The international board meeting of the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) confirmed today that Azerbaijan was in breach of its requirements, by preventing civil society stakeholders from meeting, organising, accessing funds and speaking freely.
Complaints from Azeri people’s groups and human rights organisations prompted the international EITI board to send a fact-finding mission to Baku in September. This came after human rights organisations, opposition politicians and journalists reported harassment and intimidation from the state security apparatus, with several prominent activists subjected to politically motivated arrest. The board found that situation for civil society “unacceptable”.
While stopping short of immediately suspending Azerbaijan from the initiative, the board required the country to redress the civil society crackdown, with a review of their progress set to begin in January 1st 2015. If it is manifestly clear that a significant aspect of the EITI Principles and Requirements is not being adhered to, the EITI Board will suspend or delist the country at their next meeting in late February.
Global Witness and a global coalition of civil society groups expressed outrage at the treatment of Azeri organisations. “We hope that the board decision will encourage a reversal in Azerbaijan”, said Brendan O’Donnell of Global Witness, who serves as an alternate on the EITI Board. “Otherwise the country will be suspended or delisted.”
The EITI is a global initiative of governments, companies and civil society working to make the management of revenues from natural resources more open and accountable to citizens. Participating governments report revenues received for their oil, gas and minerals, and companies report payments made. The International EITI standard sets out minimum requirements that include governments ensuring an “enabling environment” for civil society participation, with stakeholders being able to "freely speak on transparency and natural resource governance issues".
Global Witness and the Publish What You Pay campaign made up of 800 organisations are calling for clearer and consistent benchmarks to be built into the process for deciding whether countries are compliant with the EITI standard, so that where the civil society enabling environment is curtailed or subverted countries can be deemed to be non-compliant. Currently the standard fails to stipulate clearly what constitutes an ‘enabling environment’.
“If people can attend every EITI meeting but have their bank accounts frozen for being critical - or can get hounded by authorities for asking questions publicly about oil or mining deals once they step outside those meetings - then that is not an enabling environment.” said O’Donnell. “The credibility of the EITI initiative is at stake - civil society engagement is a not just a requirement it is prerequisite for a meaningful EITI. Only with genuine civil society participation will EITI improve accountability and governance. We look forward to clear rules and rigorous enforcement to enable this to happen”.
The board is expected to agree to specific benchmarks on civil society engagement at the next international board meeting in February 2015. Before that Azerbaijan will have to demonstrate that its citizens groups can participate freely.
Contact Brendan, +44 (0)7912 517 128 [email protected]