Azerbaijan's PACE Suspension: 3 Political Factors To Consider

As ties with Brussels worsened, Azerbaijan announced on January 24 that it was discontinuing its collaboration with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The PACE, a legislative body with its headquarters in Strasbourg, is “being used as a platform to target some member states,” according to a statement from the Azerbaijani delegation. 

On the first day of PACE’s 2024 winter session, Germany’s Frank Schwabe questioned the Azerbaijani delegation’s credentials. Two days later, the decision was made. In particular, Schwabe brought up the issue of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners and mentioned the “violent displacement of people” from Nagorno-Karabakh when Azerbaijan reclaimed the territory, which is mostly inhabited by Armenians. Following Azerbaijan’s retake of Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023, over 100,000 ethnic Armenians left the region.

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Human Rights Concerns and Democratic Backsliding

The German delegate also brought up the fact that at least three PACE rapporteurs in 2023 had been unable to travel to Azerbaijan. “Core principles of the PACE are exploited by certain biased groups to advance their narrow interests,” the Azerbaijani delegation stated in a statement. “Political corruption, discrimination, hatred towards ethnic and religious groups, double standards, haughtiness, and chauvinism have become prevalent practices in the PACE,” the statement continued. 

Baku decided to “cease its engagement with and presence at the PACE until further notice,” according to the delegation, which accused the PACE of displaying Azerbaijan Phobia and Islamophobia and generating an unbearable atmosphere. The announcement of Azerbaijan’s departure from the PACE coincides with escalating hostilities between Baku and Brussels over Brussels’ alleged bias against Yerevan as the two countries work to restore diplomatic ties.

Geopolitical Tensions in The South Caucasus

On January 10, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan rejected an Armenian request to construct boundaries using maps from the Soviet era created in the 1970s, arguing that Azerbaijani regions had been given to Armenia by the Soviet government. On January 22, EU foreign policy leader Josep Borrell denounced Aliyev’s territorial claims and threatened severe consequences in the event that Armenia’s territorial integrity was compromised. 

The Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan declared the next day that Borrell’s remarks amounted to a blatant misinterpretation of facts and that the head of the EU envoy had used “threatening rhetoric. Strangely enough, the European Parliament, PACE, Russia, and France have all joined the group of those opposed to Azerbaijan and Armenia bilateral discussion structure. In the event that Azerbaijan and Armenia sign a peace treaty, it will be fascinating to observe the expressions on the faces of all these groups. If not, these organizations will succeed in achieving their objectives.

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Azerbaijan’s Response And Domestic Politics

In the authoritarian system depicted in Azerbaijani politics, political opponents face repression, civil rights are curtailed, human rights violations are pervasive, corruption is rife, and power is centralized in the hands of President Ilham Aliyev and his close family. Administratively speaking, Azerbaijan is split up into 11 cities (şęhər) and 69 districts (rayon), all of which report to the Republic. Out of them, 7 districts and 1 city are located inside the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Municipalities (bələdiyyɞ) are subdivided into the districts further. The freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Azerbaijan has been steadily declining for a while, but since the middle of 2012, things have drastically become worse. 

Ever since, the government has made a determined attempt to suppress political activity by the opposition, penalize accusations of corruption and other criticism of government policies made in public, and exert more control over nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). It has achieved this by enacting restrictive legislative amendments, arbitrarily disbanding public demonstrations in the nation’s capital, arresting and imprisoning numerous political activists on false pretenses, and neglecting to look into and prosecute those behind violent attacks and smear campaigns against critical journalists. 

Conclusion

The Azerbaijani government needs to move quickly to guarantee the release of journalists, human rights advocates, political activists, and other members of the civil society who have been detained on politically motivated allegations. It should also put a stop to the practice of prosecuting government opponents using fabricated or baseless accusations. For there to be no more impunity for acts of violence and threats of violence against journalists, the authorities must act quickly to launch comprehensive, unbiased, and efficient investigations. As required by Azerbaijan’s international commitments, the investigations must be able to result in the attackers’ convictions.  The government eliminates criminal defamation laws, permits nonviolent gatherings, and revokes any legislation that would impose more severe penalties on the organizers and participants of unapproved, nonviolent protests.


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