France, Strasbourg, 4 April / corr Trend A.Maharramli / Trend ' interview with Jean-Louis Lauren, the Council of Europe (CE) General Director for democracy and politics.
Question: What issues will be on focus during the PACE spring session scheduled for 14-18 April?
Answer: The PACE spring session will be remarkable due to visits by many eminent delegates, including the Slovakian President, the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The session will mull over politically important issues, though their directions have not been defined for the time being. There are proposals on urgent and actual problems. Indeed, the discussions will concern the situation in Kosovo, in the Near East countries, as well as the ongoing developments in the South Caucasus. The final decision related to the agenda will be discussed and adopted at the PACE Bureau at the beginning of the session.
Question: Will the CE discuss issues regarding Azerbaijan during the session? What is your estimation of the cooperation between Azerbaijan and the PACE and Azerbaijan's fulfillment of its CE obligations?
Answer: As a CE representative observing the developments in Azerbaijan I can say that Azerbaijan is not an exclusion as compared to other member-countries of the organization. Azerbaijan is in the process of fulfilling its obligations undertaken while entering the CE in line with the norms and standards. Permanent monitoring is held into the obligations set by the CE Charter. It is also carried out within the framework of the Monitoring Committee and Ago group of the Ministerial Committee. As far as I know, in this stage there is no decision regarding the discussion of the specific issues on Azerbaijan.
Question: What recommendations can the CE offer Azerbaijan in the run-up to the presidential elections in Azerbaijan?
Answer: Several decisions have been made on this issue. With full approval and support of the governmental organizations of Azerbaijan, the CE Ministerial Committee decided to carry out a pre-elections assistance program. This is the continuation of the program developed last year. It reflects the issues such as speeches [of candidates] in the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thoughts, proviso of equal conditions for parties and candidates running for the presidential elections and other milestones related to both legislative base of the elections process and holding free elections.
We take every effort to make the presidential elections to be held in Azerbaijan free, transparent and fair. One of the strategic objectives of the CE is to see free and fair elections in member-countries. We would like such elections not to be an exclusion, but a permanent criteria.
Question: How is it important to make annexes and amendments to the Electoral Code of Azerbaijan on the eve of the Presidential elections? How do you assess the situation with the freedom of press and expression in the Republic?
Answer: I would prefer not to express opinion with regards to the frameworks of election process because it needs to expect AGO Group to devise a report as result of visit to Azerbaijan. The report will more clearly describe the aspects on this theme and we will be able to determine what issues are in need of re-consideration.
The Venice Commission closely co-operates with the Azerbaijani side. This co-operation will be continuing after the recommendations of the AGO group as well. With regards to the freedom of press, I support the recent opinion of the Council of Europe's Secretary General regarding the problems which exit in the press, prosecution and arrest of the journalists. It is one of the questions that we are concerned by.
Question: How is it real to appoint a rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan and can it lead to tension in the relations between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe?
Answer: The meeting of the PACE Bureau and the Monitoring Committee will take place in a close manner. I was involved in this issue five years ago. During this period, the Secretariat of the Council of Europe closely co-operated with the Government of Azerbaijan in this regard, and hundreds of situations were made clear. Tens of people were freed due to the works done. The main fact is that objective criteria were determined for the people being considered political prisoners. I want to especially mention that the understanding of 'political prisoners' should not exist in democracy. Nobody can be prosecuted and accused of his/her political views.
Question: How do you assess the chances of prompt and peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? What contribution can the Council of Europe make in this regard?
Answer: Joining the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan and Armenia undertook obligations on the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Concretely the OSCE Minsk Group is being involved in the conflict settlement, and the Council of Europe does not directly participate in this process. However, the Council of Europe is not indifferent to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and other 'frozen conflicts' in the territory of the member-countries. It is clear that after the conflict is settled, the Council of Europe will actively use all its possibilities and policy to create a reliable environment between the sides and introduce norms and standards of the organization. The Council of Europe will make its contribution in normalizing the situation, ensuring human rights and supremacy of law. These works will be carried out in case of solution to the conflicts in the regions of Trasnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In addition, an initiative was made at the level of the Committee of Ministers with regards to the protection of the cultural heritages being affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We hope that in the near future, a way out will be found in assessing the situation with the cultural heritage. Currently discussions continue over the visit to the region. This issue remains on agenda and the visit may be realized this year.
Question: Russia in response to recognition of Kosovo independence by some countries stated that it might become a precedent for other 'lingering conflicts'. The State Duma [Russian Parliament] is considering an issue on independence of Abkhazia and South Osetia. What is your position in this respect?
Answer: The State Duma is not an executive body. The Russian embassy has recently stated clearly that it has non intention to recognize such regimes. This is the political position which Russia adheres and has nothing to do with the executive power of the country. It does not mean, however, that we are indifferent towards the situation in Abkhazia and South Osetia. The CE recognizes the territorial integrity of the member-countries. This is the fundamental principle.
As to the Kosovo issue, the CE has not stated it position in this respect. The position which the CE has tried to state since 1999 is that its major principles such as the human rights provided the organization, superiority of the law, norms and standards in the sphere of jural state should be applied on Kosovo. We strive for it within the framework of Resolution 1244. Many CE member-countries have recognized the independence of Kosovo, whereas some others except Russia and Serbia decided not to recognize the independence of this province until the CE officially states on the relevance of the Kosovo independence to legal norms. This is not our problem. Our task is to apply the democratic norms and standards with respect to Kosovo. As to nomination of candidacy by Kosovo for membership at the CE, I can say that this is a unilateral procedure. This issue will be under discussion for a long time and hardly find its solution in the near future.
Question: What is the CE's position on the developments fixed aftet the presidential elections in February?
Answer: We were attentively observing over the developments. Of course, we are very concerned on the demonstrations which entailed violence and depth cases. Therefore, the CE sated its opinion immediately. The PACE rapporteurs and commissar for human rights Thomas Hammerberg visited Armenia. We are glad with the cancellation of the emergency situation. It will lead to establishment of the state based on the rule of law, normalization of the situation in Armenia. The current visit of Ago Group to Armenia and its appraisal report will be very interesting.
Upon the last events in Armenian many people were arrested. We demanded comprehensive and detail investigation into these cases. I hope this situation will be clarified.
Question: Could a unilateral declaration of Kosovo independence affect the newly elected Armenian President's position in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Answer: So far, Armenia has demonstrated very careful position in the Kosovo problem. In this stage of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict the Council of Europe can assist in the establishment of the atmosphere of efficient cooperation, which will lead to the peaceable resolution of the conflict between the two countries. As soon as the conflict is solved, the entire legal and political arsenal o the Council of Europe can be applied and developed.
Question: Are you expected to pay a visit to South Caucasus?
Answer: I have recently visited the South Caucasus. Probably, this year I will anew tour the region and in the run up to the presidential elections I will be in Baku.