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 race is on for the office of President of Georgia after the governing Georgian Dream coalition led by Bidhzina Ivanishvili announced that it will nominate Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Giorgi Margvelashvili to the post. Given the massive victory that Georgian Dream registered in last October’s parliamentary elections and its continued popularity in recent opinion polls, Margvelashvili starts the race as the favourite to win.
The office of President of Georgia will be divested from most of its powers after the October elections following constitutional amendments that the previous government of Mikhail Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) pushed through before its election defeat. Executive power will now be vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The UNM still has to nominate its candidate for the elections, and has announced that it will do primaries to select its candidate. A number of other Georgian personalities are considering contesting as independent candidates.
Georgians have traditionally looked for “a man on the white horse” to lead them. Georgian history is full of imagery of Georgian leaders, usually men, and on one or two occasions also women, riding into battle on horseback, often slaying a dragon. This time round the situation is rather confusing since the first person in the country will not be the one with the effective power. 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…
The Carousel of elections that have followed one after the other in Armenia came to an end on Sunday, 5 May with the holding of municipal elections to elect the City Council of the Armenian Capital, Yerevan. The election came closely on the heels of Parliamentary elections a year ago and Presidential elections in February. Observers noted that Sunday’s elections were unusually tense for local elections which often attract much less interest and are less hardly fought than the national elections. This time round, a number of opposition forces determined to break the monopoly of power of the ruling party put considerable effort in trying to obtain a majority on the city council.
The governing Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) of President Serzh Sargsyan however put up a spirited defence and gained a large absolute majority on the city council. Of the six parties represented in the Armenian Parliament only three managed to pass the 6% threshold and gain seats on the City Council: the RPA, as well as Prosperous Armenia and the Barev Bloc led by Raffi Hovannesian.
According to Dennis Sammut, Director of LINKS Analysis, “the victory of his party in the Yerevan election is an important psychological moment for the Armenian President.” More…
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia has registered an overwhelming victory in elections for Yerevan City Council amidst allegations of widespread irregularities in a hardly fought contest.
Three parties passed the 6% threshhold and will be represented on the City Council of the Armenian Capital – the Republican Party of Armenia, the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Barev Bloc led by Heritage leader, Raffi Hovannesian. More…
Giorgi Baramidze, the Vice Speaker of the Georgian Parliament and close associate of the current Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told participants at a NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Tbilisi on 30 April that he will participate in American style primary elections that will select the candidate of the United National Movement for the forthcoming Presidential elections scheduled to be held in Georgia in October.
Baramidze thus became the first prominent politician to announce that he will participate in the election process.
The ruling Georgian Dream Coalition is expected to announce its candidate for the election in May.
The US Department of State last week released its annual publication “Country reports on human rights practices” which reviews the global human rights situation throughout the world.. The report highlights serious problems in the field of human rights in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and a systematic democratic deficit in the governance of the three countries. Many of the issues raised in the report have been reported on by Caucasus Elections Watch throughout last year, including the situation in prisons, problems with the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, harassment of opposition activists and problems with the electoral process.
“It is in our interest to promote the universal rights of all persons. Governments that respect human rights are more peaceful and more prosperous. They are better neighbours, stronger allies, and better economic partners. Governments that enforce safe workplaces, prohibit exploitative child and forced labour, and educate their citizens create a more level playing field and broader customer base for the global marketplace. Conversely, governments that threaten regional and global peace, from Iran to North Korea, are also egregious human rights abusers, with citizens trapped in the grip of domestic repression, economic deprivation, and international isolation.”
US Secretary of State, John Kerry
We reproduce here the Executive Summaries of the report with regards to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The full report can be accessed at http://www.state.gov. More…
The President of the European Council Herman Van
Rompuy (r) greets OSCE Secretary General Lamberto
Zannier during the latter’s official visit to the EU,
Brussels, 10 April 2013.
Picture courtesy of the European Union
The current challenging political and economic environment calls for focused international response, said OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy during their meeting on 10 April 2013.
According to the web portal osce.org they discussed a wide range of issues related to the European security dialogue, including the role the OSCE can play as a forum to build bridges between different countries to create a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community. They also exchanged views on regional issues on the OSCE agenda including recent developments related to the protracted conflicts. In Brussels the Secretary General also met with Commissioner Štefan Füle responsible for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy and senior officials from the European External Action Service.
Whilst the EU and the OSCE are two organisations that are very different in nature they face many common challenges and the overlap of membership of the 27 EU member states who form nearly half the membership of the OSCE calls for a more harmonised and more focused relationship. Nowhere is this more the case than in the South Caucasus where the two organisations are involved in multiple ways on wide spectrum of issues involving Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, from conflict resolution to democracy and human rights issues. 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…
The Armenian opposition activists that rallied around defeated presidential candidate Raffi Hovannesian in the aftermath of the 18 February Presidential elections have been faced with a common dilemma – their protests are large, but not as yet large enough to force the government’s hand. In political events in the South Caucasus this has proved a critical factor before. More…
Serzh Sargsyan was sworn in as President of Armenia for his second term at a ceremony held on the 9th April, despite protests by opposition activists who claim that the 18 February elections were flawed and that there should have been a run-off between him and the runner-up.
As opposition supporters clashed with police outside the Presidential Palace in Yerevan the President was telling an audience of 2000 VIP guests at the City’s Sport and Concert complex of how he proposed to deal with Armenia’s challenging problems in the next five years.
Without making a direct reference to the elections controversy Sargsyan said that ‘Elections do not mark a destination; they signify a new phase. This is the phase for unrelenting and persistent work. The time has come to move from words to work, to reinforce words with work.” The President highlighted three main areas of priorities in domestic politics, namely economic development, rule of law and what he called “the deepening of democracy”.
Observers consider that Sargsyan will need to impliment serious changes, particularly in personnel, in order to be able to cope with the serious political and economic problems that his country faces. However he is a conservative person by nature and will not find this easy.
source: CEW with agencies
photo: President Sargsyan arriving for his swearing-in as President of Armenia at a ceremony held on 9 April in Yerevan. (picture courtesy of the press office of the President of Armenia.)
The Constitutional Court of Armenia
The Armenian Constitutional Court on 13 March rejected a request by Raffi Hovannesian, one of the candidates in last month’s presidential election, to annul the vote and call for new elections. The decision, although hardly surprising, added to an already tense situation in the Armenian capital Yerevan as Hovannesian continued his hunger strike, which he promises will only end on 9 April. Various political personalities from both government and opposition have visited Hovannesian in the last days, and there has been a call on Hovannesian to end the hunger strike from Armenia’s spiritual centre Echmiazin. Hovhannesian however continues to call on President Serzh Sargsyan to visit him on Liberty Square where he has been camping out and negotiate with him directly for a way out of the impasse.
Sargsyan himself was last week in Moscow and Brussels where he received the endorsements of the Russian President Vladimir Putin,. and of the President of the European People’s Party, Martens. Political observers say that the situation remains fragile because a number of important political forces, although not necessarily sympathetic to Havhannesian, might use the current impasse to weaken President Sargsyan. There are also concerns about Hovhannesian’s health.
source CEW staff team
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…
Raffi Hovannisian on hunger strike in Yerevan’s main square on 11 March 2013.
Raffi Hovannisian who claims that he has won the Presidential Elections held in Armenia on 18 February, on Sunday 10 March started a hunger strike in the main square of the Armenian Capital Yerevan.
Hovannisian has called for the incumbent President, Serzh Sargsyan, who intends to be sworn in for a second term as president on April 9th to step down. “As long as Mr. Sargsyan has not stepped down, I will stay at Liberty Square and will not eat food,” he noted.
Meanwhile the next rally of Hovannisian’s supporters will be held on March 15 at 5pm. “On that day we will discuss the future courses of action, the Constitutional Court’s ruling [on whether or not the presidential should be declared null and void], and together we will start the matter of [taking] actions, [making] decisions, and consolidate the triumph,” stated the Presidential contender. More…
The Armenian Constitutional Court in session. (picture courtesy of news.am).
The Armenian Constitutional Court has started considering an appeal by Raffi Hovannisian and other contestants in last months’ presidential election to annul the result because of election fraud.
The Constitutional Court
is expected to give its judgment to the challenge to the election results by Thursday, 15 March when Hovannisian plans to hold another rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
The Elections Observation Missions of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (ODIHR) have become a regular feature of the electoral process on the European continent, and a model for others world-wide. The Missions, consisting of a core team and a handful of long term observers deploy a month ahead of the poll and are joined for election-day by several hundred short term observers and delegations from the Parliamentary Assemblies of the continent’s leading institutions. Whilst not perfect, the ODIHR model remains the best.
One feature that has often caused concern is the way that these missions report their findings. It has now been a long standing habit (it would be wrong to call it anything else), for the Election Observation Missions to issue two interim reports prior to election-day. They are often very technical in nature. On election day the Mission then joins up with the parliamentary delegations from the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, sometimes the NATO PA and until recently with the OSCE’s own Parliamentary Assembly, for the day-after Press Conference, usually held at 3.00 or 4.00 in the afternoon. This has traditionally been the most high profile part of the process. The atmosphere is usually highly charged, the journalists coming from overseas to cover the election would still be around, and everybody is waiting for the key phrase or phrases which would indicate that the election has been deemed free and/or fair, although in recent years the wording has become increasingly more ambiguous. The Parliamentarians then leave as quickly as they had arrived, and the ODIHR mission lingers on in-country for a while to observe the post-election environment. Rarely, as was the case in Armenia after the 2008 Presidential election and again this month, it issues a third interim report. The Mission then departs and two months after the Mission issues a final report.
Many feel that these habits are due for review. ODIHR, in an effort one suspects to insulate itself from the pressures of its political masters – the OSCE member states represented by the Permanent Council in Vienna, increasingly depicts its work and its reports as “technical”, checking performance against compliance. They may very well be, but there is no denying that the consequences of the reports are political, and the way that ODIHR is communicating its findings is, in that sense, not very efficient. More…
Raffi Hovhannessian was the only mainstream Armenian opposition politician who at the end of last year decided to throw his hat into the election ring. He conducted a campaign that verged on the surreal – avoiding controversy, shaking hands, talking of serenity and unity. Some said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread; others accused him of legitimising with his candidature a flawed process; others dismissed him as irrelevant. He could have been any of these three things, or even all of them, but in any case it now does not matter. Whether the 539,691 Armenians who voted for him did so because they liked him or his programme, or because they were voting against the incumbent, we will never quite know. The issue now is not the election (if it ever was) but the political process, and Hovhanessian has emerged much stronger than any of the other opposition political leaders to play the leading role. After the election results were announced he was smart enough to understand that this was Raffi’s moment and he grabbed it with both hands, leaving both the government and the other opposition leaders confused and disorientated. 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…