The Address of His Excellency Mr. Heydar Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe - Strasbourg, January 25, 2001

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Dear Mr. Chairman,

Dear Mr. Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,

Dear Mr. Secretary General,

Dear Members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we are living historical moments. The Republic of Azerbaijan, which is an integral part of united and indivisible Europe, has joined the Council of Europe, the most grandiose and authoritative European organization.

On behalf of the people of Azerbaijan, I express the gratitude to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly and to the Council of Europe member-states on the whole for their support to Azerbaijan`s accession to the Organization. Taking this opportunity, I congratulate President Kocharian on the occasion of Armenia`s accession to the Council as well.

Dear MPs,

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

Within a short period of time 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 with the rule of law, and determined the way for its development.

During the past years the people of Azerbaijan have twice elected the 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. Indeed, there were also shortcomings and irregularities. But from election to election it is getting less. The Government takes decisive measures to eliminate them. We highly appreciate the assistance of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other international organizations in this field, and look forward to continue our cooperation.

The legislative basis is being reformed in the most serious manner. The Constitution guarantees the primacy of international law. We have already signed joined 15 Conventions of the Council of Europe. We had taken into consideration the provisions and standards of the main documents of the Council of Europe while we were not a Member State of this Organization. Particularly, that is true with respect to the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols.

The laws, adopted in our country, are developed with the direct participation of experts of the Council of Europe. As a result of legal reforms, every person gained a guarantee for 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, freedom of speech. The rights of minorities, equality before the law and the presumption of innocence are ensured. The Constitutional Court has been established, the death penalty has been abolished, censorship has been lifted and independence of courts has been ensured in Azerbaijan. The three-stage judiciary system has been established, and sixty percent of the judges have been replaced through elections, which were held based on transparent procedures and international standards. The state program on protection of human rights is being carried out and improvement of relevant mechanisms is underway.

Last June I issued a decree to intensify the fight against corruption. In accordance with that decree, the Law and the state program 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 subordinated to the Ministry of Justice.

On my initiative 55 thousand people have been granted amnesty within the last five years. In addition, considering appeals of human rights organizations and deputies of the PACE, I have also pardoned about 2500 prisoners. On January 16 of this year, I have taken the initiative to ask the Parliament to extend amnesty for an additional 9 thousand people. Azerbaijan is reaching the level of European countries on the ratio of number of convicted persons versus the total population.

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

I state with full responsibility that we have ensured freedom of the mass media and the unimpeded development of non-governmental organizations in Azerbaijan. We intend to improve further the legislation and its practical implementation in these spheres.

Through large-scale reforms we have overcome economic recession. The economic policy of Azerbaijan is based upon liberalization of economic activities, demonopolization and development of private sector. Privatization and land reform are underway in our country. Macroeconomics indices show significant and stable economic growth. We have created favorable conditions to encourage investments.

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

Azerbaijan is in active cooperation with the European Union and European economic structures. At present, more than 120 regional and transregional projects are underway with their help.

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

I declare that Azerbaijan is committed to its undertakings before the Council of Europe. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Azerbaijan had started carrying out its commitments since June 2000, even though they actually come into force after the admission to the organization.

All what I have just noted, are only the smallest part of all significant changes we have carried out in Azerbaijan. This process has to be evolutionary and progressive. Reforms should not be implemented just for the sake of the reforms or to be applauded by someone. They must be implemented consciously, recognized and perceived by the society. The goal of reforms is to ensure progressive improvement of people`s lives. Every nation has its own mentality, moral values, and traditions, peculiarities, which also need to be taken into account. International experience, support of international structures and partner states are also necessary.

Dear MPs,

Accession of the country, which is located at the historic crossroads, to the Council of Europe is an extremely important event both for Azerbaijan and for the Organization. We are ready to make our contributions to European values. These contributions would help to strengthen democratic stability in Europe and help Europeans to understand better and more thoroughly historical destinies of oriental nations.

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

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

Today, conflicts are being roused, territories of sovereign states are being occupied, ethnic cleansing is being conducted, and a peaceful population is being expelled from their homes in a united Europe, which has been living under the supremacy of law and human rights. Conciliation with aggression, recognition of results of illegal actions and the lack of timely adequate reaction from the international community lead to tragic consequences, undermine the foundations of sovereign states and cause humanitarian disasters.

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

Azerbaijan became the victim of a full-scaled military aggression from neighboring Armenia. Armenia has occupied twenty percent of the territory of Azerbaijan, and has been building up its military presence in occupied lands. It has been already more than eight years since over a million Azerbaijani people, who have been expelled by Armenian military forces from their homes, have suffered and lived in tents under unbearable circumstances. There is no similar disastrous case of this kind in the world. However, it is unfortunate that the international community is silently observing this continuing tragedy.

Armenia ignores the requirements to implement four UN Security Council resolutions on unconditional and immediate liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. The Minsk Group of OSCE has been engaged in settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1992. But its activities have not succeeded yet.

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

Dear MPs,

I am glad to emphasize that this fundamental position has found the unequivocal support from you and was reflected in the resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1997.

I call you on, dear Members of the Assembly, and on the world community to combine efforts in search for settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We all need that. 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. 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 normalization of relations between states of the region, and strengthen security in the South Caucasus and in Europe in general.

Dear MPs,

We should all rely on the search for unity in diversity, and not transform our differences into contradictions. We are all different, but we speak the same language, the language of a united Europe, the language of freedom, democracy and law. And our strength lies in that.

Thank you for your attention.