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EU Parliament Resolution on Azerbaijan: Azerbaijani Government Curbs Contacts between Civil Society Groups in Armenia and Azerbaijan

The European parliament with 365 for, 202 against and 72 abstention adopted a resolution which condemns human right violations in Azerbaijan. In the resolution a reference is made to the  November 2015 Azerbaijani  parliamentary elections, on the occasion of which it is noted
"European Parliament declined to send an Election Observation Mission, as the assessment
was that the background for holding free and fair elections does not exist and limitations on
the freedoms of expression, assembly and association in the country make it impossible to
create a level playing field for candidates and to organise a genuinely competitive vote."

Below is the full text of the resolution:

European Parliament resolution on Azerbaijan
(2015/2840(RSP))

The European Parliament,
– having regard to its previous resolutions on Azerbaijan, in particular those concerning the
human rights situation and the rule of law,

– having regard to the established relationship between the EU and Azerbaijan, which took
effect in 1999, as represented by the implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy
(ENP) Action Plan, the creation of the Eastern Partnership (EaP), the negotiations on the EUAzerbaijan
association agreement and Azerbaijan’s participation in the Euronest
Parliamentary Assembly,

– having regard to the 2014 ENP country progress report on Azerbaijan of 25 March 2015
(SWD(2015)64),

– having regard to the EU-Azerbaijan ENP Action Plan,

– having regard to the remarks of 22 July 2015 by the President of the European Council,
Donald Tusk, following his meeting with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev,

– having regard to the visit to Baku of the EU Special Representative on Human Rights,
Stavros Lambrinidis, from 23 to 26 February 2015,

– having regard to the statement of 8 September 2015 by the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, condemning the ongoing crackdown on civil society
and independent voices in Azerbaijan,

– having regard to the statements by the Vice-President of the Commission / High
Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and
Commissioner Johannes Hahn with regard to the recent detention, imprisonment, sentencing
and murders of leading journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan,

– having regard to the EU statement of 19 August 2015 on human rights in Azerbaijan at
OSCE Special Permanent Council meeting No 1064 in Vienna,

– having regard to the recent statements by the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe,
Thorbjørn Jagland, on the case of Khadija Ismayilova, the cases of Leyla Yunus, director of
the Institute for Peace and Democracy in Azerbaijan, and her husband, Arif Yunus, and the
murder of the Azerbaijani journalist Rasim Aliyev,

– having regard to the Helsinki Declaration adopted by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at
its annual session between 5 July and 9 July 2015, which ‘condemns the continued
persecution and imprisonment on politically motivated charges of journalists and human
rights defenders in several OSCE participating States and expresses its concern at the
continued misuse of tax and administrative legislation to justify these acts’,

– having regard to the resolution of 23 June 2015 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe on the functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan,

– having regard to the opinion of 15 December 2014 of the Council of Europe’s Venice
Commission stating that the recent amendments to the law on non-governmental
organisations ‘further restrict the operation of NGOs in Azerbaijan’,

– having regard to the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, and to the Council
conclusions of 23 June 2014 on the tenth anniversary of those guidelines,

– having regard to the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights
Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998,

– having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas the overall human rights situation in Azerbaijan has deteriorated continuously over
the last few years, with growing intimidation and repression and intensification of the
practice of criminal prosecution of NGO leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and
other civil society representatives;

B. whereas the award-winning investigative journalist for RFE/RL Khadija Ismayilova was
sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on alleged charges of misappropriation,
embezzlement and tax evasion after publishing several stories of corruption concerning the
President’s family; whereas human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus were sentenced to
eight and a half and seven years’ imprisonment respectively on charges including fraud and
tax evasion in a trial that fell far short of international standards; whereas the well-known
human rights activist Rasul Jafarov and the highly respected human rights lawyer Intigam
Aliyev were sentenced on similar charges, following trials marred by due process violations,
and are currently serving prison sentences of six years and three months and seven and a half
years respectively; whereas numerous other prominent Azerbaijani civil society figures
remain imprisoned, including Anar Mammadli, Rauf Mirkadirov, Ömar Mammadov, Tofiq
Yaqublu, Ilgar Mammadov, Nijat Aliyev, Araz Guliyev, Parviz Hashimli, Seymur Hezi,
Hilal Mammadov and Taleh Khasmammadov, and whereas the health of some of these
prisoners is steadily deteriorating;

C. whereas Leyla Yunus and Rasul Jafarov, before they were themselves arrested, led a group of
prominent Azerbaijani human rights defenders and experts that produced a list of nearly one
hundred Azerbaijanis who qualify as political prisoners under the definition adopted by the
Council of Europe in 2012;

D. whereas journalists and civil society leaders are being subjected to continuous intimidation
and harassment, among them Emin Milli, Director of Meydan TV, who has received death
threats and members of whose family have been arrested on trumped-up charges, as well as
journalists working with Meydan TV in Azerbaijan; whereas the founder of the Institute for
Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and human rights defender, Emin Huseynov, has
sought refuge in Switzerland after facing trumped-up charges and has had his Azerbaijani
citizenship revoked;

E. whereas many more journalists and civil society activists are faced with legal proceedings,
travel bans and restrictions on their freedom of movement in relation to their human rights
activities; whereas the Azerbaijani government is also clamping down on independent groups
through restrictive new laws regulating NGOs; whereas because of these laws many groups
have been effectively forced to shut down after their bank accounts were frozen or their
sources of funding blocked following the government’s refusal to authorise new grants from
foreign donor organisations;

F. whereas peaceful protesters have been effectively banned from demonstrating in central
Baku since 2006, and new, harsh fines and longer periods of administrative detention for
those who organise or participate in unauthorised public gatherings have recently been
introduced;

G. whereas the chair of the IRFS, the journalist Rasim Aliyev, died in a Baku hospital after
being severely beaten, following continuous threats and intimidation in the aftermath of his
criticisms of President Aliyev via social media;

H. whereas Azerbaijan is one of the founding members of the Eastern Partnership; whereas the
EU and Eastern European leaders have on numerous occasions reaffirmed that the Eastern
Partnership is based on a community of values and on the principles of liberty, democracy,
respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law; whereas Azerbaijan
aspires to step up and deepen its relations with the EU, aiming at a strategic partnership;

I. whereas in 2014 the EU was unable to disburse 11 of its 13 grants to NGOs because of the
restrictive legislation, and continues to encounter severe limitations on its ability to fund
independent civil society groups and activists in Azerbaijan; whereas many of the EU
grantees are either in prison – e.g. the human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev – or have fled the
country and closed their operations;

J. whereas the OSCE office in Baku was closed on 4 July 2015 following the Azerbaijani
authorities’ decision to terminate the Memorandum of Understanding between the
Government of Azerbaijan and the OSCE;

K. whereas Freedom House considers Azerbaijan to be ‘not free’, rating its press as ‘not free’
and its internet as ‘partially free’; whereas Azerbaijan has suffered the greatest decline in
democratic governance in all of Eurasia over the past ten years;

L. whereas in November 2015 Azerbaijan will hold parliamentary elections; whereas the
European Parliament declined to send an Election Observation Mission, as the assessment
was that the background for holding free and fair elections does not exist and limitations on
the freedoms of expression, assembly and association in the country make it impossible to
create a level playing field for candidates and to organise a genuinely competitive vote;

M. whereas sectoral cooperation is mutually beneficial, especially in the energy sector; whereas
Azerbaijan has the potential to become one of the EU’s major commercial partners;

 

1. Expresses its serious concern over the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation
in the country, and recalls that the EU attaches special importance to human rights and
fundamental freedoms in the context of bilateral cooperation, as key elements of the Eastern
Partnership and also as foundational pillars of international organisations such as the Council
of Europe and the OCSE, of both of which Azerbaijan is a member;

2. Calls for the immediate and unconditional release from jail of all political prisoners, human
rights defenders, journalists and other civil society activists, including Khadija Ismayilova,
Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus, Anar Mammadli, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev, Rauf
Mirkadirov, Ömar Mammadov, Tofiq Yaqublu, Nijat Aliyev, Araz Guliyev, Parviz Hashimli,
Seymur Hezi, Hilal Mammadov, Taleh Khasmammadov and Ilgar Mammadov, in line with
the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and calls for all charges
against them to be dropped and for the full restoration of their political and civil rights and
public image;

3. Strongly condemns the unprecedented repression against civil society in Azerbaijan;
reiterates its deep concern for the fate of the colleagues of those imprisoned who are still free
but are under criminal investigation, in the light of reports from human rights defenders and
domestic and international NGOs of the alleged use of fabricated charges against political
figures, activists and journalists; urges the Azerbaijani authorities to end the practices of
selective criminal prosecution and imprisonment of journalists, human rights defenders and
others who criticise the government, and to ensure that all persons detained, including
journalists, political and civil society activists, enjoy full due process rights, in particular
access to a lawyer of their choosing and access to their families, and are covered by other fair
trial norms;

4. Welcomes the possibility granted by the Azerbaijani authorities to a European medical team
to visit Leyla and Arif Yunus, and calls for their release, also for humanitarian reasons;
draws attention to the conditions of imprisonment of Leyla and Arif Yunus and Intigam
Aliyev, which have led to the serious deterioration of their health with possibly lifethreatening
consequences; calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to allow a European medical
team to examine Intigam Aliyev and to ensure that all prisoners receive proper healthcare
when needed;

5. Calls for a prompt investigation into the death of the journalist and IRFS chair Rasim Aliyev;
notes with concern the allegations put forward by a group of journalists that Mr Aliyev died
because he had not received appropriate assistance from the doctors assigned to him in the
hospital;

6. Reminds the authorities in Azerbaijan that the wellbeing of the population, which entails
respect for rights and freedoms, is an essential component of sustainable economic growth;

7. Calls upon Azerbaijan to respect and implement its commitments undertaken as a member of
the Council of Europe; reiterates its call on the Azerbaijani authorities to comply with all
rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concerning Azerbaijan; calls for the
ruling of 16 June 2015 and all other ECHR rulings to be complied with;

8. Urges the government of Azerbaijan to fully cooperate with and implement the
recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and Commissioner for
Human Rights, the UN special procedures in regard to human rights defenders, the rights of
freedom of association and peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and arbitrary detention,
with the aim of amending its legislation and adapting its practices in full conformity with the
conclusions of the experts;

9. Calls on the government of Azerbaijan to immediately end its crackdown on civil society and
human rights work, ensuring that independent civil society groups and activists can operate
without undue hindrance or fear of persecution, including by repealing the laws severely
restricting civil society, unfreezing bank accounts of non-governmental groups and their
leaders, and allowing access to foreign funding;

10. Deplores the continued actions taken by the Azerbaijani government to curb contacts
between civil society groups, youth activists and intellectuals in Armenia and Azerbaijan,
which are of extreme importance for bridging the long hostility between the two countries; in
this regard, again recalls the important work done in this area by Leyla and Arif Yunus;

11. Calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to respect freedom of the press and media, both in
legislation and in practice and both online and offline, to guarantee freedom of expression in
line with international standards and to end censorship of criticism of the government via
media outlets;

12. Is extremely concerned over the situation of LGBTI people in Azerbaijan; strongly
condemns political hate speech against LGBTI people coming from the highest levels; calls
on the Azerbaijani government to stop obstructing and intimidating human rights defenders
working for the rights of LGBTI people;

13. Underlines the importance of serious and mutually respectful dialogue between the EU and
the government of Azerbaijan, the opposition forces and civil society;

14. Reiterates that the negotiations for a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Azerbaijan should
be immediately put on hold as long the government fails to take concrete steps in advancing
respect for universal human rights;

15. Calls on the Council, the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to
strictly apply the ‘more for more’ principle, with a specific focus on the situation of human
rights defenders, in line with the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, the
independence of the judiciary, democratic reforms and fundamental rights and freedoms, and
to clearly lay down the consequences of lagging behind on reforms; calls on the Commission
to review and suspend temporarily, if needed, all funding not related to human rights, civil
society and grassroots level people-to-people cooperation granted to Azerbaijan through the
European Neighbourhood Instrument, in light of the abovementioned incidents of human
rights defenders being targeted for documenting human rights violations in Azerbaijan; calls
on the Commission and the Member States to maintain funding for people-to-people contacts
and cooperation in such areas as civil society, education and academia, as well as youth and
student exchanges;

16. Calls on the Council, the Commission, and the VP/HR to mount a strong and unified
response to the crackdown under way in Azerbaijan, in order to make it clear that the
prevailing situation is wholly unacceptable and that it cannot be ‘business as usual’ until the
government releases all those imprisoned on politically motivated charges and ends the
ongoing crackdown against independent civil society groups;

17. Regrets that the EU-Azerbaijan human rights dialogue has not made any substantial progress
as regards the human rights situation in the country; calls on the EEAS to step up this
dialogue with a view to making it effective and result-oriented, and to report regularly to
Parliament;

18. Calls on the EU authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the corruption
allegations against President Aliyev and members of his family revealed by the work of the
investigative journalist Khadija Ismaylova;

19. Calls on the Council to avoid double standards in relation to the EaP countries, and to
consider, in this regard, targeted sanctions and visa bans on all politicians, officials and
judges involved in the political persecutions;

20. Calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to cooperate with and facilitate visits by representatives
of regional organisations such as the Council of Europe and the OCSE; strongly deplores the
decision of the Azerbaijani authorities to close the OCSE offices in Baku;

21. Notes that independent election monitors, including the long-term OSCE observation mission
and national ones, have documented major breaches of electoral standards in Azerbaijan for
all presidential and parliamentary elections since and including the presidential election of
October 2003; expresses its serious concern as to whether the conditions are in place for a
free and fair vote on 1 November 2015, given that leaders of opposition parties have been
imprisoned, media and journalists are not allowed to operate freely and without intimidation,
and a climate of fear is prevalent;

22. Calls on the EEAS and the Member States to refrain from election observation activities, as
any observation mission under the present conditions will be futile and will only serve to
legitimise a deeply flawed electoral environment;

23. Recalls its decision to send a European Parliament delegation to Azerbaijan, and stresses the
importance of sending this delegation as soon as possible in order to engage with the
Azerbaijani authorities on urgent issues such as human rights and the conflict in Nagorno-
Karabakh;

24. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the European External Action Service, the
European Council, the Commission, the government and parliament of the Republic of
Azerbaijan, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN Human Rights Council.

 

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