By Daniel Linotte (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

In January 2015, a new regional agreement will enter into force between Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia – it will create the so-called Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), replacing the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) established in 2006. Taking into account actual trade flows and national economies, the EEU can hardly be justified and should not have much impact on economic integration among its members. Nevertheless, Western countries should still be worried about possible non-economic consequences of the new agreement, especially for governance, democracy and human rights, in countries that are already displaying authoritarian tendencies.

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Published in Analytical Articles

By Eka Janashia (15/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) October 1st resolution on “the functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia” spurred debates in both Strasbourg and Tbilisi.

The Georgian Dream ruling coalition along with Michael Aastrup Jensen of Denmark and Boriss Cilevičs of Latvia, the two PACE co-rapporteurs on Georgia, strongly opposed the document while the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party supported it, backed by the majority of Assembly members.

The draft resolution built on a report prepared by the co-rapporteurs as a part of PACE’s regular activity to observe the country’s performance regarding obligations undertaken upon its accession to the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1999.

Allegedly, UNM members of the Georgian delegation were, through the support of European People’s Party (EPP), able to introduce amendments to the initial version in order to make it more critical of the Georgian authorities. As a result, the originally “balanced” report has been changed into a “partisan” one, Jensen and Cilevičs claimed. Jensen termed the product “completely a shame,” because PACE should not be taking sides in Georgia’s internal politics, but should instead “try to paint a picture as correctly as it is.”

According to the document, despite the peaceful handover of power after the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections in Georgia, the arrest and prosecution of almost the entire UNM leadership “overshadowed” the democratic achievements the country has made since.

The document describes the detention in absentia of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, former Minister of Defense David Kezerashvili and former Minister of Justice Zurab Adeishvili as well as the arrest of former Prime Minister and UNM Secretary General Vano Merabishvili, former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava as regressive moves for Georgia’s democracy.

The resolution expresses concerns over the freezing of assets belonging to former government officials’ family members and the length of Akhalaia’s pre-trail detention, asking the authorities to replace detention on remand with non-custodial precautionary measures. It takes note of the multiple charges filed against the former president as well as the large number of possible instances of criminal conduct on the part of former government officials and emphasizes that no one is above law, but meanwhile urges the authorities to ensure that their trials are impartial.

In this respect, the resolution recalls the Assembly’s reservations regarding the independence of the judiciary and administration of justice in Georgia. While it welcomes positive signals such as the adoption of a comprehensive reform package aiming to establish a truly adversarial justice system, it also notices that the sensitive legal cases against opposition leaders has disclosed “vulnerabilities and deficiencies” of the system. Thus, the Assembly suggests further reforms of the judiciary and prosecution service and recommends the Georgian parliament to achieve a necessary compromise to elect all members of the High Council of Justice.

Another set of concerns refers to an increasingly intolerant and discriminatory attitude especially towards sexual and religious minorities and a lack of measures from all stakeholders – the investigative and prosecution agencies, politicians and institutions with high moral credibility – to examine “hate crimes” and condemn discriminatory sentiments. Regarding minorities, the Assembly also calls on the Georgian authorities to sign and ratify the European charter of regional and minority languages, which remains an unfulfilled commitment of the country since its accession to CoE. The Assembly recommends the government to communicate the charter’s provisions to the public through an awareness campaign and ensure the engagement of civil society, media and other interest groups in the process. As for the deported Meskhetian population, the document underscores the setbacks in granting citizenship to already repatriated persons.

Before the resolution was adopted, PM Irakli Gharibashvili expressed hope that EPP along with other members would not rely on the “groundless allegations” put forward by UNM. Later, commenting the already approved document, he said the amendments to the resolution had been passed because of EPP’s “solidarity” with UNM. “The wording that was made in reference to Akhalaia and Saakashvili – I do not deem it alarming. This is yet another attempt by the UNM to fight against its own state, its own people,” he said.

Although the Assembly is deeply concerned about “a polarized and antagonistic political climate” in Georgia, the resolution has further fanned the confrontation between GD and UNM. Rejecting political motivations, GD declares that prosecution of former officials is a demand of Georgian people and that it certainly should be met. The head of the human rights committee in the Georgian parliament and one of the GD leaders, Eka Beselia, termed the Assembly’s request regarding Akhalaia an attempt to exercise pressure on the independent court.

The adoption of a critical resolution on Georgia signifies that leading European political forces are principally against the marginalization and demonization of UNM, as its disappearance from political scene would enormously damage democratic processes in the country. On the other hand, GD evidently maintains a tough approach reflected in its indifference to the PACE recommendations regarding the prosecution of opposition party members.  

Published in Field Reports
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 10:28

Azerbaijan Increases Pressure on Civil Society

By Mina Muradova (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Whereas Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev intensively uses social media platforms for promoting Azerbaijan as a prosperous and democratic country, human rights observers condemn the authorities of this post-Soviet country for a recent escalation of repression against civil society activists.

“A free society has emerged in Azerbaijan. All democratic institutions are available and they operate successfully,” – @presidentaz, the official account of President Aliyev tweeted in early September. In a minute, another tweet said, “All freedoms, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, the freedom of the press and free Internet, are available.” And later, “Azerbaijani society is a free society, and this is our great achievement.”

The regional analyst and blogger Arzu Geybullayeva said that for anyone familiar with Azerbaijani realities, “the presidential feed is bitterly ironic, if at times darkly entertaining … Elsewhere in the post-Soviet world, authoritarians have figured out that succinct means success in social media. But Aliyev’s feed reads like one long speech regularly interrupted by a pesky 140 character limit,” she wrote on GlobalVoices, a citizen media platform.

The reason for Geybullayeva’s concern is the fact that the number of politically motivated detentions has increased sharply in the country after the defeat of a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution on “The follow-up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan” on January 26, 2013. Amnesty International has recognized 24 people as “prisoners of conscience” in Azerbaijan, who were “jailed solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression” in recent months.

The latest in a series of attempts to silence government critics is the case of journalist and human rights defender Ilgar Nasibov, who was found unconscious with severe head trauma and broken bones in his face, in late August. “He was called from home to go the office in the evening,” his wife Malahat Nasibova told Azadliq radio. “They said some petitioners had come. They attacked him suddenly in the office and inflicted numerous injuries.” Unidentified people stormed the office of the Democracy and NGO Development Resource Centre in the Nakhchivan exclave of Azerbaijan, which he heads. Amnesty International reported that the Nasibov couple has long faced regular intimidation because government officials want them to leave the region, as they are “the only remaining independent voices there.” Even though the authorities reportedly detained one of Nasibov’s assailants, they have not initiated a criminal investigation.

Among the total number of politically motivated arrests, more than ten members of the media and bloggers are behind bars or awaiting trial. It is the highest number that the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has observed in Azerbaijan since the office was established. The OSCE’s representative Dunja Mijatović called the government of Azerbaijan to stop “the continued persecution of media and free voices in the country.” According to Mijatović, “These cases and accompanying smear campaigns have resulted in worrying setbacks for the development of free expression in Azerbaijan that create a chilling effect on media and society as a whole … While I do not challenge the lawful right of the authorities to scrutinize the activities of non-governmental organizations, such actions should not be aimed at silencing critical voices.”

On September 15, local media published a letter from prominent human rights activist Leyla Yunus to her husband Arif Yunus. The couple are kept in different pre-trial detention centers. She compared the political climate in contemporary Azerbaijan with the massive political repressions in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin. “They began to arrest whole families, as Stalin did. The tyrant behaves as if there is no CE or EU or other international organizations,” she stated. Yunus reported that her cellmate verbally harassed her and threatened “to break her arms and legs” immediately after Yunus had met with representatives of the UN Commission against Torture in the Kurdakhani prison.

Three days later, the European Parliament (EP) called on Azerbaijan to undertake “long-overdue human rights reforms without further delay and cease their harassment of civil society organizations, opposition politicians and independent journalists and lift the ban of public gatherings in Baku.” Members of the EP condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the arrest and detention of human rights activists and demanded their “immediate and unconditional” release.

The Azerbaijani leadership continues to brush off any allegations that it is behind the serial arrests of its critics and the closure of their organizations. “It is regrettable that these NGOs and individuals – and some journalists – fall back on the foreign forces that fund them and regard themselves as above national law, refusing to report their grant-funded projects, file accounts, pay their taxes and comply with other legal requirements set out by the government,” Ali Hasanov, political affairs chief in the presidential administration, told the AzerTag news agency. “In those circles, the appropriate actions that state institutions have taken are sadly being misrepresented as ‘pressure on civil society’ and as ‘restrictions’ on the functioning of NGOs and the media. It’s a campaign to blacken Azerbaijan’s reputation.” 

Published in Field Reports

By Carolin Funke (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) emerged as Georgia’s most respected and influential institution. It has played a significant role in the Georgian public sphere ever since and enjoys a high level of trust among the Georgian population. But as Georgia moves towards Euro-Atlantic integration, the GOC increasingly appears to develop into a political force. Recent statements by the clergy on Georgia’s municipal elections and the GOC’s active involvement against law-making and political processes intended to strengthen social and political pluralism raise concerns over its role in Georgia’s democratic development.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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