Vol. 3, No. 16-17 (September 01, 2010)

Ten years of Azerbaijan’s membership in the Council of Europe: A look back and into the future

Marat Kengerlinsky
Permanent Representation of the Republic of Azerbaijan
to the Council of Europe

In January 2011, it will be 10 years since Azerbaijan has joined the Council of Europe (CoE) as a full member.  On 17 January 2001, at its meeting the CoE’s Committee of Ministers adopted a decision to admit the Republic of Azerbaijan to this Organization.  Perhaps, 10 years are not too long from the historical point of view, especially given the fact that Azerbaijan’s independence is only nearly 20 years old, but it is a substantial period of time in terms of the membership in a highly reputable and authoritative international organization, such as the CoE.

Azerbaijan is a member of many international and regional organizations.  But the membership in the CoE is of particular importance.  The CoE is a unique pan-European organization, the adherence to which means that every member state should commit itself to the principles of protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law as set up, first of all, by the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as other CoE instruments.  In turn, the CoE has the necessary power and mechanisms to monitor the implementation of these commitments and to take actions if necessary.  

The above raises a number of questions: Has Azerbaijan been able to meet the CoE’s expectation and fulfill the commitments and obligations taken before this Organization during the past 10 years?  Has the membership in the Council of Europe been beneficial for Azerbaijan?  What will the future for Azerbaijan within the CoE look like? 

The current paper seeks to find answers to these questions, none of which is as simple as a first glance might suggest.  For this purpose, it is useful to consider the general situation with the development of human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan and to examine the recent reports in respect of Azerbaijan prepared by the CoE’s main bodies, namely the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. 

Committee of Ministers’ Ago Monitoring Group.  In inviting Azerbaijan and Armenia to become members of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers of the CoE decided to monitor, on a regular basis, the democratic development of these countries.  To do that, it set up an ad hoc Monitoring Group (Ago Group) composed of the Permanent Representatives of 13 member states and asked it to carry out regular reviews of the two countries' democratic development.  The objective of the Ago Group is to monitor the country’s obligations before the Organization during the post-accession period.  The Group focuses on issues requiring particular attention in the light of the specific circumstances in each of the two countries.  Its methods combine questionnaires to the countries concerned with country visits to assess the situation and produce recommendations.  In the light of the assessment made by the Ago Group, the Committee of Ministers then draws its own conclusions and makes recommendations to the authorities in question. 

Since its establishment in 2001, the Ago Group has paid several visits to the region and prepared a number of reports on Azerbaijan.  According to the most recent Report on the Ago Group’s visit to Azerbaijan on 20-25 November 2009, the assessment of the general situation with human rights in the country reveals significant progress which has been made in Azerbaijan in many areas despite the uncertain regional context and complex economic environment.  The Ago Group appreciated the reforms and measures taken by the authorities to strengthen the system of protection and promotion of human rights and encouraged them to continue this work.  

The overall conclusion was that Azerbaijan had successfully co-operated with the CoE and fulfilled most of its obligations before the latter.  At the same time, however, the Ago Group underlined that important structural reforms still needed to be carried out in several important sectors, such as elections, the functioning of the courts, the police and the prison system, freedom of expression and the media, freedom of religion and the promotion of local self-government with a view to ensuring full compliance with the commitments undertaken by both countries.  It was particularly emphasized that the constructive approach taken by the authorities of Azerbaijan to continue and even intensify cooperation with the Council of Europe to meet these challenges was welcomed and supported by the Organization (Council of Europe 2009). 

Furthermore, in its Resolution of 4 February 2010 based on that Report, the Committee of Ministers also welcomed the progress made by Azerbaijan toward the fulfillment of its respective commitments and obligations before the Organization, in particular regarding the alignment of domestic legislation with the CoE standards and judicial reforms.  It encouraged the authorities to make further progress, paying particular attention to structural reforms and their implementation which remained to be completed in such important areas as the election legislation and practice, the independence of the judiciary, the fight against corruption, media freedom, the democratic oversight of the police and local self-government. 

At the same time, the Committee of Ministers called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to continue to abide by their joint undertaking at the time of their accession to achieve a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  It encouraged the two countries' authorities to actively pursue the negotiation process, under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group with a view to a rapid solution to the problem, in the interests of the peace and stability of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and more generally of the region as a whole.  It reaffirmed the CoE's readiness to offer its support, in order to contribute, within its competencies, to the creation of conditions for a peaceful settlement of the conflict (Council of Europe 2010).

Parliamentary Assembly’s Monitoring Committee.  The Parliamentary Assembly has established the Committee on the Honoring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (known as the “Monitoring Committee”).  The Monitoring Committee is responsible for verifying the fulfillment of obligations assumed by member states under the terms of the Organization’s Statute, the European Convention on Human Rights and all other CoE Conventions, as well as the honoring of commitments entered into by the authorities of member states upon accession to the CoE. 

The Parliamentary Assembly may sanction persistent failure to honor obligations and commitments accepted, and/or lack of cooperation in its monitoring process, by adopting a resolution and/or a recommendation or by non-ratification of the credentials of a national parliamentary delegation at the beginning of its next ordinary session, or by the annulment of ratified credentials in the course of the same ordinary session in accordance with its Rules of Procedure.  Should the member state continue not to respect its commitments, the Assembly may address a recommendation to the Committee of Ministers requesting it to take the appropriate action in accordance with Articles 8 and 9 of the Statute of the CoE. 

Since the country’s accession, as a result of intensive cooperation between the CoE and Azerbaijani authorities, a number of reports and resolutions in respect of Azerbaijan have been adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly.  In its most recent Report of May 2010, the Assembly noted the overall progress achieved by Azerbaijan in honoring its obligations and commitments undertaken by the country while acceding to the Council in Europe in 2001.  The substantial reforms in many areas, in particular judiciary, have been appreciated.  Referring to the Report of the ad hoc Committee on the observation of the 2008 presidential election and to the Report of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities on the 2009 Municipal elections, the Assembly noted that considerable progress had been made, particularly during the last presidential election in 2008 in meeting European standards (PACE 2010a). 

Based on the above-mentioned 2010 Report’s findings, on 24 June 2010 the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Resolution 1750(2010) in which it clearly acknowledged the country’s progress in the human rights field since the accession to the Council of Europe.  In particular, the Resolution stressed that the Parliament of Azerbaijan had reinforced its position vis-à-vis other state institutions and that the division of power between legislative, executive and judicial authorities had become more distinct and rigid.  It also positively assessed cooperation of the Azerbaijani authorities with the Venice Commission in drafting important laws, such as the Electoral Code, the Law on obtaining information on activities of the courts, the Law on the status of municipalities, and the Law on normative legal acts.  

At the same time, the Assembly noted with dissatisfaction that negotiations carried out under the OSCE Minsk Group to find a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had so far brought about nothing.  It stressed that the failure to resolve this conflict, which affected the country’s territorial integrity, was still impeding the democratic reforms undertaken in the country (PACE 2010b).  The continuing occupation of these territories and the presence of hundreds of thousands of refugees and IDPs in the country remain a challenge for the country.

Conclusion.  Adherence by Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe has brought important challenges to the domestic political and legal systems of Azerbaijan.  The country has become part of the European community, sharing its common human rights principles and humanitarian values and undertaken certain international commitments and obligations.  When joining the CoE in January 2001, Azerbaijan opted for European standards with respect to democracy, the rule of law and human rights.  And this was its way.  Since then, Azerbaijan has always been loyal and faithful to this choice. 

As seen from the above, the CoE, including the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly with their post-accession monitoring mechanisms, has been closely following the developments in the country and played a crucial role in assisting the country in its efforts to bring about the realization of human rights and democratization of the society.  As this article has highlighted, the Organization gives a high mark to the process of democratization in Azerbaijan and commends the government for its efforts and achievements.  

Unfortunately, the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan hinders the full realization of human rights and democratic processes in the region.  The continuous occupation of the large Azerbaijani territories by Armenia and massive ethnic cleansing of the Azerbaijani population from those territories still remain the gross human rights violation.  Ordinary people, especially refugees and IDPs, are the victims of failure of political negotiations and of an excessive delicacy and awkwardness of the international community in bringing the parties to the final solution.

Apparently, the role of the Strasbourg machinery is only subsidiary to the guaranteeing of European Convention on Human Rights at the national level.  The monitoring mechanism of the CoE, whatever it is, is in any case a temporary phenomenon and an effective recipe only for the country’s post-accession period.  But it cannot last forever.  As soon as the country has basically fulfilled its commitments and obligations, the monitoring should be lifted and the country should be treated equally as all those member states that are not subject to the above-mentioned monitoring.   

After all, there must be a solid legal basis accompanied by reliable human rights implementation mechanisms for the protection of human rights at the national level.  Thus, the better the system of protection in the domestic legal system, both in securing the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and remedying violations of those rights, the more effective the implementation of international standards.  And Azerbaijan has proved that it is doing just this and that it is on the right track.  


Council of Europe (2009) Report on a visit by a delegation from the Ago Group to Armenia and Azerbaijan (20-25 November 2009), 4 December, available at https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?Ref=CM(2009)180&Language=lanEnglish&Site=CM&BackColorInternet=DBDCF2&BackColorIntranet=FDC864&BackColorLogged=FDC864 (accessed 20 August 2010).

Council of Europe (2010) Ago Monitoring Group Decisions, 1076th meeting, 3-4 February, available at https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?Ref=CM/Del/Dec(2010)1076/2.4&Language=lanEnglish&Ver=original&Site=CM&BackColorInternet=DBDCF2&BackColorIntranet=FDC864&BackColorLogged=FDC864 (accessed 20 August 2010). 

PACE (2010a) Monitoring Committee Report, Doc. 12270, 31 May, available at http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc10/EDOC12270.htm (accessed 21 August 2010). 

PACE (2010b) Resolution 1750, 24 June, available at http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/AdoptedText/ta10/ERES1750.htm (accessed 21 August 2010).