Shortly after the PACE election observation mission
released its official statement
largely praising yesterday’s elections in Azerbaijan, three of the mission’s twenty-eight members took the possibly unprecedented step of distributing a dissenting statement.
In the twelve-page statement, which is included in full below, MEPs Michael McNamara of Ireland and Ute Finckh-Kraemer and Frank Schwabe of Germany expressed concern that their presence in Azerbaijan “could be interpreted as giving legitimacy to a clearly undemocratic process, … [and] we have no alternative but to make this public statement to ensure that our presence does not imply such legitimacy.”
Reached by phone in Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport, Mr. Schwabe told Meydan TV that of the twenty-eight members of the observation team, sixteen voted for the official statement, seven against, and five were not present. He was also unaware of a precedent for members of an election observation mission publishing a dissenting report. Members of the observation missions typically do not speak to the press at all, let alone dissent from their mission’s published report.
“If the whole parliamentary assembly was here [in Baku], we would have a majority for the minority opinion. We will present our minority opinion and our full report in Strasbourg,” said Schwabe, and added that the dissenting minority intends to present its full opinion and a complete report later this month.
“Its not the last debate about Azerbaijan,” said Schwabe.
The PACE delegation to the previous Azerbaijani elections in 2013 declared
the otherwise widely condemned elections
as “free, fair, and transparent.” The statement was described as “a sham,” and the OSCE, which produced a much more critical report in 2013, was
unable to reach an agreement
with Azerbaijani authorities and did not monitor Sunday’s election.
The full statement begins below, and the full interim report is available for download via the link on the right side of this page.
STATEMENT OF PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS BY MEMBERS OF THE PACE OBSERVATION MISSION OF ELECTIONS TO PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN AZERBAIJAN , 1 NOVEMBER, 2015
We would like to congratulate the people of Azerbaijan on their peaceful campaign and election day and express our regret that the we cannot regard these elections as a step towards free, fair and democratic elections. Though we acknowledge the technical and logistical achievement that mark these elections, the situation in the country with respect to political freedoms, freedom of expression and media, and freedom of assembly and association does not provide conditions for holding free and democratic elections.
The run-up to the elections was marked by a deterioration in respect for human rights which are an essential prerequisite for free and democratic elections.
There has been an apparent intensification of the practice of unjustified or selective criminal prosecution of journalists and others who express critical opinions.
The use of administrative detention against those who organise or participate in “unauthorised” public gatherings has increased and there have been persistent reports of limitations imposed on freedom of assembly, notably the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials to disperse demonstrations.
Obstacles encountered by NGOs in carrying out their work in Azerbaijan, especially those operating in the field of human rights and those openly critical of the government, have increased. The concerns expressed by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission regarding the law on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have not been addressed. Several representatives of independent civil society organisations such as Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunusov, Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov are currently serving prison sentences.
The situation of freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, in Azerbaijan has been a long-standing concern among national and international observers and has deteriorated further, with an intensification of the practice of unjustified or selective criminal prosecution of journalists and others who express critical opinions. A number of media outlets have closed since the previous parliamentary elections, including the Baku office of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, while the independent newspaper Azadliq faces large fines from several pending defamation lawsuits.
Concerns expressed by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission regarding the election code, particularly regarding the composition of the electoral commissions and candidate registration, have also not been addressed.
It is noted with regret that the OSCE’s Office for Democratic institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) was prevented from deploying sufficient long-term observers to carry out its election observation methodology.
We did not come to Azerbaijan to give lessons to the people of Azerbaijan or its government. As a majority of the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly voted to send an international election observation mission to Azerbaijan to observe election day under conditions that make it likely that its presence on election day could be interpreted as giving legitimacy to a clearly undemocratic electoral process, in line with the Declaration of Principles for 2 International Election Observation, which the Parliamentary Assembly has endorsed, we have no alternative but to make this public statement to ensure that our presence does not imply such legitimacy.
SIGNED AND ENDORSED BY:
Ute Finckh-Kraemer, MdB, (Soc) Germany
Michael McNamara, TD, (Soc) Ireland
Frank Schwabe, MdB, (Soc) Germany
This statements remain open for endorsement by other members of the PACE Election Observation Mission in advance of the finalisation of the Mission’s report.