U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairmen “Speak Out” About Azerbaijan’s Declining Human Rights Record, Call
By Taniel Koushakjian
July 2, 2014
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recently concluded their annual Parliamentary Assembly meeting, held this year in Baku, Azerbaijan. The OSCE-PA consisted of approximately 300 Members of Parliament from over 50 participating member states from June 28 – July 2, including U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chair, respectively, of the U.S. OSCE Helsinki Commission.
Speaking to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Khadija Ismayilova in Baku, Sen. Cardin noted that “Azerbaijan has a strategic partnership with the United States" in dealing with international security issues, but added that Washington will continue to raise human rights and press freedom concerns with the Azerbaijani government. “When it comes to the last presidential election [in Azerbaijan], it was not rated to be ‘free and fair,’” Cardin said, stressing that Azerbaijan has “serious issues” when dealing with opposition political parties. Also, regarding the Azerbaijan government’s 2009 ban on radio broadcasts by RFE/RL, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Voice of America (VOA) in Azerbaijan, Cardin said that “We [the U.S.] continue to speak out about that,” before Ismaliyova finished her question. “We want an open media… open internet,” he said, calling the Azerbaijan government’s actions as potentially violating the “basic rights that the people of Azerbaijan deserve.”
In a separate interview with Ismayilova, Rep. Smith stressed the urgency of resolving the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and called on President Obama to appoint a special envoy to usher in a breakthrough in the now 20 year-old negotiations. Smith said he suggested in Baku that a “very high-profile, international personage” be “tasked” with seeking a resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Smith cited President George W. Bush’s appointment of a special envoy to Sudan and President Clinton’s appointment of a special envoy in Ireland as examples of the “high-level personal interest by the President of the United States,” that helped bring about a resolution in those conflicts. Smith said that President Obama “could play that role,” if he appointed a special envoy, warning that “this could break out into a very hot war, very quickly.”
A full transcript of the interviews are available below.
Mariam Pashayan, Peter Kechichian and Gevorg Shahbazyan contributed to this report.
Khadija Ismayilova, RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service, Interview with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) in Baku, Azerbaijan
Published June 30, 2014
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD): Azerbaijan has a strategic partnership with the United States dealing with security issues. Their cooperation in Iran and Afghanistan is important. Their energy policies are important, but when it comes to the last presidential election it was not rated to be ‘free and fair.’ They have serious issues as to how they treat the opposition. So there are human rights issues that we have raised, and continue to raise, as a friend, trying to get the type of improvements we think would be beneficial to Azerbaijan and help in regards to their relationship with other countries.
Khadija Ismayilova: Radio Free Europe, among other foreign radios, BBC and Voice of America, is banned on local frequencies in Azerbaijan-
Senator Ben Cardin: And we speak out against that. We want to open media, open coverage, open internet, all that we believe are basic rights that the people of Azerbaijan deserve.
Khadija Ismayilova: There are journalists and bloggers in prison and election monitors-
Senator Ben Cardin: We have spoken up about that also. We have spoken out about areas that we think need to be improved.
Khadija Ismayilova, RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service, Interview with U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in Baku, Azerbaijan
Published June 30, 2014
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ): The two parties, you know, have been poles apart, and that’s always a problem. I have suggested that, in addition to the Minsk group and the other mechanisms that exist for trying to get a resolution, that a very high-profile international personage might be tasked, as we saw with Sudan. Senator Danforth was picked by George Bush after years of conflict, you know, what something in the order of four million, two to four million nobody knows the exact number, died in South Sudan and with Darfur thrown in, huge loss of life. When Senator Danforth became special envoy for President George W. Bush, he got the parties together and stayed in that room until they hammered out an agreement and it’s known as the comprehensive peace agreement, the CPA. That would have not have happened with Bush’s extraordinary efforts. The same thing happened in Northern Ireland where the troubles had killed thousands, the Protestants and the Catholics couldn’t have been poles apart, and in this case President Clinton tasked another U.S. Senator, former, who got the parties together, stayed in that room until came and hammered out the Good Friday agreement. But it took that high-level, personal interest on the part of the President of the United States, and that’s not to say some other world leader could play that role, but I think the President could play that role. So a special envoy with the idea of saying let’s solve this, because this could break out into a very hot war very quickly.