Time has come for a clear change in the EU’s policy towards Azerbaijan

Future European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy was questioned about the EU’s stand on human rights in Azerbaijan, amongst many other issues. She said the EU has to put rights before other interests.

On Monday, 6 October 2014, the future European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, answered questions from members of the European Parliament during a three-hour long hearing.

Questions by MEPs touched several delicate issues of the EU’s foreign policy, from crisis in Ukraine to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, as well as the protection of women human rights and rights of LGBT people. Then, Ulrike Lunacek (Austrian, Greens) moved the focus on a country that is often far from the spotlight, Azerbaijan:

In our Eastern neighbourhood there is gas rich Azerbaijan as a country where repression, especially against media and civil society has increased during the recent months. How will you like to respond to increase the protection of basic rights and fundamental freedoms?

Outgoing EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Policy Catherine Ashton with Federica Mogherini

One could have expected a careful answer from the future High Representative, hiding behind the usual argument about Azerbaijan’s richness of natural resources and the EU’s dependence on them. On the contrary, Federica Mogherini used this same argument to state that the EU needs to be even more demanding in terms of respect of human rights with such important economic partners. Therefore, she added, the EU will stress more the need to respect human rights, and this especially in the field of media and political activities:

The Azerbaijan issue is not an easy one. Just because we are investing a lot on energy in Azerbaijan, and they know it very well, it is going to be crucial also for our diversification of sources, I think we need to stress even more the need for respecting human rights, especially in the field of media and political activities.

“It is difficult to say whether Mogherini’s words will be followed by actions and whether the EU’s policy towards Azerbaijan will finally change and take into account the unprecedented crackdown on civil society of these last months,” says Florian Irminger, HRHF’s Head of Advocacy and Geneva Office. “What is clear is that the recent events in Azerbaijan and the arrest of prominent human rights activists such as Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Anar Mammadli, Emin Huseynov, Bashir Suleymanli Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif, have finally reached the ears of decision-makers in Brussels.” Indeed, on 18 September, the European Parliament adopted a resolution strongly condemning the arrests and calling for the unconditional release of political prisoners. Then, the abovementioned exchange during the confirmation hearing at the European Parliament confirmed that repression in Azerbaijan is now taken seriously. 

“If, as the new EU High Representative clearly stated, human rights will not only just be a part of EU foreign policy in the future, but will actually become its core, human rights abuses and crackdowns against civil society in Azerbaijan will finally be met with strong words and actions from Brussels” added Florian Irminger.

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