German MP Strasser’s report on “Definition of political prisoner” discussed

German MP Strasser’s report on “Definition of political prisoner” discussed

Elhan Suleymanov, a member of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

As informed, the report on "Definition of political prisoner" was included in the agenda of the autumn plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe held in Strasburg on October 1-5, 2012.

1. Tabling of 2 amendments, October 2nd, till 16.00h.

On October 2nd, at 14:00, representatives of all political groups in the PACE tabled two amendments on the draft report. The first amendment was factual recognition that so far never any criteria were approved by the Assembly, as many MP's have stated. The second amendment aimed at referring to the exclusive competence of the European Court with regard to the interpretation and application of any criteria.

On the following day, immediately after both amendments were tabled, the Committee's secretaries Mr. Drzemczewski and Mr. Schirmer and the Secretary-General's office - who should behave neutral! - were approaching MPs from the Parliamentary Assembly on the corridors and buffets and lobbying very actively to vote against both amendments and in favor of the report by using different methods. They were trying to spread hurriedly prepared various statements and addresses, for example so-called documents by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

2. Political Group meetings, October 3rd, 09.00h.

During the meetings of political groups on October 3, the German speaking Swiss leader Gross and the leadership of Liberals, obviously disrespecting and roughly attacking their group colleagues, forced them to vote in favor of Straesser's report, and compiled a nominative list. Thus, Mr. Gross incited the members to vote against the amendments via an "indicative" vote, which never happened during the recent five years, menacing them to be kicked out of the political group if ever they vote in favor of the amendments. Consequently, he succeeded to compile the list of 46 votes from the Socialist Group. Is this the fruit of democracy?

In the EPP-group members are in principle allowed a free vote. But the chairing Spanish vice-president, being personally in favor of the amendments, was under very heavy attack by Dutch and German MPs. Such aggressive scenes took place, which never happened before in the EPP-group meeting. The Germans even request his immediate resignation. Moreover, a few hours later very unfortunately the Italian group leader expressed by email to all members his personal opinion, being also against the amendments.

In the liberal group, the German MP Schuster requested all members to vote against the amendments. A big majority of the group agreed to speak and vote against the amendments, and the official opinion of the group was negative towards the both amendments.

In the conservative group, there was more support for the amendments, but people were free to vote. The same in the small communist group, where the situation was rather confusing.

During whole Tuesday and Wednesday, the socialist leader, the Committee Secretaries Mr. Drzemczewski and Mr. Schirmer, the German rapporteur, and all the Germans with support of the civil servants, continued to lobby and convince liberals and communists to strongly speak and vote against the amendments.

The leadership and members of the German delegation threatened their colleagues from other European countries, which face economic difficulties at the moment, by stating that if they vote in favor of the amendments, the issue will be raised before the German Bundestag, and thus, they did not avoid from menacing these countries with prevention of aid to them, even adoption of economic sanctions against them, and threatening to make their economy sink.

3. Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, October 3th, 14.00h.

On October 3rd at 14:00, the two amendments on the report were put to vote in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. At the Committee meeting, Head of the Secretariat Mr. Drzemczewski acted in contradiction with the existing procedures and taking the floor before the voting for the amendments, stated that if the Committee adopts these amendments, the PACE chairman will veto these amendments using his powers.

After a very tough debate, with many German speakers, including the German rapporteur Straesser, the first amendment was put to vote after including two technical corrections. The first amendment was accepted by the Committee.

The second amendment, being the heart of the debate was even more heavily attacked. However, once put to the vote, it was also accepted by the very close vote of 30 against 28 votes. It was a clear victory for the amendment and a total surprise for the PACE. The Germans and their allies in the secretariat were extremely angry and disappointed.

Moreover, several members remarked that the votes in favor of the amendments in reality amounted 34, and not 30. But exactly as happened in previous voting, the Secretariat tried to cheat in favor of the rapporteur, and to falsify the result. The votes in favor however, were far too strong, and the final outcome could not be falsified. As 30 minutes was allowed for voting in the Committee, there was no opportunity to campaign against Azerbaijan. Consequently, the MPs voted for justice and truth.

The attempts to conceal votes and falsification of the results of voting by the Committee Secretariat are already usual things.

Nevertheless, despite attacks and vagueness in the calculation of votes, the amendment to Paragraph 3 was adopted and the heart of the report was undermined. The support for this amendment is a sign that the Committee members voted for justice and rule of law due to their internal opinions and responsibility before their conscience.

4. The plenary session debate and votes, October 3th, 16.30h.

During the two hours break an extremely strong lobbying took place by the opponents of the amendments - leaders of the Socialists and Liberals, members and secretaries of the German Delegation, and Mr. Mr. Drzemczewski and Mr. Schirmer, Secretaries of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, to influence the vote in plenary session.

As the members of South European countries were supportive of the amendments, their German colleagues approached them, informing that their position in this matter will strongly hamper any future support from Germany to South European countries with regard to resolving the economic and financial crisis in these countries. The leader of German delegation urged the leaders of the delegations of these countries to follow the German directive.

It's clear to all that Germany is not hiding to act as the only real ruler of Europe, and is imposing to any other country its requests, threatening MP's that Foreign Ministers will be informed and that personal and general sanctions will occur. The imperial behavior of the Germans, with support of Baltic's and Scandinavians is astonishing to all observers.

On the speakers list in the general debate, also many Armenians got the floor, which was not possible for them in the Committee. Now Armenians saw the opportunity to strongly attack the both amendments, to express their support to the Germans, at the same time to directly attack Azerbaijan, in a very emotional and insulting way, trying to influence the whole Assembly.

Appointed representatives of political groups took the floor in the plenary session: they were persons appointed and prepared in advance by the group leadership. Particularly, it was obviously noticed that representatives of socialists and liberals group had been prepared to biased position against Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, several MP's showed the courage to defend the amendments. But each time, right after their positive speech, those few were immediately and publicly very heavily attacked and insulted, mainly by Germans, Baltic and Scandinavian socialists.

The plenary meeting continuing two hours and a half appeared to be a debate against Azerbaijan, but not on definitions of political prisoners and the demonstration of biased and hostile positions against our country. Participants of this shamelessness were mainly German MPs, representatives of socialists and liberals.

Though in their speeches, some MPs provided many examples based on the concrete facts showing that the proposed criteria are obsolete and not applicable. They also stated that the amendment proposed to paragraph 3 of report provides for fair and legal solution of the issue, notably within the framework of current exclusive competence of the European Court of Human Rights under Convention.

However, Mr. Straesser, Ms. Schuster and other socialists and liberals addressed entreatingly participants of plenary meeting and expressed their concern hysterically that in case amendment to the paragraph 3 of report was adopted, this report against Azerbaijan would not be adopted in January. Mr. Straesser said clearly, "get me right, if the amendment is adopted, my report against Azerbaijan will not be adopted in January". Mainly speeches of these pro-Armenians and socialists and liberals that were under influence of Mr. Gross affected positions. However, even after such a political clownery, the vote resulted in equal 89/89 votes.

While putting pressure on their colleagues, the leadership of liberal group demonstrated biased position to the activities of Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe and charged accusations against our country with language inappropriate to the reputation of this organization.

All members of Azerbaijani Delegation in their turn displayed exemplary tolerance, did not react to provocations and did not even take the floor and utter a word during discussion of Mr. Straesser's report.

The first amendment - with the two technical corrections - is adopted.

The result of vote on the second amendment was: 89 to 89, and 5 abstentions. In order to be adopted, one more vote was needed...This is unfortunately the rule and nothing can be done about that. Again unfortunately, the chairing president, being also the leader of the Conservative group, was not allowed to vote, as he was chairing the plenary session. His vote would have changed the outcome into the adoption of the amendment...

Some older MP's say that they never before in their career they have seen such an equality of votes - and deep split ! - in the Council of Europe.
The last vote was regarding the final adoption of the report. Majority of MPs did not understand the importance of general vote which took place after the amendments to the paragraph 3 were not adopted.

5. Conclusion.

Theoretically, though the report was applicable to all Member States of the Council of Europe, all speeches regarding political prisoner were addressed to Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan was many times, from different sides, under very strong attack with regard to the issue of political prisoners, in this so-called general debate. All these factors affected the result of voting.

The appeal from the Germans and their allies was very emotional. They made dramatic appeals in the debates and this completely poisoned the atmosphere. What was meant to be a debate on a legal issue, ended up in low shouting and personal insults. Many were surprised that after such strong language in public against, even 89 to 89 votes were obtained in favor of the second amendments.

After this political thriller, rarely seen before in Strasbourg, for sure this debate and votes sincerely undermined the PACE's credibility in this matter and showed a deep split throughout the whole Assembly.

A general awareness has raised that Straesser wants only to focus and to attack Azerbaijan, and was never really interested in a debate on the criteria. Also, it now became clear to many more MP's that his upcoming report on Azerbaijan, including lists with names, seriously risks to interfere with the exclusive competence of the European Court. The this week debate clarified that risk very clearly and many more MP's are now raising questions with regard to the practice of producing nominative lists, which so far was never really contested.

Finally, the Straesser proposal on the definition in paragraph 3 was adopted under a 89 - 89 vote result. There is no reason for him - or the PACE as a whole - to be proud of the victory. Obviously 89 MP's do not want him to interfere with the European Court's exclusive competence in this matter.

I believe that this political game which ended in a draw of 89/89 had been written as a disgrace to the history of the Council of Europe, such an influential organization. If football teams ended in a draw, the teams and their fans leave the stadium with disappointment. Even when the main part of final match ends in a draw, it continues until one of them achieves victory. By showing such a comparison, I would like to state that the result of football match impacts only teams and their fans, but the decision of the Council of Europe is crucial to the lives of all people. Therefore, perfectness of the rules of this institution is very important.

Unfortunately, this "victory", which ended in a draw of 89-89 because of disputable rules of procedure, undermined the reputation of this institution, its image as a guardian of justice and fairness. It is a disgrace to the European values, democracy and the rule of law.

Though PACE had been legally declared a winner, this result is a shameful factor for the Council of Europe from political, moral and ethical point of view and is not a pride for those who will refer to the absurdity of these criteria in the future.

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