UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE
(HELSINKI COMMISSION) HOLDS HEARING:
HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRATIZATION IN AZERBAIJAN
JULY 29, 2008
REP. ALCEE L. HASTINGS, D-FLA., CHAIRMAN
REP. LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER, D-N.Y.
REP. MIKE MCINTYRE, D-N.C.
REP. HILDA L. SOLIS, D-CALIF.
REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD, D-N.C.
REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, R-N.J.
REP. ROBERT B. ADERHOLT, R-ALA.
REP. MIKE PENCE, R-IND.
REP. JOSEPH R. PITTS, R-PENN.
SEN. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, D-MD., CO-CHAIRMAN
SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.
SEN. RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD, D-WIS.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.
SEN. JOHN F. KERRY, D-MASS.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.
SEN. GORDON H. SMITH, R-ORE.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, R-GA.
SEN. RICHARD BURR, R-N.C.
HON. DAVID J. KRAMER, DEPARTMENT OF STATE
HON. DAVID BOHIGIAN, DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
HON. MARY BETH LONG, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEMOCRACY,
HUMAN RIGHTS AND LABOR
AMBASSADOR, REPUBLIC OF AZERBAIJAN
DIRECTOR OF STUDIES, FREEDOM HOUSE
The hearing was held at 3:00 a.m. in Room 0000 B-318, Rayburn
House Office Building, Washington, D.C., Representative Alcee L. Hastings,
Chairman, Helsinki Commission, moderating.
HASTINGS: We can get started.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here, and welcome to our first
hearing on Azerbaijan since May of 2000. Earlier this year, we held hearings
after elections in Georgia and Armenia, where violence either preceded or
followed the vote. We are not waiting until after Azerbaijan's presidential
election in October because Congress will probably go out of session for the
year in September. Rather than wait until 2009, I decided to proceed at this
I would also like to point out, though I hardly think it is necessary, that the
Helsinki Commission does not only scrutinize foreign countries. We also
examine U.S. compliance. During this Congress, we have held two hearings on
the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, which took a very critical
look at U.S. observance of human rights standards. Just last week, we held a
briefing on the medical evidence of torture by United States personnel.
One more thing, we do not intend today to focus on Nagorno-Karabakh. Assistant
Secretary of State Daniel Fried recently testified before the House Foreign
Affairs Committee on the so-called frozen conflicts. And at our hearing on
Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh received considerable attention from Deputy Assistant
Secretary Matthew Bryza, who is directly charged with negotiating an end to
To turn now to the subject of our hearing -- human rights and democratization
in Azerbaijan -- let me say, having been there several times, that I appreciate
very much the importance of Baku's strategic relationship with the United
States. Azerbaijan has cooperated closely with the United States on
anti-terrorism matters. As a producer of oil and gas which is transported to
Western markets through Georgia, Azerbaijan plays a pivotal role in
diversifying sources of energy.
Still, there are serious human rights concerns in Azerbaijan. These have been
laid out in the annual reports by the State Department and Freedom House. The
Council of Europe, which Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia all joined in 2002,
also issues regular reports on all three countries, focusing on human rights
problems, and I commend them to your attention.
Of particular concern is the situation of journalists. In December, 2007,
Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE's representative on Freedom of the Media, said more
journalists were imprisoned in Azerbaijan than in any other OSCE member state.
Later that month, President Aliev amnestied five journalists. Still, three
remain in jail, or four, depending whom you ask.
The jailed journalists bring us to the issue of political prisoners. I
introduced a resolution a year ago which focused on the case of Farhad Aliyev
and the repression of journalists. While even Azerbaijani human rights groups
disagree about who should be considered a political prisoner and how many there
are, they do maintain there are people in jail for their political beliefs or
activity. The Council of Europe has been wrestling with this problem for years
and we intend to question our witnesses about it as well.
Finally, an important presidential contest is coming up in October. I have a
special interest in that topic, having headed the OSCE's International
Observation Mission for Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections in 2005. The
OSCE's Warsaw-based Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has
issued a pre-election report on conditions in Azerbaijan. I understand that
Baku has not accepted several recommendations of the Council of Europe's Venice
Commission. I hope that decision will be reconsidered and that Azerbaijan's
October election will register clear progress over 2005.
Humor doesn't go over very well in these hearings, but to give my friends from
Azerbaijan some comfort, I am on the ballot in August and in December in
Florida. Just like I wish for Azerbaijan that they have clear progress in
their elections, I doggone sure hope we have clear progress in ours, especially
in Palm Beach and Broward County, where in 2000 everybody in the world knows
what transpired. So I am an equal opportunity concerned person.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on this and the other issues under
Before inviting our first witness to begin his testimony, I would like to say,
ladies and gentlemen, the biographies which are distinguished, are outside at
our table, and any other paraphernalia offered by either or all sides is
available at the table. So I will not go into great detail regarding the
personal curriculum vitae of our witnesses.
But I would, however, in this instance, invite the Honorable David Kramer, who
in addition to his duties as the assistant secretary of state for democracy,
human rights and labor, and he took that post on March 21, 2008. And then from
2005 to 2008, he was deputy assistant secretary of state for European and
Eurasian affairs, responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus affairs,
as well as regional nonproliferation issues.
Previously, he served in the Department of State, Office of Policy Planning, as
a professional staff-member, and before that was senior adviser to the under
secretary of state for global affairs. Secretary Kramer is also a commissioner
of this organization's structure, and has informed me that he has matters that
he must attend, and therefore will not sit as a commissioner today.
But I welcome your testimony, and commissioner, secretary, all those wonderful
things, you may proceed.
KRAMER: Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me
here today to speak before the commission, and my thanks to other members of
I also want to thank the opportunity to appear with Ambassador Aliyev from
Azerbaijan, too. It is always an honor and a privilege to appear on the same
hearing with him.
Mr. Chairman, if I may, I would ask that my full statement be entered into the
HASTINGS: Without objection.
KRAMER: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, today's hearing follows a trip I took to the three countries in
the South Caucasus in the end of June, so if you will permit me, I would also
like to say a few words about Armenia and Georgia before turning to the subject
of today's hearing, Azerbaijan.
The United States works with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe, the European Union, and the Council of Europe to promote democracy, the
rule of law, and respect for human rights in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.
We will continue to closely consult with our European partners on ways to
encourage all three South Caucasus countries to take more vigorous steps to
improve democratic governance and respect for human rights.
While in Armenia, I met with senior officials and with opposition and civil
society activists, including some of the wives of those detained in connection
with the post-presidential election demonstration in early March. While
there, I urged the authorities to release all those detained for engaging in
opposition activities or for expressing their political views, to conduct a
credible independent investigation into the March 1-2 violence that left 10
people dead, to fully restore freedoms of assembly and media, and to initiate a
constructive dialogue with the opposition in civil society.
In Georgia, there, too, I met with senior officials as well as opposition and
civil society activists. I expressed concern about the lack of checks and
balances among the branches of the government, and urged the authorities to
support democratic institutions, including a strong multi-party parliament and
a fully independent judiciary.
I urged the government of Georgia to work with the opposition to foster a
culture of respect for political pluralism. In various meetings, I expressed
concerns about negative trends since last year regarding media freedom, and
stressed the need to accelerate prison reform.
Mr. Chairman, turning to the focus of today's hearing, the United States has
major interests in Azerbaijan in three equally important areas: democratic and
economic reform, energy diversification, and security cooperation. Our two
countries enjoy strong cooperation on energy diversification, with Azerbaijan
emerging as a potentially crucial supplier of diversified natural gas supplies
for our European allies.
On security, Azerbaijan has made true contributions to international efforts in
Iraq and Kosovo, and provides an air corridor that supports U.S. and NATO
operations in Afghanistan. That said, our strongest relationships worldwide
are with democracies that respect the full range of human rights of its
citizens, in addition to sharing interests with us.
We seek to bring our cooperation on democratization with Azerbaijan up to the
level of our security and energy collaboration. Azerbaijan's progress on
democratic reform is key not only to strengthening our bilateral relationship,
but also to Azerbaijan's own long-term stability.
I traveled to Azerbaijan to continue the high level results-oriented dialogue
that my predecessor, Assistant Secretary Barry Lowenkron and President Aliyev
initiated in December, 2006, following President Aliyev's visit to Washington
that year. It was during that visit in April of 2006 that President Aliyev
stated, "We are grateful for the United States' assistance in promotion of the
political process, the process of democratization of our society and are very
committed to continuing this cooperation in the future." It was with President
Aliyev's stated commitment in mind that I pursued these discussions in Baku.
Now, in addition to my discussions with President Aliyev, Foreign Minister
Mammadyarov and other officials, I also met with opposition and civil society
figures and independent journalists. We have some serious concerns about the
state of democracy and the protection of human rights in Azerbaijan, which in
some areas has deteriorated. I was able to discuss these concerns in a candid,
but friendly and constructive manner with senior officials.
I addressed five key areas: political processes, media freedom, protection of
human rights, rule of law, and an empowered civil society. In my meetings with
Azerbaijani officials, we discussed concrete steps that can be taken to
accelerate democratic reform.
Let me highlight our concerns regarding the election and media freedom, and
conclude with a few final thoughts.
Mr. Chairman, as I stressed to senior Azerbaijani officials, the October
presidential election presents an important opportunity for the government to
demonstrate its commitment to democratic reform by ensuring that the overall
electoral process and election day itself are observed by credible independent
election monitors, both international and domestic. The pre-election
environment is as important, if not more important, than the conduct of
election day itself.
The pre-election environment must be conducive with regard to freedom to
organize political parties, election campaigns, or interest groups; conducive
for freedom of the media, assembly and association; voter registration;
appointments to election commissions; and election grievance processes. The
political space for dissenting voices has been shrinking in Azerbaijan over the
past few years. While some in the government have argued that the opposition's
weakness is due to a lack of new faces and ideas, the government also bears
ultimate responsibility for the election's climate.
In a welcoming environment, new people will have confidence that they can
safely engage in politics and the open exchange of ideas. I urge the
authorities to establish the conditions that would be conducive to a truly
competitive election. A key factor in determining the credibility of the
entire elections process and for establishing broad confidence in the
legitimacy of the outcome is domestic and international election monitoring.
This spring, Azerbaijani courts deregistered and annulled Azerbaijan's largest
independent domestic election monitoring NGO, the Election Monitoring Center
known as EMC. While there, I strongly urged the government to restore EMC's
ability to function in time for meaningful independent election observation
The OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights should soon
receive an invitation to monitor the election. The Parliamentary Assembly of
the Council of Europe has announced its intention to send short-term observers.
We also hope that the European network of election monitoring organizations
can also observe the election. We hope to see the implementation of
election-related laws in a way that expands, rather than constricts, the scope
of citizens to exercise their rights.
A growing concern in recent years is the deterioration of media freedom in
Azerbaijan. Administrative and other obstacles make it extremely difficult for
the public to have access to a variety of views. Although seven journalists
were released in 2007, which we welcomed, three remain in prison for reasons
that appear politically motivated. Another journalist is in prison despite
severe due process violations. In addition, the government has yet to
seriously investigate numerous cases of violence against journalists.
There has been no accountability for the 2005 murder of Elmar Huseynov. I
urged senior officials to release the remaining jailed journalists and ensure
rigorous and transparent investigations of acts of violence against journalists
such as Agil Khalil and media monitor Emin Huseynov. I also urged senior
officials to publicly condemn in the strongest terms possible violence against
and intimidation and harassment of journalists. The decriminalization of libel
would also be a strong signal that the government respects open debate. I was
pleased to learn that since my visit, in fact last week, the government has
decided to allow Mr. Khalil to travel and he is now in France.
I also made it clear that the unresolved conflict between Azerbaijan and
Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, which you referred to earlier, Mr. Chairman, in
your statement, is not a valid reason for either country to avoid respecting
media freedom or engaging in other essential components of democratization.
Additional human rights concerns include the following: political prisoners.
Local human rights NGOs estimate that the government holds between 33 and 57
political prisoners. The release earlier this year of two individuals
considered by human rights monitors to be political prisoners was a positive
step. We support the Council of Europe's efforts to resolve this problem.
Institutional reform of the justice system would also help.
Abuses by security forces -- torture, and the lack of accountability for it and
the excessive of force against peaceful demonstrators or detainees remain
serious problems. In the year of rule of law and corruption, promoting the
rule of law, including an independent judiciary that respects due process
remains among our highest diplomatic objectives for Azerbaijan and neighboring
countries in the region.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I had frank and very constructive meetings with
President Aliyev, Foreign Minister Mammadyarov and other Azerbaijani officials.
The United States approaches this dialogue as a friend of Azerbaijan.
Friendship means not being indifferent to the circumstances of a friend. At
the same time, being able to discuss matters of disagreement in a proper, yet
candid, way is part of the nature of a serious dialogue. And concrete results,
in terms of improved respect for human rights, clearly will serve to deepen our
bilateral relationship -- something we very much want.
I look forward to working with our friends in Azerbaijan, both in and out of
government, to help them implement the kinds of democracy and human rights
reforms that the citizens of Azerbaijan seek.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Secretary Kramer.
We have been joined by several of my colleagues. In the order that they came,
I will allow among other things any remarks that they wish to make at this
time. And then we will go to questioning, but at this time, I would give the
floor to my friend and former colleague in the House of Representatives, who
went to the other body on us, Saxby Chambliss, who is also a commissioner of
CHAMBLISS: Chairman Hastings, thank you for that gracious welcome back over
here. It is good to come back and get my blood checked every now and then on
the House side. I miss you guys.
Mr. Chairman and fellow commissioners, I am pleased to participate in this
important hearing today. I thank Chairman Hastings, as well as my colleague
Ben Cardin, for calling this hearing together.
As a Senate commission, and as a member of the Senate Committees on
Intelligence and Armed Services, I know how important this part of the world is
to our strategic interests and to the region. We value Azerbaijan's
participation in the war on terror and on energy security and transportation.
But I also know the world will be watching this October when Azerbaijan holds
its presidential elections. Because Azerbaijan is a signatory to all the major
international human rights agreements, including the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe, and the Council of Europe, this election is an
opportunity for the government to show the rest of the world that it can live
up to those commitments.
I am very appreciative, Mr. Secretary, of your comments relative to your
The Helsinki Commission performs a valuable function in monitoring fundamental
freedoms such as democracy and the rule of law, free and fair elections, and
the protection of human rights. The documents declare that commitments
undertaken in this human dimension are a direct and legitimate concern to all
participating states. I am concerned there appears to be a number of human
rights issues identified by the U.S. government, the Council of Europe and NGOs.
According to the State Department, this has involved repression of independent
journalists, the arbitrary arrest and detention of political opponents, and
lengthy pre-trial detention. One case in particular is that of former minister
of economic development, Farhad Aliyev, and his brother Rafiq, the former
president of AZ Petro (ph) Oil Company. They were arrested during the
parliamentary election campaign in October, 2005 -- Farhad on charges of
plotting a coup d'etat. After being held in pre-trial detention for 18 months,
they were tried and convicted of unrelated economic crimes.
Observers noted that the five-month trial was marked by irregularities and lack
of due process. I understand the state-owned oil company took control of AZ
Petro (ph) the day after the brothers were arrested. During the trial,
Minister Aliyev (ph) told the court on May 15, 2007 that the coup charges were
just a pretext and that the government came up with certain bizarre demands,
including an admission that he intended to carry out the Orange Revolution,
incited by the U.S., British and German governments. He also stated that they
requested $100 million for him to be released.
The text of the two court statements -- and I ask unanimous consent that the
text of those two court statements be included in the hearing record. I will
hand them to you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Without objection.
CHAMBLISS: The State Department human rights report for 2007 had this to say:
"Some considered the 2005 arrests of individuals on charges of plotting a coup
and subsequently corruption to be politically motivated." I understand that
the Aliyevs were held in isolation without meeting or talking to his family for
two years, although this just recently changed.
Mr. Chairman, I strongly urge that Azerbaijan resolve this and other political
prisoner cases as soon as possible. Thank you.
HASTINGS: Thank you, senator.
We have also been joined by our Commissioner G. K. Butterfield.
And Senator Burr, I am glad to see you. We are taking folk in the order that
they come, if you don't mind.
At this time, Commissioner Butterfield from North Carolina, I would appreciate
it if you have any opening comments.
BUTTERFIELD: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for convening this very
important hearing. I am especially proud to be here with three United States
senators and two other colleagues from the House of Representatives. So this
is an historic occasion, to say the least.
But good to see you again, David. Thank you very much for coming forth to
share with us your thoughts on this very important subject.
With one of the world's fastest growing economies and a deep reserve of energy,
Azerbaijan plays an increasingly important role in the international community.
This country gained independence from the old Soviet Union in 1991 and it has
successfully maintained good relations with the U.S. and Russia and maintains
close ties with its neighbor to the south, Iran.
Azerbaijan's economy saw the highest GDP growth rate in the world last year on
the strength of export of its plentiful gas and oil resources. With the
growing need for energy around the globe, it is likely that the economy will
continue to grow. The growing need for critical energy resources also is sure
to increase international interest, focusing attention on Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan also plans to begin buildings its first nuclear reactor next year.
As a pivotal player of growing importance on the international stage, it is
crucial that Azerbaijan continues to make progress toward democratization and
the guarantee of human rights. During the question and answer session in just
a few minutes, I hope to raise some questions that must be asked. I think
Senator Chambliss laid the groundwork for it just moments ago.
Currently, Azerbaijan remains one of the most strictly run of the post-Soviet
states where political opposition is dealt with firmly. While elections have
been held, they have been deemed deeply flawed by the international community.
There is also great concern about the pervasive corruption, the disruption of
wealth, political prisoners, freedom of the press, and the considerable
build-up of armed forces.
So Mr. Chairman, I look forward to today's hearing in the hope that it will
provide some answers about how our country and the OSCE and Azerbaijan can
together cooperate to overcome these challenges.
Again, I thank the witnesses and all who will participate today.
I yield back.
HASTINGS: Thank you, congressman-commissioner.
The next person to speak I am sure all of us that are mindful of ongoing
concerns in her congressional area, an earthquake occurred earlier this morning
in Los Angeles. I am told that the magnitude of it was 5.8. That is what I
just saw about 10 minutes before coming here. But anyway, I am sure her office
is reaching out, and our best wishes for everyone in your congressional
district. Congresswoman-Commissioner Hilda Solis?
SOLIS: Thank you, Chairman Hastings and Senator Cardin for having this hearing
this afternoon, and afternoon in Los Angeles. And there was a magnitude 5.8
earthquake, and unfortunately one of my offices had to be vacated. It was
actually a very long and very hard earthquake, one that we haven't had in quite
a few years, so we are still assessing what is happening there. I haven't
heard about any casualties, so that is good to know right now.
But we are here on a very important issue and it has to deal with Azerbaijan,
which we know is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and enjoys
what I believe and have been told good relations with the United States. What
we do know is that the OSCE and other human rights organizations have expressed
concerns to many of us regarding the freedom of the media and the conduct of
elections in Azerbaijan. In fact, the Human Rights Watch has expressed concern
about rapidly deteriorating media freedoms in Azerbaijan and the imprisonment
of nine journalists for defamation and other criminal acts.
Although President Aliyev pardoned some of the journalists, four journalists
still remain behind bars. With the upcoming elections in October, I think it
is very important that the country there strive for transparency, especially in
its electoral system. And in May of 2008, a decision was made to close the
Election Monitoring Center, a nonpartisan domestic monitoring organization that
worked in partnership with the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute, which
promotes election transparency and fairness worldwide.
I would ask the question why that was closed, and if there is going to be any
evidence that there will be a change in that decision. I think that would go a
long way today in our discussions.
I am hopeful also that we can have these various issues that we are bringing
before you resolved before the October election. I think many of us do believe
that Azerbaijan has been a great friend of the United States strategically. We
need to continue to have these discussions. And as we have a new incoming
presiding coming after the fall, I know that it is going to be very imperative
for us to continue to have dialogue, cooperation and first and foremost the
ability to work across the sea with our neighbors there.
So with that, I will yield back and want to hear from our witnesses.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much.
We have also been joined by Commissioner Richard Burr, another of my former
colleagues that went to the U.S. Senate. I am telling you, I was good luck for
all of these guys. There at least 32 of them that I have had the good fortune
of serving with and good relations with them then and now. I miss Richard
especially because he and I sort of kid each other an awful lot and traveled
together before on other matters. But it is a pleasure to have him with us
Senator, anything you wish you add, you may do so at this time.
BURR: Well, Mr. Chairman, I thank you not only for this hearing, but for the
friendship. If the truth be known, I have always been envious of your haircut.
That is what draws me to you.
My colleague from North Carolina, G. K. Butterfield, it is great to be with you.
Mr. Chairman, this hearing about human rights and democratization in Azerbaijan
and the OSCE, commitment to promoting democracy and the rule of law is
extremely important. I believe it is important for us to identify ways in
which we can assist the people of Azerbaijan at this critical time in their
nation's push toward democracy.
Let me first say that I recognize and respect the important bilateral and
strategic relationship the United States enjoys with Azerbaijan. Cooperation
in such areas as energy, the war on terror, troop contributions in Iraq and
Afghanistan, reaffirms for me the deep and trusting relationship the United
States has shared with Azerbaijan since its independence from the Soviet Union
It is all the more important because of this relationship for us to assist our
friends in reaching international democratic standards. As commissioners of
the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, our role is to monitor
those standards and the acts of signatories which reflect compliance or
violation of the articles of the Helsinki Final Act, particularly issues such
as democracy, the rule of law, free and fair elections, and the protection of
Azerbaijan stands on the precipice. Presidential elections in 1998 and 2003
were viewed by the OSCE and the international observers as marred by
irregularities that resulted in the elections being less than free and fair.
Parliamentary elections in 2005 suffered the same fate and were further
compromised by the detention of over 300 political activists and candidates.
It is in light of these past elections that the next presidential election
scheduled for October will be viewed. An internationally recognized free and
fair election will cement Azerbaijan's place in the world, but one filled with
irregularities and fraud will result in Azerbaijan losing the international
respect and recognition it deserves for many years to come. All can agree on
the importance of the October election. I look forward to reviewing the
reports of OSCE observers as they report back to the commission their findings
But as preparations for these pivotal elections get underway, I remain
concerned with reports both internationally and U.S. sources about political
prisoners, in violations of rule of law in Azerbaijan. In the State
Department's 2007 human rights report, the government of Azerbaijan is singled
out specifically for imprisoning persons for politically motivated reasons. I
find these reports especially disturbing, given the impact such actions would
have on the upcoming elections.
One such case, as was mentioned by my colleague Saxby Chambliss, in the report
is that Farhad Aliyev and his brother Rafiq. As many of you know, Farhad was
an active cabinet minister for many years, serving as the minister of economic
development at the time of his arrest. His brother was the president of AZ
Petrol (ph), the largest retail oil company in Azerbaijan. Both were arrested
at the height of the 2005 October parliamentary elections, the last major
election campaign held in Azerbaijan.
Although Farhad was arrested initially for organizing a coup. After 18 months
of pretrial detention, charges were dropped and he was tried and convicted on
vague financial crimes in a trial that violated most international standards of
due process and civil rights. The facts surrounding this case are far from
clear, but organizations ranging from the Council of Europe to the U.S. State
Department have raised serious questions about irregularities with the Aliyev
brothers' arrest, detention, trial and conviction, issues which go to the heart
of Azerbaijan's compliance with OSCE norms.
I hope the testimony we will hear today will shed light on what I think is a
very serious situation. Since 9/11, the United States has provided
approximately $500 million of humanitarian, democracy and reform assistance to
Azerbaijan, both through the Freedom Support Act and other bilateral
assistance. Although the amount was decreased recently, aid to Azerbaijan
remains an important element of America's foreign policy in the region.
However, continued support must be tied to Azerbaijan's continued progress in
moving down the path of democratization and establishing full human rights. I
can assure you the case of the Aliyev brothers and the success of this
October's election will be the test Congress looks a when considering aid in
Mr. Chairman, we should expect better from OSCE signatory countries, and one
that wants to be integrated into the international community.
I look forward to hearing the questions of this panel and the answers of our
I thank the chair.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Senator Burr.
Also, we are joined by my co-chairman and good friend, and another person that
left the House of Representatives to go to the other body. Obviously, that is
a good place to go to from here, but they do come back. I am glad that Senator
Cardin, co-chair, is with us today.
CARDIN: Well, we have an equal number down from the Senate here. We are
Let me thank the chairman for calling this hearing. As my colleagues have
pointed out, this is the appropriate role for the Helsinki Commission to take.
That is to take a look at specific countries, to look at ways that we can help
and improve their records in regards to the Helsinki recommendations.
I might say that the parliamentarians from Azerbaijan are very active in the
Parliamentary Assembly, and we have good friends, and we have engaged them on a
regular basis in regards to issues that affect all of the states within the
OSCE region. So we come to this in a way that we hope that we can get a
positive working relationship in dealing with the Helsinki issues.
So I very much appreciate the fact that the assistant secretary of state for
democracy, human rights and labor is here, who of course serves on our
commission, but is directly involved in being able to help us not only with
Azerbaijan, but as it relates to the region. We particularly appreciate the
ambassador from Azerbaijan being here. I think that is a clear indication of
the friendly manner in which we do our work in trying to work with friends to
help each other.
As we have said many times, we are not immune from questions raised in our own
country in regards to activities that take place in the United States. So we
come to this in a positive sense. We know of the strategic importance of
Azerbaijan to the United States. That has been mentioned by many of my
colleagues in regards to its location, in regards to energy issues, in regards
to security issues.
I would just like to make one observation, Mr. Chairman, then I am going to ask
that the rest of my statement be made part of the record.
HASTINGS: Without objection.
CARDIN: And that is, Azerbaijan has a strong presidential system. The
president has quite a bit of power in that country and can bring about
significant changes in a relatively rapid period of time. The elections are
scheduled for, I believe not scheduled yet, but we believe they will take place
in October. We would just urge the government of Azerbaijan to open up the
process so that it is easier for political parties to participate, and
opposition representatives to have a fair opportunity in regards to the
political process. I think that is a legacy that the current administration
would be proud to establish within a relatively young country from the point of
view of its independence from the Soviet Union.
We would also ask this government to take a look at your underlying laws. When
you take a look at freedom of expression and the media, there are standards
that need to be met in your criminal code that will allow free expression by
the media to be able to report and to be able to do things that are typical of
democratic states. Obviously, it is a chilling effect when you see individuals
that my colleagues have referred to, and we do mention specific cases because
we think that is the best way to get to the facts. We can put a face on the
We know that we can respond by saying, well, that matter is under judicial
review, or that matter is an individual case. But I think it demonstrates the
chilling effect it can have on the participation of people within your country.
We do believe it is important to deal with the specific cases and we hope that
we will have a chance to do that.
The bottom line is, this is an opportunity to make progress. We would urge
Azerbaijan to take advantage of that, and we hope that this hearing will be a
constructive part of that process.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, senator.
All of the comments of my colleagues are deeply appreciated. For purposes of
you, ladies and gentlemen, that are here with us, we do have a commission Web
site at http.www.csce.gov. All of the comments and this entire proceeding once
memorialized will be placed on our Web site for your perusal as you see fit.
We also have, although he is not present, but signifying keen interest in this
particular hearing, and it is a short letter, and I will take the prerogative
of the chair, and in addition to placing it in the record, will read it. This
is from the Office of the Republican Leader of the House of Representatives.
He says: "Dear Mr. Chairman, as a cosponsor of your resolution on the human
rights situation in Azerbaijan, I want to thank you for holding today's hearing
on human rights and democratization in Azerbaijan. I support a strong
bilateral relationship between the United States and Azerbaijan, and resolving
the human rights cases there would only further strengthen our relationship.
The conduct of free and open elections is also critical, and I know the
commission will be closely monitoring the presidential elections this October.
I look forward to continuing to work with you to promote democracy and human
rights in OSCE member states." That is from John Boehner, the Republican
Leader. I will have it included in the record.
Secretary Kramer, we didn't forget that you are there, but I will be brief, and
urge my colleagues to do likewise, because our next witness is one for whom I
have a great deal of respect. He and I have had very frank and open
discussions with each other, and that is the ambassador to the United States
from Azerbaijan, Yashar Aliyev. I would hope all of us would be able to get to
him. So I will be very brief.
I would like to ask you, Mr. Secretary, and I will put both questions and then
that way we won't have to stop your recitation. At a recent gathering of
Azerbaijan diplomats in Baku, President Aliyev essentially said criticism of
Azerbaijan's record would no longer be tolerated. Let me quote him: "The
government knows well what it is doing and will not allow interference in
Azerbaijan's internal affairs. Those who say that something is going wrong in
Azerbaijan, and there are shortcomings, should look in the mirror at their own
country. Attempts to apply pressure will just cause tension in our relations.
While several years ago we may not have reacted to this pressure or kept
silent, we are not silent today."
How do you, Mr. Secretary, interpret these remarks, having just recently been
in Baku and having discussed human rights issues with Azerbaijani officials? I
believe among those of us here that you would be the most recent visitor.
Another thing of considerable curiosity, all of the congresspersons and two of
the senators today have pointed to a specific case, but beyond the case as
highlighted, even human rights groups in Azerbaijan seem to disagree as to the
number of political prisoners. The numbers that we have seen range between 33
and 57. In your testimony, my recollection is, that you used the figure 33.
Does the State Department maintain such a list? And without asking that you
identify them all for me now, if you do maintain such a list, would you provide
the commission with the list and names of all those persons that the State
Department considers to be political prisoners in Azerbaijan?
KRAMER: Mr. Chairman, thank you for both questions. Let me also in the
interest of time and with respect to the ambassador, try not to take too much
time in answering your questions and the questions of other members of the
I am familiar with President Aliyev's comments before his diplomatic corps. I
think that they followed my visit at the end of June at which I had, as I
described, a very candid frank discussion, but also a very cordial discussion
with President Aliyev. I think it was a very good opportunity for him to hear
first-hand from a senior official in Washington the concerns that we have on a
number of issues that I touched on, you and your colleagues touched on,
particularly related to freedom of the press, and also with the elections in
the past that have occurred, but the opportunity that the upcoming election
presents for Azerbaijan in October.
I read the comments as a reflection of a country that certainly has bounced
back, a country that has experienced a significant economic turnaround thanks
to its energy riches and resources. I think it is a country that also reflects
the fact that it is in a very tough neighborhood, with some neighbors that
aren't exactly moving in the right direction on a democratic path. I think
President Aliyev is very attentive to criticism he hears from not only the
United States, but also from the Council of Europe and other Western
It is our hope to engage with him, with other government officials, as I did
with the foreign minister, and also to engage with members in the opposition in
civil society, to encourage Azerbaijan to stay on a democratic path, to respect
all the human rights reflected in the Helsinki accords, to allow freedom of the
press, to deal with any problems that occur with journalists being detained or
harassed or beaten up. So it is our hope that we can take what quite honestly
has been a source of some friction in the relationship, on the issue of
democracy and human rights, and turn it into a positive element, just as we
have positive elements in our relationship on energy diversification and on
That is very much the spirit in which I went to Baku to have these discussions.
I greatly appreciated President Aliyev's time. He spent a considerable amount
of time with me. I think it was an opportunity for both of us to have a
healthy exchange of views. My hope is that we will see some concrete steps
emerge. I think we have already seen a few of those since I was there at the
end of June. We hope to see more.
On the matter of political prisoners, as you described, and the numbers. As
you rightly pointed out, Mr. Chairman, NGOs estimate between 33 and 57, and
apologies if I did not state that we also recognize that range. In our human
rights report, we do reflect concerns about arrests or persecutions of people
for politically motivated reasons. In our report, we state that arbitrary
arrest and detention, if you will permit me just to read this sentence,
particularly of individuals considered by the government to be political
opponents, and lengthy pre-trial detention, the government continued to
imprison persons for politically motivated reasons.
So we have looked at this matter very seriously. We have looked at specific
cases and we will continue to do so. I would be happy to continue to keep the
commission apprised on that.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much.
BUTTERFIELD: I am just going to ask one question, Mr. Chairman. Thank you
very much, and thank you, Mr. Secretary.
In Farhad's opening statement during his criminal trial, he said that on the
eve of his arrest, that the authorities offered to release him if he signed a
confession implicating the United States of America and the UK and Germany in
the coup. That is troubling if it is true. Would you comment on that?
KRAMER: Sir, I don't have anything to confirm that report. We have followed
his case closely. But if that is true, I agree it would be troubling, but I
apologize that I am not in a position to be able to confirm that information.
BUTTERFIELD: Thank you. I have about 20 more questions, but I am anxious to
hear the ambassador. Thank you.
I yield back.
KRAMER: Thank you, sir.
HASTINGS: Commission Solis?
SOLIS: I will be brief also. I just want to hear your take on what is it we
can do in the remaining months through OSCE to help move this agenda forward so
that there is more transparency and better relations with the Azerbaijani
KRAMER: Commissioner Solis, I think particularly with the election, OSCE can
play a very important role here with election observation. This is an issue
that I raised with President Aliyev and other senior officials. It is my hope
and my understanding that an invitation will be forthcoming for ODIHR. It is
my hope also that the Parliamentary Assembly will be sending a mission to
observe the election there.
Election observation missions are extremely important in promoting
transparency. What is also important is that the assessment of the election be
determined not simply on what happens election day, but what happens with the
totality of the campaign, including ability to register, ability to get access
to the media, to be able to campaign and assemble freely without any obstacles
put in the candidate's way. So I think OSCE in particular with the upcoming
election has a critical role to play. As a number of us have said, I think it
is an opportunity for Azerbaijan to seize, and my hope is that they certainly
take advantage of it.
Also, OSCE has a representative that deals with media freedom. There are two.
I think OSCE has a very important role to play in raising issues of media
freedom, raising the issues of detention of journalists, raising the issue of
harassment, intimidation, beating up of journalists. So I think Azerbaijan as
a signatory of OSCE has these commitments to abide by, and I think OSCE can
play an extremely constructive and positive role in the country.
HASTINGS: Senator Burr, Commissioner Burr?
BURR: Mr. Chairman, I will extremely brief because I want to hear from the
ambassador as well.
Does the U.S. government believe that Farhad and his brother are in fact
legitimate political prisoners?
KRAMER: Senator, as you yourself said, I think, because I wrote it down. The
facts in the case are far from clear. We have been working to get to the
bottom of the case. We tend to try to stay away from exact qualification of
these kinds of matters, but this is a case where our embassy, as well as
officials from Washington, have been engaged and will continue to engage on
this matter. I think there are questions about due process. There are
questions about what is driving the prosecution in this case. And certainly,
we will continue to monitor and press on this matter.
BURR: I appreciate your need for flexibility. I think the chairman opened the
door when he asked was there a list, and I am not sure that the chair ever got
the answer. You are certainly entitled to all the flexibility that you need.
But let me ask this, what has the United States done, if anything, to seek the
release of these brothers?
KRAMER: We have raised the case of both with the authorities in Baku, and we
will continue to do so. We have stressed the importance of due process and
adequate legal representation, and that is the stand that we will continue to
BURR: And from that action, is there any reason to be optimistic that we have
made any progress?
KRAMER: They are still in jail, so I think as long as they are, it would be
premature for me to say yes or no.
BURR: Thank you.
KRAMER: Thank you.
BURR: I thank the chair.
HASTINGS: Thank you.
Senator Cardin had to leave. I certainly appreciate very much the time
pressures that all of us are confronted with.
Secretary Kramer, thank you. Senator Burr pointed out something that I need to
underscore as well, and that is our deep appreciation to the government of
Azerbaijan for their assistance in Iraq, and the tremendous assistance that we
have received from them in anti-terrorism undertakings. Those are always
constructive matters that can allow for the kinds of discussions that I am sure
you must have had with the officials when you were there. Our great hope, as
has been expressed by all of us, is that our relations will be on a positive
track and remain that way. I thank you so very much for your testimony.
I also understand that you have the press of time and have to proceed. You are
welcome to stay if you see so fit.
KRAMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: At this time, ladies and gentlemen, if we could just transition
momentarily, change our water and name tags, and ask my good friend, Yashar
Aliyev. He is an orientalist by training and a career diplomat. He has served
as ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United States since November
of 2006. From 1992 to 2001, he was counselor on political affairs at
Azerbaijan's permanent mission to the UN, as well as two one-year terms as
charge d'affairs in 1993 and 2001.
Ambassador Aliyev was later appointed his country's permanent representative to
the UN, serving from 2002 until 2006. We are delighted that he is here with us
today. I would like to say that the ambassador and I share opportunities to
speak with each other. I always appreciate it and I hope he appreciates my
candor and frankness, as he offers his, with reference to not only this matter,
but other matters regarding the United States and Azerbaijan relationship.
Ambassador, you may proceed as you see fit, sir.
ALIYEV: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank the distinguished members of the
Helsinki Commission. I thank you sincerely for the opportunity to address this
distinguished commission on two priorities for my country: human rights and
We made our decision 17 years ago upon regaining our independence back to
pursue policies of a pro-Western democratic country with a free market economy.
We are a secular country with a predominantly Muslim population where you can
find our citizens attending Catholic church, a synagogue, and a mosque within
blocks of each other in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by our constitution. We are immensely proud
of our long history of religious tolerance. Azerbaijan has vibrant Muslim,
Jewish and Christian communities. We are indeed a melting pot of cultures,
religions, traditions and ideas. Just this past March, for example, Vatican
Secretary of State Cardinal Bertoni visited Baku, where he reopened a Catholic
church in downtown of the capital that had been closed for decades under
Located at the crossroads of two great continents, Europe and Asia, we have
always encouraged diversity and have been a bridge between cultures. We are
situated in an important region of challenging political dynamics, with Russia
to the north, Iran to the south, Armenia and Georgia to the west, and our backs
against the Caspian Sea.
I am honored to have served for almost two years as ambassador for Azerbaijan
to the United States, and to have observed your own democracy in action during
a critical period in America's history as you approach a presidential election.
I have had the opportunity to watch first-hand your own presidential election
process. I have learned how unique to the domestic culture and realities
democracy really is.
Understanding the challenges of building a new democracy, I appreciate former
Congressman and Chairman Vin Weber's opening statement about the United States
in the recent 2007 annual report of the National Endowment for Democracy. He
said about the United States, and I quote, "In our country, with its long
tradition of self-government, we tend to forget how difficult democracy is to
create and sustain."
As you know, Azerbaijan has emerged from the turbulent years following the
dissolution of the Soviet Union to become a strong friend and ally of the
United States and to the international community as a whole. The country is a
member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe, the Council of Europe, and other international organizations. It is on
a path toward World Trade Organization membership and is an active participant
in NATO's Partnership for Peace.
As both a producing and transit country for Caspian oil and gas, Azerbaijan has
become a major player in ensuring energy security to Europe and the West in
general. In fact, just last week, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili
stated without ambiguity that Azerbaijan is a key guarantor of his country's
independence by providing much-needed energy supplies.
Azerbaijan is also a staunch ally of the United States and international
partners in security operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only does
Azerbaijan provide troops to NATO and coalition forces in these countries, it
also has granted permission for U.S. airplanes to use Azerbaijan's vital
airspace for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.
Of course, as you are well aware, Azerbaijan faces grave problems concerning
the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, which continues to result in the illegal
occupation by Armenian military forces of some 20 percent of Azerbaijan's
territory. Azerbaijan's territorial integrity has been affirmed and reaffirmed
numerous times in past years by the United States government. It has also been
reaffirmed no fewer than five times by the United Nations, the most recent of
which took place on March 14 of this year with a resolution calling for the
immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from
occupied Azerbaijani territory.
This conflict has many ramifications, the most pressing of which is the
continued displacement of up to one million Azerbaijanis from their homelands.
In resolution 1614 just this past June 24, the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe stated that, and I quote, "The assembly considers that
sustainable democratic development will be extremely difficult in Azerbaijan as
long as the country's territorial integrity has not been restored."
We seek input from you, the Helsinki Commission, and other respected members of
the international community, to help us solve this issue without delay.
Indeed, when we address the issue of human rights in Azerbaijan, we must begin
by restoring the human rights of almost one million refugees and displaced
persons who, as we sit here today, are deprived of their right to live in peace
and happiness in their homeland.
Mr. Chairman, it is an honor to appear before you today to provide insight into
Azerbaijan's advances in democracy and human rights. While no democracy can
ever claim to be perfect, we do know what we have achieved, what not, and that
a lot of things are yet to be done. We know that building democracy is a
process that is full of not only roses, and we understand the challenges ahead
of us. We welcome your support, the benefit of your experience, your
recommendations, and your understanding as we address the many challenges we
Azerbaijan has taken major steps to establish and enhance democratic
institutions. Today, the country has a robust media environment with more than
1,000 newspapers and magazines, 7 television stations covering the entire
country, 14 local stations in place, 11 radio stations, 30 news agencies, and
44 electronic mass media outlets.
The country has seen a virtual explosion of Web sites, blogs and access to the
Internet across the country. Internet traffic in Azerbaijan has increased an
astonishing 40 percent thus far this year compared to last year. And all this
is going in a country the size of the state of Maine.
The new Azerbaijan brings with it a new set of needs and higher professional
standards of journalism. The United states has been working with Azerbaijan to
help improve these standards and more is needed. I ask the members of this
distinguished commission to consider practical ways in which we can work
together to better train a new generation of journalists to meet the
professional challenges of the 21st century.
Azerbaijan enjoys strong political pluralism. There are 52 political parties
in the country, 20 of them are currently represented in the national
This October, the 15th of October, 2008, Azerbaijan will hold its fifth
presidential election in 17 years. It also has conducted three parliamentary
elections and two municipal elections. All of these have been held on schedule
according to the electoral timetables. All of these were open to international
observers, as this year's presidential election will be. As Secretary David
Kramer announced, 30 long-term and 450 short-term international observers from
OSCE will observe the election.
Improving our electoral practices to meet international standards has been a
priority. In this regard, we have instituted and amended the electoral code.
Examples are following: implemented the practice of inking voters' fingers;
declared election day a non-working day to allow all citizens the opportunity
to vote; established that expert groups involved in the complaints and appeals
process will be present at constituency commissions; facilitated voting by
persons in detention; reduced the number of required signatures from 45,000 to
40,000 for the registration of a presidential candidate; mandated that election
observers be provided identification badges, thereby reducing the number of
unauthorized persons in polling stations; required verification badges for
registered agents of candidates, political parties, and political
organizations; required disclosure of voter addresses in public voter lists.
Just last month, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission gave a positive
assessment of these changes to the election code.
Azerbaijan has created the position of ombudsman to hear concerns from its
citizens and to carry those concerns both to the government and to the European
Court of Human Rights. It is important to note that just this past June 18,
Azerbaijan commemorated its first-ever National Day of Human Rights.
In our democratic process, we understand the importance of facilitating the
development of a critical pillar -- civil society. Some 3,500 Azerbaijani and
international NGOs have been established in the country, providing a welcome
pillar to the strengthening of civil society. In December 2007, the State
Council for the Support of NGOs was established by presidential decree. This
council seeks to accelerate the further enhancement of civil society in the
country. Eight of its members are nominated by the NGO community, with the
three remaining members nominated by public agencies. On June 13 of this year,
the council announced in the press a competition for NGO projects in 15 areas,
including human rights of refugees, women and youth. Submitted projects will
be examined by a group of experts and selected by the end of July. This year,
$1.5 million will be allocated to these NGO projects.
As far as maintaining the independence of the mass media, a working group
created by the Azerbaijan Media Council has recently developed a concept on
state support to mass media. This document helps to define financial
assistance for the media, including credit allocation and debt reduction. This
measure will soon be submitted to the president for further consideration.
This Helsinki Commission has inquired about the detention of journalists. In
accordance with the presidential pardon decree of December 28, 2007, five
journalists were released from prison.
A new draft law amending the law on freedom of assembly currently in force in
the country was elaborated in close cooperation with experts from the Council
of Europe Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR. On December 15, 2007, the Venice
Commission provided a final opinion stating that if adopted, they will be in
accordance with European standards. The law with amendments was adopted just
two months ago on May 30, 2008 by the parliament and has been praised by the
council of Europe representatives. According to the amendments, organizers
have to inform the relevant administrative body about the place and time of the
demonstration and also route of the rally five days before the demonstration.
Freedom of assembly only can be limited in cases envisaged by the law and for
national or public security, preventing crime or disorders, protection of
health and morality, and rights of other persons.
In the area of increasing transparency and combating corruption, Azerbaijan has
achieved the following over the last few years, including: adopted the law on
combating corruption on January 13, 2004; secured presidential approval of the
state program on combating corruption on September 3, 2004; the Anti-Corruption
Commission started to function at the Public Service Management Board;
established Department for Combating Corruption within the Prosecutor General's
office; and on June 28, 2007, the president issued the order endorsing the
national strategy on strengthening transparency and combating corruption and
the action plan for its implementation for years 2007 to 2011.
The national strategy recommends the following measures: improvement of
legislation, law enforcement and courts; closer cooperation with civil society;
advancement of anti-corruption culture; and enhancement of the anti-corruption
work of governmental institutions.
Additionally, Azerbaijan has created a Commission on Combating Corruption,
which is part of the State council on the Management of Civil Service. This
commission functions as a specialized agency on combating corruption. It is
comprised of 15 members, five appointed by the president, five by the
parliament, and five by the constitutional court.
We attach great importance on ensuring women's political and economic rights
and providing them with adequate representation at all levels of
decision-making process. In March 2000, the president signed the decree on
implementation of the national gender policy in the Republic of Azerbaijan.
For the past years, the number of women in political and decision-making has
considerably increased. It is worth mentioning that Azerbaijani women gained
electoral rights long before more developed countries, that is in 1918. Today,
female parliamentarians represent more than 11 percent in the parliament of
Three deputy ministers of education, of economic development, and of culture,
one chairperson of the state committee, and one chairperson of the state
commission are women. Besides, one deputy of the chairman of the national
parliament out of three, ombudsperson of Azerbaijan, deputy prime minister of
Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic are women. The total percentage of women
working in the ministry of foreign affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan is
more than 19 percent, from which 5 percent are women occupying leading
positions. Two diplomat women are representing the country on the
international level, one ambassador and one permanent representative.
Nowadays, women are widely represented in business sectors. The number of
women engaged in entrepreneurship activities has increased more than 6 percent
in the year 2008.
Azerbaijan, appreciating the importance of intercultural and interreligious
dialogue and tolerance., has embarked on a series of important events intended
to further this dialogue and to establish future goals and agendas. In the
year 2007, a conference entitled The Role of Media in Promoting Tolerance, was
held in Azerbaijan, which attracted attendees and observers from 11
international organizations and 49 countries.
Just recently in June, Baku hosted a major forum on the role of women in
intercultural dialogue under the auspices of the first lady of Azerbaijan.
Participants included the first ladies of Latvia, Poland, Angola, South Africa,
as well as spouses of the vice president of Argentina, the prime minister of
Turkey, and the first lady of the state of Texas. On December 2 and 3, 2008,
Baku will host a conference of the European ministers of culture with
representatives from the Council of Europe, Islamic Educational, Scientific,
and Cultural Organization, ISESCO, and Arab League Educational, Cultural and
Scientific Organization, ALECSO, which will focus on the role of intercultural
dialogue as a vehicle for peace.
Mr. Chairman, Azerbaijan welcomes the attention the United States has given to
democratic issues in the country and to the South Caucasus as a region. We in
the South Caucasus have faced numerous challenges. One neighboring country
faced unprecedented post-election violence in which innocent civilians were
killed and a ban on independent media was imposed. Another neighboring country
enacted martial law and shut down media outlets. We have all passed through
difficult times, but we have all been heartened by the friendship and support
of the United States and its people.
Mr. Chairman, democracy requires constant nurturing and attention. Its
establishment brings many challenges. I am confident that the United States,
which has led valiant efforts to bring peace and democracy to volatile regions
of the world in recent years, understands these difficulties very well.
Azerbaijan cherishes its friendship with the United States, as I am sure the
United states does with us. As friends, we celebrate one another's successes.
As friends, we are allowed to disagree from time to time, and to point out one
another's shortcomings. And as friends, all that we require is that we treat
one another with the same level of fairness that we give to others.
As you are aware, Azerbaijan often suffers from spurious campaigns that
deliberately mislead and misinform the American public. As the great American
essayist E. B. White famously remarked, and I quote, "Prejudice is a great time
saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts."
In summary, Mr. Chairman, I would like to state we are a young democracy. We
seek to move forward and to distinguish ourselves in several areas --
leadership of women, religious freedom, economic opportunity, and growth. We
also recognize certain needs for improvement and we will continue to make
progress in these areas.
We remain committed to the principles of democracy and freedom. We are
building such a society not for the international community, not for the
outside world, but for ourselves, for our citizens, for our nation, and for our
own prosperous and peaceful future.
Thank you for this opportunity to address these important issues with you. I
look forward to your questions. Thank you.
HASTINGS: Before I go to my colleagues, beginning with Mr. Butterfield and Ms.
Solis and Senator Burr, I thought as I listened to you, ambassador, and your
quoting yet another former colleague of ours, Vin Weber, at the outset of your
remarks, indicating how difficult it is to achieve, preserve and maintain
democracy. I certainly agree with Vin's comments that you offered and the fact
that you offered them in that way.
You were here when I began my remarks, and the remarks that I offered allowed,
among other things, that we have had two Helsinki Commission hearings this year
on Guantanamo. We have held one at the University of Maryland dealing with the
subject of torture. And just last week, we held a hearing dealing with human
rights standards as it pertains to medical evidence of torture by United States
Now, here is how I feel, and you correct me if I am wrong. I had no
compunction when I was doing that that President Bush or the Justice Department
or anybody in authority was going to come and say to me that I couldn't do
that. And then after I did it, I had no feelings, nor do I now, criticizing
them today, and I wouldn't care if it was a Democrat or a Republican
administration. I have criticized both and when they both deserved it, I
criticized. I didn't think I was going to go to jail because of that.
Now, do you feel, if I had done the same thing in Azerbaijan in criticizing
President Aliyev, with reference to political prisoners, and I do believe that
the United States has done wrong by people that we have held, and I would say
that to President Aliyev is it is true. Now, do you think I would still be
walking around Baku?
ALIYEV: You know, let's try I don't know. Let's try.
HASTINGS: Yes, well, I think that is a fair answer to perhaps what was a
And that is that my butt would be in jail, you understand. And so I just want
you to take that back to the president as my offer.
I am going to go to Mr. Butterfield, and I will ask some other questions after
my other commissioners.
BUTTERFIELD: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. I was listening very carefully to your
statement. It as a very well thought and a very well delivered statement.
Thank you, thank you very much.
Earlier in this hearing, Mr. Ambassador, Chairman Hastings quoted what appeared
to be verbatim your president. Did you hear that quote that he mentioned
earlier? And if you did, is it accurate?
ALIYEV: Yes, I did.
ALIYEV: I heard the quotation from his remarks, but you know, I am not in a
position to confirm it is 100 percent correct, but yes.
BUTTERFIELD: Sure. And it has a confrontational tone. What we are trying to
do now in our relationship with other countries around the world is to try to
decrease the confrontation and increase the diplomatic relationships between
our countries. You know, I think the tone of that statement is not well
advised. I would hope that as we go forward that the rhetoric would cease and
we would continue to work together.
In your statement, and you can correct me if I am wrong, you did not mention
the two brothers that all of us have been talking about today. As you can
perceive from listening to all of us, we are very much concerned about these
two men. We are concerned about the circumstances under which they were
arrested and charged, and we are concerned about their future. Are you free to
discuss the two brothers, Farhad and Rafiq?
ALIYEV: You know, kind of. I cannot say that I am completely free to discuss.
I am free to discuss...
BUTTERFIELD: Tell us what you can discuss, because we are concerned about it.
ALIYEV: I cannot say what I don't know, simply. I have the permission
provided by the Office of the Prosecutor General, and I easily can share it
with you. It is in front of me, and by the way...
BUTTERFIELD: Now, the chairman has given me five minutes, and I have used up
about three minutes, so if you can do it briefly, I would appreciate it.
ALIYEV: Yes. I just would like to mention that a while ago, the first edition
of this information has been submitted to the chairman, when we have met and
discussed this matter. Let me be very brief, and I will let you know the
principal charges against those two brothers. As in the United States of
America and many other countries, the law forbids the government members and
officials of Azerbaijan to exchange in business activities. Ex-Minister for
Economic Development of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mr. Farhad Aliyev, was
charged inter alia with embezzlement, abuse of power and illegal
entrepreneurship. His brother, Mr. Rafiq Aliyev, charges centered on
smuggling, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship activities. They both
were in custody and were tried in compliance with Azerbaijan's criminal and
criminal procedural courts.
Mr. Aliyev, Farhad, and Mr. Aliyev, Rafiq, were charged with embezzling state
property and improvisation (ph) shares in the amount of more than $73 (ph).
Benefiting from illegal entrepreneurship in the amount of more than $400,000
and smuggling precious jewelry and crude oil in the amount of more than $7
million. The duration of Aliyev's detention did not exceed the maximum period
under Azerbaijan's law. They were arrested in October, 2005 and their
detention was extended in successive rulings in accordance with provision 15948
of the criminal procedural code of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
BUTTERFIELD: Is it the shorthand way of saying that corruption -- they were
charged with corruption?
ALIYEV: In short, yes, corruption.
BUTTERFIELD: Well, if corruption was the real reason for his arrest, why was
he not charged with corruption at the time of his arrest? That is what...
ALIYEV: Sir, allow me to disagree with you. Information I have been provided,
and I can show it, on October 23, Mr. Farhad Aliyev was charged and arrested by
the Nasimi (ph) District Court under provision such-and-such of criminal court
of Azerbaijan. And he had been arrested under the provision of three items of
the criminal code, including the corruption.
BUTTERFIELD: And they are still awaiting trial? Is that correct?
ALIYEV: No, no. It is over. They have been sentenced. They are serving now,
with Farhad for 10 years and Rafiq, I believe, 9 years.
Now, allow me to give you more information about...
BUTTERFIELD: Well, either the senator or the congresswoman may want to
continue this line, but I think my time has expired. I am sure they will. So
Mr. Chairman, I am going to yield back the balance of my time.
ALIYEV: Mr. Chairman?
HASTINGS: Could you abbreviate it as best as possible? I will include the
whole statement in the record and post it on the Web site. But there was one
ALIYEV: Yes. You know, about the time of the visitation, since we have been
discussing this a the time, yes, you know, I had received confirmed information
that Farhad Aliyev was visited by his spouse and two sons June 30, 2007, 12
days before the resolution 183 was tabled. And the last time they met, July
12, 2008, from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m., spouse and his two sons. There is a full
list of meetings...
HASTINGS: If you give me the full list, I will put it in the record.
ALIYEV: Yes, I will.
HASTINGS: Commissioner Solis?
SOLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My question, Mr. Aliyev, thank you. I wanted to go back to a comment you made
about the rights of journalists now and your attempt by the government to have
a more what I thought I believed to hear more transparency. I wanted to ask
you in particular how the current criminal code is structured. My belief is
there are some elements in the code that allow the government to continue to
prosecute journalists if they are not in agreement with statements that they
made, either slanderous or in some way menacing to the government. I wanted to
ask you if there is any attempt on the part of your government to try to
rectify that or change or look at changing the criminal code, because on the
one hand you are saying you are reforming, but yet your statutes allow you to
go after journalists who may not be in sync with what the government feels may
not be appropriate.
ALIYEV: Thank you very much, Madam Congressman. As I told you, our mass media
environment, just to like to repeat, we have more than 1,000 newspapers and
magazines, 7 national stations, 14 local, 13 news agencies, et cetera, et
cetera. So Azerbaijan media is governed by civil laws, and they are a big
number: the law on TV and radio broadcasting, the law on mass media adopted a
new edition in March 16, 2002. The presidential decree on strengthening state
support to media, July, 2001; the presidential decree on additional measures on
strengthening state support to media; the law on public TV and broadcasting;
the law on access for information.
So there are a number of, you know, journalist organizations in the country.
SOLIS: Yes, but my point...
ALIYEV: Yes, I am going to the point now. So criminal court of Azerbaijan,
now we have to speak about the defamation and libel. So each country has its
own traditions and each country has its own values. So my country is a
relatively young country as a democracy, but it has deep traditions that are
ingrained in society. Some of the things seen in the tabloid journalism of
other countries is deeply offensive to the Azerbaijani sensibility and to the
social code of conduct. The notion of granting anyone carte blanche immunity
for the things they distribute or disseminate in public, especially when it is
not based on fact, is simply a new concept for much in Azerbaijan.
So what I would like to say is, the fact that, you know, the libel and
defamation should be repealed or deleted from Azerbaijani criminal code is a
very new topic for our republic. This topic is under very extensive and
intensive, you know, discussion on the part of the government officials, on the
part of the scientists, the lawyers, and simply the citizens of Azerbaijan.
SOLIS: Is there any -- can you give us any information as to whether there
will be an attempt to constructively look a changing the code? That is what I
am asking you.
ALIYEV: I understand your point, ma'am. I can assure you that we are giving
very serious attention and consideration to this matter. I cannot vouch that
it will be solved with a couple of days or within a couple of months, but this
item is in our agenda, and we are discussing this matter with the Council of
Europe and OSCE.
SOLIS: Right. Okay. And I am sure OSCE will be very happy to engage and
provide whatever assistance we can.
My next question, and I know my time is running out, has to deal with religion.
You talked earlier about the different faiths that are practiced there in your
country, and I think that is commendable. That is great. But I also
understand that there have been two arrests, two criminal trials that have been
conducted, one against a Baptist pastor, Hamid Chavenoff (ph), who was
sentence, the Baptist pastor, and who is now in prison in 2007. He is being
prosecuted on charges that he held an illegal weapon and faces up to three
years imprisonment. This church and family insists that the weapon was planted
during a raid on his home on June 20, in which he was arrested.
Meanwhile, in Baku, there is also a prosecution underway of a Jehovah's Witness
who contends that because he is a conscientious objector, that he is now
evading military service, that he is also being charged. So I would like you
to, if you can, speak on these two criminal cases.
ALIYEV: You know, I can just only confirm that indeed that gentleman he is,
you know, sentenced because of the possession of the armament. So it is true.
But the second fact, I am not...
SOLIS: You are not aware? Can you provide us information and get back to us
ALIYEV: I will provide later on information on this matter.
SOLIS: And just to go back to the question about journalism, I mentioned that
there were some releases of journalists there, but there still remain four that
are behind bars. Can you give us any information as to where their trial is,
where are we in that situation?
ALIYEV: Yes, I will. In my list, there are three. And I understand we are
talking about the fourth one. The fifth one is Sakit Zahidov. He was held
criminally liable not for defamation, but for acquiring and retaining
narcotics. He is in fact a poet. He was offered, but refused a pardon. Just
so you know the facts of the case, Zahidov was detained in 2006 in Baku
district by counter-narcotics police. Officers found in his left pocket about
10 grams of heroin packaged in cellophane. He was convicted under article
234.1 for possession of illegal narcotics.
The editor-in-chief and the owner of the newspaper Realni Azerbaijan, named
Eynulla Fatullayev, was held criminally liable by private charge for insulting
the honor and dignity of Hochala (ph) residents that suffered Armenian
aggression and genocide. Afterward Eynulla Fatullayev was accused also of
another crime. In April of 2007, different foreign companies, organizations
and individuals operating in Azerbaijan received information stating that if
Azerbaijan supports an untied (ph) Iran coalition, Iran would instigate neutral
strikes against Azerbaijan and 16 (ph) strategic objects would be exploded by
hundreds of suicide bombers.
After the investigation, his case was sent to Grave Crimes Court and Fatullayev
was found guilty of three articles of the criminal code: threat of terrorism,
evasion from taxes, inciting of national hatred. He was sentenced to eight and
a half years, (inaudible) that was (inaudible) on appeal.
The third one, Ganimat Zahidov, editor in chief of Azadlig newspaper, was held
criminally liable for injuries and hooliganism following a charge by an
Azerbaijani citizen on March 7, 2008. He was found guilty on articles light
(ph) injuries and hooliganism and sentenced to four years imprisonment.
So as you can see, there is no relation to their professional activities, all
based on their, let me say, disorder and they received appropriate sentences up
to the court trial.
SOLIS: Well, I don't have all the evidence before me, but I have just some
skepticism in what I am hearing. If they initially begin to talk to an
individual because there is something that may not be in agreement with the
government, then there are grounds to go a little bit further and there may be
something there that I am missing, or that I did not hear from.
HASTINGS: Thank you, commissioner.
BURR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ambassador, I thank you for your willingness to be here. Your statement was
thorough, well done. I am not sure that it encompassed all the concerns that
members have expressed in the form of their statements or questions. I take to
heart your comments on the friendship between two countries, because
friendships when headed in the right direction, grow; friendships when headed
in the wrong direction eventually breed further confrontation.
I said in my opening statement, I pointed out a number of things that are I
think fact. I haven't heard anybody dispute them, that international observers
said that elections were marred by irregularities that resulted in elections
being less than free and fair. That was the 1998-2003. The 2005 suffered the
same fate and these observers said were further compromised by the tension of
over 300 political activists and candidates.
Now, I wanted to make sure you particularly heard my comment about this October
election, which you have referred to as October 15. We will watch and we will
listen to observers. I hope that Azerbaijan will work very closely with those
observers to make sure that their evaluation of free and fair is accurate of
what takes place. More importantly, that this commission will watch the
comments of those observers and we will use that in the context that it is
provided to us.
What forces me to reinforce that is specifically the fact that you are a
signatory. The acts of signatories, which reflect compliance or violation of
the articles of the Helsinki Final Act, this is something that we would hole
any signatory to; this is not picking you out of a group and saying we are
going to go through this intense review. This is, I hope, the same standard
that others hold us to, and I expect it.
So let me move to two questions on the two brothers, if I may. It is my
understanding, right or wrong, that Farhad has had a medical condition, and is
it true that he has been denied the medical treatment that he has needed?
ALIYEV: Sir, if I may once again, there is information about this. There is a
certain portion about his medical examination. He was first examined on
December 28, 2005, and the last time he was examined on January 28, 2008 by a
panel of doctors consisting of a number of Azerbaijani physicians. So this is
very short, just for the sake of time.
HASTINGS: Would the gentleman yield?
BURR: I would be happy to yield.
HASTINGS: Were any of those physicians of his own choosing, ambassador?
ALIYEV: Sir, it is a good question, but there is no mention of it here.
HASTINGS: Would you get that information for me?
HASTINGS: Thank you.
Thank you, senator.
ALIYEV: I have 15 items about his medical examination. It is here.
HASTINGS: We will put it on the Web site.
BURR: Ambassador, is he imprisoned in the ministry of national security?
ALIYEV: You know, to the best of my knowledge, the question of his
transportation from the ministry of national security to the regular jailhouse
is under discussion, and he will be removed soon.
BURR: Is it standard procedure in Azerbaijan to hold an individual accused of
financial crimes in the government ministry buildings?
ALIYEV: To the best of my knowledge, I don't know. I guess not.
BURR: Understand the importance of this question. You have stressed the fact
that this commission, these individuals, we should try to base our opinions on
facts. This is an important aspect. I would find it somewhat unusual for any
government to house a criminal, somebody who had been found guilty of financial
crimes, in the ministry of national security. So if he has been held, is being
held, continues to be held, may be transferred based upon questions that we ask
in the ministry of security, that begins to suggest to me that there is more to
this than possibly what has been shared.
I don't believe that it would be standard procedure in any country in the world
that a criminal, an individual charged with a crime of financial consequences,
would in fact be housed in anything other than the prison that everybody else
would be. So I hope you will look into this. I hope you will share with the
appropriate people in Azerbaijan the serious questions that we ask to try to
separate the fact from the fiction that clearly you alluded to. My hope is
that as we look at October 15, we have an opportunity from an international
observation of this election cycle that we can both turn around and say this
was free, it was fair, and that this was the start at repairing some of the
concerns, some of the questions, some of the un-factual things that might exist.
Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, ambassador. We greatly appreciate your
I would like in light of the fact that I know you know, as well as Azerbaijani
officials, that I was a lead observer for the OSCE to the parliamentary
elections in 2005.
Thank you, Senator.
Since that time, as you well know, and before that time, I was an observer in a
considerable number of elections, including three in Russia, two in Ukraine,
two in Georgia, one in Armenia, and I could go on and on and on. I only say
that for the reason that when the ultimate statement is pronounced by the chair
and office's designee, that statement comes from the work of those persons,
including ODIHR, the Council of Europe in most instances, the NATO
Parliamentary Assembly sometimes, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Now, I don't and did not and will not take orders from my State Department
about what is to be said in those meetings. As a matter of fact, ambassador,
very occasionally when I am visiting a country in my capacity for the
Parliamentary Assembly, I do not ask, seek or permit our United States
ambassadors to visit with me when I visit with officials at the official level,
from president to foreign ministers to ambassadors.
So if we have any democracy lesson here is, we do have a separation of powers.
I don't take no orders from nobody but the people that I represent.
I thank you very, very much for your testimony today.
Mr. Walker, if you would come hurriedly. I do appreciate your patience.
Ambassador, you are certainly welcome to stay and listen to Mr. Walker.
As we are setting up, Christopher Walker is director of studies at Freedom
House, where he helps oversee a team of senior analysts and researchers in
devising overall strategy for Freedom House's analytical publications. These
projects include Countries at the Crossroads, Nations in Transit, Freedom of
the Press, and Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and
Mr. Walker is responsible for generating special studies and reports,
initiating task forces, and responding to critical news and democracy issues
through statements and op-eds.
Mr. Walker, your full statement will be allowed into the record, and I would
appreciate it -- I know the hour is late -- but I also have to go to the Rules
Committee at some point and I want to get as much as I can from you, so if you
WALKER: I have an abbreviated statement.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much.
WALKER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioner Solis, thank you so much for inviting
Freedom House to testify here today and provide comment on recent developments
in Azerbaijan in advance of their presidential elections this October.
Freedom House's mission is to monitor and support democratic development, and
we have taken a keen interest in Azerbaijan's democratic development and human
rights performance over the last 30 years we have been monitoring it. Other
speakers have underscored Azerbaijan's strategic importance, its geographic
importance, in an increasingly complex energy environment. It is fair to say
that Azerbaijan is a strategically important state.
Given the country's clear strategic importance, I would emphasize four points.
The first is, Azerbaijan's record on developing democratically accountable and
transparent institutions is poor, and by our measures is getting worse.
Azerbaijan is ranked not free both in our survey of political rights and civil
liberties, and in our annual survey of global media freedom.
Second point is that Azerbaijan, their authorities have not done enough to
advance crucial reform measures that will enable the country to manage its
resource wealth effectively.
The third point is the resource curse is growing its roots in the country,
according to our findings. Our recent Nations in Transit finding which were
recently released indicated that Azerbaijan, like Russia and Kazakhstan, have
seen a downward trajectory on virtually all of their democratic indicators over
the last decade, and this downward trajectory has accelerated as the price of
oil has risen.
The fourth point is that the authorities now seem to have dropped even the
pretense of enabling more accountable and transparent institutions. I noted in
the earlier comment of some of the commissioners that this was a concern. This
is also something that we have noted in our recent monitoring of Azerbaijan.
So I will return quickly to the issues of the resource curse and resource
nationalism, but would first like to share a few key observations on two
particular issues: on the election and media freedom, issues that have been
focused on over the course of this discussion.
I would note in the interest of brevity the most recent assessments that we
have looked at, which have come from the OSCE's ODIHR needs assessment report
which was issued just two weeks ago. Among a host of concerns that were
listed, there was one that was a priority concern, the notion that the
pre-election environment right now is not conducive to free competition of
political ideas and different platforms. This is principally due to
constraints on freedom of assembly and the media.
The track record of recent elections, according to our measures, indicates that
right now the likelihood of having a competitive election process coming into
October is remote. I think Secretary Kramer hit on this. It is not only
election day that matters. It is the constellation of ingredients that we look
at that will contribute to a meaningful competitive and fair election.
I would note that in the last election cycle, there were a number of modest
positive steps that the authorities took. This included lifting a ban on
election monitoring by local NGOs that receive more than 30 percent of their
funding from outside sources, and the creation of a public television station.
These measures, however, were put into place very late in that last election
cycle and therefore didn't achieve the degree and quality of implementation
needed to be effective.
The ongoing challenges faced by the political opposition have also been
described in some detail in the joint evaluation of the draft amendment to
Azerbaijan's electoral code undertaken by the Venice Commission and OSCE's
ODIHR, and they have chronicled a host of issues that need to be addressed
quickly in order to have the other ingredients in place for a fair election
Others today have noted the critical importance of media freedom. I will take
just a minute to touch on this. We have noticed in our evaluation, and this is
across a host of analyses we do each year. This is four separate analytical
lenses that the media pressure that is being applied by the authorities has
taken a difficult environment and made it significantly more difficult.
Azerbaijan's media sector confronts a host of major obstacles, and the
authorities use a variety of tools to manipulate and intimidate the press.
State businesses, for example, do not advertise as a rule in opposition
newspapers. There is very extensive influence by the authorities over state
businesses in determining where their significant funds go in the media
business. A private business with interests in state contracts in an economy
still dominated by the state will usually decide caution is wiser in
advertising with opposition newspapers.
Distribution is also a significant challenge for opposition newspapers, and
critically -- and this is I think a thread running through so many of the
questions in this discussion -- the court system is subordinated to the
executive and doesn't allow publishes, editors and others meaningful legal
So there are a host of other media-related items that I have included here. I
won't get into them during this discussion. Let me focus on what may be the
critical issue for the purposes of international policy-makers. And that is,
the impact of energy wealth on Azerbaijan's key institutions. As oil and gas
revenues have surged, the incentives for the government to enable meaningful
alternative voices domestically and to heed the advice of international
organizations has been diminished. In an address to international diplomats on
July 6 that was cited earlier, President Aliyev made it unambiguously clear
that Azerbaijan is posturing itself with a resource nationalism orientation.
He has also suggested that Azerbaijan might well withdraw from rules-based
institutions, rather than comply with their standards or requirements that the
government opposes. The budget dimension of the current Azeri energy wealth
suggests a couple of important points. The first is there is now more than 30
percent of the overall budget represented by state oil revenues. These have
been principally directed in two directions. One has been to military
expenditures, and the other to infrastructure projects.
The massive scale of these projects and the lack of transparency in the
allocation of funds have led to questions about the efficiency of the
expenditure of public money and the selection of contractors. Indeed, as the
economic windfall from high oil prices rockets upward and the temptations of
oil money grow, it is all the more important to have meaningful political
reform to put basic checks on rents, runaway patronage and other forms of
I will conclude with the following observations. Although we are still nearly
three months from the upcoming October elections, senior Azeri officials have
already suggested that a third term might be in the offing for President
Aliyev. This suggests potentially that the country is laying the foundations
for a possible leader-for-life system, along the lines of those that have been
anchored in countries such as Belarus or a number of the Central Asian states.
Such controlled and insular politics clearly have profound drawbacks. These
politically closed systems create zero-sum winner-takes-all approaches to
governing, and with unchecked power comes unchecked corruption. In fact,
hyper-corruption is the soft underbelly of these sorts of models in which
accountability and transparency is in low supply.
It is no surprise, therefore, that in 2007 out of 179 countries surveyed,
Azerbaijan shared the 150th ranking, along with countries such as Belarus,
Congo, Kazakhstan, Kenya, and others in Transparency International's Corruption
The challenges to promoting reform in Azerbaijan are considerable. However,
given the state and the strategic nature of Azerbaijan in the Caucasus and
wider Europe and Eurasian region, Freedom House believes that the U.S.
government should continue to support democratic and human rights activists and
critically support accountable and transparent institutions.
I would conclude with one final thought, and that is the decision that the
authorities take today concerning the investment of the nation's extraordinary
energy wealth will define the country's course for the next generation and
beyond. A system that enables little accountability for how these resources
are used holds enormous risks that these unprecedented, but ultimately finite
wealth and resources may not be enjoyed by the vast majority of ordinary
citizens in that country.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Mr. Walker.
You have argued that energy-rich countries are especially likely to develop
authoritarian political systems. But what about Belarus, which is certainly a
country that has oil and gas? I would argue to you that the key, it would
seem, or a factor of considerable import would be political will on the part of
the country's leadership, as opposed to where the wealth comes from.
I spent a large portion of my early career in and out of Africa having served
on the Subcommittee on Africa. Many of the countries that I went to were not
rich with resources, and yet they had very similar governance issues.
Therefore, I find it difficult to believe that oil and gas standing alone leads
to the kind of outcome that you are suggesting. I read a couple of your
articles and I had the thought that I have. What is your response?
WALKER: Well, Mr. Chairman, you raise a critically important point, and that
is the energy wealth isn't causing these countries to be authoritarian. The
point is that the energy wealth is intensifying existing authoritarian
structure. So no one would argue that in any three of the cases I cited that
the energy wealth has transformed these countries from something they weren't
before. In all of these countries, there are extraordinary challenges. The
institutions are still struggling with post-Soviet legacy. They have, as was
mentioned earlier before, very strong presidential systems, which also creates
obstacles to reform.
Nevertheless, I think what is striking in our findings is with this sort of
resource at the disposal of not only Azerbaijan, but Kazakhstan and Russia, I
would put in this category, one would hope that there would be some doors open
for, say, greater media pluralism, meaningful pluralism.
I would also clarify something that was mentioned earlier, and that is there is
pluralism in the print media in Azerbaijan. There are an enormous number of
print publications. They represent a small part of the media landscape. As is
the case in so many countries, it is broadcast media that most ordinary
citizens get their news and information from.
In addition to that, if anything, the obstacles to the print media, even with
their relatively less influential role in communicating to ordinary citizens,
is becoming more difficult for a variety of reasons. I think that is worth
HASTINGS: Do you perceive as Ambassador Aliyev said, in asserting to a
positive, the growth of Internet usage? My recollection from his testimony is
30 percent growth in usage. That is pretty impressive when you think about it.
Is that something that you factor in, not broadcast media like CNN or whatever
would be the case in Azerbaijan?
WALKER: It is. And it is an extraordinarily important issue and I am glad you
raised it. The overall usage in Azerbaijan now in percentage terms is fairly
modest, but the trajectory is upward, which is terrific. The content of
Internet use in Azerbaijan right now is very, very good. All things
considered, in terms of a discussion of meaningful community-related issues,
political issues, that is where you will find most of the action today.
I would note with some caution and trepidation, however, that just in the last
couple of days there has been a discussion of creating another layer of
monitoring of the Internet. This was proposed, or at least discussed, by the
minister of communications and technology, Mr. Adisov (ph), that in addition to
three existing entities that already regulate the Internet for the purposes of
cyber-crime, there may be another layer that would fulfill what appears to be a
duplicative purpose oriented toward cyber-crime.
Some of the fears in the press freedom community are that this may be used to
restrict proper and appropriate use of the Internet going forward, in part
because the trajectory is going upward. If other media are used as a barometer
for the treatment that they receive from the authorities, the Internet may be
now in the crosshairs. I think this is something that should be viewed with
great scrutiny and concern by all those who look to see a safeguarded media
environment in Azerbaijan.
HASTINGS: Right. Well, I appreciate all of your testimony. As I have
indicated, I will post it all on our Web site.
You heard, and you were very patient in sitting here, and I appreciate very
much that you took the time. But you heard the testimony of Secretary Kramer
and Ambassador Aliyev, and you heard all of the questions and statements of my
fellow commissioners. Several of them are pointed to, and I asked Ambassador
Kramer about the number of persons that NGOs site to as being political
What is your view on this issue? And does Freedom House believe that there are
political prisoners in Azerbaijan?
WALKER: I would answer the question in the following way, with two dimensions.
The first is the definition of political prisoners, as other participants have
alluded to, isn't always clear and fast. So I think right now there is a
consensus that there remains a significant number, too many, political
prisoners in Azerbaijan.
But what I have taken away from the discussion today is the thread that runs
through the Farhad and Rafiq Aliyev case, the other prisoners who are being
detained for what may be political purposes, it is hard to tell because the
system is so non-transparent. It is difficult to have confidence in the
outcomes that are produced when you don't have meaningful checks and watchdogs,
either in the form of the press, which it is so critically important that the
authorities ease the pressure that has been growing in recent months and years,
frankly, to allow a more meaningful discussion of the issues that are critical,
not for the purposes of international NGOs or for the commission, but for
ordinary Azeri citizens who are looking to hear that their governors are doing
right by them.
I think that is what has been missing. And troublingly, the trajectory in our
evaluation is heading in the wrong direction. I think this is at a meta-level
the issue that has been more worrisome to us. It squares in large measure with
not only Freedom House findings, but I think if you look at other international
watchdog groups, as well as the supra-national organizations and institutions
that do their work, even if they don't perhaps quantify it in precisely the
same ways, if you look at what the ODIHR has been saying, if you look at what
the Council of Europe has been saying, there is I would say fundamental
consensus that things have been constricting in terms of political space in the
last few years.
That is hard to square with the fact you have these sorts of enormous resources
coming into the country which should at root, one would hope, open up some
breathing space, provide some pluralism both at the business-news media level,
but I think also in other sectors that we would all agree on would be salutary
for the country's development.
HASTINGS: I agree with everything you have said and I would add that in
international undertakings in oil and gas, I do believe that corporate
entities, and particularly those that are international, have some immense
responsibility in dealing with the various countries that they deal with.
I don't wish to point to any one particular group. Just lump them all under
big oil, and say that when they go into places, they have some
responsibilities, too. If I could turn away from Azerbaijan for a moment and
just Nigeria and the environmental degradation that has taken place there by
virtue of oil exploration, then it signifies to me among other things that
countries are not the only ones at fault, but international giants who deal
with leadership at a given time do foster sometimes very bad situations.
I was talking with my daughter last week about driving in from the airport to
the president's residence in Angola, and passing by a compound owned by an
American company that was walled and watching people in swimming pools and on
tennis courts, and then passing by. It was about a two-mile ride from the
airport, and passing by people that were standing in pools of filth with no
That, to my way of thinking, leadership had a responsibility there, exercising
our feelings about sovereignty, but so did those oil companies who were there
have some responsibilities. I am not chastising Freedom House, but in the
development of democracy, I think Ambassador Aliyev is absolutely correct. It
takes time to do it and to maintain it and to preserve it. Azerbaijan can be
on a positive track I think with organizations like Freedom House.
I didn't' say to the ambassador, and I will, that I want to know more about
what happened with NDI. The successes for the country is not, and you put it
so well, not so much just the NGOs, but for further development and
democratization. What they do at great sacrifice is help countries to develop
the institutions that ultimately we have an opportunity to see.
One thing I would say, I have a limited amount of time as the agenda setter as
co-chair, and then the emphasis shifts to the Senate and Senator Cardin will
have the same prerogatives that I have had throughout the last year-and-a-half
really. I didn't have a full two years, but that year-and-a-half, as it were.
I am hopeful that we have achieved some things, but I am also going to try to
impress upon Senator Cardin, and as you know, Freedom House, in addition to
having made a presentation there, I have called on you and other NGOs to give
your input, to not just Azerbaijan, but all countries.
Some emphasis needs to be placed on some other places. For example, I find it
passing strange that we go monitoring everybody's elections, and it wasn't
until 1994 that I was able to persuade the State Department to let people come
and monitor ours. I would hope Azeri officials would come to the November
elections after their October election, and see our successes and failures as
well as we are in this work-in-progress called democracy.
I would be hopeful next year that we would before having public hearings and
briefings, have some roundtables with some experts like yourself, Mr. Walker,
and others, that would allow for greater expression and frankness in a
different setting for media offerings, and then come to others. If I said the
2004 elections, not the 1994 elections, is what I should have been speaking of
when I spoke about talking with Secretary Powell and ultimately his making the
decision to allow our elections to be observed.
There are so many things to be done and so many that can be done
constructively. I hope this hearing falls on the ears of those who are not
here, and the things that are said, that are taken in the form of constructive
criticism, as opposed to bashing. I appreciate it very much.
WALKER: Well, Mr. Chairman, Freedom House would welcome the opportunity to
take part in those sorts of discussions, and also to hear feedback on our
findings -- where we got it right, where we got it wrong.
HASTINGS: I think that is a healthy approach. I get a little bit tired of --
the other thing that bothers me, and the wonderful people that work with me at
the commission, all of them don't necessarily agree with me, and I understand
that. I am not talking about the membership. That is true, too, but staff
even -- I just don't enjoy having people with all of the expertise of people
that have sat in this room today, and had to listen to us -- I am talking about
from our standpoint -- and witnesses go through this exercise, and for them not
Maybe time is always something that is a pressure, but I have found that I
achieve a whole lot more in informal settings than I do in formal settings.
WALKER: It is a wonderful idea.
HASTINGS: I have been doing that since I was a judge, and I kind of like I am
going to continue. That is my story and I am sticking to it.
This one is adjourned.
WALKER: Thank you.
[Whereupon the hearing ended at 5:10 p.m.]