When Aliyev’s MPs were shown the door - A historic PACE debate
The full version of this paper is available in PDF format
Making history – PACE winter session 2024
On the opening morning of the first day of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) first part session of 2024, Frank Schwabe, a German Social Democrat, stood up to present a motion to "challenge the still unratified credentials of the delegation of Azerbaijan on substantive grounds". He was urging his colleagues to suspend the participation of Azerbaijani parliamentarians in the Assembly on account of a "serious violation of the basic principles of the Council of Europe."
It was a bold move, leading to a historic debate and decision.
Since its first meeting in August 1949, the Assembly has imposed sanctions just four times. The first two occasions followed coup d'etats – in Greece in 1967 (resulting in the suspension of the Greek delegation in 1969) and in Turkey in 1980 (resulting in the suspension of the Turkish delegation in 1981). Both delegations were excluded from the work of the Assembly.
Since 1990, on two occasions the credentials of the Russian delegation were ratified with restrictions. In April 2000, at the height of the second Chechen war, the Russian delegation was stripped of its voting rights but remained in the Assembly. The same happened in 2014, following Russia's annexation of Crimea. In January 2015, the Russian delegation walked out and refused to present its credentials again until 2019. In the following years, the Russian delegation's credentials were always ratified, as a 2019 resolution explained:
"The Parliamentary Assembly constitutes the most important pan-European platform where political dialogue on the Russian Federation's obligations under the Statute of the Council of Europe can take place … Consequently, the Assembly resolves to ratify the credentials of the Russian delegation."
One month before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as troops were brought to its borders, PACE was ratifying the Russian credentials.
Two times, challenges of the credentials were tried and failed. In 2009, the Russian delegation survived a challenge in the wake of its invasion of Georgia the previous year. In 2006, a challenge to Azerbaijan's credentials, following deeply flawed elections in November 2005, also failed. Tony Lloyd, the UK parliamentarian appointed to examine the challenge, observed:
"The latest parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan sadly follow the same line as all the previous ballots since the country's accession – they failed to meet Council of Europe standards. This clearly presents a situation falling under the provisions of rule 8.2.b. – "persistent failure to honour obligations and commitments", a situation that cannot be tolerated any further.
The argument of the authorities and of our Azeri parliamentary colleagues that despite the shortcomings these elections have been the most democratic in the recent history of the country cannot be accepted as an excuse.
Neither can we agree with the justification of mass violations based on alleged cultural differences and on the fact that mentalities cannot be changed overnight … The Assembly cannot tolerate a situation where the elected representatives of the Azeri people lack the democratic credentials of a substantial part of their own population and where, because of this, the entire democratic process is undermined."
A majority in the Assembly rejected this, with 100 voting to ratify the Azerbaijan' delegation's credentials and 67 voting against. We now know that in 2006, the Assembly was already in thrall to Azerbaijan's caviar diplomacy. This changed in 2017.
As the debate in January 2024 made obvious, it is no longer the case.