Sir Suma Chakrabarti
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
One Exchange Square
London EC2A 2JN
September 7, 2017
Dear President Chakrabarti:
Your visit to Azerbaijan and upcoming meeting with President Aliyev are critical opportunities to address Azerbaijan’s appalling governance issues and to reiterate the EBRD’s commitment to the principles of pluralism and democracy, as enshrined in Article 1 of the Bank’s agreement, as a prerequisite for future EBRD financing of projects in Azerbaijan, particularly in the oil and gas sector.
The ongoing crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan has steadily worsened over the past several years. Over one hundred political prisoners are being held in Azerbaijan’s prison cells and we have seen a “revolving door” policy with regard to political prisoners in the country. One or two activists are freed, and others are imprisoned in their stead. Last week, Mehman Aliyev, the director of Azerbaijan’s last independent news agency, Turan News, was arrested on trumped up charges in an attempt to silence the news agency. Ilgar Mammadov, head of the political opposition, has been in prison for over four years in spite of a ruling in his favor by the European Court of Human Rights. Mehman Huseynov, a youth activist and blogger, was arrested in January 2017 in retaliation for his online activism against corruption. Each of these individuals, and the others who are languishing in Azerbaijan’s prisons, must be freed by the Azerbaijani government to demonstrate the country’s commitment to pluralism, as necessitated by Article 1 of the EBRD’s agreement. We call on you to require the release of Ilgar Mammadov, Mehman Aliyev, Mehman Huseynov, and all other political prisoners as a precondition for future EBRD financing of projects in Azerbaijan. The revolving door of prisoners in and out of prison is not acceptable.
The EITI decision to suspend Azerbaijan was adopted after all efforts to bring Azerbaijan back into compliance were unsuccessful. President Aliyev removed Azerbaijan from EITI, indicating his apparent disregard for the critical role of civil society role in the EITI process; without civil society participation, the initiative cannot work. The recent exposure of corruption in Azerbaijan, and the involvement of EBRD board members in this scandal, was uncovered by civil society activists, who investigated fearlessly in the face of grave risks. Civil society’s ability to independently monitor the government ensures accountability and legitimacy in the commitments of EITI.
The Azerbaijani government’s National Commission on Transparency in the Extractive Industries is not an independent body with accountability mechanisms, but, rather, is accountable to the State Oil Fund and headed by its Executive Director, Shahmar Movsumov. We request that during your meeting with President Aliyev you reinforce the EBRD’s commitment to the institution of EITI and require the return of Azerbaijan to EITI along with simultaneous, meaningful, progress towards reforms needed to meet EITI civil society requirements as a prerequisite for future financial cooperation.
Crude Accountability is ready to support international investments that would strengthen sustainable, democratic development in Azerbaijan that would benefit all of its citizens. However, EBRD funding of projects that are part of or support the Southern Gas Corridor serve as a signal to the government of Azerbaijan, and to President Aliyev in particular, that the institution is willing to turn a blind eye to the ongoing suppression of civil society, independent journalists, and others whose views do not coincide with those of the regime. By demanding Azerbaijan’s return to EITI and its release of all political prisoners in a timely fashion, the EBRD can play a critical leadership role in fighting corruption and promoting democracy and pluralism. It can build its reputation as a leader, rather than supporting the brutal efforts of a dictator to silence his opponents.