Human Rights Defenders Appeal to Secretary General of the Council of Europe with Regard to the Referendum

September 5th, 2016

aspa

Human rights defenders have addressed an appeal to Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland, urging him to give a legal assessment of the proposed amendments to the Constitution of Azerbaijan.

“We are writing to urge your office to initiate the provision of the Venice Commission’s opinion on the proposed changes to the Constitution of Azerbaijan as well as on the compatibility of the planned referendum with Council of Europe standards. We believe that some of the proposed amendments are contrary to the Council of Europe’s statutory principles (democracy, human rights and the rule of law). Their adoption would further aggravate the democratic deficit in a country where the balance of powers between the organs of government is distorted, and where there is a dominance of power in the hands of the President. In other words, the proposed changes would only foster current undemocratic system in which the imbalance of powers is effectively institutionalised in the person of the present incumbent. The voters must be informed of the effects of the referendum. The present regime’s intolerance of criticism, and the continuing restrictions on the media and on freedoms of expression, assembly and association, make it highly unlikely that a balanced assessment of the proposed amendments will be available to the electorate before the referendum. This attempt by Azerbaijani government to hastily ram through changes without consent from Parliament, combined with complete absence of public debate on the issue, suggest that the conduct of the current referendum is contrary to Council of Europe standards. In light of the above, we urge you to request the Venice Commission’s opinion as a matter of urgency. We believe that the opinion would be pivotal in protecting the Constitution of Azerbaijan and more broadly human rights and the rule of law in Azerbaijan,” the appeal reads.

The appeal has been signed by Head of Legal Education Society Intigam Aliyev, Head of Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Emin Huseynov, Head of Human Rights Club Rasul Jafarov, Head of Election Monitoring Centre Anar Mammadli and Head of Institute for Peace and Democracy Leyla Yunus.

Background: The referendum on amendments to the Constitution in Azerbaijan will be held on September 26. The Draft Referendum Act stipulates establishment of the posts of first vice-president and vice-presidents of Azerbaijan. It also extends the term of office of the president from 5 years to 7 years. Minimum age requirements for the president and parliamentarians are removed. Besides, the president is granted the power to dissolve the parliament.