Georgia: On the right course, but a free electoral environment is a must.


The positive assessment of the pre-election mission of the US Government that visited Tbilisi over the last days sums up well the current political atmosphere in Tbilisi. The stress that marked the years of the Saakashvili administration with its heavy handed police tactics and massive surveillance has gone, and everybody can notice this. This has greatly contributed to creating the right conditions in which Georgians will choose their next President on 27 October. Yet there is no room for complacency. Georgia is not just Tbilisi and outside the capital old habits die hard.

Two particular concerns need to be highlighted. The first is connected with disruptions to the campaign activities of the candidate of the United National Movement, David Bakradze. Appearance of the odd clown at election gatherings is a known and accepted ploy in elections in western countries. Indeed many a British Prime Minister had to endure the presence of one during their campaigning. But there is a fine line between making a point and disrupting a political event, with or without violence. This line must not be crossed and Georgian law enforcement bodies must see to that. Bakradze is in this election the underdog and his rights need to be protected, fully. The second issue which was correctly also raised by the US delegation is that related to National Minorities. Here the Georgian Dream government has been less than re-assuring in its conduct nationally, but even more so in terms of the attitude of its proxies in the regions. Georgia is not simply a country of ethnic Georgians – it is a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country, and has been for many centuries. Those trying to give an impression otherwise are wrong. This is an issue with importance way beyond the current Presidential election, but the election will provide another test as to how Georgia is treating its national minorities. Here Ivanishvili and co are yet to prove themselves.

This commentary was prepared by the editorial team of CEW.  

The case of Ilgar Mammedov puts the Council of Europe on the spot.

ilgar mammedov 2The 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…

OSCE-EU – A relationship that needs to be fine-tuned.

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 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 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…

Why size matters.


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…

Jittery Baku breaks up protest with rubber bullets and water canons.

A protestor being detained in Baku on 10 March 2013. (Picture courtesy of RFE/RL)

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…

Armenian Constitutional Court considering appeal by candidates to annul Presidential election result

The Armenian Constitutional Court in session. (picture courtesy of

The Armenian Constitutional Court in session. (picture courtesy of

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.