CoE spokesman: “The situation in Azerbaijan is serious”

In a rare move, the Council of Europe has launched an official inquiry into Azerbaijan’s human rights record. Meydan TV spoke with CoE spokesperson Daniel Holtgen to find out what prompted the Secretary General to resort to this unprecedented measure.

In a rare move, the Council of Europe has launched an official inquiry to Azerbaijan’s human rights record. The probe, announced yesterday on the

CoE website

, will examine Azerbaijan’s compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a party. Under Article 52 of the Convention, the Secretary General can initiate an investigation to find out how the domestic law in any member state ensures proper implementation of the convention. According to the CoE website, inquires under Article 52 are rare. It is the first time Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has used this measure.

Meydan TV spoke with Daniel Holtgen, the Director of Communications and Spokesperson for the CoE Secretary General, to find out what prompted the Secretary General to resort to this unprecedented measure, and what the Council hopes to achieve.

What specific events prompted this decision?

It is prompted by the non-execution of the judgment in the case of Ilgar Mammadov, whose case was decided in May last year and then was declared final in October last year. His imprisonment was politically motivated and unjust. Basically, the authorities abused their power in his conviction. So Mr. Mammadov is imprisoned on false grounds and deprived of liberty, although he should have been released long ago. For over a year, all members of the Council of Europe, the Secretary General, Parliamentary Assembly and the Commission have called for his release, and he has remained imprisoned.  That and many other human rights violations in Azerbaijan regarding cases of freedom of expression and assembly and the fact that so many representatives of civil society and human rights defenders are being attacked legally or otherwise – this altogether represented a very serious situation. That is why the Secretary General decided to resort to Article 52, which is his prerogative to start a special inquiry into a member state.

You mention the case of Ilgar Mammadov. However there are numerous other cases of prisoners of conscience and people who have been imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

That is true, but the judgment in the Mammadov case refers to article 18 of the Convention, which says “Limitation on use of restriction of rights. The restrictions permitted under this Convention to the said rights and freedoms shall not be applied for any purpose other than those for which they have been prescribed.” And they found violations of Article 18 in the Mammadov case. In other words, there was an abuse of power by the legal authorities of Azerbaijan. That is a very serious allegation. That is not a usual one

Aside from this specific case of Mammadov, there’s this overall context of the deteriorating human rights climate. Did you also take that into consideration?

All of the Council Europe and, in particular, Secretary General have called for the release of prisoners, such as Leyla Yunus, who was recently released on humanitarian grounds. As for Azerbaijan’s reaction, there hasn’t really been any response to the call for releasing prisoners. So the situation in Azerbaijan is particularly serious. On top of that, they have this judgment, where there was no response in reference of Article 18 of the judgment. All this adds up to this serious situation.

Given this lack of response from the Azerbaijani government, is the Council planning to engage with the Azerbaijani authorities in the course of the investigation, and how

Yes, the purpose is to seek information and to consult with the Azerbaijani legal and political authorities, also at the highest level. It’s not a paper-shifting exercise. The representative, who has been appointed, the Director General of Human Rights of the Council of Europe Mr. Philippe Boillat, who is a Swiss-Korean diplomat and has been serving in the Council of Europe for over 20 years. He is a very highly recognized person. He will lead the mission.

Are you optimistic that the government will cooperate with you?

There are no signs it shouldn’t. I mean there’s a prerogative of the Secretary General. They did not voice any objections so far since this has been announced. And they have not voiced any objections in the context of the committee ministers. So we take it for given that the authorities will cooperate and present their views of how they implement the Convention to our representatives

How long will the investigation take, and what will be its outcome?

The outcome will be obviously a report by the special representative, which goes to, primarily, the Secretary General. The Secretary General will inform the Committee of Ministers. And then the Committee of Ministers will have to find how to proceed depending on the outcome of the report. As for the timeline, it’s as soon as possible. I can’t say precisely, but I would say in the next days, if not weeks, very soon.

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