Azerbaijan Civil Society Letter to BP

Bob Dudley,
1 St James’s Square,

17 September 2014

Dear Mr Dudley

Twenty years ago BP led a group of international oil companies in signing the Contract of the Century with Heydar Aliyev. The signing of this contract marked the start of your twenty-year relationship with the Aliyevs, a relationship which has been entrenched through many more contracts. This relationship has brought significant wealth and power to both yourselves and the Aliyev regime. Your role in Azerbaijan has been pivotal and your activities there have hindered the development of democracy in our country.

Azerbaijani civil society is using the 20th anniversary of the Contract of the Century to draw attention to your damaging long term relationship with the Aliyev regime. Throughout the past twenty years repression in Azerbaijan has steadily increased. The regime has held onto power for two decades through a combination of fraudulent elections, arresting opposition candidates, beating protesters and curtailing media freedom. Today there are 98 political prisoners in jail and many other human rights defenders are being threatened with arrest. Emin Huseynov, Director of the Institute for Reporter’s Freedom and Safety, is currently being targeted by the prosecutors office. He, and other human rights activists, are in urgent need of protection to ensure they don’t also go to jail.

The most recent arrests included prominent activists Leyla and Arif Yunus whose work included monitoring political prisoners and promoting dialogue between Azerbaijani and Armenian communities; human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev; and Rasul Jafarov who led the Sing for Democracy campaign which attracted international attention during the 2012 Eurovision Song contest. Recently he began the Sports for Rights campaign targeting the Baku 2015 European Olympic Games – which you are sponsoring.

Rasul Jafarov has just turned 30 in jail. He was 10 years old when the Contract of the Century was signed. It was a contract that would shape his life. Courageous human rights defenders, like Rasul, are in jail because of the regime you had a key role in creating. Mirvari Gahramanli from the Oil Workers Right Protection Organisation union explains the impact of your relationship with Aliyev,

“BP is where the president got his power from. What is he without the money? Where is his wealth, where are his police, without BP’s money? The Aliyevs have grown rich from BP and now as a result they have much more power.”

As you’ve stayed in the country your money and support for the Aliyev regime has given it power and confidence. As Rasul explained just one month before his arrest:

“Before the oil and gas incomes came to Azerbaijan we had more democracy and freedom. The main income from oil came in 2006 when the Baku-Tibilsi-Ceyhan pipeline started to operate. And from that time the situation started to deteriorate. We have problems with journalists and religious believers being arrested – if you criticise the government you can be easily interrogated and prosecuted under fabricated charges”

The hydrocarbon revenues created through your activities have entrenched the Aliyev regime, providing them with the finance needed to pay security forces and establish a secure income base (meaning they don’t have to listen to citizens voices because they are not reliant on those citizens for a tax base).

Corruption is a key part of the how the Aliyev regime functions. The money from the oil industry was supposed to be controlled by the State Oil Fund for Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), which was intended to finance the transition of our economy away from oil and to ensure the wealth was kept for future generations. Instead much of it has been pumped into over-priced construction projects. Intentional price inflation enables companies to make large amounts of money from construction projects and much of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas revenue ends up in offshore bank accounts. Investigations by Azerbaijani journalists- like Khadija Ismailova have linked these companies to the Azeri elite – including the President and his family. The 2014 IMF country report on Azerbaijan sets out a devastating analysis of resource dependency. Oil dependency and fiscal vulnerabilities are rapidly increasing, thanks to the regime’s high spending. Despite its huge wealth – our country might be running out of money, leaving nothing for future generations.

The situation in Azerbaijan has never been worse. As a company that supports the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights it is time for BP to rethink it’s relationship with Azerbaijan. This is why we as members of Azeri civil society are now demanding:

1. That you call on the Aliyev regime to release all 98 political prisoners and in particular raise the cases of Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev. In addition ask for assurances that other human rights defenders, such as Emin Huseynov, won’t be arrested.
2. That you end your sponsorship of the 2015 European Olympic games in Baku. This event is being used to legitimise Aliyev’s violent regime among the international community. We are therefore calling on sponsors to withdraw their support.

We, the undersigned, are asking you to use the 20th anniversary of the Contract of the Century to reconsider your relationship with the Aliyev regime. As long as BP is working hand in hand with this repressive regime to extract our country’s hydrocarbons you are enabling repression and the corrupt use of our resources. Until a democratic and accountable government is in power we call on you to cease your activities in our country, in recognition of the detrimental impact they have had.

Your sincerely

Azeribaijan Civil Society groups and individuals:

1. Rasul Jafarov, politcal prisoner
2. Gulnara Akhundova, human rights defender
3. Gunay Ismayilova, human rights defender
4. Mirvari Gahramanli, Azerbaijan’s Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Organization
5. Khadija Ismayilova, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
6. Aynur İmranova, Support for Development of Democracy and Media
7. Aynur Elgunesh, journalist
8. Farhad Musa, citizen
9. Yashar Khudiyev, citizen
10. Sports for Rights
11. Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
12. Cllr Murad Gassanly, Westminster City Council. Former Policy Advisor and Special Representative of Azerbaijan National Council  Chair and 2013 presidential candidate Jamil Hasanli

Signed by the below groups and individuals from European civil society in support of the demands of the Azerbaijani civil society groups.

13. Ramute Remezaite, human rights lawyer
14. Platform London
15. Crude Accountability
16. Gabriel Levy, People & Nature
17. Urgewald
18. Index on Censorship
19. Article 19
20. Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business
21. Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
22. Spinwatch
23. Green Alternative
24. Bankwatch
25. Counterbalance
26. Re:common
27. BothEnds