A meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in the Hofburg in Vienna, Austria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The diplomatic row between Azerbaijan and the OSCE regarding the mandate of the OSCE Office in Baku went public last week in Vienna.On 14 May 2013, whilst in Vienna accompanying President Ilham Aliev who was on a state visit to Austria, the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, took time to address formally the representatives of the 57 participating States of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at a meeting of the Organisation’s Permanent Council.
Couched in diplomatic language the Minister’s speech, and the response to it from many of the diplomats present, highlighted a serious stand-off on the issue of the role of the Office of the OSCE in Baku. The office was established in 1999 and was seen as an important mechanism to accompany Azerbaijan’s programme of reforms aimed at bringing it in line with OSCE commitments.
Over the recent months Azerbaijan has been asking for the mandate of the office to change, in practise reducing its role to that of a technical office. Since the budget of the office is part of the OSCE budget, and since the budget needs to be approved by consensus by all the member states Azerbaijan has been hinting that it may veto the whole budget unless its request is satisfied.
This is only one of many issues that have emerged over the last year in Azerbaijan’s relations with the EU and other countries as a result of a crack-down against all form of dissent in the country.
read the current mandate of the OSCE office in Baku here.OSCE Baku office mandate More…
The case of Azerbaijani political activist Ilgar Mammedov is fast becoming a test-case of the resilience and integrity of those European institutions that are meant to be the guardians of human rights on the continent. Mammedov was arrested earlier this year after visiting the town of Ismaili at a time when rioting was taking place. Mammedov is accused of inciting the riot.
Unrests in Ismailli district began on the evening of January 23, after an accident involving the nephew of the head of the local administration Nizami Alekperov, and the son of the Minister of Labor Fizuli Alekperov - Vugar Alekperov, triggering a riot. The participants set fire to a number of commercial entities belonging to officials. Special Forces and internal troops entered the district using rubber bullets and tear gas There were dozens of arrests and many injured as a result of clashes. Mammedov, who is also Director of the Council of Europe Schgool for Political Studies in Baku and co-Chair of the social movement “Real”, went to Ismaili to investigate the incident and was subsequently arrested and accused of inciting the riot.
His case was raised this week by the Council of Europe, an institution that has traditionally been the beacon of human rights on the continent. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council and will take over its rotating chairmanship in 2014. There is great unease in European circles about the message this will send, and frustration at a deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan at this juncture. More…
Francois-Xavier de Donnea presenting a report of the
Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Reform of
the OSCE at the Bureau of the OSCE Parliamentary
Assembly in Copenhagen on 15 April 2013.
Picture courtesy of the OSCE PA
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Bureau on Monday (15 April) decided to reactivate the 16-year-old agreement that guides election observation by the OSCE.
A statement on the OSCE PA website said that “four months after declaring the 1997 Co-operation Agreement no longer operable, the Assembly today reactivated the agreement and said it needed to be applied to ensure that the OSCE speaks with one voice in assessing elections among its 57 participating States.
The OSCE PA’s leadership accepted the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Reform of the OSCE, led by Francois- Xavier de Donnea (Belgium), that the 1997 agreement be applied to the upcoming election observations in Bulgaria and Albania. The committee has worked since February toward improving co-operation in election observation. The Assembly will evaluate the experiences of those election observation missions at the Annual Session in July in Istanbul.” More…
Armenian politician Raffi Hovannesian has ended his hunger strike which he had started on 9 March to bring to attention his rejection of the results of the 18 February Presidential election in which he was declared the runner-up
On Easter Sunday morning the leader of the Heritage party, went out of his tent, which he had set up in Liberty Square in the center of Yerevan, and said he was grateful to all those who supported him in his protest. “I want to thank my family members who supported me during these days. I’m also grateful to all policemen who, with the exception of some minor incidents, performed their duty well,” Hovannesian said, adding he would continue his political struggle the next day.
Observers consider that the end of the hunger strike might indicate that Hovannesian will now enter into negotiations with the incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan over some kind of power sharing. Hovannesian has repeatedly stated that any negotiations will have to be conducted transparently and that he himself was not seeking any post in any power-sharing arrangement.
Over the last weeks Hovannesian has also called for either new Presidential or new Parliamentary elections. Whilst this demand is unlikely to be satisified Armenia is likely to embark on the search for a new constitution which may bring an end the current impasse in Armenian politics.
source: CEW staff with RIA Novosti and other agency reports.
A protestor being detained in Baku on 10 March 2013. (Picture courtesy of RFE/RL)
Police tactics in dealing with street protests are often subject to criticism, in democratic countries as much as in totalitarian ones. The use of water cannon and rubber bullets is allowed under standard operating procedures in many countries. Usually it means that either the number of demonstrators was so huge that the police felt that they were losing control and that there was a threat to public order, or that the protest had become violent and there was danger to safety of citizens or property. It could also mean that the police were unprofessional or under instructions to use heavy handed tactics.
The protest held in Baku on 10 March was neither huge nor violent yet the police responded with tear gas, water-canon and rubber bullets, and arrested around eighty protestors.. The use of overwhelming force to break up a protest mainly by young people angry at the number of deaths in the Azerbaijani Army as a result of abuse by senior officers is a sign of the jittery mood in the Azerbaijani leadership ahead of presidential elections in October. The protestors were calling for the resignation of the Defence Minister. Amongst them were relatives of some of the hundreds soldiers who died in the Azerbaijani military in non combat situations over the last years.
Azerbaijan is at a crossroads. The government has a choice: dialogue and reform or confrontation. It seems it has opted for the latter. If things do not change very fast the October election will be an irrelevance. The squeeze on the opposition continues; a leading Presidential contender, Ilgar Mammedov, is in jail; and the space for peaceful dissent shrinking by the minute. More…
For the fourth time in 17 years, a defeated Armenian presidential candidate has openly denounced the outcome of the ballot in a presidential election as rigged and declared himself the legitimately elected president. Raffi Hovhannessian last week took his campaign to overturn the result of the 18 February Presidential election to the regions of Armenia where he was given an enthusiastic welcome.(picture courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).
The ODIHR Election Observation Mission monitoring the Armenian Presidential Elections took pundits by surprise by issuing a third interim report before they packed their bags and left Yerevan on 4 March. ODIHR Missions do not always issue third reports, although as was the case with the previous Presidential election in Armenia in 2008, they sometimes do.
Armenian political analysts detected a change of tone in the 3rd ODIHR interim report – a somewhat more critical appraisal of the 18 February Presidential Election than the more upbeat assessment emerging from the Press Conference of the international observation missions on 19th February, which triggered a flood of congratulatory messages to the incumbent Armenian President from world leaders.
The 3rd monitoring report for example states that, “An OSCE/ODIHR EOM analysis of official results shows a correlation between very high turnout and the number of votes for the incumbent. This raises concerns regarding the confidence over the integrity of the electoral process”, which is diplomatic parlance for saying that they suspect that there was ballot stuffing on an industrial scale.
The report also politely reminds readers that the interim statement made on 19 February “noted that the final assessment of the election would depend, in part, on the conduct of the remaining stages of the electoral process, including the tabulation and announcement of final results and the handling of possible post-election day complaints or appeals.” This small print was unfortunately missed amid all the excitement of the Press Conference and the events around it. More…
Unofficial results in the Armenian Elections show a victory for the incumbent Serzh Sargsyan, with around 59% of the votes cast. Raffi Hovhanessian is runner up with around 37%
The 6th presidential Election of independent Armenia was held on Monday 18th February 2013. There was never any doubt who was going to win this election, but candidates, voters, election officials, journalists and observers – local and international, went through the necessary motions to conduct what technically was a good election ritual. A few of the seven candidates did not play the game according to the established rules and there was, a still unexplained, attempt on the life of another. One of the original eight candidates registered pulled out completely. The process was calm, peaceful, efficient and largely transparent. But while we always knew who the winner of this election was going to be, the question of who were going to be the losers was not always that clear. More…
Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev signing the Helsinki Final Act in August 1975. The Act made the subject of human rights a matter of legitimate concern to all.
Over the last few weeks it has become common to hear officials in Azerbaijan, and to a lesser extent in Armenia, complaining that the European Union is interfering in the internal affairs of their countries. This happens whenever EU officials or diplomats raise issues connected with human rights, rule of law and free elections. The chorus started first with some pro government journalists and commentators, but by last week senior officials in the two countries had joined the fray.
These officials clearly do not understand the processes that have been going on in Europe in the last forty years. The historic Helsinki Final Act adopted by all the European states (with the exception of Albania) in 1975 laid the foundation of a new European order which recognised the indivisibility of security and that human rights on the continent were not simply an internal matter but a matter of legitimate concern for all. More…
At the 941st meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held in Vienna on Thursday, 14 February 2013 a statement was made on behalf of the twenty-seven member states of the European Union and on behalf of Croatia, Montenegro, Iceland, Bosnia-Herzogovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia who aligned themselves with it, expressing concern about recent developments in Azerbaijan in the field of human rights. More…
The European Union has few tools at its disposal when responding to threats to freedom of speech in the South Caucasus, except for its moral authority. The institution and its member states are not perfect by far, but together they represent the best practise on issues related to human rights and democratic traditions. Governments and people in the South Caucasus recognise this even if they do not always admit it.
The events of the last few days in the three South Caucasus countries caused concern. None was serious enough to trigger a crisis but all were serious enough to raise alarm bells and to highlight the question as to what is the end game of the EU with regards to the region on this issue. The soul searching has started and it will continue, probably until November or thereabouts when the EU expects either to welcome Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia closer to it through Association Agreements, or relegate all or some of them to the status of trade partners. More…
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
The Foreign Minister of Armenia, Edward Nalbandian led a chorus of criticism against views expressed by diplomats from EU member states ahead of the presidential elections. The diplomats, namely British Ambassador Katharine Leach and Polish Ambassador Zdzisław Raczyski’s had made mild criticisms and expressed hope for free and fair elections. Pro government politicians lined up to criticise the two Ambassadors and accusing them of interfering in internal affairs. The Foreign Minister then weighed in suggesting that the two Ambassadors had crossed the boundaries of diplomatic practise, with Nalbandian citing his experience as long time Armenian Ambassador to France to show how diplomacy should be done. Diplomatic circles in Yerevan are surprised by the audacity of this criticism given that Armenian diplomats in France, the United States and other countries are often involved in supporting candidates who are sympathetic to pro Armenian issues in the countries they are accredited to, whilst the Polish and British diplomats in Tbilisi were simply making comments about how the democratic process could be consolidated. More…
Georgian civil society organisations had tough words for politicians following incidents at a protest in front of the National Library where President Saakashvili was due to speak. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International – Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and the Open Society – Georgia Foundation condemned the acts of violence that ensued. In their statement the four NGOs said
“We believe that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has failed to take preventive measures in an effective manner to avoid injuring of guests of the event. The situation could only be de-escalated after the Interior Minister arrived at the scene. It is clearly a positive fact that the minister personally got involved in the developments; however, we believe that the Interior Ministry has failed to plan adequate measures for ensuring safety of participants, resulting in the necessity to postpone the presidential address.” The NGOs warned that “freedom of assembly and expression is one of the most important values of a democratic society but it must be realized within the legal constraints. We understand that some people have been suffering from the sense of injustice for over the years; nevertheless, this may not justify such illegal acts.”
The last few days have been unpleasant and disappointing for anyone who cares about the future of the South Caucasus and its people. Freedom of speech has once more been the easy victim of crude political machinations. More…
The OSCE/ODIHR Election Monitoring Mission issued an interim report on 7 February in which it described the first two weeks of the presidential Election Campaign in Armenia as “low-key and of limited visibility”. The Mission has strived to go through the motions of monitoring the campaign despite the somewhat bizarre circumstances that have surrounded this election.
One of the eight candidates in the election formally withdrew from the race on 8 February. The Central Elections Commission duly accepted his withdrawal and cancelled his candidature. Aram Harutyunyan call for the other six candidates challenging incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan to withdraw from the race has so far been unheeded. Another Presidential candidate Andreas Ghukasyan has been on hunger strike since the campaign started on 21 January. Speaking to journalists two weeks later Ghukasyan lambasted the OSCE/ODIHR Election Mission which he said was there to legitimise a fraudulent election. He accused the mission of misleading the Armenian people and called on them to pack up their bags and leave. More…
One of the candidates in the Armenian presidential elections formally withdrew from the race on 8 February. The Central Elections Commission duly accepted his withdrawal and cancelled his candidature. Aram Harutyunyan call for the other six candidates challenging incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan to withdraw from the race has not so far been heeded.
However the situation is far from usual. One other Presidential contender Andreas Ghukasyan has been on hunger strike since the election campaign formally kicked off. Attempts to get him to stop the hunger strike have so far failed. Ghukasyan is protesting against the electoral process which he says is flawed and is asking the Central Elections Commission to bar Sargsyan from the poll.
A third presidential candidate, Pruyur Hayrikyan is in hospital recovering from an assissantation attempt on him a week ago. His medical situation was reported to have deteriorated in the last days and he has been asked by doctors not to leave the hospital bed despite successful surgery on him on Saturday. The Armenian Ministry of National Security has reported that it has arrested two suspects in connection with the assassination attempt. More…
Janez Lenarcic meeting Maia Panjikidze in Warsaw on 29 January 2013.
ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic met in Warsaw last week with Maia Panjikidze, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, at ODIHR Headquarters. During the meeting issues related to the final report of the OSCE/ODIHR Election monitoring mission for the 2012 Parliamentary Elections were discussed.
ODIHR issued the final report of the Mission on 21 December. The report is largely technical and in some instances avoids dealing directly with some of the more difficult issues that overshadowed the 1 October elections in Georgia. The report however lists 26 recommendations, some of which it suggests to be implemented prior to the Autumn Presidential elections, and more long term calls for a comprehensive review of all electoral laws, and of the regulations concerning campaign funding.
The first priority recommendation in the report states:
“The OSCE/ODIHR reiterates its long-standing recommendation to address the disparity of the population size in the single mandate constituencies for parliamentary elections.” More…
Prominent Azerbaijani activist, Ilgar Mammedov was arrested in Baku on Monday, (4 February) and charged with instigating unrest in the town of Ismaili. During several days of rioting in Ismaili in January a hotel and several cars were burnt by angry crowds protesting against corruption by local officials.
Ilgar Mammedov is Chairman of the Real Alternative, Movement for Social Change.
It is not yet clear how Mammedov has been implicated in the affair. Ilgar Mammedov is a well known activist, considered cautious and considerate in his criticism. Writing on her facebook page, prominent female activist Khadija Ismailova said that “his arrest is a signal to those who think there is a safe way of doing opposition politics. There is no safe way.”
The arrest of Mammedov is considered as a sign that the Azerbaijani government is upping the stakes in its “cat and mouse” game with opposition forces ahead of presidential elections in October.
Source: CEW Staff
Dennis Sammut looks back at the life of one of the most outstanding politicians in the Caucasus in modern times.
On Sunday, 3rd February Georgia marked the 8th anniversary of the death in mysterious circumstances of Zurab Zhvania, a liberal and progressive politician who is best remembered for his work to establish the Georgian parliament as a credible and model institution, in the mid-1990s.
Zhvania started his political career as an environmental activist in the last years of the Soviet Union, and in the years of perestroika set up the Green Party of Georgia which became a focal point for many similarly minded young Georgian intellectuals. In 1992 he was appointed a member of the State Council, a body that had been created after the end of the 1991-2 civil war. Zhvania became an ally of Edward Shevardnadze after the latter returned from Moscow to head the State Council and lead Georgia out of the chaos in which it had found itself. In 1993 he became the head of the Citizens Union of Georgia, a broad based political force which aimed to support Shevardndze’s endeavours for reform and stability.
In November 1995 Zhvania was elected Chairman of the Georgian parliament. In a very short period of time he managed to introduce a parliamentary tradition in the post-Soviet country, justifiably earning for himself the title of father of the modern Georgian Parliament. He steered Georgia’s membership to the Council of Europe, which it joined in 1999, well ahead of its neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Georgian Parliament in this period was considered a model not only for other post-Soviet countries but for parliaments in other transition countries far beyond. He was well respected in European and North American political circles, as well as in the region for his visionary ideas that combined with astute pragmatism. His belief in Georgia’s European vocation was never at the exclusion of its Caucasian roots. More…