Written by 11 h 57 min Advocacy, Corporate capture litigation, Press release-en

Azerbaijan: EITI Board should sanction government for civil society crackdown

280 groups from 35 countries urge the EITI Board to protect free and independent civic participation in the initiative.

In a letter submitted today to the international Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), more than 280 civil society groups from 35 countries urged the initiative’s leadership to take “the strongest action possible” in response to an unprecedented crackdown on independent civil society organisations in Azerbaijan. The Board is due to address Azerbaijan’s failure to comply with core EITI requirements and principles at its next meeting in Brazzaville on 14-15th of April.

EITI is an international effort to promote better governance of resource-rich countries. Launched in 2002 as a multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together extractive companies, civil society organisations and governments, the EITI is now being implemented by 48 resource rich countries. It seeks to improve governance in the management of natural resources through the regular publication of credible information on the extraction of natural resources.

Civil society actors play an integral part in advancing the implementation of the initiative and are represented both on the national level multi-stakeholder group and on the international Board. The free and active participation of civil society is a cornerstone of the EITI. In recognition of the critical role independent civic leaders play in the initiative, including to stimulate public debate and promote policy reforms in the extractive sector, the international Board approved a new Civil Society Protocol in December 2014 that forms part of the initiative’s rules for membership, known as the EITI Standard.

The situation in Azerbaijan is a test of the Board’s commitment to uphold the new protocol and the requirements and principles in the EITI Standard. Conditions for independent civil society involved in the EITI process in Azerbaijan have continuously deteriorated since February 2014, when the government of Azerbaijan introduced harsh legislative restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs)1. The subsequent severe and well-documented2 crackdown3 on civil society in Azerbaijan has seriously undermined genuine civil society participation in the EITI process.

These concerns have prompted numerous discussions within EITI and led the Board to send a fact-finding mission to Azerbaijan in September 2014. In a statement issued at the initiative’s Board meeting in Naypyidaw in October 2014, the EITI chair, Clare Short, said conditions for independent activists in Azerbaijan were “clearly problematic” and had sparked “deep concern.” The Board called on the Azerbaijani government to re-affirm its commitment to respect the principles of the EITI, outlined three remedial actions the government would need to implement in order to restore the enabling environment for civic participation and called for an early review or “early validation” of Azerbaijan’s participation in EITI.

“The situation for independent CSOs has only gotten worse in the past six months. The government has made the laws on CSOs even more restrictive, many groups working on EITI have been forced to close down and intimidation forced some of my colleagues out of the country,” explained Gubad Ibadoghlu from the Economic Research Center, an NGO operating in Baku, who sits on the international EITI Board.

“Azerbaijan is testing the credibility of the EITI. Civil society activists from all over the world are watching the board and expect us to take strong action. It is the board’s duty to defend basic EITI principles and send a message that restrictions on civil society’s ability to participate effectively in the EITI will not be tolerated,” said Marinke Van Riet, international director of the Publish What You Pay coalition4 and member of the EITI Board.

1 Together, the rules subject NGOs to extensive government control, contrary to guarantees of freedom of association, including over their registration, governance, receipt of funding and banking operations.

2 See for instance: Statements by the Venice Commission – http://www.coe.int/t/ngo/Source/Venice_Comm_opinion_787_2014_amendments_NGO_law_Az_en.pdf ; by the UN working group on Business and Human Rights – http://business-humanrights.org/en/un-working-group-visits-azerbaijan ; or Human Rights Watch – http://www.hrw.org/node/118310

3 The formal rules have been accompanied by various forms of harassment of NGOs, which range from a smear campaign against NGO leaders and groups which criticize the government to interrogations of activists to actual physical attacks in some cases. Criminal cases and tax investigations – either entirely trumped up or based on the politically-motivated application of excessively flexible legal rules – have been launched against a number of NGOs and activists, including those actively engaged in the EITI process.

4 Publish What You Pay is a global alliance of CSOs that fight for transparency and accountability in the extractive sector. For more information, please visit: www.publishwhatyoupay.org

Last modified: 7 August 2023