A worldwide club for companies, governments and civil-society groups which support publicizing information about revenues received from energy and mining operations, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, known as EITI, puts public transparency at the center of its creed.*
For Human Rights Watch, however, that’s the rub. Azerbaijan’s increasingly frequent liking for prosecuting or harassing critical human-rights activists, youth-activists, opposition members and independent journalists does not signal a deep respect for transparency or good governance, the group argues.
“Azerbaijan is blatantly violating EITI rules, and EITI cannot afford to be complicit in this hypocrisy,” charged senior business and human-rights researcher Lisa Misol in an August 14 statement.*
Azerbaijan, an EITI founding member, joined the movement in 2003, and was deemed compliant in 2009. Today, its State Oil Fund sits on the EITI board.
The movement has not yet responded publicly to HRW’s criticism.
In its own response, Azerbaijan might be sorely tempted just to press the Play button on a pre-recorded rebuttal. Rarely a week goes by that the government argues that it’s not violating the law in prosecuting activists and journalists, but upholding it.
"You should ask them why they don't follow the law,” Aydin Mirzazadeh, a parliamentarian for the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, advised the BBC on August 14 in reference to jailed activist Leyla Yunus, scholar Arif Yunus, activist Rasul Jafarov and human-rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev. “Being part of a particular political circle... does not mean they are given special privileges.”
The government has not responded to Human Rights Watch yet.
How readily the EITI would seize the opportunity to suspend Azerbaijan from membership is open to interpretation, however. Under the coalition’s rules, a member-country can be suspended a year after the EITI board decides that it is not following the group’s requirements. To date, the Central African Republic is the only country that has been given the boot in EITI's 12-year history.
The EITI site does not detail the voting procedure for suspending a country. But its 20-member board contains, apart from the Azerbaijan State Oil Fund, energy companies with sizeable interests in Azerbaijan: Chevron, ExxonMobile, Statoil, Total, and, as an alternate member, BP. None of them are known for publicly cutting Baku down to size about its rights-record.
Some international momentum appears to be growing, though, for sharper attention to be paid to this record. In an August 13 editorial, The Washington Post, not a daily Azerbaijan-watcher, called it “beyond comprehension” how the country can crack down on critics at home and simultaneously chair the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers.