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Energy deal with Azerbaijan should prioritise human rights

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to use her visit to Azerbaijan and campaign against the government’s “vicious attack on human rights”.

In a letter published in The Financial Times, HRW Europe Director Hugh Williamson said Merkel “should make it clear that Europe’s energy policy is not a rights-free zone”.

Azerbaijan is Merkel’s final stop on a three-day tour to the South Caucasus that started in Georgia before moving on to Armenia.

Williamson pointed out that Merkel “appears intent” on using her visit to Azerbaijan, which is a major stakeholder in two of the corridor’s gas pipelines,  to signal support for the southern gas corridor, which would bring Caspian Sea gas to Europe.

This pipeline is 10% owned by SOCAR, the Azerbaijani State Oil Company, which has an 18 year exclusivity agreement to supply Malta’s power station with LNG.

It purchases LNG from Shell and then sells it to Electrogas, the consortium operating the new power station, which in turn sells it to Enemalta in a deal that saw Malta paying twice the market price, The Guardian had revealed. Electrogas is one third owned by SOCAR.

In her meetings in Azerbaijan, Merkel is being pressured to urge President Ilham Aliyev to end his government’s vicious attack on human rights, especially because this should have a bearing on Germany’s and the EU’s energy ties with Baku.

“Azerbaijan’s five-year campaign to silence its critics has included jailing activists and journalists on politically motivated criminal charges, imposing far-reaching restrictions on non-governmental organisations, and harassing critics’ families. Activists working to fight corruption and improve governance in Baku’s energy sector have been among those targeted,” he said.

These violations contradict the core human rights principles that should underpin German and EU foreign policy. Yet the European Investment Bank, owned by EU member states, this year approved a €1.5billion loan for building one of the southern gas corridor pipelines, without any human rights safeguards, he pointed out.

EU officials have chosen to minimise the inconvenient truth that its energy policy is propping up a government that systematically violates human rights. Merkel should make it clear that Europe’s energy policy is not a rights-free zone, Williamson said.

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