(Berlin) – The president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Sir Suma Chakrabarti, should raise human rights concerns when he visits Azerbaijan on May 24 and 25, 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. The Azerbaijani government’s crackdown on independent voices is inconsistent with the principles outlined in the bank’s charter and other requirements.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is the only international financial institution that has a political mandate to support countries that exercise “multi-party democracy [and] pluralism.”

“The Azerbaijani government is waging a dramatic crackdown on journalists, media, leading activists and independent organizations,” said Jessica Evans, senior researcher and advocate for international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch. “In doing so, the government is backtracking on civil and political rights required by the European Development bank’s charter.”

Suma Chakrabarti, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), addresses an audience during the Bank's Annual Meeting and Business Forum in Istanbul, Turkey on May 10, 2013. 

© 2013 Reuters

The bank also requires clients to adhere to the “principles and requirements” of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, (EITI), which promotes good governance by resource-rich countries. EITI’s board downgraded Azerbaijan’s status in 2015 because of its flagrant disregard for fundamental freedoms and set out several steps that the Azerbaijani government would be required to take to restore its status.

In a May 20 letter, Human Rights Watch urged Sir Chakrabarti to express concern in Baku about the Azerbaijani government’s disregard for human rights. The letter asked the bank’s president to urge the government to undertake reforms that would reinforce and complement the steps outlined by the EITI board and ensure that the bank is true to its political mandate. These include:

  • Release activists, journalists, and other government critics in detention on politically motivated charges and vacate the convictions against them, including the investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova;
     
  • Stop ongoing politically motivated investigations that have implicated independent organizations, media outlets, and their staff members; unfreeze these bank accounts and ensure that the funds in the accounts are in fact accessible; and
     
  • Repeal laws unduly restricting nongovernmental groups’ and media outlets’ ability to conduct their legitimate work and severely restricting the use foreign funding.

“Leaders of international organizations should use every opportunity to remind Azerbaijan that its deplorable human rights record interferes with business as usual,” Evans said. “The Bank should put Azerbaijan’s leadership on notice that the degree to which the government meets these benchmarks will have a direct correlation to the bank’s operations within the country.”