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Forests: the Future of our Planet

For an institution that spends probably 80 per cent of its time merely repeating the phrases “human rights”, “democracy” and “the rule of law”, the Council of Europe does some surprisingly useful things. Its biggest headline-grabber was when it was the first body to officially confirm the Bush administration’s extrajudicial kidnappings, although I confess that, when I read the news reports at the time, I was entirely unaware of its involvement since my gaze slid off the name “Council of Europe” just as yours probably did at the start of this paragraph. (If that isn’t the case and you actually know what the Council of Europe does, you work for the Council of Europe and I claim my five pounds.)

A liberal talking shop that isn’t part of the structure of the EU but was a crucial precursor to its founding—the European Court is a part of it—the Council of Europe has its own building next to the European Parliament in Strasbourg and holds four parliamentary assemblies a year. They’re platitude-heavy and mostly predictable affairs (should you be in a back room, try randomly switching the sound on and off and see how often you can come directly in on the words “democracy” or “human rights”) but, crucially, they allow smaller or poorer countries to be heard alongside their larger neighbours, and they enable parliamentarians of a variety of nationalities, political persuasions and indeed abilities to gather and try to reach some common purpose. As with any parliament, the most important questions are all asked and answered offstage.

The Council is well placed to ask difficult questions, possibly because of its lack of notoriety. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the respondents to Paul Flynn MP’s critical report for the CoE on the dubious goings-on at the World Health Organisation over the swine flu non-demic only answered in the first place because they thought the council sounded more important than it actually is, a bit like flashing your Oyster card at the security guard at Vauxhall Cross and hoping he’ll mistake it for an MI6 pass.

Rather like the stretch of pavement outside my flat, the parliamentary sessions can be a forum for squabbles to get an airing. However, since any large spats between major countries would be played out at a far higher level such as the UN, the Council is mainly reserved for third-division stuff like this:

THE PRESIDENT – We now come to Amendment No. 7… which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 12, after “it should be emphasised that a strong and active opposition is beneficial to democracy”, insert the following sentence: “This is the case in Moldova.”

Mr PETRENCO (Communist Party, Moldova) – We propose to insert the above sentence because we consider that the rights of the opposition in Moldova are being violated. There is an attempt by the authorities to ban the only parliamentary opposition party—that is, the Communist Party—as well as its name and its symbols. We consider that opposition rights are not being respected.

THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

Mr GHILETCHI (Ruling coalition, Moldova) – Mr Petrenco’s argument has no basis at all. No country name is mentioned in this paragraph, and the amendment intends to declare the Communist Party of Moldova the best opposition party in Europe. I propose to reject this amendment and keep the paragraph as it is.

Amendment No. 7 is rejected. [Source]
One particularly dependable source of conflict is the enduring hatred between neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan. Almost as soon as the two countries gained their independence from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution they went to war, which only properly subsided when both of them were absorbed into the new Soviet Union. The pilot light stayed lit, though, and at the first signs of the Soviet structure weakening in the late 1980s they were at it again. Azerbaijan maintains that at that point Armenia invaded and occupied several Azeri territories including Nagorno-Karabakh, while the Armenians contend they were liberating those regions’ Armenian populations. Tomayto, tomato.

Any opportunity to accuse their opponents of something nefarious is therefore grasped and pretty much throttled by either side, and the Council of Europe presents many such opportunities. During a debate on Kosovo, for example, the Azeri delegate who was due to speak—a woman who is the bane of English transcribers at these events due to her insistence on addressing the Council in her own delirious form of the language—that she had had to discard her prepared English speech and drawn up a hurried response in her much better Turkish to the outrageous allegations about Azerbaijan made earlier that day by the Armenian delegate in another debate. She then used her allotted four minutes about Kosovo to talk about Nagorno-Karabakh. This happens a lot. Informed that he wouldn’t have to report her as she had opted for another language, one English transcriber turned to his colleague and said, “Thank God for this war”.

This endless bickering led to a spectacular contribution to last Friday’s debate entitled, innocuously, “Forests: the future of our planet?”. While the other delegates had made the right kinds of general noises about trees—a vicious irony, incidentally, given the staggering volumes of paper that are wasted by the Council—Mr Huseynov from Azerbaijan felt there was an angle on the issue that was being overlooked:

MR R HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – Dear colleagues, there are currently major fires in the Azerbaijani districts that are under Armenian occupation. The significance of protecting forests, taking care of nature and fostering a more sensitive attitude to the environment as a whole are tackled in the Council of Europe. These fires are not an unexpected occurrence; in previous years, similar events have been carried out by this aggressor.

Why do the Armenian military forces and the separatist Nagorno Karabakh regime perpetrate fires? The reason is simple – it is related to drug trafficking, one of the greatest crimes committed by Armenia in the territories under its occupation. This occupant state freely uses the occupied territories, which are beyond any international control, for drug cultivation and as transit territory. It directs the dirty money gained in this way towards sponsoring terrorism.

After each harvest, in order to erase the traces, the Armenian forces burn the territories where the drugs were planted. The following year, the next territory where there has been a harvest is subjected to burning. Having broken out, the fire begins to move forward, moving over the occupied Azerbaijani territories and turning pastures, fertile soil and forests to ash.

Statistics in the book The Forest Fund of the USSR, published in Moscow in 1986 before the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijani territories, confirms that there were two and half times as many forests in Azerbaijan as in Armenia. The gross area of the forests in occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven Azerbaijani districts is 246 217 hectares. This figure is 55 per cent more than Armenia’s.

The looter Armenia, which appropriated such abundant wealth due to aid from foreign states, has been destroying those forests for nearly 20 years. Parts of the forests have been brutally cut down and used as construction materials, as well as raw materials for the furniture industry. Foreign companies are involved in these activities. The rest of the forests are destroyed by the fires I have mentioned. This is confirmed by intelligence, photographs, video footage and satellite pictures.

Armenia’s plundering of Azerbaijan’s forests, which is increasing geometrically, has other negative results. The liquidation of the forests and plant cover impacts on the movement of animals, and some species have been entirely eradicated. Due to this violation of the natural balance, particularly as a result of the frequent fires organised by Armenia, snakes, wolves and other beasts flow into the areas next to the occupied Azerbaijani territories. This in turn engenders other negative consequences.

The report calls forests the future of the planet. That is the truth. However, it is a bitter truth that Armenia is engaged in destroying Azerbaijani territories. It is fatally harming their flora and fauna, and it is continuing its aggressive military policy aimed at the future ecocide of Azerbaijan. How long will Armenia—an enemy not only of the present day but also of the future, a state acting against the future of the planet—escape punishment? [Source]

Sideshows aside, though, there is still ultimately some value in an organisation dedicated to banging on, however smugly, about “human rights”, “democracy” and “the rule of law” and encouraging regimes to give them a ago, given how much of the world is implacably opposed to all three. Spending last week seeing the workings of this mostly footling and infuriating but occasionally extraordinary body up close was an odd privilege.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 28th, 2010 10:22 am (UTC)
(If that isn’t the case and you actually know what the Council of Europe does, you work for the Council of Europe and I claim my five pounds

What is this "work" thing of which you speak?

Council of Europe, formed as the administrative body of the Convention on Human Rights in 1951, and overseer of the Court of Human Rights, independent of the EU, which is overseen by the European Council just to keep things simple, but all EU members must be members of the CoE.

Churchill, of course, helped write the original Convention and was something of a fan of the idea.

Any errors in the above are simply my memory being a bit faulty, naturally...

Having fun over there? *jealous*
Jun. 28th, 2010 09:18 pm (UTC)
It was fun, but we're back now - the assembly only sits for a week at a time. I think I've painted a fair picture of it here.

Have you honestly heard of it but not in any capacity done any work for it? This makes you a rare creature, no matter how familiar you are with Churchill's history...
Jun. 28th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
I can actually honestly say I'd heard of it before I did my degree, as I corrected a lecturer on the distinction (not in a lecture) during my first year.

I did a presentation on it during my 2nd year as well, bit dull though. But yes, heard of it, know what it's about, etc.

But then I am a Lib Dem, many of whom could quote entire chunks of various treaties (and have done so, scary stuff, I never bother memorising).
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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