The government of Azerbaijan had signed various international conventions and joined different global agreements but still refuses to meet its obligations related to independent civil society, free press, transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption measures.
About the Author: Gubad Ibadoghlu, Senior Policy Analyst for social and economic studies at Azerbaijan’s Economic Research Center, a Baku-based NGO that promotes economic development and good governance.
Oil-rich countries tend to join various international conventions in order to present themselves to the western world as modern and progressive. However, once petrodollars begin flowing into the country, these governments tend to forget their international obligations.
Azerbaijan’s experience in this regard is interesting and controversial.
Azerbaijan has failed to fully implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE / ODIHR) Bureau of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, as well as the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).
For example, in March 2018, Azerbaijan received 21 anti-corruption recommendations at the GRECO plenary session and has implemented only 13 of them fully, 5 only partially, and has failed to implement 3 recommendations altogether.
GRECO’s recommendations require the government of Azerbaijan to disclose the assets and property of all of the members of Parliament, judges, and prosecutors, which are important steps in preventing further corruption in the management of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas reserves.
The government of Azerbaijan clearly lacks the political will to operate a property and revenue disclosure system. Yet, property and income declarations by civil servants and state officials (members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors) are critical measures in preventing corruption in the direct and indirect expenditures of oil and gas revenues.
Subsequently, GRECO has called on the Azerbaijani authorities to take decisive measures to implement its recommendations and finalize the important anti-corruption reforms. The organization agreed to wait for additional information on the measures taken by Azerbaijan, giving them a deadline of December 31, 2019.
Further, Azerbaijan has not fulfilled its commitments under the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which the country joined in 2012, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), of which Azerbaijan was a member between 2003-2017.
During the 2016 OGP Steering Committee meeting, Azerbaijan lost its full membership due to its failure to meet the important commitments of the Civil Society Standard–a set of requirements ensuring an enabling legal and operative environment for civil society organizations.
Even though Azerbaijan was given one year to undertake the obligations and create a favorable environment for civil society, a full 2.5 years later those conditions have not been met. During the OGP Steering Committee meeting on December 5, 2018, the organization gave Azerbaijan another chance, requesting that 5 conditions be fulfilled during the following two years.
According to the first condition, by March 1, 2019, Azerbaijan must prepare a roadmap for the development of a new action plan in line with at least the minimum requirements outlined in the OGP Participation and Co-Creation Standards. The second requirement was to appoint, by June 1, 2019, a high-level government representative (ministerial level or above) to lead the OGP process in Azerbaijan. The third condition was to start developing an OGP action plan through an inclusive process that engaged a wide array of actors beyond the OGP Forum and included reforms to address the civic space constraints highlighted in the updated recommendations and other domestic priorities. The deadline for this demand was also June 1, 2019.
The Azerbaijani government partially executed the first and second requirements. However, it did not even start working on the third, more important, condition of development of an action plan for the next year, including the consultation with and wider engagement of civil society.
Although the government failed to meet the set deadline, and a new action plan for the implementation of the OGP had to be launched last year, Azerbaijan is still a member of the OGP, maintaining its membership without the operational National Action Plan, since the one covering the period between 2016-2018 has long expired.
As for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), at the highest point of its oil revenues, Azerbaijan, which was among the first 4 pilot countries to join this initiative in 2003, and received membership status in 2009, refused to meet the obligations of this organization for open management and accountability in the production of oil, gas, and other mineral resources.
After receiving multiple reports of government-exerted pressure on civil society in Azerbaijan, on April 15, 2015, EITI deprived Azerbaijan of “full membership,” replacing it with a “candidate” status. On March 9, 2017, the international governing body of EITI decided to suspend Azerbaijan’s membership. On March 10, 2017, Azerbaijan made a statement about leaving the organization altogether. On August 8 of the same year, Transparency Azerbaijan, which operated in the country since 2005, announced that it had closed its office in the country.
The government of Azerbaijan signed various international conventions and joined different global bodies before the country’s economy started to benefit from the returns from oil and gas. When the petrodollar revenues peaked, it became obvious that the Azerbaijani government joined international conventions and organizations only for the sake of membership, and it started playing the imitation game to create an image of democracy without actually establishing it.