Guide to a Crime Scene - Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe: State repression and those who fight it

3 April 2024
Ilham Aliyev
Ilham Aliyev

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The Committee of Ministers (CoM) represents the governments of the 46 member states of the Council of Europe. The chairmanship is held by each member state for a period of six months, in alphabetical order. Since November 2023, Lichtenstein holds the chairmanship. Each government is represented by its ambassador (permanent representative) in Strasbourg. There, the CoM meets weekly, and at least once a year it meets at the level of the foreign ministers. It decides on the admission or suspension of member states. It adopts the rules of procedure. A key responsibility is to ensure the implementation of judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. Conclusions of the CoM "may take the form of recommendations to the governments." It monitors the action taken by governments in line with those recommendations.

In January 2024, the Parliamentay Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted overwhelmingly to suspend the Azerbaijani delegation from its workings. So far, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has not responded either to PACE's decision, or to the dramatic deterioration of human rights that prompted it. When will this change? When will the meaningless process of funding activities in Azerbaijan under the 2022-2025 Action Plan be suspended? When will the Committee of Ministers call on Azerbaijan to improve its abysmal human rights record?

Heeding the lessons of past failings regarding Putin's Russia in the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers should now break its silence with a simple strong message, both to Azerbaijan and to all member states in the future:

There can be no political prisoners in any Council of Europe member state.

Both PACE and the Committee of Ministers want Azerbaijan to remain a member of the Council of Europe. To remain a member Azerbaijan must release its political prisoners now.

If it does so, PACE can restore the credentials of the Azerbaijani delegation again. If it does not do so, the Committee of Ministers should follow the lead of PACE and suspend Azerbaijan's membership, based on Article 8 of the Statutes, before August 2024.

PACE cannot allow Azerbaijan back into PACE without it first releasing political prisoners. At the same time, PACE and the CoM being deeply divided on such a vital issue sends a signal of weakness and institutional confusion. This leaves one way to overcome this division: for member states to put serious pressure on Baku to take the commitments it made in 2001 seriously.

It is appropriate to do so now: After all, this is what the Council of Europe was set up for 75 years ago.