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The Role of the International Community

As interest in Azerbaijan’s substantial oil reserves increased, the U.S. and some European countries advocated Azerbaijan’s increased integration into European and other international structures such as the World Trade Organization, the Council of Europe, and NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

By the first half 1998, multinational oil and gas companies had signed contracts with Azerbaijan worth $40 billion. Azerbaijan’s human rights practices and lack of commitment to the rule of law should have been a grave concern to international investors given the substantial additional infrastructure investment under discussion during the year to bring oil and gas reserves to world markets. The large size of the companies’ investment indicates a significant long-term commitment to the country. But multinational companies were silent on issues such as the lack of an independent and impartial judiciary to provide citizens recourse to a system of peacefully resolving disputes, lack of institution building to ensure respect for electoral rights to guarantee peaceful transitions of power, openness and transparency in the formulation of laws and regulations to combat corruption, and a free press to serve as a check on government abuses. This was regrettable given that enactment of rule-of-law reforms provides an important safeguard and foundation not only for improved human rights practices but for the long-term security of investment.

Council of Europe
As part of procedures governing Azerbaijan’s membership application to the Council of Europe, rapporteurs andparliamentarians made several trips to review the compatibility of Azerbaijan's legal system with international human rights standards. A September 1997 report by Council of Europe lawyers noted in its conclusions that, “What is required above all is a change in mentality of those in power who do not tolerate any form of opposition.” The report further called for extensive reform of the judicial and legal system, a radical, immediate improvement of conditions in pre-trial detention and on death row, and for judicial control of the police and procurators’ actions during investigations.

European Union
Azerbaijan is a participant in the European Union's 50 million ecu Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Central Asia (TRACECA) project, which aims to increase the political and economic independence of countries in the region by creating an East-West transport corridor with upgraded roads, port facilities and other transport networks. The E.U. was largely silent on human rights issues during the year. Given the European Union’s significant involvement in the country, its silence on human rights concerns was disappointing.

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Responding to concerns voiced by Human Rights Watch regarding Azerbaijan’s compliance with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s charter commitment to multiparty democracy and pluralism, bank officials pledged to consider the issue in connection with its biannual assessment of Azerbaijan in 1998. The EBRD approved US$200 million in financing for development of pipelines and other infrastructure to carry Azerbaijani oil to international markets in July.

United Nations
In its concluding observations on Azerbaijan's initial report, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about continued discrepancies between legal protections for women and discrimination in practice, the government’s insufficient commitment of resources to assess and combat violence against women and the high level of maternal and infant mortality, and the international community's failure to provide sufficient assistance in this area. In December 1997, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted in its review that nearly the entire population of Azerbaijan is living in poverty and recommended as a matter of urgency that the government address basic needs of the population, such as safe drinking water, food, affordable housing, and health care. It also expressed concern that a large proportion of the resources necessary to finance social programs is diverted by corruption, which pervades State organs and sectors of the economy that are still under state control.

United States
The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997 on Azerbaijan stated that the country’s record was poor, but other aspects of the report did not accurately reflect the human rights situation. The report stated that “members of the police committed numerous human rights abuses.” But this vastly understated the widespread, rampant police abuse, the systematized torture of detainees, and the climate of impunity in Azerbaijan. The report noted positive developments in 1997 and pointed to the lifting of military censorship as an example. Yet later it acknowledged that violations of media freedoms continued at approximately the same level as in 1996 due to continued political censorship and government banning of newspapers. To its credit, on August 18, the U.S. State Department issued a strong statement regarding the detention of demonstrators at opposition rallies.





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