27 April 2017

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.

More reading:

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)

*   German: Im Europäischen Sumpf
*   Spanish: El Pantano Europeo
*   Turkish: Avrupa Batakliği

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

Filed under: Azerbaijan,Council of Europe,Human rights — Gerald @ 1:40 pm
12 November 2016

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Thinking a lot recently about Karl Lueger, a successful politician in Vienna, one hundred and a few years ago. Weekend reading: an excellent book by Brigitte Haman, “Hitler’s Vienna”. On the crazy and dangerous ideas and political models emerging in the middle of a cosmopolitan metropolis in a complacent era.

What seems new in our politics today is not really new at all, facebok, twitter or other social media notwithstanding. Nor is there anything new in “post-truth” politics – when was “truth” important to nationalists, colonialists, decolonisers, or communists in the 20th century? If you do not have Haman’s book ready, have a look at the below description of one of the most respected democratic politicians in the late Habsburg empire. Then replace “Jew” with “Muslim” or “foreigner” in the text below, and you have a not so secret formula, which looks set to become the inspiration for political leaders in much of what was until yesterday the West … until it stops working.

It worked then, for Karl Lueger. He won elections. He managed to run a decent city administration. He also built a lot. His statue is still up in Vienna. But the consequences of this style of politics in the short and medium term were disastrous for his city, country and continent.

As will be the consequences this time, if this style of thinking, of politics without constraints, is not contained. Or, better put: defeated in elections. This is the only response that matters.

“Karl Lueger was an outstanding example of this new kind of politician: he attempted to get a feeling for the mood of “the people”; he like to hold speeches in dialect, took account of the intellectual level of his listeners, made complex issues simple and tried to entertain his public with humorous remarks.

He was especially successful when he attacked the supposed enemies of his listeners. He stoked antipathy to politicians with different points of view as well as national and religious minorities. His polemical attacks, sometimes extremely drastically formulated, were not directed towards reason but consciously appealed to emotions and instincts. Thus he understood how to use rousing speeches to win over the Viennese population to his cause, consciously invoking stereotypical images of alleged enemies and, in particular, making use of anti-Semitic prejudice. Every set back was reduced to a simple formula: “The Jews are to blame” and stirred up hatred with statements such as: “ We will prevent the oppression of Christians and a new Palestine replacing the ancient Austrian empire of Christians”.

In the process he activated the traditional Catholic anti-Semitism directed against “the people who killed God”. He combined it with anti-liberal and anti-capitalist elements and thus addressed the widespread prejudice against “money and stock market Jews”, “press Jews”, “ink Jews”, i.e. Jewish intellectuals and businessmen. Under his leadership the Christian Socialists regarded their main political task as the reduction of the “rapidly growing power of the Jews” and the reversal of their emancipation which had only taken place in 1867.”

http://en.luegerplatz.com/lueger.html

The book itself, with its excellent analysis of the impact of Lueger, Schönerer, and many of the thinkers at the time: in English – http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/871498.Hitler_s_Vienna

Filed under: Austria,Decline,Europe,Human rights — Gerald @ 2:28 pm
27 September 2016

A few thoughts, written one year ago in autumn in the sunny garden of the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow, where I was then a visiting fellow.

The dark clouds of that moment – the sense of fragility of our institutions and norms and moral emotions – are very much more obvious today. Then was the moment of Willkommenskultur in Germany and Austria, a generous, emotional, fragile sense of possibility, that was real – perhaps my forebodings came from observing it from Russia, with sympathy and concern.

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27 September 2015 (Facebook)

(Sonntag, im Garten des Museums für Moderne Kunst in Moskau)

Wir sollte uns keinen Illusionen hingeben.

Das Recht auf Asyl – all die Konventionen, auf die wir uns heute noch berufen können, in Kommentaren oder vor Gerichten – verschwindet in dem Moment, in dem Mehrheiten das wollen. Oder in dem die Minderheiten, die das wollen strategischer vorgehen als die Verteidiger der Menschenrechte.

Das hat Orban gerade wieder gezeigt, unbestraft; seine “Asylverfahren” an der Grenze sind eine Farce, doch seine Zustimmung steigt.

Das zeigen uns seit Jahren andere Mitglieder des Europarates. Azerbaijan war Vorsitzender des Europarates, verhaftete alle Menschenrechtsaktivisten … wo war die Reaktion? (jenseits der Menschenrechtsorganisationen, die das Regime einfach ignoriert). Wo war der Europäische Menschenrechtsgerichtshof? Abgemeldet, vom Regime ignoriert, vollkommen ungestraft. Heute, wo wir ihn brauchen, ist der Europarat eine unglaubwürdige Institution. Wir haben diese Entwicklung ignoriert, weil viele dachten, das betrifft nur Autokraten im fernen Osten Europas. Das war ein großer Fehler. Einer von vielen der die Menschenrechte in Europa in Gefahr bringt.

Jede, auch die grundlegendste, Menschenrechtsnorm, ist ständig in Gefahr sich im Nichts aufzulösen, wenn der Rückhalt schwindet. (Die Folter wurde in Russland Anfang der 19 Jahrhunderts von einem russischen Zaren abgeschafft; wir wissen was später passierte …).

Orban weiß das: er hat das Ende des Kommunismus, mit allen seinen Normen, erlebt. Er weiß, dass alles Menschliche vergänglich ist. Nun erwartet er, dass dies auch für das europäische Bekenntnis zu Asyl gilt, wenn er nur die Angst vor Muslimen instrumentalisieren kann.

Wenn die Briten über einen Austritt aus dem Menschenrechtsgerichtshof laut nachdenken, ja, eine Regierungspartei damit Wahlkampf macht, und gewinnt, warum dann nicht Ungarn? Warum nicht Österreich, unter einem Bundeskanzler Strache? Was bleibt dann? Wenn mehr Regierungen wie Orban denken, wer verteidigt dann “europäische” Standards? Diese werden dann einfach umdefiniert. Darauf setzt er. Daran arbeitet er.

Diese Krise sieht er als eine große Gelegenheit. Und die, die nicht seiner Meinung sind – wie mächtig auch ihre Positionen, ob nun Bundeskanzlerin in Berlin oder Präsident der Kommission in Brüssel – setzen ihm derzeit nichts entgegen: keine Strategie, nur Hilflosigkeit. Oder Ärger. Das aber stört ihn nicht; im Gegenteil.

Die Situation ist brandgefährlich. Das “Ende der Scham”, der Moment in dem Menschenrechte grundsätzlich in Frage gestellt werden, sinnentleert werden, umdefiniert werden, betrifft längst nicht nur Azerbaijan oder Russland.

Das Fundament auf dem unsere Grundrechte stehen kann zerbrechen. Das ist schon oft geschehen in der europäischen Geschichte. Darum geht es in diesem Ringen heute.

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Journal of Democracy, Gerald Knaus, “Europe and Azerbaijan: The End of Shame” (July 2015)

Filed under: Council of Europe,Human rights,Russia — Gerald @ 12:53 pm
21 March 2016

Reasons to be anxious, Monday morning after the deal was made

Since Friday many have asked ESI if we are confident about the refugee situations – now that the Merkel-Samsom Plan we have argued for so long has been adopted by the EU and Turkey. We are not confident. The opposite of a good plan is not only a bad plan, but also a good plan badly implemented.

No deal would have been the worst outcome for everyone – an EU in which solutions of the refugee issue come at the expense of one member (Greece) and where the leaders most committed so far to a humane solution (the Merkel government) are weakened is not going to find a good way forward.

But a good plan that is badly implemented is little better. And the signs from Brussels so far on implementation – since Friday’s agreement – are not encouraging.

We can be confident only once the first 50,000 Syrian refugees have left Turkey on planes to Europe; and once we see a credible administration in place in Greece to deal with asylum requests and readmission in line with the principles agreed last week.

It is clear that this administration has yet to be built. Would it have been better if efforts to do so had started earlier? Yes, but this is water under the bridge. What is a real cause for anxiety is looking into the near future: what we know so far about how this effort is supposed to be carried out in the coming weeks. It almost ensures failure.

And human rights organisations? Credible implementation of last week’s agreement in all of its aspects – due process readmission and resettlement – should be the focus of anyone who cares about a humane solution to the refugee situation. This is the time for constructive, tough debate. It is the time to say “yes, but”, not “no”, or “not this but that.” It is also a time for admitting, humbly, that policy makers and officals face incredible pressures and unprecedented challenges. The reason to be critical is not to be smug, but to help steer this in a good direction.

The next days (weeks) will be chaotic. This is inevitable; after all, a chaotic situation existed for months already. What is worrying is that bad planning of the implementation of the agreement ensures that chaos will continue for far longer than necessary.

What happens in the next months will decide how history judges the Juncker Commission. The stakes could not be higher for the EU, for refugees and for Greece.

www.esiweb.org/refugees

Interview in Spanish: http://www.lavanguardia.com/internacional/20160321/40582387072/turquia-atiende-mejor-a-los-refugiados-que-grecia-las-llegadas-continuan.html

This morning on Australian public radio on the implementation challenge: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/eu-and-turkey-deal-to-tackle-refugee-crisis/7262338

 

Filed under: Human rights,Refugees — Gerald @ 12:58 pm
17 September 2015

Solange die Türkei nicht kooperiert, wird der Migrationsstrom nach Europa nicht beherrschbar sein / Von Michael Martens

ATHEN, 16. September. Auf dem Meer kann man keine Mauer bauen. Mit diesem simplen Satz ließe sich ein an diesem Donnerstag erscheinendes Positionspapier der „Europäischen Stabilitätsinitiative“ (ESI) zusammenfassen, einer Denkfabrik mit Hauptsitz in Berlin, deren Studien und Analysen seit 1999 die Debatte zu politischen Schlüsselthemen in Europa bereichern. In dem Aufsatz „Warum in der Ägäis Menschen ertrinken. Ein Vorschlag zu Grenzkontrolle und Asyl“ unterbreitet ESI-Chef Gerald Knaus einen Vorschlag, der helfen soll, die Masseneinwanderung nach Europa beherrschbar zu machen. Der Vorstoß lässt viele Fragen offen und wird nicht ohne Einwände bleiben, spricht aber einige wichtige Punkte an. Der wichtigste: Ohne die Mitarbeit der Türkei, die Europa nicht umsonst bekommen wird, können die Europäer noch so viele Mauern bauen, Polizisten oder gar Soldaten an ihre Grenzen schicken, Kontrollen einführen – es wird wenig ändern. Zwar können physische Demarkationen durchaus Teil einer Lösung sein und dürften es künftig in wachsendem Maße auch werden – doch sie ändern nichts an der topographischen Realität, die Griechenlands ostägäische Inseln bei der muslimischen Masseneinwanderung nach Europa spielen. „Die griechische Regierung kann nicht Schiffe versenken oder sie von den Küsten abdrängen. Das wäre illegal und gefährlich. Sie kann also nur warten, bis die Migranten ankommen; und sie muss sie retten, wenn sie auf See in Gefahr sind”, schreibt Knaus.

Damit ist die Ausgangslage beschrieben. Ein Zaun in der pannonischen Tiefebene oder ein Großaufgebot des in Bayern ändern zunächst einmal gar nichts daran, dass wie zuletzt im August mehr als 20.000 Migranten auf Lesbos, Kos und den anderen Inseln in Sichtweise der türkischen Küste anlanden. Um das zu verdeutlichen, lässt Knaus seinen Text am anderen Ende des Kontinents beginnen, in Finnland, dem EU-Mitglied mit der längsten Landaußengrenze des Schengen-Zone: 1340 Kilometer zu Russland. Finnlands Grenzschutz gilt als vorbildlich in Europa. Gesichtserkennungssoftware, modernste Methoden zum Erkennen gefälschter Pässe, umfassender Datenabgleich zwischen den Behörden, Bewegungsmelder, lückenlose Überwachung des Schiffsverkehrs in der Ostsee. So wurden 2013 denn auch nur 18 illegale Grenzübertritte in Finnland registriert. Nur war der Grund dafür nicht finnische Hochtechnologie sondern – Russland. Dort stehen noch aus Sowjetzeiten zwei je vier Meter hohe Grenzzäune, der Geheimdienst überwacht das Gebiet. Zäune machen also, im Unterschied zu dem, was meist behauptet wird, durchaus einen Unterschied – zumindest an Land und zumindest, solange Russland das will. Doch selbst wenn man den gesamten finnischen Grenzschutz nach Griechenland versetzt, wird der mit all seiner Technik nicht viel ändern können. Er wird die Migranten nur früher kommen sehen. „Letztlich hängt die Grenzkontrolle vor allem von den Nachbarn der EU ab und davon, ob diese willens und fähig dazu sind, potentielle illegale Migranten daran zu hindern, die Grenzen der EU überhaupt erst zu erreichen“, schlussfolgert Knaus.

Da kommt die Türkei ins Spiel. Das Land hat schon seit 2002 ein Rückführungsabkommen mit Griechenland, also einen Vertrag, der die türkischen Behörden verpflichtet, illegale Einwanderer, die aus der Türkei kommend griechischen Boden betreten haben, zurückzunehmen. Freilich weigert sich die Türkei, den Vertrag einzuhalten. Mehr als 9600 Anträge auf Rücknahme eines illegalen Einwanderers stellten griechischen Behörden 2014. Die Türkei nahm 6 (in Worten: sechs) zurück.

Doch ist das so unverständlich? Die Türkei, hat fast zwei Millionen Flüchtlinge aus Syrien aufgenommen, manche beherbergt sie seit Jahren. Die Vorstellung, dass die Türkei, die mehr syrische Flüchtlinge aufgenommen hat als ganz Europa zusammen, nun auch noch Zehntausende aus der EU zurücknimmt, nennt Knaus „vollkommen unrealistisch.“ Es sei denn die EU mache der Türkei ein außergewöhnliches Angebot. Knaus schlägt vor: „Die EU“ erklärt sich bereit, in den kommenden 12 Monaten eine Million Flüchtlinge aus Syrien (und nur von dort) aufzunehmen, die ihre Asylanträge noch in der Türkei abgeben können. Sie könnten dann legal mit dem Flugzeug nach Europa kommen statt ihr Leben auf Schlauchbooten zu riskieren. Die Türkei würde sich im Gegenzug verpflichten, das ab 2017 voll in Kraft tretende Rücknahmeabkommen mit der EU sofort anzuwenden. „Das bedeutet, sie würde jeden, der aus der Türkei kommend Lesbos oder Kos erreicht, am folgenden Tag zurücknehmen.“ Diese Doppellösung, so Knaus, würde das Geschäftsmodell der Menschenschmuggler in kurzer Zeit zerstören. Doch wie werden die Menschen in der EU verteilt? Und würde die Türkei ihren Part eines solchen Abkommens erfüllen? Wer traut noch dem Wort des Autokraten von Ankara, Tayyip Erdogan – selbst wenn der sein Wort gäbe? Solche und andere Einwände liegen auf der Hand. Klar ist aber auch, so Knaus: „Der Schlüssel, um die unkontrollierte Ankunft Hunderttausender Migranten und Asylbewerber in der EU zu stoppen, wird von der Türkei gehalten. Nur eine Strategie, die auf dieser Tatsache aufbaut, kann den Notstand beenden.“

Filed under: Europe,Human rights,Migration,Refugees — Gerald @ 11:13 am
24 March 2015

Bogota, Colombia
Bogota, Colombia

The Gimnasio moderno is one of the oldest schools in Bogota. It was also the site of a remarkable historical event: in April 1948 this school hosted the meeting of continental foreign ministers – including US secretary of state George Marshall – that led to the creation of the Organisation of American States (OAS).

During that meeting delegates from the Americas approved the “American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man” – the first intergovernmental declaration of human rights in history. It included many progressive provisions, including this article:

“Every accused person is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty. Every person accused of an offense has the right to be given an impartial and public hearing, and to be tried by courts previously established in accordance with pre- existing laws, and not to receive cruel, infamous or unusual punishment.”

This declaration predated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted in Paris in December 1948) and the European Convention of Human Rights (opened for signature in Rome’s Palazzo Barberini in 1950).

And yet, last Sunday I looked in vain for any sign near the school to commemorate this historic event. Perhaps a little campaign in Colombia might change that?

PS: The fate of this American Declaration and its aspirations is also an antidote to any complacency about history and human rights.  While the declaration was adopted Bogota was in the throes of violence, following the assassination of an opposition leader. A third of Bogota was destroyed during the clashes – this is why delegates moved from the center to this school to adopt the declaration! Years of deadly civil strife – la violencia – followed.

Within a few years, following 1948, a new wave of autocratic restoration swept across Latin America. By the mid 1970s most of the countries in South America were either in civil conflict (Colombia again) or ruled by brutal dictatorships. It took until 1978 for the American Convention on Human Rights to enter into force. It took much longer for basic human rights – such as the prohibition of torture – to be taken seriously across Latin America.

Today this declaration is considered by both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to be a source of binding international obligations for OAS’s member states … including for Cuba and the United States!

Outside the Gimnasio Moderno with Kathryn Sikkink from Harvard
Outside the Gimnasio Moderno with Kathryn Sikkink from Harvard

PS: Meeting on the future of strategy and human rights practice in Bogota, March 2015.

 

Recommended reading:

 

Filed under: Colombia,Human rights — Gerald @ 7:13 pm
16 November 2014


Ouroboros – the snake that devours itself

If you come to our website often you will have noticed that ESI writes a lot about the Council of Europe. You might wonder why. Are there no other, more important European issues? And why is our stance so critical?

One reason that we keep returning to issue relating to the Council of Europe is that almost nobody else does, outside of a small group of human rights activists mainly concerned about the crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan.

For large European think tanks and for most European media, the crisis in the Council of Europe still does not exist. Or does not really matter. Why care about debates in PACE, or about what the secretariat in Strasburg does or does not do, when there is a war in Ukraine, crises in the Middle East and challenges to democracy in old and new EU members?

We at ESI disagree. We believe that when the institution that gave us today’s European flag, and that remains the guardian of the moral constitution of democratic Europe – the European Convention on Human Rights – is fatally undermined, this points to a very serious crisis for all of Europe. It is a wound that must not be allowed to fester. Today the Council of Europe resembles Ouroboros, the snake of Greek mythology that devours itself … in this case, by destroying the moral basis on which it was founded.

Look at the European order today, and Europe’s big three organisations: the OSCE, the EU and the Council of Europe.

The OSCE has a justification as a forum for debate even with autocracies. This was its original conception in Helsinki in 1975. This is why Belarus (and Uzbekistan and the Vatican) can be members today.

The EU has to defend its own standards internally (and do a much better job at this) and externally, in particular when it comes to its ongoing enlargement talks.

For the Council of Europe, however – the first institution to enlarge to almost all of Europe in the 1990s – the current crisis of values, norms and credibility is existential. It has to be a club of European democracies, or it does not have any reason to exist.

This is why Belarus is not a member today. This is why Russia and Azerbaijan currently have no place as members, unless things change in both countries. There really is no use for an institution focusing on human rights and democracy when these standards are defined by autocracies and thus undermined for everyone else.

ESI strongly believes that the Council of Europe should matter. It should be talked about more. It should be given the resources to fulfil its crucial role better. But the key recource missing today is not money, but attention. Think tanks and media should follow what happens in Strasburg. It is a shame that the foreign ministers of influential countries attend its meetings so rarely (to begin with Germany and France) and that parliaments throughout Europe pay so little attention.

We believe that it is important to preserve the idea that one day the European Convention on Human Rights will be the normative basis for all of Europe (including Russia and the South Caucasus), not just the current European Union. Just as it was crucial to preserve this aspiration in the decades prior to 1989 in a divided Europe. It may look unlikely now; it definitely looked implausible then.

Europe's moral constitution
Europe’s moral constitution

For what is the European Convention? It is the basis of civilised life, in a continent known as much for autocracy and human rights violations as it is known for the enlightenment and rights.

It is comprised of the following basic commitments, that are once again under pressure across the continent:

Article 1 Respecting the rights in this convention

Article 2 The right to life – a duty to refrain from unlawful killing and to investigate suspicious deaths

Article 3 Prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. There are no exceptions on this right.

Article 4 Prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour

Article 5 Provides the right to liberty, subject only to lawful arrest

Article 6 Provides a detailed right to a fair trial

Article 7 Prohibits retroactive criminalisation

Article 8 Provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, home and correspondence”, subject to certain restrictions “necessary in a democratic society”.

Article 9 Provides a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 10 Provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions “necessary in a democratic society”.

Article 11 Protects the right to freedom of assembly and association.

It is irresponsible to close our eyes to the fact that today the European Convention is being mocked by certain member states of the Council of Europe, not occasionally but systematically. Today these core articles are not only disregarded but also openly challenged.

If Azerbaijan or Russia were expelled from the Council of Europe today (or would preemtively leave voluntarily) then this does not mean that a democratic Azerbaijan or Russia might not one day join again. In fact, that would be the goal. It would give human rights defenders in these countries a clear objective. And they should be supported in this in all possible ways. Greece was not in the Council of Europe under military rule in 1968 … and later rejoined it as a democracy.

Today we have the worst of all worlds. We see the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights mocked, the institution and its bodies paralysed. We see these institutions turned against the very people in those countries who defend them there … and who risk jail and worse for doing so.

We see democrats indifferent to the institution, while autocrats invest resources to capture and manipulate this critical intervention. Things are upside down. It is time to put them back in order.

We have written before about parallels between the fate of the League of Nations and what is currently happening in Strasburg (See : Europe’s Abyssinian Moment).

Here is another thought-provoking parallel from Europe’s early 20th century history. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference East European nations signed treaties guaranteeing rights to minorities. These treaties called for religious freedom and civic equality. Minorities were granted the right of petition to the League. Governments in Eastern Europe complained about these “unjust requirements that the great powers did not impose on themselves”. These countries had a point. However, the proper response to this complaint was not to water down these rights, but to apply them equally to everyone.

Instead, the solution chosen was the worst of all. These rights were never applied and these treaties were never taken seriously. Despite there being a special League of Nations Minorities section it proved to be a “weak reed”: of 883 petitions the League received between 1920 and 1939, only four resulted in condemnation of the accused state. When the first anti-Jewish university quota system was introduced in Hungary in 1920 protests at the League of Nations failed to secure the law’s withdrawal. (For more on this see Bernard Wasserstein’s fascinating book “On the Eve – the Jews of Europe before the Second World War.)

Perhaps then too there were serious and influential people who thought that Europe had more important problems than to defend norms and treaties concerning human rights in small East European nations.

However, this assumption was wrong then and it is wrong now. The crisis in Strasburg matters not just to a few brave human rights defenders on the European periphery. It matters to all of us.

This contradiction matters
This contradiction matters

PS: For more on the crisis of the Council of Europe, see also the latest ESI newsletter:

 

20 October 2014

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Heading to Strasbourg this week – Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the EU

 

RIDDLE OF THE WEEK

Dear friends, here is a riddle to begin your week:

Why is Fuad Isgandarov, Azerbaijani ambassador and head of its mission to the EU, heading for Strassburg this week for the next session of the European Parliament? Who will he meet and what will he try to achieve in the interest of his country?

Tomorrrow the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament will chose this year’s Sakharov Prize winner. One of the leading contenders is one of the most inspiring human rights activists in the world today: Azerbaijani Leyla Yunus.

There is support for Leyla Yunus across the different party groups. And there is growing concern in Baku. More and more of the great people held in its prisons today are being recognised for their courage and awarded international human rights prizes. Millions spent on lobbying firms, on invitations, on hosting events, on paying “experts” to say how oil matters more than a handful of prisoners … all undermined by a few human rights prizes?

The prospect of an Azerbaijani woman being named together with Nelson Mandela, Wei Jingsheng, Aung San Suu, Memorial, Reporters without borders or Malala Yousafzai should delight Azerbaijani patriots. Already being nominated as one of three finalists in 2014 is a huge distinction for Leyla Yunus.

We hope the Ambassador, heading to Strassburg, will spare a moment to read this latest letter by Leyla Yunus – in jail, separated from her husband, who is also held in isolation, as are so many of her fellow human rights defenders:

“They didn’t just arrest us as a married couple. By doing so they restored a “glorious” Stalin tradition. They indicted us to such a bouquet of fantastic accusations (even Yezhov and Vishinki would lag behind), including a life sentence… While in detention, I clearly understood their goal is not just the destruction, but brutal torture, insults, and physical torment, when death becomes the desired escape from the terrible suffering. This is our reality, and I clearly realize it. In other words, our work received the highest mark on the highest scale… Arif I feel so lonely without you! For 36 years we were shoulder to shoulder, and were hoping to celebrate our 40th anniversary but they are so afraid of us… Good Lord, how could a small, weak, sick woman scare the ruling government? With what?! I know you would say, “traveler will tell the Lacedaemon, that here we lie, true to the Law”. But I still think Leonidas had it easier, simpler… One of 300s.”

And perhaps he will reflect, as he meets these MEPs, about what really serves his country’s interest.

Leyla’s letter is here: http://www.meydan.tv/+y231z

More about the Azerbaijani mission to the EU is here: http://www.azembassy.be/?options=content&id=12

“Today the people of Azerbaijan, comprising various ethnic and religious groups, are working towards developing a modern and democratic state with free market and solid social institutions.”

And these are the members of the Conference of Presidents who will decide on the winner of the 2014 Sakharov Prize tomorrow:

President of the Parliament: martin.schulz@europarl.europa.eu

European People’s Party (EPP, 221 members): Manfred Weber (Germany) – manfred.weber@europarl.europa.eu

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D, 191 members): Gianni Pitella (Italy) – gianni.pittella@europarl.europa.eu

European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR, 70 members): Syed Kamall (UK) – syed.kamall@europarl.europa.eu

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE, 67 members): Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium) – guy.verhofstadt@europarl.europa.eu

Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE, 52 members): Gabriele Zimmer (Germany) – gabriele.zimmer@europarl.europa.eu

Greens/European Free Alliance (50 members): Rebecca Harms (Germany) and Philippe Lamberts (Belgium) rebecca.harms@ep.europa.eu – philippe.lamberts@ep.europa.eu

 

BACKGROUND – ESI on Azerbaijan 

ESI’s work on Azerbaijan started with this publication on “Baku’s Facebook Generation” in 2011 – and the inspiring quotes on the tradition that has influenced young Azerbaijani’s since, the great Central and East European dissidents:

“… they know from their own experience in 1968, and from the Polish experience in 1980-1981, how suddenly a society that seems atomized, apathetic and broken can be transformed into an articulate, united civil society. How private opinion can become public opinion. How a nation can stand on its feet again. And for this they are working and waiting, under the ice.”

Timothy Garton Ash about Charter 77 in communist Czechoslovakia, February 1984

“How come our nation has been able to transcend the dilemma so typical of defeated societies, the hopeless choice between servility and despair?”

Adam Michnik, Letter from the Gdansk Prison, July 1985

We then studied the puzzle of increasing repression / decreasing criticism on the part of the Council of Europe, and the strange pattern of international election monitoring in Azerbaijan:

 

There have been quite a few press reactions to “Caviar Diplomacy”. But there have not been nearly enough reactions on the part of the Council of Europe and other institutions.

We have also focused on the issue of political prisoners – in Azerbaijan and across Europe.

Recently we made a strong case to support Azerbaijani human rights defenders in jail:

 

There have also been a number of newsletters – many making the case for greater support to Azerbaijani human rights defenders, arguing that their fate matters to everyone concerned about the future of human rights in Europe:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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