Joint NGO Letter to the European Union Officials Regarding Azerbaijan President Aliyev's Visit to Brussels: : https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/06/joint-ngo-letter-european-union-officials
Politico-eu. By Harry Cooper. 02/02 Brussels.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev Monday to discuss a new partnership agreement triggering an angry response from advocacy groups who are critical of Baku’s record on human rights.
In a letter seen by POLITICO, 76 NGOs urged the Commission to “use this high-level visit to insist that President Aliyev commits to concrete, lasting human rights reforms.”
Relations between the EU and Azerbaijan deteriorated in 2015 after the European Parliament issued a resolution expressing “serious concern over the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation” in the country ruled by Aliyev since 2003, when he succeeded his father as president.
Last November, EU governments backed the opening of discussions to replace the 1999 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the small Caucasus nation.
Earlier this week, two senior EU officials met with Aliyev to discuss the EU’s relations with Azerbaijan, described as “an important partner for the EU” in a statement from Thomas Mayr-Harting, a director at the European External Action Service. Relations with Azerbaijan are central to the EU’s attempts to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.
About 10 billion cubic meters of gas is expected to reach the EU from Azerbaijan by 2019 through the Southern Gas Corridor which crosses Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania and Italy.
However, the NGOs behind the protest letter said that “deepening engagement with a government without securing concrete and sustainable human rights improvements sends a message that these issues are not of concern to the EU.” hey called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of opposition activists such as Ilgar Mammadov, the reform of laws to make it easier for civil society organizations to receive funding and the relaxation of rules limiting media freedoms.
Commission spokesman Margaritas Schinas, asked on Thursday if Juncker would raise these issues with Aliyev, replied: “I don’t think [Juncker] is terribly reserved when it comes to discussions with his partners.”
Aliyev’s visit coincides with the final stages of parallel discussions taking place between Armenia and the EU on a new partnership agreement. The two Caucasian countries have been in conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh for around 25 years. “I think we’ll be able to declare in the near future that we have completed the negotiations,” said Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian at a news conference on Tuesday.
Anca Gurzu and Quentin Ariès contributed to this article.
Author: Harry Cooper