Dear Country representatives and members of civil society,
I am honored to present the violations of social and economic rights of communities impacted by oil and gas developments in Azerbaijan. I represent the US-based NGO Crude Accountability, which partners with local civil society to advocate for human rights and environmental justice in the extractive industries. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak here, as these communities cannot advocate at the national level or even here, due to the repressive political situation in Azerbaijan.
As you may know, Azerbaijan is endowed with immense oil and natural gas profits. Oil and gas account for 95 percent of all exports, 74 percent of government revenue, and 47 percent of the GDP. Led by British Petroleum, companies from the UK, United States, Japan, Norway, Turkey, India, Malaysia, Russia, and Iran are currently developing Azerbaijan’s oil and gas. Revenues from the extractive industries in Azerbaijan have the potential to easily improve health services, infrastructure and education. Instead, widespread corruption, combined with a clampdown on civil society, entrench the country in abject poverty.
Crude Accountability has gathered data from 8 villages located near oil and gas developments sites. We found that people lack access to basic human rights of clean water, sanitation, and education, and suffer from the impacts of hydrocarbon developments on air, food and housing.
Right to Food
Since the gas terminal at Shah Deniz became operational in 2007, residents of the surveyed villages have been unable to grow subsistence fruits and vegetables—the plants do not mature and do not produce edible fruit. Residents report abnormally high rates of deformities and mortality in livestock. There has been no monitoring of surface or ground water quality for contamination by the government or the private sector. Since these communities rely on subsistence food production due to the economic depression and poverty, this is a violation of their right to adequate food.
We recommend that Azerbaijan invite the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment to visit said communities.
The Ministry of the Environment should work to provide monitoring of surface and groundwater in impacted communities.
Access to Medical Care
Citizens from all of the villages surveyed lack basic access to medical care. Although healthcare is supposed to be free in Azerbaijan, all interviewees reported the need to pay either unaffordable bribes or prohibitive fees for in-hospital services. A regular visit to a doctor can cost up to 15% of a standard pension. The nearest pharmacy can be over an hour away, and there is no public transportation.
The State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan was designed to support socio-economic progress, but how have its resources are used to improve healthcare in Azerbaijan? We recommend that funds from the State Oil Fund be used to finance health-related infrastructure and services in rural areas. The Azerbaijan Ministry of Health should ensure that free quality health care is enforced, and not corrupted by bribes or unlawful fees.
Further, the government should work with independent civil society to ensure enforcement of anti-corruption legislation, particularly in relation to the health sector.
Right to Housing
Villagers living near oil and gas developments cannot obtain deeds to their private property. The government maintains that it is illegal to build houses and infrastructure near the oil and gas fields, and refuses to provide deeds to the existing houses. As an example, a villager who inherited his land from his grandfather, wanted to build a barn on his property. He was sued by the government, which stated that he occupied public property, despite having owned the land for generations.
In 2016, the main gas pipeline coming from the Sangachal gas terminal exploded in a village, causing severe damage to private property. No one was compensated, and people cannot afford to fix the damages.
Azerbaijan Ministry of the Interior should ensure that land tenure rights are protected and deeds are distributed accordingly. The government should compensate for damages resulted by oil and gas activities.
Right to Clean Air
Villages near the Sangachal gas terminal reported deterioration in air quality. A noxious, sulfurous odor is noticed particularly at night, accompanied by visible smoke coming from the terminal, and a yellow dust accumulates on windows. There has not been any air quality monitoring by the government or the private sector companies.
The Azerbaijan Ministry of Health should conduct a timely investigation into the air, water, and soil quality. We also recommend Azerbaijan invite the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health to the said villages.
Right to Safe Water and sanitation
People living near the oil development sites do not have access to clean drinking water. Virtually everyone in these villages suffers from kidney problems, even children. One villager sent three letters to President Aliyev asking to provide access to clean water. He has not received an answer. Adequate sanitation facilities and infrastructure are absent, and open sewage is a central concern and a health hazard.
We recommend that the government of Azerbaijan address the concerns of its citizens. The Ministry of Health should ensure that all citizens enjoy their right to clean water, air, adequate sanitation. We recommend the resources from the State Oil Fund should finance water and sanitation infrastructure.
Right to Education
Lastly, we have found significant barriers to the right to education. The conditions of the schools in all of the villages surveyed are deplorable and pose a danger to the children and a real barrier to attendance. The schools lack heating, and the ceilings and walls continuously collapse. Further, our research indicates that only about half of girls attend school past 4th grade, as families do not let them continue for cultural reasons.
We recommend that Azerbaijan use State Oil Fund resources for educational infrastructure in rural regions of the country. Further, Azerbaijan should develop and implement national strategies to promote the retention of girls in schools.
It is important to note that poverty reduction and access to fundamental social and economic rights in Azerbaijan is not a matter of resources, but a matter of political will. Currently, the extractive industries serve as a vehicle for large-scale corruption and human rights violations. We invite you to consider the impacts of the oil and gas developments on the most vulnerable populations in Azerbaijan and address them in this UPR cycle.
Director, South Caspian Energy and Environment