Azerbaijan’s status in a prominent international transparency organization has been downgraded. Representatives of the group cited Baku’s ongoing crackdown on individual liberties as the reason for the demotion.
Azerbaijan had been a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, or EITI, since 2003. The organization comprises companies, governments and civil-society groups and is dedicated to promoting greater transparency about state revenues earned from energy extraction and mining operations. Also inherent in membership is a commitment by member states to uphold basic liberties, in particular freedom of the press and broad access to information.
On April 14, EITI’s board deemed Azerbaijan was falling short in fulfilling the group’s obligations and downgraded the country from full member to candidate. To have its membership restored, Baku needs to “ensure that civil society in Azerbaijan can participate in the EITI in a meaningful way,” the Norway-based group’s chairperson, Clare Short, said.
Azerbaijan’s troubles with the EITI date back to 2013, when some organization representatives expressed concern about a crackdown on government critics, and launched a probe into the country’s commitment to the transparency standard.
In the summer of 2014, a leading global watchdog group, Human Rights Watch, called for Azerbaijan’s expulsion from EITI. “Azerbaijan is blatantly violating EITI rules, and EITI cannot afford to be complicit in this hypocrisy,” HRW representative Lisa Misol said in an August 14 statement. Azerbaijani officials brushed off the attack, asserting that questions concerning Baku’s rights practices were beyond EITI’s purview.
EITI’s April 14 downgrade of Azerbaijan can lead to the eventual suspension of Baku’s membership. Azerbaijani authorities have not yet reacted to the news.