Azerbaijani president threatens to exit top European bodies

MSN News
Jan 2 2024

Azerbaijan's president has said that his country may consider leaving top European bodies, such as the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Court of Human Rights.

The warning came soon after the country's delegation quit the CoE's parliamentary assembly (PACE) as the body was about to reject its credentials, and amid general crises with the West.

On February 1, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Martin Chungong. The IPU is a union of national parliaments of countries around the world.

In remarks at the meeting quoted by the presidential website, Aliyev reacted for the first time to PACE's move to push out the Azerbaijani delegation. He called the move "anti-Azerbaijani" and said that it was initiated by a minority group "which does not serve dialogue and is overall in opposition to the traditions of a parliamentary platform."

The idea to vote the Azerbaijani delegation out was raised by German MP Frank Schwabe and supported by thirty members of the Assembly.

Aliyev said that if the rights of the Azerbaijani delegation at PACE are not restored, Baku will consider pulling out altogether from the CoE and the European Court of Human Rights, according to the website.

In voting out the Azerbaijani delegation on January 24, PACE concluded that the country has "not fulfilled major commitments" stemming from its joining the Council of Europe in 2001.

"Very serious concerns remain as to [Azerbaijan's] ability to conduct free and fairelections, the separation of powers, the weakness of its legislature vis-à-vis the executive, the independence of the judiciary and respect for human rights, as illustrated by numerous judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and opinions of the Venice Commission," PACE said in its resolution.

The decision only concerns Azerbaijan's parliamentary delegation and the country remains a member of the CoE – for now.

Aliyev's threat to quit the CoE and human rights court comes amid deteriorating relations with Western countries and institutions.

In late December, the French ambassador to Azerbaijan was summoned to the foreign ministry, and two embassy employees were declared persona non grata and expelled "for actions incompatible with their diplomatic status and which contradicted the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations." France rejected the allegation and retaliated the following day by expelling two Azerbaijani diplomats.

While Azerbaijani officials did not specify what the French diplomats had supposedly done wrong, pro-government media earlier asserted that the country's law enforcement had exposed a spy network working for France.

Similar allegations were also recently made against the U.S. amid deteriorating relations after which Azerbaijani police went on a spree of arresting independent journalists, media directors, and opposition activists.

"Azerbaijan's assault on journalists, illegal detention of opposition & alleged use of transnational repression are anti-democratic tactics," Chair of U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin wrote on X on January 29. "Baku must release political prisoners & halt harassment to be part of the international community, ahead of COP29."

The criticism from the West against Azerbaijan isn't limited to the latter's internal affairs. It has also targeted Baku's military offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh in September, which prompted the entire 100,000-some Armenian population to flee.

On January 22, the European Union's foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell expressed his concerns over what he called "territorial claims" against Armenia by Aliyev. "Any violation of Armenia's territorial integrity would be unacceptable and will have severe consequences for our relations with Azerbaijan," he told a news briefing in Brussels. Borrell also said the EU foreign ministers "expressed solidarity" with France over the expulsion of its diplomats from Baku.

(Earlier that month, Aliyev revived his demand that Armenia allow an extraterritorial corridor through its territory between Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave and return eight ex-Soviet-Azerbaijani villages still under Armenian control)

Azerbaijan's foreign ministry in an English-language statement called Borrell's comment a "misinterpretation" and "open disregard of Azerbaijan's legitimate interests."

"Furthermore, EU Representative's expressed solidarity with France about the expulsion of diplomats is tantamount to justifying illegal actions of expelled French diplomats in Azerbaijan, while being a clear intervention into the continuing legal investigation process," it read.

"Such a biased statement, while ignoring baseless measures against Azerbaijan's diplomats in France, demonstrates how this institution is negatively affected by certain countries, which openly neglect all the rules and guidelines of diplomatic conduct, and refuse to investigate the case."

Even before Aliyev's statement, Azerbaijan's civil society was concerned that the country's insistence on not cooperating with the Council of Europe's obligations would ultimately result in Baku exiting the council.

"In fact, the refusal to cooperate started years ago. For years, PACE resolutions have not been implemented, political prisoners have not been released, media, civil society and political parties have not been given opportunities to operate. I think PACE is too late for sanctions," Baku-based analyst Anar Mammadli wrote on Facebook on January 23.