Our Analytics 18 october — 10:12

In London, they also think Azerbaijan should leave Council of Europe

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BY MURAD GASSANLY, LONDON, EXCLUSIVELLY FOR AZERI DAILY

When in June 2015 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) passed its judgement in the case of “Chiragov & Others vs. Armenia” many in Azerbaijan thought this to be a watershed moment – for the first time there was an international legal recognition of Armenia’s ongoing occupation of Karabakh and other eight regions of Azerbaijan. The judgement was unequivocal -  the ECHRdismissed Armenian Government’s objection that Armenia did not have effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories and thus lacked jurisdiction. The final text read:

“The Court noted in particular that numerous reports and public statements, including from members and former members of the Armenian Government, demonstrated that Armenia, through its military presence and by providing military equipment and expertise, had been significantly involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from an early date. Armenia’s military support continued to be decisive for the control over the territories in question. Furthermore, it was evident from the facts established in the case that Armenia gave the “NKR” substantial political and financial support; its citizens were moreover required to acquire Armenian passports to travel abroad, as the “NKR” was not recognised by any State or international organisation. In conclusion, Armenia and the “NKR” were highly integrated in virtually all important matters and the “NKR” and its administration survived by virtue of the military, political, financial and other support given to it by Armenia. Armenia thus exercised effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories”.

(file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/003-5110589-6301087%20(4).pdf); https://www.euractiv.com/section/armenia/news/strasbourg-court-decision-deals-blow-to-armenia-over-azerbaijan/).

Therefore, according to the European Court of Human Rights one member-state of the Council of Europe (CoE) – Armenia – is occupying territories of Azerbaijan, another member-state of the Council of Europe. Surely, since the June 2015 judgement there must have been some sort of a reaction from the Council of Europe to this outrageous situation? CoE must have applied sanctions against Armenia or at least threatened suspension of Yerevan’s membership of the organisation?

Or perhaps a special Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) investigatory committee has been appointed to examine the Court’s findings? PACE must have by now passed a resolution on “Chiragov vs Armenia” case, condemning Armenia and demanding withdrawal from the occupied Azerbaijani territories? At the very least, the Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland must have made a statement on the matter or at least written something on Facebook (we do know, for example, that he’s fond of attacking critical journalists on social media)? (https://haqqin.az/news/112026)

These are of course rhetorical questions and the answer to each is no. In fact, when in January 2016 a British parliamentarian Robert Walter put forward a resolution on “Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan” PACE voted it down. The resolution was based on a report by Mr Walter and made direct reference to “the position of the European Court of Human Rights in its June 2015 judgment in the case of Chiragov and Others v. Armenia regarding the issue of jurisdiction, according to which Armenia “exercised effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories”. The draft PACE resolution also stated that, “The Assembly reiterates its concern, expressed in its Resolution 1416 (2005), that the military action, and the widespread ethnic hostilities which preceded it, led to large-scale ethnic expulsion and the creation of mono-ethnic areas which resemble the terrible concept of ethnic cleansing.” (http://www.assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=5993&lang=2&cat=8).

By voting against this resolution PACE not only negated its own previous resolutions supporting territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan but also implicitly dismissed the European Court judgement in the “Chiragov vs Armenia” case. If Council of Europe’s own institutions, the General Secretariat and PACE, ignore decisions of the ECHR or apply them selectively, why would any member-state abide by them? This, perhaps, best demonstrates that decisions of the European Court are not worth the paper they are written on unless there is a political decision and action to underpin them. No surprise then that some 11,000 ECHR judgements had so far gone unimplemented by nearly all of the fifty members of CoE, including Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, since 2015, CoE has become a platform for what can only be described as a consistent and relentless anti-Azerbaijani campaign. The latter is aimed at undermining the international standing of Azerbaijani government and weakening and delegitimising Azerbaijan’s position on Nagorno Karabakh. Unsurprisingly everyone in Azerbaijan, from the President to MPs and journalists, are now openly wondering why the country should remain a member of an organisation that not only applies double standards but is openly hostile to Baku? 

Members of the opposition feel themselves in Strasbourg at home

This is not about hurt feelings – continued membership of CoE may adversely impact on Azerbaijan’s national strategic interests. A country whose sovereignty has already been violated cannot engage in politics which risk further erosion of its sovereignty. Even in Britain, another country considering withdrawal from the Council of Europe, the debate over membership has for years been centred firmly on the matters of sovereignty. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25535327; http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/797654/General-Election-2017-Theresa-May-European-Convention-Human-Right-post-Brexit-Lord-Faulks).  Azerbaijan, a country dealing not only with a military occupation of sovereign territories by another Council of Europe member-state but also facing multiple strategic threats, must tread extremely cautiously when it comes to participating in multilateral organisations. 

Take, for example, the issue of foreign government media operating in Azerbaijan. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a US Congress-funded broadcaster, which recently lost its licence in Azerbaijan and was kicked out of the country, is now taking Baku to European Court of Human Rights (https://www.rferl.org/a/rferl-azerbaijan-european-court-of-human-rights/28733886.html). RFE/RL is notorious for its anti-Azerbaijani bias and pro-Armenian editorial policy, which makes no pretence at balanced and objective reporting. Its editors and journalists routinely refer to Karabakh as “Artsakh” and its coverage of Azerbaijan-related news is maliciously hostile (https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-blacklists-three-us-lawmakers-visiting-nagorno-karabakh/28752231.html).

It is common sense that RFE/RL media activities, which violate Azerbaijan’s broadcasting rules, would not be in public interest and had to be terminated. The same practice exists across Europe – in 2012, for example, British media regulator Ofcom stripped Iranian government-funded Press TV of its British licence, shutting the channel down (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16652356). 

RFE/RL cause is not just that of Khadija Ismayilova

Yet, it is likely that EHCR will satisfy RFE/RL’ application against Azerbaijan and, given the anti-Baku hysteria in Strasburg, it is likely that political action may follow, including further critical PACE resolutions. These, combined with pressure already being applied on Baku as part of the aforementioned campaign, may lead to threat or imposition of sanctions, further investigations and even suspension from CoE. All of this will further damage Azerbaijan’s position on the Nagorno Karabakh issue. 

Azerbaijani policy-makers need to consider whether, on balance, the country’s continued membership of the Council of Europe and the ECHR serves to advance the national interest? In my opinion it does not. 

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