Human rights, corruption and what is at stake for the Council of Europe
This week, a rebellion is unfolding in Strasbourg, directed against Spanish senator Pedro Agramunt, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
This rebellion is a response to allegations of serious corruption in PACE in recent years, as well as concern over the autocratic capture of this, the oldest, human rights body in Europe. It is a story involving the regime of Ilham Aliyev in Baku, Russian ultra-nationalists such as Leonid Slutsky, Italian Catholic politician Luca Volonte, who received 2.3 million euro from Azerbaijan, and in the last episode even Syrian president Assad in Damascus.
This week, the assembly has had enough, and a coalition of politicians, across party lines and from different national groups, decided that Pedro Agramunt could no longer remain president; this was stated in public, as well as strongly communicated in private.
To explain the frustration and collapse of trust in Agramunt, booed off stage while chairing the opening of the spring session in the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg on Monday, one has to see how different developments came together:
First, Agramunt made his career in PACE working on and with Azerbaijan. He visited Azerbaijan more often than any other MP in the assembly; he observed, and helped whitewash, elections in Baku for many years. As one of the rapporteurs of PACE for Azerbaijan he subverted the assembly’s work on political prisoners. As more evidence came out how Azerbaijan operated its lobbying machine in recent years, these actions appear in a different light, and raise serious questions how he understands the role of PACE.
Second. since late 2016 Pedro Agramunt resisted; and even worked to block; serious proposals for an investigation into corruption allegations involving Azerbaijan, as demanded by over 100 MPs in January 2017. In this, Agramunt cooperated with his others, including Spaniard Jordi Xucla, who leads the liberal group in Strasbourg. They used excuses and procedural tricks to oppose any investigation. Why don’t they have any interest in clarifying what happened?
For a short introduction, see the latest ESI newsletter:
Merchants of Doubt or investigating Corruption (21 April 2017).
Third, Agramunt (together with Destexhe and Xucla) went to Syria in March. He went with Russian ultra-nationalist Leonid Slutsky on what was a Russian PR tour to bolster Assad. There was no other point to this trip: it served no humanitarian purpose and Agramunt did not “build any bridges” either. So why did he go?
Fourth, Agramunt did a bad job addressing many serious concerns and question of the assembly. He offered implausible and contradictory explanations. He apologized for the reaction by the members to his visit to Assad. He apologized for having been manipulated by Russians (Agramunt and Slutsky have been friends for years). What Agramunt did not apologise for was having visited a war-criminal with a Russian delegation.
Agramont, Xucla and Destexhe represent what is wrong in the Council of Europe today. Their cynical views about human rights, their close relationship to autocrats, procedural games and striking vision of the role of the Council of Europe have contributed to lead this institution into its biggest credibility crisis in decades.
This week the assembly in Strasbourg also decided on an external and independent investigation – an unprecedented step – into these corruption allegations in Strasbourg. ESI has worked on this issue for six years now. Here is more:
On the substance of caviar diplomacy:
ESI report: The European Swamp (Caviar Diplomacy Part 2) – Prosecutors, corruption and the Council of Europe (17 December 2017)
ESI report: Disgraced – Azerbaijan and the end of election monitoring as we know it (5 November 2013)
ESI paper: A Portrait of Deception. Monitoring Azerbaijan or why Pedro Agramunt should resign (22 January 2013)
ESI report: Caviar Diplomacy. How Azerbaijan silenced the Council of Europe (24 May 2012)
On the recent rebellion in PACE:
ESI at PACE side event: Corruption Allegations and Transparency in the PACE (24 April 2017)
The Guardian, Jennifer Rankin, “Fresh claims of Azerbaijan vote-rigging at European human rights body” (20 April 2017
Open letter to PACE members: Backing Sawicki – how to investigate corruption in Strasbourg (27 March 2017)
ESI newsletter: Three days that shook Strasbourg – human rights and corruption (27 January 2017)
Why the council of Europe matters:
ESI at TEDxGraz – Video: “How human rights die – why the human rights movement needs to be reinvented” (25 November 2016)
Journal of Democracy, Gerald Knaus, “Europe and Azerbaijan: The End of Shame” (July 2015)
Background on human rights, the CoE and Azerbaijan
- The FIFA of human rights – beyond lip-service on anti-corruption (18 January 2017)
- A European swamp – corruption and human rights (17 December 2016)
- Dorian Gray in Europe – The End of Shame and Human Rights (2 June 2015)
- Formula One and human rights – Vaclav and Rasul – Iwinski and the Garden Party (23 April 2015)
- The mercy of Commodus – The failure of Jagland (14 November 2014)
- 2014 and the threat to Sakharov’s legacy (16 October 2014)
- Moscow Appeal – The case for Leyla Yunus (2 October 2014)
- Andrei Sakharov and the defence of the unjustly persecuted (23 September 2014)
- The LIST and arrests in Baku – Sakharov prize 2014 – Black Sea in Budapest – Capacity building in Kosovo (4 September 2014)
- Oslo abuse debate – Mr Jagland goes to Baku – June 2 Berlin event – a tradition of dissent (19 May 2014)
- Hunger strike, European values and an Open Letter (23 April 2014)