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At the meeting of the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that was held in Paris and chaired by the Member of the Riigikogu Andres Herkel, the situation in three member states of the Council of Europe – Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Georgia – was discussed. 

First reading of the reports on Bulgaria and Azerbaijan was conducted, and the final discussion of these reports will take place at the PACE winter session in the last week of January 2013. Regarding Bulgaria, Rapporteur Luca Volonte (EPP, Italy) made a proposal to close the so-called post-monitoring dialogue, but the Committee did not support this proposal. Bulgaria’s main problems are connected with corruption and the small independence of the judiciary system of the country. 

According to Herkel, the report on Azerbaijan, which is prepared in parallel with the report on political prisoners of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, deals with much more complicated problems and the closing of the monitoring procedure is not possible. In addition to the situation of political prisoners, the attacks aimed against journalists and opposition activists, restrictions on freedom of assembly, and the low quality and lack of independence of the judiciary system cause the greatest concern. Also the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict still influences the discussion of the Azerbaijan issues. On the one hand the unresolved conflict is used as an excuse for not being able to concentrate on building up a free, democratic society; on the other hand however such debates are always accompanied by the mutual settling of accounts regarding the different opinions of the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians, which in its turn is the reason why the main subject – the fulfilment of commitments to the Council of Europe undertaken by the countries – is often little touched upon. 

No draft report is being prepared on Georgia at present, but a lively and sharp discussion took place, where both the representatives of the new governing party and the United National Movement of President Saakashvili expressed their opinions. The opposition says that the new government has started to avenge the supporters of Saakashvili for political reasons, tens of people connected with different levels of politics have been imprisoned. The representatives of the government side in their turn said that only those are punished who are connected with the abuses of power, and actually the only political prisoners are the persons the old administration has convicted. Because of that, the so-called Amnesty Act, which tries to define political prisoners, has passed its first reading in the parliament and is still being debated. The Monitoring Committee decided that the controversial laws, including the Amnesty Act, have to pass the expert assessment of the Venice Commission. This also concerns the resolutions prepared in the parliament, with which it is tried to replace judges. 

The Venice Commission is an advisory body of experts under the auspices of the Council of Europe that deals with the issues of constitutional law, conducts expert assessment of laws or draft legislation and, if necessary, advises the states if the laws that have been adopted or are being prepared do not confirm to the principles of democratic society. 

The Riigikogu Press Service