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UN Working Group visits Azerbaijan

Deep sea oil drilling in the Caspian Sea - By Peretz Partensky from San Francisco, USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

From 18-27 August 2014, the UN Working Group on business & human rights is conducting a mission to Azerbaijan.  The experts will "look at current initiatives, opportunities and challenges to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights."

Prior to their visit, on 14 August, Human Rights Watch called for Azerbaijan's suspension from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, given the country's repression of civil society groups.  Human Rights Watch said: "The Azerbaijani government’s escalating enforcement of restrictive new laws regulating nongovernmental organizations and other tactics threatens the survival of independent groups...That includes groups that focus on issues of direct concern to EITI."

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Article
5 September 2014

UN calls on Azerbaijan to make state oil firm SOCAR accountable to Parliament to avoid human rights abuses

Author: MaltaToday

The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, which owns 20% of the shares in ElectroGas Malta…has come under scrutiny of a United Nations human rights committee, which is calling for more accountability. The committee for business and human rights, operating under the UN Council for Human Rights, has called on the Azeri government to make the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) accountable to the country’s Parliament. SOCAR will be Malta’s main supplier of natural gas for the next 18 years and has also teamed up with British Petroleum to link the country’s gas fields to Europe through a pipeline passing through Turkey and the Adriatic sea to link with Italy. Questions on its secretive business model have been raised by NGO Global Witness in a report which reveals that private individuals could be benefiting from the company’s opaque structures at the expense of the citizens of Azerbaijan.

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Article
28 August 2014

International Service for Human Rights welcomes Working Group statement following Azerbaijan visit

Author: International Service for Human Rights

"Azerbaijan: UN Working Group concerned at situation of human rights defenders", 28 Aug 2014

…The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has expressed grave concern at restrictions on human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations working on issues of business and human rights in Azerbaijan. The comments came after ISHR called on the Working Group to ensure that 'the situation and protection of human rights defenders' was 'the key priority' during the Group's first-ever mission to Azerbaijan…In a statement…the Working Group said, 'It is a matter of concern that a number of prominent civil society actors were placed in pre-trial detention just before our visit…”...Welcoming the Working Group's statement, ISHR's Michael Ineichen said, 'In Azerbaijan and many other countries, human rights defenders face grave risks for their work to promote corporate responsibility and accountability. We urge the Working Group to ensure a strong focus on the situation of human rights defenders in…all…aspects of its mandate…”… 

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Article
28 August 2014

UN Working Group statement following Azerbaijan visit

Author: UN Working Group on business & human rights

"Statement at the end of visit to Azerbaijan by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights", 27 Aug 2014

In our statement today, we would like to outline some initial observations from our visit. Our official mission report to the 29th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2015 will include further observations and recommendations...In our meeting with the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (the Ombudsman) we learned about some of its activities that relate to the business and human rights agenda. However, overall, our meetings with the Government, business enterprises and civil society revealed that awareness of business and human rights issues and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is very limited. We observed that grievances are addressed largely through the court system and that there is little awareness of the role that non-judicial mechanisms can play to complement and supplement judicial mechanisms...When asked about country’s most salient business and human rights issues, our interlocutors typically mentioned two areas: (1) the situation facing internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a consequence of the armed conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan; and (2) the “right of entrepreneurs” to start and grow a business in the country...[A]n independent civil society and media play an important role in promoting transparency and accountability in business operations, particularly where human rights concerns may arise...We regret that we were unable to engage with some civil society actors who were recently placed in pre-trial detention...We also note that several civil society organizations have recently experienced difficulties with registration and have had their bank accounts frozen...[Also mentions corruption, abuses linked to the construction sector, labour rights and responsible management of revenues from natural resources.]

The State must ensure that any relocation of homes which may be required for the purpose of promoting the general welfare of the population is carried out with prior consultations with affected households and provide for adequate human rights safeguards. - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14965&L...
an independent civil society and media play an important role in promoting transparency and accountability in business operations, particularly where human rights concerns may arise. - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14965&L...
In our meeting with the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (the Ombudsman) we learned about some of its activities that relate to the business and human rights agenda. However, overall, our meetings with the Government, business enterprises and civil society revealed that awareness of business and human rights issues and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is very limited. We observed that grievances are addressed largely through the court system and that there is little awareness of the role that non-judicial mechanisms can play to complement and supplement judicial mechanisms. - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14965&L...
In our meeting with the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (the Ombudsman) we learned about some of its activities that relate to the business and human rights agenda. However, overall, our meetings with the Government, business enterprises and civil society revealed that awareness of business and human rights issues and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is very limited. We observed that grievances are addressed largely through the court system and that there is little awareness of the role that non-judicial mechanisms can play to complement and supplement judicial mechanisms. - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14965&L...
In our meeting with the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (the Ombudsman) we learned about some of its activities that relate to the business and human rights agenda. However, overall, our meetings with the Government, business enterprises and civil society revealed that awareness of business and human rights issues and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is very limited. We observed that grievances are addressed largely through the court system and that there is little awareness of the role that non-judicial mechanisms can play to complement and supplement judicial mechanisms. - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14965&L...
In our statement today, we would like to outline some initial observations from our visit. Our official mission report to the 29th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2015 will include further observations and recommendations. - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14965&L...

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Article
27 August 2014

Azerbaijan: UN Working Group advises stronger accountability for state oil company SOCAR

Author: abc.az (Azerbaijan)

"UN proposes to make SOCAR accountable to Azerbaijani Parliament", 27 Aug 2014

Experts of the Working Group for business and human rights, operating under the UN Council for human rights, proposed to make the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) accountable to the Parliament. As a result of its visit to Azerbaijan, the mission of the Working Group made a statement and proposed to increase accountability and transparence of the SOCAR’s corporate administration structure before the Parliament. “For example, deputies could have an authority to consider from time to time any commercial PSA contracts requiring immediate implementation”, - the mission says. The UN experts believe that such measure could prevent speculations on violation of human rights by the companies owned and controlled by the government.

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Article
27 August 2014

Azerbaijan: UN Working Group calls on govt. to guarantee freedom of expression in the context of economic development

Author: Ramiz Mikayiloglu, APA (Azerbaijan)

"UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights announces its recommendations and suggestions on Azerbaijan", 27 Aug 2014

Member of the working group, Puvan Selvanathan said that they held meetings with the representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, Justice, other state agencies and Ombudsperson, representatives of the media and NGOs in Ganja. He said that the development was observed in other sectors, along with oil and gas sectors of Azerbaijan’s economy over the past decade..."However, there are some problems. It is necessary to...develop human rights-based business.”...Selvanathan said cases of corruption can be more effectively reduced by cooperating with civil society in accordance with law. He highly appreciated the activities on generating revenues through the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan: “The Oil Fund is quite progressive in terms of managing national resources. We proposed that SOCAR should put much emphasis on increasing transparency in all sharing agreements and employment contracts. State programs on human rights must reflect relations in the area of human rights and business more unambiguously”...[T]he main recommendations given to the government...[is]... to respect insurance of the dialogue between different participants in society: “Azerbaijan’s economic development has to lean on human rights and open dialogue. The Working Group came to the same conclusion. What’s important is that freedom of expression of society’s members and compliance with the law should be ensured”.

 

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Article
27 August 2014

Human rights must lead Azerbaijan’s future development agenda – UN expert group

Author: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Human rights and open dialogue should be at the heart of Azerbaijan's economic development, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights concluded at the end of a 10-day visit to the country...The experts noted that Azerbaijan had significantly reduced poverty through increased oil and gas revenue in recent years. In addition, its laws and regulations have gradually been brought into line with international human rights standards...

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Article
25 August 2014

Access commentary on UN Working Group visit to Azerbaijan

Author: Access

UN investigates business and human rights in Azerbaijan, 22 Aug 2014

This week, Azerbaijan is hosting experts from the UN’s Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises “to examine the impact of business activities on human rights in the country.” 

No stranger to UN inquiries, this CIS-region dictatorship has been the subject of a wide range of human rights reviews in recent years. Just this week, three UN experts condemned the “wave of politically-motivated repression” against human rights activists in the country.

This is the first business and human rights inquiry there, however, though Access has called out the country in the past for its surveillance state. The oil-rich former Soviet republic’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector remains susceptible to government pressure, resulting in restrictions on the human rights of journalists, activists, and ordinary users. These abuses lead to harsh knock-on effects, including arbitrary arrest and torture. 

Access recently shared our concerns in a letter to the UN Working Group, and recommended it focus its inquiry on Azerbaijan’s obligations to protect the human rights to free expression and privacy online...

[refers to TeliaSonera, Azercell]

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Article
21 August 2014

Azerbaijan: Ministry of Energy meets with UN Working Group on business & human rights

Author: abc.az

"Ministry of Energy notified UN that Azerbaijan observes the rights of citizens engaged in entrepreneurship", 21 Aug 2014

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Energy held consultations with the members of the Working Group for business and human rights operating under the UN Council on human rights. According to the Ministry, during the consultations the UN envoys were informed that the country pays careful attention to the human rights associated with entrepreneurship and is eager to put into practice the best world experience in this area. “At the meeting the parties also discussed the questions of transparence in the extracting industry”, - the Ministry said. The UN Mission will stay in Azerbaijan until August 27 to estimate the situation.

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Article
21 August 2014

The 2015 European Games in Azerbaijan: Human Rights Violations Already

Author: Michael Kourabas, in Triple Pundit

As oil-rich Azerbaijan prepares to host next year’s inaugural ‘European Games,’ the Azerbaijani government has stepped up its crackdown on activists speaking out against its abysmal human rights record.  As of this writing, more than 20 human rights defenders have been detained by the government, including four of the country’s most prominent activists. Meanwhile, the European Games’ lead organizer has claimed that it is not his job to criticize the host country; denied any knowledge of the government’s oppressive habits; and declared Azerbaijan an “incredibly free society.” Current and future corporate sponsors of the games should take notice and carefully consider their decision to be affiliated with the event...[As of August 2014, sponsors listed on Baku2015.com are: BP, Nar Mobile, P&G, Tissot (part of Swatch), McDonald's and Tickethour]

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Article
19 August 2014

Intl. Service for Human Rights calls on UN Working Group to focus on human rights defenders during Azerbaijan visit

"Azerbaijan: UN Working Group visit must focus on situation of human rights defenders", 19 Aug 2014

A group of United Nations experts on business and human rights should raise serious concerns about the repression of civil society when they visit Azerbaijan this week, the International Service for Human Rights said today. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights is conducting a visit to Azerbaijan from 18 to 27 August to examine implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The visit comes as Azerbaijan intensifies a year-long crackdown on human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations, including those working on issues of corporate transparency and accountability...

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