. Among these texts were the laws on the Constitutional Court, courts and judges, the public prosecutor’s office, criminal code, civil code, civil procedure code, as well as the laws on the police, the media and the legal profession. A draft code of criminal procedure is currently at its third reading in the National Assembly and should be adopted very soon.

47.       The authorities stressed the importance of the Council of Europe legal experts’ contribution to the drafting of these texts. The experts scrutinised and commented on some of the above-mentioned legislation and on bills concerning municipal elections, the status of municipalities, and nationality.

48.       The Rapporteur considers that the Azerbaijani parliament has made remarkable strides with legislation thanks to several years of committed work. He therefore takes the view that the statutory foundations for the rule of law are in place in Azerbaijan.

-       Application of the law

The courts

49.       In 1998 the Constitutional Court was established, its nine judges having been appointed by the National Assembly on the recommendation of the President of Azerbaijan. The court is now fully operational and has delivered 27 decisions.

50.       The new law on the courts and judges forms the basis for a democratic judicial system. However, its application was delayed pending adoption of the relevant regulations. Most of these are now in place and have resulted in the establishment of the Judicial Service Commission (responsible for selecting judges), the Supreme Court Disciplinary Board and the Disciplinary Committee of the Supreme Court Plenary Assembly. The status of these bodies has now also been fixed by regulation, allowing them to take over some functions previously the preserve of the Justice Ministry – a situation that had been criticised by the eminent lawyers.

51.       Thanks to these reforms, the procedures for selecting new judges should begin this year, with a view to gradually renewing the judiciary.

52.       With the exception of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Economic Court, the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court of Nakchivan Autonomous Republic, judges are appointed by the President for a period of 5 years. The authorities consider that the attitudes and conditions currently prevalent in the country (including the reported lack of properly trained judges) do not permit lifetime appointments. The Rapporteur shares the eminent lawyers’ concern about the appointment procedure and recommends that it be amended as soon as circumstances permit.

53.       To improve the material working conditions of judges and make them less susceptible to corruption, which is a grave threat to independent justice, the authorities are gradually increasing their salaries.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office

54.       The respective powers of the courts, the public prosecutor’s office and the police are closely related questions. Thus the passing of the laws on the public prosecutor’s office and the police represents very considerable progress.

55.       The new law on the public prosecutor’s office substantially curbs the powers that prosecutors enjoyed under the previous legislation dating from the Soviet period. In particular, it does away with the “general surveillance” (nadzor) function of the prosecutor’s office, under which prosecutors could challenge court decisions in any field if they considered that the state’s interests had not been sufficiently protected.

56.       Under the new law, warrants for arrest must be issued by the courts, and persons arrested must be brought before the courts within 48 hours.

57.       The eminent lawyers had favoured the adoption of such a law in the conviction that it would enhance constitutionality in general and the judicial process in particular. In the Rapporteur’s view, it succeeds on both counts.

The Bar

58.       The bill on the legal profession, drafted with the help of Council of Europe experts, was adopted by the National Assembly.

59.       Meanwhile the profession is still regulated by the law of 1979. However, the 1995 Constitution introduced basic democratic principles into the professional activities of lawyers. Henceforth, lawyers are allowed to attend questionings, the confidentiality of their conversations with their clients in prison is guaranteed, they have access to case files, etc. Clients unable to afford a lawyer are given legal assistance on request. The new law incorporates and develops these principles.

60.       Cases of refusal by the authorities to grant lawyers access to case files, or even to their clients, have been reported. Sometimes the confidentiality of correspondence between prisoners and their lawyers is violated. It would appear, however, that such abuses are the result of individual actions by unscrupulous police officers and that if a complaint against such behaviour is made to the public prosecutor, action is taken to remedy the situation.

V.       Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms

-       Capital punishment

61.       At the beginning of February 1998, the Azerbaijani National Assembly decided, at the instigation of President Aliyev, to abolish the death penalty and commute the death sentences of 128 detainees awaiting execution to prison sentences. The application of the death penalty had been suspended since June 1993.

62.       The Rapporteur welcomes this decision, which is an essential step towards full membership of the Council of Europe. Azerbaijan is the third country of the former Soviet Union to take such a decision, after Moldova and Georgia.

-       Political prisoners

63.       Certain human rights organisations (particularly Human Rights Watch and the local Human Rights Centre) claim that there are about a hundred political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The matter was raised at the meeting with the competent authorities, who denied these claims, stating that the prisoners concerned were ordinary criminals trying to claim that they were sentenced for political reasons.

64.       The Council of Europe must give its full attention to these problems. It should be remembered, however, that they are also to be found in certain member states of the Council that have experienced attempted coups d’état by armed groups or violent civil disorder.

65.       In the Rapporteur’s opinion there may be grounds for reviewing some of the cases concerned in close co-operation with the relevant non-governmental organisations. The Parliamentary Assembly should monitor such a process.

-       Conditions of detention

66.       The Rapporteur was aware, thanks to the eminent lawyers’ report, of the situation of certain categories of detainees, particularly those in preventive detention and those under sentence of death.

67.       Having met the Ministers responsible, the Rapporteur considers that the authorities are working steadily to improve conditions of detention, within the limits of the material means available.

68.       As part of this effort the Azerbaijani authorities have also established close co-operation with prison services in Italy and the United Kingdom (England and Wales) under the auspices of the Council of Europe’s prison twinning programme.

69.       Certain human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported cases of torture and ill-treatment in prisons and, in particular, in temporary detention centres.

70.       Although this question was examined in detail by the rapporteur for the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, who also visited certain prisons, the Rapporteur raised it with the authorities on several occasions. He was told that the following measures had been taken:

-       at institutional level, the Ministry of Justice had been made responsible for all prisons, including temporary detention centres, in order to ensure that they were supervised independently and did not come under the authority of any police or other Interior Ministry body;

-       in terms of enforcement, 68 police officers, including some at senior levels, had been arrested for abuses of authority.

71.       The Rapporteur further recommends, in this regard, that the Azerbaijani authorities sign an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as soon as possible, giving the Red Cross full and unrestricted access to detainees. The Rapporteur notes that this agreement is currently under negotiation.

72.       It should also be noted that on 10 December 1999 the National Assembly approved a wide-ranging amnesty, the latest in a series of four such measures, proposed by President Aliyev. Around 17,000 people were released.

Freedom of expression

73.       The Rapporteur met representatives of a dozen newspapers and several press agencies, both independent and government-run. All confirmed that considerable progress had been made in freedom of the press. Independent media exist and function. At present 358 newspapers, 103 magazines, around thirty press agencies and several dozen television companies are registered. Television broadcasts are made by a national State channel and three private channels. However, only the State channel has nation-wide coverage.

74.       In the past, the main grievance in respect of freedom of expression has concerned censorship prior to publication. Each article had to be seen and approved, prior to publication, by the Department for the Protection of State Secrets. This did not mean that critical articles were automatically censored, but it did give the authorities an opportunity to do away with articles they considered particularly damaging (articles about corruption, etc).

75.       The Rapporteur welcomes the fact that censure was officially abolished in August 1998, and views this step as proof of the authorities’ firm commitment to freedom of the press. Some human rights organisations assert that journalists are subjected to harassment: however, this claim was not confirmed during the visits to Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, independent courts should be the ultimate guarantee of press freedom.

76.       With regard to electronic media, the opposition criticises the virtual monopoly held by the party in power over the national television channel. For example, the law on presidential elections guarantees a certain amount of air time to candidates (6 hours each), but this is far from sufficient. Consequently, the Rapporteur recommends that this channel be changed into a public one, managed by an independent Board of Directors.

77.       The Rapporteur was also informed about the closure of "SARA", an independent television station, which, according to the authorities, was failing to fulfil the operating conditions applicable to private channels, particularly on account of foreign holdings in its capital.

78.       Clearly, this issue is related to the general question of the registration of media outlets. Here, the main problem does not appear to be that of the applicable legislation. The principle of registration of the media is not in contradiction with Council of Europe standards. However, it is the abuse of these measures that is contrary to democratic principles. It is for the independent courts to sanction any abuses of freedom of expression.

79.       However, certain weaknesses of the press and the media in general are due to the lack of material resources.

Freedom of association

80.       The legislation on association does not seem to be in contradiction with democratic standards. Vigilance is nevertheless required with regard to its application.

81.       The problems indicated with regard to the registration of non-governmental organisations and political parties have been raised with the authorities. 1,300 NGOs are currently registered, 30 of which are working in the field of human rights. The authorities claim that those NGOs which have not been registered have either failed to submit the legally-required documents, or that the documents submitted were incomplete.

82.       With regard to political parties, the Rapporteur has already stated in a previous report that he believes a multi-party system exists in Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Justice re-examined the Democratic Party’s registration, cancelled in 1995, and registered this Party on 3 February 2000.

83.       At a meeting with trade union representatives (grouped together in the Trade Union Confederation of Azerbaijan) no major problem was raised concerning the respect for democratic standards. A series of labour laws has been adopted (on the settlement of labour disputes, collective bargaining). The right to strike is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Freedom of religion

84.       At the meeting with representatives of the different faiths, the latter all confirmed that freedom of worship was respected in Azerbaijan. The Churches practised their activities freely, building churches, celebrating religious holidays, religious instruction, visiting prisons, etc. The Armenian Church has not been banned, but because of the mass exodus of the Armenian population, it is not active. Islamic extremism was condemned by the representatives present as a confrontational movement bent on setting up a society based wholly on Islamic fundamentalism.

Minority rights

85.       The Rapporteurs met representatives of the different minorities – Avars, Jews, Kurds, Lezghins, Russians, Talish and Tatars. It should be noted that from the Armenian minority (300,000-350,000 in 1999), following the mass exodus of Armenians to Armenia from 1988 to 1993, caused by a wave of anti-Armenian feelings in Azerbaijan stirred up by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, only around 30,000 have remained.

86.       Minority rights seem to be respected – no case of discrimination was reported, minorities are able to carry on their cultural habits, etc. From the legal standpoint, we could follow the lead of the eminent lawyers and urge that legislation on minorities be adopted in addition to the provisions on non-discrimination contained in the Constitution and the Criminal Code and in place of the Presidential Decree on national minorities.

Refugees and displaced persons

87.       The scale of the difficult humanitarian situation faced by refugees and displaced persons has already been described in the section on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

88.       With regard to the refugees who have arrived from Armenia (around 300,000), it is generally accepted that they will not return and will integrate and become fully-fledged citizens. A law on nationality was adopted in October 1998 in order to make it possible for them to be naturalised: in particular, this law provides that refugees who arrived in Azerbaijan between January 1988 and January 1992 enjoy all the rights of Azerbaijani citizens.

89.        With regard to displaced persons in the occupied areas of Azerbaijan, the idea is to send them home; their integration elsewhere is not desired. Even though sending them home is a perfectly legitimate objective and is what most of the people concerned want, they must be free to choose their place of residence in their own country, in keeping with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights and with other international covenants.

90.       Finally, the Rapporteur wishes to draw attention to the situation of some 50,000 Meshketian Turks who came to Azerbaijan from central Asia (mainly Uzbekistan) and want to return to Georgia, their country of origin, from where they were deported by Stalin. As Georgia claims to be materially unable to take charge of these people at present, they remain in the care of Azerbaijan, a country of transit.

VI.       Regional parliamentary co-operation

91.       The Speakers of the Parliaments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, meeting in Strasbourg on 15 March 1999 at the invitation of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, decided to institute regional inter-parliamentary co-operation, consisting in particular of meetings between the Parliamentary Speakers and parliamentary seminars, to take place successively in the three capitals of their countries.

92.       The first of this series of seminars was held in Tbilisi at the invitation of the Georgian Parliament. Delegations from the three countries, chaired by the Parliamentary Speakers, participated alongside members of the ad hoc Committee set up by the Bureau for this purpose.

93.       The discussions at the Seminar were frank and constructive, and the general atmosphere was very positive. It should be noted that this was the first parliamentary meeting in the region, and therefore also represented an important indicator of the confidence and détente in relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

94.       A joint Declaration was signed by the Speakers at the close of the Seminar, in which they committed themselves to maintaining co-operation between their Parliaments (cf. Appendix 5).

95.       It was also decided to set up working groups on prisoners of war and on the implementation of human rights legislation. The first meetings of these working groups have already been held.

96.       It should be pointed out that, as a result of the conclusions of the meeting of the working group on prisoners of war, held in Paris on 17 December 1999, the Parliament of Azerbaijan has already adopted a declaration on this matter, the first of the three parliaments concerned to do so (cf. Appendix 6).

97.       The Rapporteur considers that although these initiatives are not directly linked to the procedure for membership, they demonstrate the willingness of the parliaments of Azerbaijan and the other countries concerned to discuss their problems in a democratic manner and to attempt to find common solutions in accordance with the Council of Europe’s standards and traditions.

VII.       Co-operation between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe at intergovernmental level

98.       Since 1996, Azerbaijan has participated in various Council of Europe activities in the context of intergovernmental co-operation and assistance programmes. It participates, as an observer, in the work of the Committees on Public International Law, Legal Co-operation, Human Rights and Crime Problems. It has also been invited to take part in meetings of the Council on Cultural Co-operation and at conferences on educational issues.

99.       Azerbaijan also participates in the activities of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) and has observer status with the Multidisciplinary Group on Corruption. A number of seminars, organised jointly with the Council of Europe, have been held in the country.

100.       To date, Azerbaijan is a party to the European Cultural Convention and to the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, as well as to the Open Partial Agreement on Prevention of, Protection against and Organisation of Relief in Major Natural and Technological Disasters.

101.       In March 2000, Azerbaijan deposited the instruments of ratification to eight other European conventions (the European Convention on the Legal Status of Children born out of Wedlock, the European Agreement on the Transmission of Applications for Legal Aid, the European Convention on the Obtaining Abroad of Information and Evidence in Administrative Matters, the European Convention on the Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms by Individuals, the European Convention on the Compensation of Victims of Violent Crimes, the European Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage, the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production and the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats) and signed, not subject to ratification, the European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehaviour at Sports Events and in particular at Football Matches.

102.       Further, requests by Azerbaijan to be invited to accede to other Council of Europe conventions are currently being examined by the Committee of Ministers.

103.       In this context, your rapporteur would also like to point out that the President of Azerbaijan issued, on 18 March 2000, a decree on “the diffusion of information concerning the activities of the Council of Europe and the co-operation between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe”. This decree instructs the competent bodies to promote large information on the Council of Europe activities, to establish information points on the Council of Europe in national libraries as well as at schools and universities and, in particular, to set up an Information Centre on the Council of Europe documents with the State University in Baku.

VIII.       The regional context

104.       Azerbaijan is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Because of its history, its geographical location and its large oil deposits, the country arouses keen interest among its powerful neighbours, such as Iran, Russia and Turkey, and also in other states outside the region. Questions which could give rise to tensions include the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in Azerbaijan, the existence of some 25 million ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran, the status of the Caspian sea (lake or inland sea) and its consequences for the legal conditions of oil exploitation, the choice of firms to exploit the oil deposits, the location of pipelines, Russian support to Armenia (including military support), etc. The impact of these factors on the country’s internal development must be taken into account.

105.       In this context, the Rapporteur considers that the conclusion of a Stability Pact between the three countries in the region, with the participation of, inter alia, Russia, the United States, Iran and Turkey, would be an important factor for stability. The Parliamentary Assembly could initiate a parliamentary dialogue on this question as part of the above-mentioned process of parliamentary co-operation.

IX.       Conclusions

106.       Since the first free elections were held in 1995, Azerbaijan has made considerable progress towards the building of a democratic state in keeping with Council of Europe principles, and has substantially demonstrated its commitment to democracy. The reforms which have been initiated, and which the Rapporteur considers irreversible, constitute a solid basis for a pluralist State that is governed by the rule of law and shows due regard for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

107.       Since the application for membership began to be considered in the autumn of 1996, the Rapporteur has had the opportunity to observe enormous changes in the country which have corresponded to the Council of Europe’s requirements in many respects. To give a few examples: the death penalty has been abolished, censorship removed, the independence of the judiciary strengthened, multi-party elections have been held, etc.

108.       Of course, the situation is far from perfect, and the reforms undertaken must be seen through to completion. However, the Rapporteur considers that after roughly four years of accession procedures, the country would progress more rapidly along the path of reform if it were a full member of our Organisation.

109.       It is particularly appropriate to emphasise the need to improve respect for the principle of the separation of powers and to strengthen the independence of the courts, as the best guarantors against arbitrary decisions or actions by the executive. Some of the problems observed, however, have their origins in the country’s long totalitarian past and will not disappear completely until mentalities change.

110.       The Nagorno-Karabakh question remains a key issue for accession. In the Rapporteur’s opinion, membership would help to establish a climate of confidence between the respective Azerbaijani and Armenian leadership, an essential basis for any peaceful solution to the conflict between the two countries. In this respect, President Aliyev’s declaration, stating that he would never allow the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh to be settled by force, is of the highest importance.

111.       The Rapporteur thinks that he is now able to propose to the Political Affairs Committee, and subsequently to the Parliamentary Assembly, to recommend the Committee of Ministers to invite Azerbaijan to become a member of the Council of Europe. However, he expects this country to fulfil, within the specified period, a series of commitments based on this report, the list of which appears in the draft opinion. In this connection, he welcomed the constructive attitude of the Azerbaijan authorities, who had accepted all these commitments after prior consultation with the Rapporteur. Letters to this effect had been sent to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly by the President of Azerbaijan, the Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister (see appendix 7) and the Chairmen of the political parties represented in Parliament (see appendix 8).

112.       Your Rapporteur is convinced that membership of the Council of Europe will provide Azerbaijan with a solid foothold in Europe and would strengthen the country’s democratic forces.

APPENDIX 1

Conclusions of the report by the eminent lawyers on the conformity of the legal order of Azerbaijan with Council of Europe standards (declassified by the Bureau of the Assembly on 7 November 1997).

...

243.       As we stated in our introduction, our task consisted of forming an opinion on the conformity of the legal order of Azerbaijan with Council of Europe standards of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. Our guidelines, in this respect, were the Statute of the Council of Europe and the European Convention of Human Rights. Whether a state meets the requirements of democracy and respect for human rights is intimately linked to the question of its respect for the rule of law. Therefore, this principle calls for, in the first place, transparent and clear legislation in conformity with the spirit of the above texts. Then comes the question whether the law is applied in practice in the spirit of the legislation. In our report we have tried to identify eventual shortcomings in both respects. 182

244.       As is apparent from our analysis, we have identified a number of areas in which the internal legislation or practice does not meet Council of Europe standards. On the other hand, we observed considerable progress and signals pointing towards democratic development. In this respect, the country’s relatively recent independence and its heritage of a long legal and political Soviet tradition as well as the effect on the society as a whole of the continuing conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh must be taken into account. As we stated in our general observations and in line with the position adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,183 we are firmly convinced that the solution of this conflict is of vital importance for further progress.

245.       The keen interest we observed amongst all levels of society to be integrated into Europe is not only based on economic considerations, but on a genuine desire to improve the functioning of society as a whole. Much hope is placed in the assistance which the Council of Europe can provide as a platform for exchange of information and expert knowledge.

246.       We have noted that the separation of powers is not respected throughout the legislation and in practice and that there is a certain lack of balance between the powers of the executive, on the one hand, and the legislative and judicial power on the other hand.

247.       Finally, most of the relevant pieces of legislation which we have examined present one major default: the text frequently contains cross-references to other either undefined or future legislation, which makes the meaning of the law imprecise or delays its practical effect. We are of the opinion that this is not simply a problem of legislative technique or drafting. It raises a fundamental issue concerning respect for the rule of law.

248.       What is required above all is a change of mentality of those in power who do not tolerate any form of opposition. The courts have a key role to play in ensuring that any improper conduct in this respect is sanctioned. They must, however, be willing to do so and be given space to function independently so that they can assume the role which the people can legitimately expect from them in a truly democratic society.

249.       The following are some specific points referred to in the report calling for concrete and immediate action. This list is not meant to be exhaustive and should be read in the light of our conclusions. Their order does not reflect a particular priority but follows the structure of the report.

       on refugees

       on local self-government

       on the courts

–       on Prokuratura

       on liberty and security of person

       on the right to life

       on freedom of expression

APPENDIX 2

Programme of the visit of

Mr Ruffy, Chairman of the Political Affairs Committee,

and Mr Baumel, rapporteur, to Azerbaijan

(6-9 December 1999)

Monday 6 December 1999

21.00       Arrival in Baku

Tuesday 7 December 1999

9.30       Visit to the Martyrs cemetery

10.00       Meeting with the representatives of political parties represented in the Parliament

11.30 Meeting with Mr Murtuz Aleskerov, Speaker of Parliament

15.00       Meeting with Mrs Suduba Hasanova, Minister of Justice

16.15       Meeting with Mr Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs

17.30       Meeting with Mr Eldar Hasanov, Prosecutor General

Wednesday 8 December 1999

10.30       Meeting with Mr Etibar Mammadov, candidate for the 1998 presidential elections

11.30       Meeting with Mr Nizami Suleymanov, candidate for the 1998 presidential elections

12.45       Working lunch with Ambassadors of Council of Europe member states, hosted by the Ambassador of Italy

14.30       Meeting with Mr Khanlar Hajiyev, Chairman of the Constitutional Court

16.00       Meeting with Mr Vilayat Guliyev, Minister of Foreign Affairs

17.30       Meeting with H.E. Mr Heydar Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan

Thursday 9 December 1999

4.35       Departure

APPENDIX 3

Congrès des Pouvoirs Locaux et Régionaux de l'Europe

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe

Statement of the Delegation of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE) to the Press

On 26 March 2000, a CLRAE delegation observed the partial local elections in the Narimanov district of Baku and 74 other municipalities of the Republic of Azerbaijan. These elections were organised by the Central Election Commission following the cancellation of the results of the local elections (held on 12 December 1999) in the district and municipalities concerned.

The CLRAE delegation, which comprised six members, observed the voting and counting process in about 50 polling stations in Baku, the Western and Southern areas of the country. The delegation welcomes that the quorum has been reached in all the 74 municipalities concerned, except the Narimanov district.

The CLRAE delegation notes a remarkable improvement in the voting and counting procedures compared with the local elections of 12 December last, and commends the responsible authorities.

Nevertheless, some irregularities have been observed, relating to technical and other more specific aspects. Referring to the latter, the delegation noted some problems (concerning in particular the Narimanov district) relating to the issue of signatures on the voters lists. More particularly, in some polling stations signatures seemed to have been added to the voters lists by non authorised people.

The delegation is convinced that the holding of local elections represents an important step towards the establishment of a democratic system in the Republic of Azerbaijan. At the same time, the delegation wishes to underline that local elections constitute just a prerequisite of the setting up of a full-fledged system of local self-government.

The CLARE is ready to follow the process of the establishment of this system so that local authorities can be granted appropriate responsibilities and adequate financial resources.

A report on this issue will be finalised by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe in due course.

Baku, 27 March 2000

Members of the CLRAE delegation:

Mr Jean-Claude FRECON, Head of the delegation (France, L)

Mr Joseph BORG (Malta, R)

Mr Guy MILCAMPS, Co-rapporteur on local democracy in Azerbaijan (Belgium, L)

Mr Fabio PELLEGRINI (Italy, L)

Mr Rusen KELES, expert (University of Ankara, Turkey)

Mr Ivan VOLODIN, CLRAE Secretariat

APPENDIX 4

Unofficial translation

Baku, February 2000

Excellencies,

Considering itself a part of Europe, the Republic of Azerbaijan attaches great importance to joining the Council of Europe. We are doing our utmost to deepen constructive and goal-oriented co-operation with this very important and authoritative European organisation.

During the three-and-a-half years that have elapsed since the Republic of Azerbaijan applied for membership to the Council of Europe, serious headway has been made in the fields of establishing the rule of law, respect for human rights and building a democratic society.

However, despite all the efforts on the part of Azerbaijan and international bodies, it has been impossible to put an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that continues to threaten our independent statehood, impedes the establishment of peace and stability in the region and jeopardises our democratic development.

We highly appraise the role and activities of such authoritative organisations as the United Nations and the OSCE. We would like to once again emphasise that the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council as well as the principles and decisions of the OSCE Summits have defined major directions for peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Important role in strengthening the legal basis of the settlement of the conflict belongs to the resolution adopted on 22 April 1997 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Since last year we, the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, have redoubled our efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully and embarked upon direct negotiations. We have met already eight times and have agreed in general on a number of fundamental issues with regard to the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

H.E. Lord Russell-Johnston

President

Parliamentary Assembly

of the Council of Europe

H.E. Mr Walter Schwimmer

Secretary General

of the Council of Europe

Strasbourg

Our last meeting with the President of Armenia, Mr R. Kocharian, took place on 28 January in Davos, and we agreed to continue this kind of meeting in order to achieve peace that would satisfy both sides involved in the conflict.

Since 1994 I spared no effort in trying to promote the peaceful negotiated settlement and I will continue my efforts in this direction. I would like to once again assure you that the Azerbaijani side will unfailingly remain committed to the ceasefire arrangement up until the achievement of the peace agreement.

In the meantime, Excellencies, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that my position of principle with regard to the peaceful settlement of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh remains unchanged.

I would like to assure you that Azerbaijan’s accession to the Council of Europe will positively contribute to the negotiation process and to the establishment of stability in the region and it will promote political and economic progress in the South Caucasus as well as intensification of regional co-operation.

Please accept, Excellencies, the assurance of my deepest esteem and consideration.

APPENDIX 5

JOINT DECLARATION BY THE SPEAKERS OF PARLIAMENTS OF

ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN AND GEORGIA

Strasbourg, 15 March 1999

We, Mr Khosrov Haroutounian, Speaker of the Parliament of Armenia, Mr Murtuz Aleskerov, Speaker of the Parliament of Azerbaijan and Mr Zurab Zhvania, Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, meeting in Strasbourg on 15 March 1999 at the invitation of Lord Russell-Johnston, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, acknowledging the intention of our nations to live in the atmosphere of peace and good neighbourly relations, solemnly declare the following:

Democratic changes bringing an end to the totalitarian era in the three South Caucasian states have offered an historic opportunity to develop new relations in the region. Such relations should be built on dialogue and co-operation and the commonly shared principles of the United Nations Charter as well as Council of Europe principles of pluralistic democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The South Caucasus can thus become an area of stability and democratic security, favouring economic development and improvement of living conditions of the population in the region.

This hope for a prosperous and peaceful future must not be hampered by territorial ambitions, intolerance or aggressive nationalism.

We are convinced that parliaments have an important role to play in developing regional co-operation and creating an atmosphere of confidence. We therefore decided to establish a dialogue at parliamentary level to discuss issues of common interest, such as harmonisation of legislation, protection of human rights, the rights of national minorities, situation of refugees and displaced persons, exchange of prisoners of war and hostages and transfrontier co-operation, as well as other questions chosen by mutual agreement.

A series of trilateral parliamentary meetings will be organised under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly, starting this year and taking place successively in the three capitals of our countries.

In applying for membership of the Council of Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have clearly expressed the will to become an integral part of the European democratic family and to share and respect the European values. We believe that this parliamentary initiative will contribute to the reinforcement of our democratic institutions as well as to the solution of the conflicts in the region and help to fully integrate our countries in the structures of the Council of Europe, taking into account all relevant texts of the Parliamentary Assembly.

(Signed):

Khosrov HAROUTOUNIAN       Murtuz ALESKEROV       Zurab ZHVANIA

Lord RUSSELL-JOHNSTON (for the Parliamentary Assembly)

APPENDIX 6

DECLARATION

of the Milli Mejlis of the Azerbaijan Republic

on the results of the meeting of working groups of parliaments

of South Caucasian countries on prisoners-of-war held under the

aegis of the PACE in Paris on 17 December 1999.

South Caucasian countries and all their political and economic processes have an exclusive importance in promotion of peace and stability in the whole Euro-Asiatic region. Unfortunately, the latest decade of the twentieth century is marked by the transmission of South Caucasus into the arena of aggressive separatism and severe nationalism, by armed conflicts resulting in the death of innocent persons, ethnic cleansing, hundreds of thousands of refugees, displaced persons, captives and prisoners-of-war. Being an adherent to the higher principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Paris Charter for New Europe and the Istanbul Charter of European Security, the Azerbaijan Republic always supports the solution of conflicts by means of negotiations and welcomes any initiative of international organisations aimed at the best positive results.

We highly appreciate the activities of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and in particular, a meeting of working groups of parliaments of South Caucasian countries on the issues of prisoners-of-war arranged under its aegis on 17 December 1999, in Paris. Taking into consideration the principles of the protection of civilians from calamities of the war period and of tyranny and respect of human rights during armed conflicts, the Azerbaijan Republic joined the essentials of the International Humanitarian Law – the Geneva Conventions of 1949 in 1993. In 1995 our country adopted the Law on Protection of Rights of Prisoners-of-War and Civilians.

Considering,

–       that all states of South Caucasus should accept and strictly observe legislative and other measures aimed at prevention of human rights violations during armed conflicts;

–       taking into consideration decisions of the meeting of the working group in Paris;

the Milli Mejlis of the Azerbaijan Republic expresses hope for soonest release of ten Azeris captured by Armenians and officially registered by the ICRC,

and declares as urgent the following issues:

the Milli Mejlis of the Azerbaijan Republic appeals to the Council of Europe member states to provide assistance as regards social and medical treatment of released prisoners-of-war.

Declaration adopted at the meeting of the Milli Mejlis of the Azerbaijan Republic on 30 December 1999.

APPENDIX 7

Lord Russell-Johnston

Chairman

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Baku, 25 March 2000

Dear Mr Chairman,

Sincerely,

Heydar Aliyev

President of the Republic

Murtuz Aleskerov

Chairman of the Parliament (Milli Mejlis)

Artur Rasi-Zade

Prime Minister

APPENDIX 8

Lord Russell-Johnston

Chairman

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Baku, 25 March 2000

Dear Mr Chairman,

Sincerely,

Leaders of the political parties represented at the Milli Mejlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan

Fazail Agamali

Chairman of the Motherland Party

Abulfaz (Aliyev) Elchibey

Chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front

Ilyas Ismayilov

Co-Chairman of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party

Khanhussein Kazimly

Chairman of the Azerbaijan Social Welfare Party

Isa Gambar

Chairman of the Musavat Party

Etibar Mammadov

Chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party

Mammadhanifa Musayev

Chairman of the Azerbaijan Democratic Enlightenment Party

Matlab Mutallimly

Chairman of the Azerbaijan Social Justice Party

Ali Nagiyev

Deputy Chairman of the New Azerbaijan Party

Askar Mammadov

c/o Sabir Rustamkhanly

Chairman of Citizen’s Solidarity Party

*
* *

Reporting committee : Political Affairs Committee

Reference to committee : Doc. 7646 and Reference No. 2107 of 27 September 1996

Budgetary implications for the Assembly : none

Draft opinion adopted by the committee on 15 May 2000 with two abstentions

Members of the committee: Mr Davis (Chairman), Ms Ojuland (Vice-Chairperson), Mr Toshev (Vice-Chairman), MM Arzilli, Atkinson, Bársony, Behrendt, Bergqvist, Björck, Blaauw, Bühler, Clerfayt, Daly, Demetriou, Derycke, Dokle, Dreyfus-Schmidt (alternate : Mr Lemoine), Ms Durrieu, Mr Frey, Ms Fyfe, MM Gjellerod (alternate : Ms Severinsen), Glesener, Gligoroski, Gross (alternate : Mr Lachat), Gül, Iwinski, Ms Kautto, MM Kirilov (alternate : Ms Poptodorova), Krzaklewski (alternate : Mr Adamczyk), Kuzmickas, Lopez Henares (alternate : M. Puche), Lupu, Maginas, Medeiros Ferreira, Meier, Micheloyiannis, Mota Amaral, Mutman, Nedelciuc, Ms Nemcova, MM. Neuwirth (alternate : Mr Baumel, Vice-Chairman), Oliynyk, Pahor (alternate : Mr Jakic), Palmitjavila Ribo, Prusak, de Puig (alternate : Mr Yanez-Barnuevo), Ms Pusic (alternate : Ms Feric-Vac), Ms Ragnarsdottir, MM Rogozin, Saakashvili, Schieder, Schloten (alternate : Mr Neumann), Selva (alternate : Mr Diana), Sinka, Spindelegger, Ms Squarcialupi, Ms Stanoiu, Ms Stepová, MM Surjan, Thoresen, Timmermans, Vella, Volcic, Weiss, Zuiganov, N…….. (alternate: Mr Manchulenko).

N.B. The names of the members who took part in the meeting are printed in italics

Secretaries of the committee : Mr Perin, Ms Ruotanen, Mr Sich, Ms Hügel


182 Note in particular passages marked in bold print.

183 .See Resolution 1119 of 22 April 1997.