58 NGOs support motion for dismissal of PACE president Pedro Agramunt


Pedro Agramunt

Pedro Agramunt. Credit: European People’s Party/Flickr

Update: On 6 October 2017, Pedro Agramunt announced his resignation as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

We, members of the NGO coalition the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP) and other NGOs across Europe, welcome the recent motion for dismissal of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Pedro Agramunt put forward by 158 members of the Assembly. We urge all its members to support this motion at the forthcoming session of the Assembly on 9 October 2017.

The no-confidence motion marks a historic opportunity to start the process of rebuilding PACE’s reputation as a defender of human rights and the rule of law.The Assembly has, for far too long, tolerated unethical and corrupt behaviour by some of its members,

The Assembly has, for far too long, tolerated unethical and corrupt behaviour by some of its members, as exposed in a number of credible investigative reports by several highly reputable NGOs and the media, most recently in the Azerbaijani Laundromat report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and publications in over a dozen of media outlets in a number of European countries in September 2017. Unethical fostering of interests and corruption lasting for many years in PACE have strongly damaged the credibility of the Council of Europe.

The Assembly has allowed corrupt practices by certain governments of its member states, in particular Azerbaijan, to undermine its commitment to uphold fundamental values of human rights and democracy in the Council of Europe member states. This has dismayed human rights defenders in the Eastern Partnership states and beyond who looked to PACE and other representative bodies such as the European Parliament for support in defending these values.

The recent establishment of an independent external Investigation Body by PACE and plans to overhaul the PACE Code of Conduct for Members and to adopt declaratory requirements give us hope that the much-needed renewal of the Assembly will be irreversible and will not stop with the departure of the disgraced President. It also serves notice to all current and former members of PACE that corrupt practices will no longer be tolerated and enjoy impunity. This process must continue after the end of 2017 when the Independent Body is due to report and should lead to an investigation of allegations of corruption by the law enforcement bodies at the national level.

The investigations by OCCRP and others show that democratic parliamentary assemblies in the free world must remain vigilant against threats to their integrity from unscrupulous and cynical governments. Otherwise, the hope and support that these assemblies can extend to political prisoners and democrats who are working for human rights, free and fair elections, and the rule of law in the Council of Europe countries and elsewhere will continue to be undermined.

Signed by the following organisations:

1. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
2. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
3. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
4. Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan” (Kyrgyzstan)
5. International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)
6. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (Kazakhstan)
7. Public Verdict Foundation (Russia)
8. Regional Center for Strategic Studies (Georgia/Azerbaijan)
9. Promo LEX (Moldova)
10. The Netherlands Helsinki Committee (Netherlands)
11. Centre de la Protection Internationale (France)
12. Citizens’ Watch (Russia)
13. Committee Against Torture (Russia)
14. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
15. Human Rights Centre “Viasna” (Belarus)
16. Association UMDPL (Ukraine)
17. Index on Censorship (United Kingdom)
18. International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (Belgium)
19. Helsinki Committee of Armenia (Armenia)
20. Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House (Belarus/Lithuania)
21. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor (Armenia)
22. Institute of Public Affairs (Poland)
23. Freedom Files (Russia/Poland)
24. Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights (Germany/Switzerland)
25. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Bulgaria)
26. Kharkiv Regional Foundation “Public Alternative” (Ukraine)
27. Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan)
28. Legal Transformation Center (Belarus)
29. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia (Serbia)
30. Norwegian Helsinki Committee (Norway)
31. Public Association “Dignity” (Kazakhstan)
32. Human Rights Information Center (Ukraine)
33. “Protection of Rights without Borders” (Armenia)
34. Crude Accountability (USA)
35. DRA – German-Russian Exchange (Germany)
36. Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) (Azerbaijan)
37. Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia)
38. Albanian Helsinki Committee (Albania)
39. Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (Ukraine)
40. Sova Center for Information and Analysis (Russia)
41. Kosova Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (Kosovo)
42. Truth Hounds (Ukraine)
43. Article 19 (United Kingdom)
44. Human Rights Matter (Germany)
45. Helsinki Association for Human Rights (Armenia)
46. Center for Participation and Development (Georgia)
47. Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (Ukraine)
48. Office of Civil Freedoms (Tajikistan)
49. Women of the Don (Russia)
50. Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania)
51. Media Rights Institute (Azerbaijan)
52. Batory Foundation (Poland)
53. International Youth Human Rights Movement
54. Institute for Peace and Democracy (Netherlands/Azerbaijan)
55. Monitoring Centre for Political Prisoners (Azerbaijan)
56. Democratic Civil Union of Turkmenistan (Turkmenistan/Netherlands)
57. Public Alliance “Azerbaijan without Political Prisoners” (Azerbaijan)
58. Humanrights.ch (Switzerland)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Civil society calls on Tajikistan to immediately release Alexander Sodiqov

The Civic Solidarity Platform, a coalition of more than 60 human rights NGOs across the OSCE region, expresses its strongest concern about the arrest of and allegations against Mr. Alexander Sodiqov in Tajikistan and urges authorities of Tajikistan to immediately release Mr. Sodiqov and refrain from bringing charges against him.

Mr. Sodiqov, a scholar affiliated with the Universities of Toronto and Exeter, was detained while carrying out research for an academic project in the town of Khorog, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Republic in the southeast of Tajikistan on 16 June 2014. Alexander Sodiqov is a citizen of Tajikistan, and a promising academic currently pursuing his doctoral degree.

Following his arrest by the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) of Tajikistan, Mr. Sodiqov was transferred to the Tajik capital Dushanbe, where he is currently held in the custody of the security services on Tursunzade Street 140. A criminal investigation has been opened against him, the GKNB citing suspicions of espionage/treason as the basis for the case. These allegations imply prison sentences from 12 to 20 years in Tajikistan.

The remote Gorno-Badakhshan region holds a particular status in Tajikistan, requiring foreign visitors to obtain a permit from the security services before travelling to the area. However, international organizations and research institutes have long been established in the regional capital Khorog. As such, the region sees more foreign visitors than many other parts of Tajikistan.

Tragically, the area became the object of increased international attention following violent clashes in July 2012. These events were investigated and described in a report published by the Civic Solidarity Platform in October 2013.

As an academic researcher, Mr. Sodiqov was carrying out sociological surveys and interviews in Khorog on the request of fellow academics at the University of Exeter, UK. The University of Exeter is considered one of the top universities in the world, ranking as number 153 internationally, and serving almost 16,000 students. Academic research on this level demands broad objectivity, which easily explains why Mr. Sodiqov included persons known to be in opposition to the central government in his list of interviewees while carrying out his research in Khorog. It does not indicate any affiliation to opposition groups, armed or otherwise, by Mr. Sodiqov himself.

Mr. Sodiqov has received vast support from colleagues and friends in the international academic community across the world, many of whom know Mr. Sodiqov personally and who are familiar with his research. Following Mr. Sodiqov’s arrest, gatherings in his support have taken place at European, American, Australian and Central Asian universities, including London, Canberra, Washington DC, Exeter, Toronto, Paris, Freiburg, Astana, Bishkek, Heidelberg and Ankara.

There is a relatively small circle of academics who specialize on Central Asia and who regularly publish scientific papers and books on subjects relating to the specifics of the region – typically issues such as border disputes, armed conflicts and the particular role of the five Central Asian republics on the global map, but also poverty, health and democratic development.

While the security services of Tajikistan may not be the immediate target group of such publications, they are widely read by stakeholders in the international community, including the United Nations, who rely on academic publications like those produced by Mr. Sodiqov and his colleagues for context and background when allocating development aid, of which Tajikistan is a major recipient.

Members of the Civic Solidarity Platform have raised human rights violations with the government of Tajikistan for years – including issues such as freedom of speech, women’s rights, freedom of religion or belief, as well as the widespread use of torture, to name but a few of the most pressing current concerns.

Considering the funds that have been provided by the international community to develop Tajikistan’s educational system and its other pressing needs, the country’s government would be ill-advised to include academic freedom to this growing list of human rights concerns. Indeed, academic freedom is one the core elements of freedom of expression and falls under protection of major international human rights treaties that Tajikistan is a party to and has obligations under.

The Civic Solidarity Platform calls on the government of Tajikistan to immediately release Alexander Sodiqov, drop all charges against him, let him continue his academic research unhindered, and reunite with his family.