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]

Investigate corruption allegations linking PACE and Azerbaijan

We, representatives of international and national non-governmental organisations, issue this appeal prior to a discussion of the investigation into allegations of corruption at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in connection with its work on Azerbaijan, at the Assembly’s April 2017 session and a meeting of the Bureau of the Assembly before the session. We call upon you to support a full, thorough and independent investigation into the corruption allegations, with full civil society oversight.

We are extremely concerned about credible allegations presented in a December 2016 report by the European Stability Initiative (ESI), “The European Swamp: Prosecutions, corruption and the Council of Europe” building on previous findings by ESI and others published in 2012-16, detailing improper influencing of Assembly members by representatives of the Azerbaijani government. In particular, the reports include credible allegations that PACE members from various countries and political groups received payments and other gifts with a view to influencing the appointment of Assembly rapporteurs on Azerbaijan, as well as reports and resolutions of the Assembly on Azerbaijan, most notably the PACE vote on the draft resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan in January 2013.

The allegations regarding improper conduct of PACE members are serious, credible, and risk gravely undermining the credibility of the Assembly, as well as the Council of Europe as a whole. It is essential that these allegations are investigated thoroughly and impartially. Calls and recommendations for independent investigation into these allegations put forward by ESI have been echoed by many civil society actors, including Amnesty International, Transparency International, and a group of 60 members of Azerbaijani civil society actors and 20 international NGOs.

We welcome the decision of the PACE Bureau on 27 January 2017 to set up an independent investigation body to shed light on hidden practices that favour corruption. The Bureau has also committed to revising the Assembly’s Code of Conduct and invited GRECO (the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption) to provide advice to the Rules Committee, charged with the investigation.

On 3 March, Wojciech Sawicki, PACE Secretary General, presented the Assembly Bureau with a draft terms of reference for the external and independent investigation at the Bureau meeting in Madrid. The proposal is credible, defining a wide mandate and competences and including strong guarantees for the independence of the investigation and safeguards against non-compliance with its work.

Unfortunately, the proposal was met with resistance at the meeting, and no agreement was made on its substance. The proposal was further discussed at a meeting of the heads of the PACE Parliamentary groups on 28 March in St Petersburg: again, no consensus was reached on its content, and whether it should be adopted.

A thorough investigation is essential to restore PACE’s credibility and allow it to effectively address human rights violations across the Council of Europe, including in Azerbaijan. The chairman of Azerbaijani NGO the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, Mehman Huseynov is already facing reprisals for raising the corruption allegations during the January PACE session. A day after his NGO sent a letter about the corruption allegations to PACE members in January, he was abducted and tortured by police and later sentenced for 2 years on defamation charges for allegedly making false allegations about torture. For PACE to be in a position to respond to such violations, it must be seen as independent and not under the influence of states wishing to influence their conduct.

We call upon members of the PACE Bureau to commit to the Sawicki proposal and to call for a full plenary debate on the proposal at the April session of PACE. We also call on the PACE Bureau to include a mechanism of civil society oversight of the investigation to ensure its full independence and impartiality.

We call upon all Members of the Assembly to support in the strongest possible terms an independent, external and thorough investigation. This can be done by signing a written Declaration on the Parliamentary Assembly Integrity introduced on 25 January 2017 by PACE members Pieter Omtzigt (The Netherlands, Christian Democrat), and Frank Schwabe (Germany, Social Democrat) urging the PACE President Pedro Agramunt (Spain, EPP) to launch a “deep, thorough investigation by an independent panel” that makes its findings public. More than one fifth of the Assembly members have joined the declaration. More voices in support of the Assembly integrity are needed. Moreover, PACE members must insist on their right to discuss the Sawicki proposal at the April session of the Assembly, to ensure that PACE has the mechanisms in place to adequately deal with corruption allegations.

We call on the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland to make a very strong statement to affirm that there will be no tolerance of any corruption, including bribery, trading in influence or taking up of roles that imply a conflict of interest, in the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe in general.

Commitment to the rule of law, integrity, transparency, and public accountability should be effectively enforced as the key principles of the work of the Parliamentary Assembly. If such a decision is not made now, reputational damage to PACE may become irreparable, preventing PACE from fulfilling its role as a guardian of human rights across the Council of Europe region.

1. The Netherlands Helsinki Committee
2. International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)
3. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
4. Freedom Files (Russia/Poland)
5. Norwegian Helsinki Committee
6. Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
7. Analytical Center for Interethnic Cooperation and Consultations (Georgia)
8. Article 19 (UK)
9. The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House (Belarus/Lithuania)
10. Index on Censorship (UK)
11. Human Rights House Foundation (Norway)
12. Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”
13. PEN International (UK)
14. Crude Accountability (USA)
15. Legal Transformation Center (Belarus)
16. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
17. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) (Switzerland)
18. The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
19. Belarusian Helsinki Committee
20. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
21. Promo LEX (Moldova)
22. Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights (Germany/Switzerland)
23. Public Association “Dignity” (Kazakhstan)
24. Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania)
25. Swiss Helsinki Committee
26. Human Rights Information Center (Ukraine)
27. Public Verdict Foundation (Russia)
28. Albanian Helsinki Committee
29. Kharkiv Regional Foundation “Public Alternative” (Ukraine)
30. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
31. Women of Don (Russia)
32. DRA – German-Russian Exchange (Germany)
33. Association UMDPL (Ukraine)
34. European Stability Initiative (Germany)
35. International Media Support (IMS) (Denmark)
36. Civil Rights Defenders (Sweden)
37. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) (France)
38. Sova Center for Information and Analysis (Russia)
39. Kosova Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (Kosovo)
40. Truth Hounds (Ukraine)
41. People in Need Foundation (Czech Republic)
42. Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (Belgium)
43. Macedonian Helsinki Committee
44. International Youth Human Rights Movement
45. Human Rights First (USA)
46. Regional Center for Strategic Studies (Georgia/Azerbaijan)
47. Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan)
48. Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) (Azerbaijan)
49. Media Rights Institute (Azerbaijan)
50. Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy (Azerbaijan)
51. Institute for Peace and Democracy (Netherlands/Azerbaijan)
52. Turan News Agency (Azerbaijan)
53. Democracy and NGO development Resource Center (Azerbaijan)
54. Youth  Atlantic Treaty Association (Azerbaijan)
55. Monitoring Centre for Political Prisoners (Azerbaijan)
56. Azerbaijan without Political Prisoners (Azerbaijan)