President of Azerbaijan

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 25 January 2001

Dear Mr President, Mr Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Secretary General, members of the Parliamentary Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, today we are witnessing a significant event. The Republic of Azerbaijan, which is an integral part of the united and indivisible Europe, has entered into the Council of Europe, the oldest and most authoritative European organisation.

On behalf of the people of Azerbaijan, I express gratitude to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly, and to the Council of Europe member states in general for their support for Azerbaijan’s accession to the Organisation. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate President Kocharian on the occasion of Armenia’s accession to the Council.

Since independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has, through the last decade of the twentieth century, lived through a bloody, hard struggle for the freedom, happiness and prosperity of its people. These were the hard and complex years of the formation of our statehood.

Within a short period, we successfully managed to establish civil order and legitimate authorities, eliminate the threat of civil war, ensure guarantees for the personal safety of citizens, create stability and embark upon normal creative work to develop democratic institutions and to achieve economic revival.

In 1995, the people of Azerbaijan, continuing the centuries-old traditions of their statehood and using their sovereign right, adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which laid down a strong foundation for building a democratic state within the rule of law, and determined the way for its development.

Over the past years, the people of Azerbaijan have twice elected a president of the republic and the Milli Majlis, the parliament of the country. Municipal elections have also taken place. According to the experts of the Council of Europe the election laws were in accordance with international standards of free and fair elections. There were shortcomings and irregularities, but from election to election there were less and less of them. The government has taken decisive measures to eliminate them. We greatly appreciate the assistance of the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and other international organisations in that matter and look forward to continuing our co-operation.

The legislative basis is being thoroughly reformed. The constitution guarantees the primacy of international law. We have already signed and ratified fifteen conventions under the auspices of the Council of Europe. We took into consideration the provisions and standards of the Council of Europe’s main documents while we were not even a member state of this Organisation. That is particularly true with respect to the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols.

The laws are developed with the direct participation of the experts of the Council of Europe. As a result of legal reforms, every person has gained a guarantee of freedom and personal immunity, fair and public trial of cases by an independent and impartial court and legal protection. Our country enjoys a multi-party system, political pluralism and freedom of speech and religion. The rights of minorities, equality before the law and the presumption of innocence are ensured. The Constitutional Court is established, the death penalty has been abolished, censorship has been lifted and the independence of courts is ensured in Azerbaijan. The three-stage judiciary system has been established and 60% of the judges have been replaced through elections which were based on transparent procedures and international standards. The state programme on protection of human rights is being carried out and improvement of its mechanisms is under way.

Last June, I issued a decree to intensify the fight against corruption. In accordance with that decree, the law and the state programme against corruption are being developed. The penitentiary system is being reformed successfully. Within the framework of reforms, measures have been taken to improve the living conditions of prisoners and management of the penal, institutions, which have been placed under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice.

On my initiative, 55 000 people have been granted amnesty in the past five years. In addition, taking into consideration the appeals of human rights organisations and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have also pardoned about 2 500 prisoners. On 16 January this year, I took the initiative to ask the parliament to extend the amnesty to an additional 9 000 people. Azerbaijan is reaching the level of European countries with regard to the ratio of convicted persons to the total population.

In future, we will continue to improve, thanks to the commitment of the Azerbaijani people and the state to ideals and principles of humanism and philanthropy, values based on democracy, supremacy of the law and respect for human rights and basic freedoms.

I can state with full confidence that we have ensured freedom of the mass media and the unimpeded development of non-governmental organisations in Azerbaijan. We intend to improve further the legislation and its practical implementation in those sectors.

Through large-scale reforms, we have overcome economic recession. Azerbaijan’s economic policy is based on the liberalisation of economic activities, demonopolisation and development of the private sector. Privatisation and land reform are under way in our country. Macroeconomic indexes show significant and stable economic growth. We have created favourable conditions to encourage investment.

Taking advantage of its geographical location, resources and potential, which have global geostrategic significance, and through co-operation with other countries, Azerbaijan is effectively carrying out projects on restoration of the Great Silk Road, development of the Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor, and the exploitation and transportation of hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian basin to the world markets.

Azerbaijan is in active co-operation with the European Union and European economic structures. At present, thanks to their help, more than 120 regional and transregional projects have been launched.

Today, the process of democratic development in Azerbaijan has become irreversible. Firm guarantees of freedom and supremacy of the law have been ensured. Acceptance of Azerbaijan into the Council of Europe is not simply recognition of an independent, sovereign, democratic and secular state, but the beginning of a new stage in the development of Azerbaijan as an equal member of the European family.

I declare that Azerbaijan is committed to its undertakings before the Council of Europe. I draw your attention to the fact that Azerbaijan started to carry out its commitments in June 2000, even though they only come into force after admission to the Organisation.

All that I have just noted is only the smallest part of all the significant changes that we have been carrying out in Azerbaijan. That process has to be evolutionary and progressive. Reforms should not be implemented just for the sake of reform or to be applauded by someone. The goal of reforms is to ensure progressive improvement in people’s lives. Every nation has its own outlook, values, traditions and peculiarities, which also need to be taken into account. The experience and support of international structures and partner states are also necessary.

The accession to the Council of Europe of my country, which is located at an historic crossroads, is an extremely important event both for Azerbaijan and for the Organisation. We are ready to make our contribution to European values. That contribution will help to strengthen democratic stability in Europe and help Europeans to understand better and more thoroughly the historical destinies of the eastern nations.

On the one hand, our accession will serve as a good basis for spreading advanced democratic ideas and legal views, and, on the other hand, it will help to ensure respect for the national and cultural identities of all nations. I see a special role and responsibility for our country as we try to strengthen and enhance this Organisation.

Azerbaijan is also interested in the development of democracy in our neighbouring countries. We believe that that would serve as a guarantee for regional security and stability. I believe that democracy cannot develop in a society inflamed with the ideology of aggressive nationalism, national superiority and territorial claims on neighbouring states.

Today, conflicts are being provoked, the territories of sovereign states are being occupied, ethnic cleansing is being carried out and a peaceful population is being expelled from its homes in a Europe that considers itself united and wishes to live under the supremacy of the law and human rights. A conciliatory response to aggression, recognition of the results of illegal actions and the lack of a timely and adequate reaction from the international community have led to tragic consequences, undermined the foundations of sovereign states and caused humanitarian disasters.

There should be no double standards in a united Europe. The area is indivisible, and all conflicts need an equally serious and principled approach.

Azerbaijan became the victim of full-scale military aggression from neighbouring Armenia. Armenia has occupied 20% of the territory of Azerbaijan and has been building up its military presence in the occupied lands. It is already more than eight years since more than one million Azerbaijani people, expelled by Armenian military forces from their homes, have been forced to suffer and live in tents in unbearable circumstances. There is no similarly disastrous case in the world. It is unfortunate that the international community is a silent observer of this continuing tragedy.

Armenia ignores the United Nations Security Council’s requirements to implement its four resolutions on unconditional and immediate liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Since 1992, the Minsk Group of the OSCE has been engaged in settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but its activities have not yet been successful.

In order to achieve settlement of the conflict, the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have had direct meetings and negotiations. We have discussed, and continue to elaborate upon, different plans of peaceful resolution of the conflict on the basis of mutual compromises. Although the cease-fire has already held for more than six years, we have failed as yet to achieve peace. Nevertheless, I believe that we have opportunities to achieve a fair and just settlement of the conflict and to establish peace with Armenia on the basis of the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, and of extending to the Nagorno-Karabakh region the status of the highest degree of self-rule within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and in absolute conformity with international laws and principles.

I am glad to emphasise that this fundamental position has found unequivocal support in the Council of Europe as reflected in the resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly in 1997. I call on you, dear members of the Assembly, and on the world community, to combine efforts in the search for a settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is in all our interests. It is impossible to ensure peace and security in the region without settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and without resolution of other conflicts.

Political integrity and the status of neutrality should be extended to the South Caucasus region. The accession of the whole region of the South Caucasus to the Council of Europe is an important factor which should contribute to settlement of conflicts and normalisation of relations between states of the region and should strengthen security in the South Caucasus and in Europe in general.

We should all search for unity within diversity and not transform our differences into contradictions. We are all different, but we speak the same language – the language of a united Europe, and of freedom, democracy and the law. Therein lays our strength.