Anti-corruption watchdog highlights push for reform in Azerbaijan


Baku has four months to rewrite its laws on NGOs or be suspended from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative — a step that could jeopardise billions of dollars of loans for a gas pipeline linking Azerbaijan to Europe, The Financial Times reports:

On Wednesday, the board of the EITI said that Azerbaijan had made some progress but that “civil society lacks sufficient space to operate freely”. It gave Baku until its next board meeting in four months’ time to rewrite laws on funding and registration that NGOs say make it nearly impossible for them to operate independently.

A recent move to simplify the process for approving foreign grants for NGOs was “a change in form but not a change in substance,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

“The government’s sweeping, brutal crackdown on civil society is completely at odds with EITI standards,” she said.

At its meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, EITI’s board found that Azerbaijan had not made satisfactory progress on meeting the initiative’s standards for fostering a free environment for independent groups, and outlined further steps that the government needs to take before the next board meeting in April 2017, Human Rights Watch said today:

The Azerbaijani government has been engaged in systematic efforts to undermine activists and independent organizations, Human Rights Watch said. In a new report (right), Human Rights Watch documented government prosecution of leaders of nongovernmental groups, and new draconian laws and regulations that make it virtually impossible for critical independent groups to operate, particularly for those working on human rights, transparency, and government accountability.

“The Azerbaijani government has spared no effort to dismantle independent groups, so it’s no surprise that EITI didn’t restore its status,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “Now it’s up to the government to enact meaningful reform and it’s up to its international partners to make sure it happens.”

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