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Some of Azerbaijan’s international partners are finally taking exceptional steps to signal their alarm over the government’s serious crackdown on human rights.

Members of Journalists Without Borders protest against Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev during his visit to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, January 21, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland today announced an official inquiry into Azerbaijan’s implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Jagland noted rightly that this rare move was triggered by European Court of Human Rights findings on “an arbitrary application of the law in Azerbaijan, notably in order to silence critical voices and limit freedom of speech.” Jagland stated he is “particularly alarmed when individuals are deprived of their liberty due to an abuse of power by a country’s legal authorities.”

With so many leading human rights defenders and journalists behind bars on politically-motivated charges and dozens of NGOs and media outlets closed or severely curtailed, Jagland’s unambiguous message shows leadership, with no time left to lose on securing an end to the disastrous human rights situation in the country. 

Also today, across the Atlantic, United States Representative Chris Smith (R, NJ) has introduced draft legislation entitled the “Azerbaijan Democracy Act,” calling on the US government to promote “a stable, democratic Azerbaijan,” and for the Azerbaijani government to free all “political prisoners.” The bill calls for, among other things, visa sanctions on (unnamed) senior Azerbaijani officials responsible for the crackdown.

These steps should send an unmistakable message to the Azerbaijani government that its crackdown, underway for nearly two years with the clear intention to decimate civil society, will come with a price. Azerbaijan’s other key partners, namely the European Union and its member states, should consider equally meaningful and concrete steps. Without such commitment to principles and human rights protection, there is little hope of reversing Azerbaijan’s devastating human right trajectory.


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