„The issues of energy and trade cannot take precedence over human rights,” said MEP Maretje Schaake during the customary human rights debates at the end of the plenary session of the European Parliament (“EP”). The quote aptly captures one of the most salient oppositions of today’s international relations, namely that between the economy and human rights, which the EU tries – with various results – to reconcile.
This time, one of human rights debates was devoted to the situation in Azerbaijan, in particular the detention of Ilgar Mammadov. EP adopted a resolution which strongly condemns the arrest of Mammadov, amply criticises the Azerbaijani authorities for countless deficiencies in human rights protection and calls for immediate action, both to release Mammadov and strengthen human rights guarantees in Azerbaijan.
EP’s resolution is yet another EU call to the authorities in Baku. In their recent joint statement, Catherine Ashton and Stefan Fule expressed concern at curbs on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and renewed EU’s readiness to assist the county in meeting “its voluntarily agreed international commitments.” The resolution also follows the 2012 ENP country progress report on Azerbaijan in which we read, among others, that “Azerbaijan needs to step up its efforts if it is to meet all Action Plan commitments on democracy, including the electoral process, the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the independence of the judicial system [...].”
The resolution was sparked by the case of Ilgar Mammadov, the leader of the opposition movement REAL and director of the School of Political Studies of the Council of Europe in Baku, and Tofiq Yakublu, the deputy-chairman of the opposition party Musavat who were arrested by the Azerbaijani authorities on 14 February 2013. They have been illegally detained since then. Before Mammadov’s arrest, he was confirmed to run as a candidate for the Azerbaijani presidential elections in October 2013. The temporary detention of Ilgar Mammadov has already been prolonged twice in order to keep him in confinement pending the upcoming elections.
Human rights defenders and the representatives of the civil society are in agreement that Mammadov’s detention was illegal and politically motivated, and that it was an attempt to intimidate the opposition. The European Parliament called for Mammadov’s release and urged the authorities to investigate the charges against him in a speedy, fair, transparent and independent manner.
In its resolution, EP made notice of the deterioraring human rights situation in Azerbaijan, inluding the attacks on the political opposition, youth activists, NGOs, free expression and independent media. The attacks often take form of changes in law, for example the amendments to the law on NGOs, the Criminal Code or the Freedom of Assembly Law. The resolution condemned all forms of intimidation, arrest, detention or prosecution of opposition party leaders or members, activists, journalists or bloggers solely because they have expressed their views.
EP also urged the Azerbaijani authorities to unconditionally grant authorization to reopen the Human Rights House in Baku. It has been more than 2 years since the authorities ordered its closure. EP also called on the government in Baku to, without further delay or administrative burdens, register the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre and the Human Rights Club.
Taking into account that Azerbaijan will take over the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe, EP also urged the Azerbaijani authorities to comply with all rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. During the debate in the Parliament, eurodeputies emphasised that full compliance with human right, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law is a basis for cooperation within the Eastern Partnership and forms integral part of the obligations accepted by Azerbaijan as a member of the Council of Europe and OSCE.
The European Parliament supported the ongoing negotiations on the Association Agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan, but reaffirmed its stance that the Agreement has to include clauses and benchmarks which refer to the protection and promotion of human rights.
„In the light of spreading repressions, we expect that Azerbaijani authorities will comply with their obligations enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, especially before taking over the rotating chairmanship in the Council of Europe in 2014, because the respect for the freedom of the media and the right to peaceful assembly constitute a condition of a country’s membership in the Council of Europe, OSCE and of the currently negotiated Association Agreement with the EU,” Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, a Polish MEP and one of the authors of the resolution, said during the debate.
In one of their last points, EP called on Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso “to speak out on the EU’s human rights concerns vis-à-vis Azerbaijan, as outlined in the last ENP progress report, during President Ilham Aliyev’s planned visit to Brussels.” Let us hope that the Commission President hears this call and that human rights, indeed, eventually take precedece over energy and trade.