Investigators said they have "strong suspicions" that former members of the human rights body engaged in corruption. Azerbaijan is believed to have exerted influence to whitewash its human rights record.
Independent investigators on Sunday released a report suggesting former members of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly engaged in "corruptive activities" and violated the human rights body's code of ethics.
"The investigation found that, in their activities concerning Azerbaijan, several members and former members of PACE had acted contrary to the PACE ethical standards," the report said, referring the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) by its acronym.
"The parliamentarians involved are invited to suspend their activity while a committee examines their situation on a case-by-case basis," PACE President Michele Nicoletti said following the release of the report.
At least one German is among the former members named in the report, which was compiled by a team including two former judges of the European Court of Human Rights, a Council of Europe body.
Laundering Azerbaijan's image
The allegations stem from a scandal known as "Caviargate," in which Azerbaijan is alleged to have exerted undue influence on members of the assembly to avert probes into its election and soften criticism of its human rights record.
Last year, corruption watchdog Transparency International urged European authorities to investigate and sanction "politicians, banks and business that helped to launder the reputation of Azerbaijan across Europe."
"It is shocking to see that some politicians at respected bodies like the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe are up for sale and are willing to turn a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuses for cash," said Transparency International chair Jose Ugaz. "They must be sanctioned and we will put pressure on the authorities to take action."
What is the Council of Europe? Founded in May 1949, the Council of Europe is an international organization that advocates for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It works in close partnership with the EU but is a separate organization. No country has ever become a member of the EU without first having joined the Council of Europe.
The Council has three main bodies: The Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) and The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRA).
What the Council does: While the Council of Europe does not have the power to make binding laws like the EU does, it is able enforce conventions agreed upon by European states on a range of topics. The Council has facilitated more than 220 treaties.
The European Court of Human Rights enforces the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
How the Council is funded: The Council’s budget is mostly funded by contributions from member states, which are determined based on population and Gross Domestic Product. States may also make voluntary contributions.
How representatives are chosen: The Committee of Ministers is the decision-making body and is composed of the ministers of foreign affairs of each member state or a permanent diplomatic representative.
The 324 members of PACE are appointed or elected by the parliaments of the member states. PACE elects the Secretary General, the Human Rights Commissioner and the judges to the European Court of Human Rights.
The CLRA is responsible for strengthening local and regional democracy in the member states, with 648 elected officials representing more than 200,000 local and regional authorities.
ls, law/kms (AFP, dpa)