Response to Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov

As delivered  by Ambassador Ian Kelly
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
October 25, 2012

The United States welcomes Deputy Foreign Minister Azimov to the Permanent Council today.

Azerbaijan is an important partner of the United States.  We have three core areas of importance to our relationship with Azerbaijan:  security, which also includes the Nagorno-Karabakh situation; energy and economic issues; and democratic and economic reform.

Azerbaijan plays a key role in international security and counter-terrorism efforts.  Azerbaijani and American soldiers have stood together in Kosovo, Iraq, and now Afghanistan.  Azerbaijan has also provided a vital transportation route to support NATO operations in Afghanistan.  Our diplomats are now serving together to safeguard global security on the UN Security Council.

Here in the OSCE, we share a strong commitment to a peaceful and fair settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  As a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States remains committed to working with the sides to find a lasting and peaceful resolution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In their September 27 statement, the Co-Chairs noted their concern over the lack of tangible progress in recent months.  Their next meeting with Foreign Ministers Nalbandian and Mammadyarov will take place this weekend; we urge the sides to participate constructively and return to the substance of negotiations.

On energy, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline stands as testimony to the strong cooperation between our governments over the past 20 years.  Today we share the goal of establishing a southern corridor for exporting Azerbaijan’s natural gas to Europe.  We note that Azerbaijan was one of the earliest signatories to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  We support the goals of EITI, including the adoption of the draft declaration on good governance and transparency at the Dublin Ministerial.

On democratic and economic reforms, Azerbaijan and the United States also have a long record of cooperation.  We look forward to continuing to work together in promoting rule of law, human rights fundamental freedoms, a vibrant civil society and other reforms essential to the full realization of Azerbaijan’s potential.

In this respect, we continue to be concerned about restrictions in Azerbaijan on fundamental freedoms, including freedom of assembly, speech, and association.

While we welcomed the release of Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and nine activists who had been arrested for participating in peaceful protests in the spring of 2011, we remain concerned about the continued imprisonment of Vidadi Iskenderov and Shahin Hasanli, two activists arrested during political demonstrations in April 2011.

We also were concerned about the recent 15-day detention of Zaur Qurbanli, who was part of a campaign to bring international attention to human rights issues in Azerbaijan during the Eurovision Song Contest, and who posted a blog critical of the inclusion in elementary school curricula of a poem by President Aliyev’s daughter.

We urge the Azerbaijan authorities to ensure good faith, thorough investigations into the blackmail attempt against investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova, and the beating of journalist Idrak Abbasov.

Police arrested some 30 protestors from opposition and independent youth groups who tried to stage a rally in Baku on October 20, in the wake of a scandal over a video purportedly showing a ruling-party lawmaker being bribed to guarantee a seat in parliament.  While many were released after paying a fine, we understand 12 protesters received 15-day administrative detention.  We are also concerned about amendments to legislation that will likely be voted on in the parliament next week, which would significantly increase the penalty for participating in an unsanctioned protest, making such penalties commensurate with the fines assessed for committing grave crimes.

Such actions are not consistent with the fundamental freedoms of assembly, expression, and association.  We urge Azerbaijan to resolve these and related cases in a manner consistent with OSCE commitments.  We strongly support the work of the OSCE Office in Baku, including its efforts to help strengthen respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the protection of freedom of speech for members of the media in Azerbaijan.

We welcome Azerbaijan’s hosting the upcoming Internet Governance Forum in Baku in November.  This, together with the Government of Azerbaijan’s recent efforts to begin a dialogue with civil society representatives, constitutes an important and welcome initiative that we will continue to follow closely as it progresses.  We encourage the Government of Azerbaijan to work with the OSCE Office, civil society and political parties to develop additional constructive initiatives in the area of democratic reform and human rights.  We also encourage the Government to increase its efforts to address the ongoing challenge of effectively combating trafficking in human beings, particularly by doing more to identify victims and to prosecute perpetrators.

Finally, like our colleagues in the European Union, we look forward to the constructive cooperation with Azerbaijan as we prepare for productive Ministerial Council decisions in Dublin in December.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.