The tug-of-war started publicly this summer when the New-York-City-based Human Rights Watch, which is not an EITI member, called for the group to end Azerbaijan’s membership over its harsh treatment of civil-society activists, journalists and opposition members.
Others agreed it was time to put Azerbaijan under the lens. “If people can attend every EITI meeting but have their bank accounts frozen for being critical - or can get hounded by authorities for asking questions publicly about oil or mining deals once they step outside those meetings - then that is not an enabling environment.” said alternate EITI board member Brendan O’Donnell from Global Witness, a natural-resources-corruption watchdog, in an October-16 statement.
After a check-up visit in Baku in late September, EITI management announced that “The situation facing civil society in Azerbaijan is clearly problematic.”
The outcome of that process could lead to a vote on limiting membership at EITI’s next meeting in February, said O’Donnell.
But Azerbaijan is not likely to just go along with that plan. In his October 24 comments, the country’s EITI government commission chairperson, Shahmar Movsumov, asserted that the group has “started to create an impression of [an] organization ensuring [the] protection of human rights or to be more precise NGO rights thus forgeting it’s [sic] initial goal.”
“Azerbaijan has not joined this Initiative to be accountable before any organization outside the country and listen [to] any critics not related to the mandate of EITI,” he fumed.
That’s a familiar theme out of Baku these days. Getting smackdowns from international critics does not fit the government’s self-image of a rising regional power that need answer to no one.
And the smackdowns keep on coming. The latest from the Council of Europe, where Azerbaijan chairs the Committee of Ministers.
Yet ultimately, Baku's interest in its international image could influence its next move with EITI, economist Gubad Ibadoglu, an EITI member from Azerbaijan, commented to Kavkazsky Uzel. Azerbaijani civil-society reps on EITI want Azerbaijan to stay put in the group, he added.
Given the rising outside interest in Azerbaijani gas potential, any campaign to suspend Azerbaijan as an EITI member could be a nasty one. EITI members include some of the country’s closest energy partners; among them, BP, which expects to complete plans to take a 12-percent stake in the strategic TANAP pipeline by the end of 2014, UPI reported.
For now, though, Baku maintains it’s not sweating it. Whether “inside or outside the EITI,” Movsumov claimed, Azerbaijan will keep on “ensuring [the] transparency of revenues from extractive sectors for its citizens . . . “