Azeri Report | Oil, Summer Vacation and Human Rights
Oil, Summer Vacation and Human Rights
Azeri Report | July 2, 2013
BAKU. July 2, 2013: A group of top US lawmakers, including several senators and congressmen are heading to Baku on Wednesday, July 3rd, as part of their weeklong trip to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Hungary, TURAN’s Washington, DC correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu was informed by the Congressional sources.
Three members of Helsinki Commission – Co-Chairman Christopher Smith (N.J.), Congressman Robert Aderholt (Ala.), Senator Roger Wicker (Miss), along with their spouses, colleagues and several staffers are part of the team, the source mentioned.
Oklahoma Congressmen Tom Cole, Idaho Senator Michael Crapo and Washington Congressman Doc Hastings will also reportedly join them.
The trip comes days before the Helsinki Commission is planning to hold a special hearing on Azerbaijan, first time since 2010.
As TURAN was told by a source with connections to the Commission, the hearing that was scheduled to take place mid-July, will mainly address the concerns that “have been laid out in the annual reports by the State Department and Freedom House.”
“There are serious human rights concerns in Azerbaijan ahead of presidential election,” the source said.
Some Azeri oppositional leaders, such as Rustam Ibrahimbeyov, and others as well as rights activists,including Emin Milli, have been invited to the hearing.
Senator Wicker recently hosted Mr. Ibrahimbeyov during his trip to Washington DC.
While the country’s ruling family seeking presidency for another five years ahead of October presidential election, international rights groups have accused the Azeri government of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents - charges it denies.
Speaking to TURAN early in April, senior Congressional staff member hasraised concerns of Ilham Aliyev government’s targeting international institutions in the country, such as the OSCE, NDI, seeing them as “a problem in their way” in the election year following the recent uprisings in Baku and the regions.
“Azerbaijan is at a crossroads… It can either move forward toward democracy and economic prosperity for its people or it can move toward authoritarianism, corruption and, eventually, to less prosperity” the source said.
“We in Washington are very concerned about the direction in which the government of Azerbaijan has been heading… The jailing of opponents, violence directed at demonstrators, restrictions on NGOs and the media - all these actions by the government over the last few months are reason for concern. Our hope is that the government of Azerbaijan will realize where its true interests lie - with greater democracy and closer relations with the West,” a congressional source added.
In the meanwhile, TURAN’s Washington correspondent has failed to confirm whether there was any connection between the upcoming congressional trip to Baku and the Helsinki Commission hearing.
While in Turkey the delegation will be launching security dialogs with local officials and participating in OSCA PA annual event, it wasn’t immediately clear what exactly brings next top senators and congressmen tomorrow to Baku, just a month after Azeri government rolled out red carpet for visiting another group of US lawmakers - 11 sitting members of Congress and 75 state representatives - to speak at the oil-industry sponsored Azerbaijani-American convention, a move that some in Washington DC described as “an oil-smoking”.
According to the website LegiStorm, which collects congressional data, the Azeri government backed lobby groups last month paid for some of the Congressmen’s previous trips together with their spouses as Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, Danny Davis and their wivesvisit apparently cost the organizersfor approximately 15,000-25,000 USD per each. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) also reported she and her fiancé, Manuel Cordova, joined the free trip ($12,692.) to Baku, later May.
In his latest commentary on Global Post Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, chairman of AZAD, an Alexandria, VA-based nonpartisan organization that advocates for democracy in Azerbaijan, called on US policymakers to provide support to democratic forces in Azerbaijan and “not turn a blind eye on human rights violations there; if not for the freedom of Azerbaijani people, then at least for the sake of those vital American interests in whose name democracy is too often sidelined.”
“By spending money on… all-paid trips and other lobbying activities, Baku hopes to buy itself a favorable opinion in DC,” he noted.
The senator and congressmen’s offices refused to provide additional information about the upcoming trip to Baku.
Some of them even denied that their bosses were planning to go to Azerbaijan, while others mentioned that the trip was “nothing than just a summer vacation.”
However, there are some rumors that the delegation will participate in the pre-Fourth of July dinnersin Baku mid-this week and will take part in the “cultural tour of the Icheri Sheher -- Old City” before heading to Budapest.
“They [the delegation] certainly will mention human rights concerns while being in Baku, as well as take a broader look at the US-Azerbaijani relations, recent development around regional oil-gas projects, etc.” one of the Congress sources claimed in an interview with TURAN.
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