Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 92

On April 29, Azerbaijan became a member of the UN Human Rights Commission. Azerbaijan’s representative to the United Nations, Yashar Aliev, described the vote as an “important step.” The election was held following a meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council, to which the Human Rights Commission reports. Although Latvia also competed for the seat allocated for East European countries, Azerbaijan received 31 votes against Latvia’s 23 votes. Only the East European race was conducted via secret voting. Other countries elected to fill the 15 vacant seats (United States, Argentine, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Venezuela, Austria, Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, China, and Germany) did so by acclamation. The membership term is expected to start on January 1, 2006, and will last for three years.

The UN Commission on Human Rights was established in 1946 and is charged with the establishment, elaboration, and implementation of human rights standards around the world. Members of the commission have the right to sponsor resolutions and help non-members of the commission to submit draft resolutions.

The Azerbaijani leadership has already declared that it plans to use the opportunity to convey the interests of Azerbaijani refugees to the international community. Azerbaijani politicians often consider this issue to be the most important one in the field of human rights in Azerbaijan.

Local experts believe that Baku will also attempt to utilize the UN venue to push its case regarding the Karabakh conflict. Several months ago, Azerbaijan changed its traditional loyalty to the OSCE’s Minsk group on the issue of peace negotiations for the Karabakh conflict and raised the matter of illegal settlement of Armenian families in the occupied territories before the UN Security Council. A vote was expected at that time, yet a behind-the-scenes compromise and agreement on the launch of an international fact-finding mission prevented it. The Armenian Foreign Ministry has accused Baku of diverting the peace process into other international bodies.

The Azerbaijani political leadership often refers to four UN Security Council resolutions, adopted in 1993, that demand the withdrawal of Armenian military forces from the occupied Azerbaijani regions in and around Karabakh. These resolutions create a sense of fairness and justice about the United Nations in the eyes of Azerbaijani politicians, which in turn leads to the warmer attitude toward the UN as opposed to other international organizations.

Yet, the UN Human Rights Commission itself presents not only diplomatic opportunities for Azerbaijan but also concrete challenges. Three years ago, major international human rights organizations were dismayed at Zimbabwe’s election to this same UN body, pointing to the poor human rights record of this African country. The same fate, although to a lesser extent, is expected for Azerbaijan. Overall, the Geneva-based commission has often been criticized for the poor human rights records of its members.

Just days after Azerbaijan’s election to the UN body, the U.S.-based human rights organization Freedom House declared Azerbaijan to be a “country with no freedom of the press.” Other human rights defenders point to the country’s problems with the freedom of assembly as well as reports of torture in Azerbaijani prisons.

Although, the Economic and Social Council is considered the second most important UN branch, after the Security Council, many analysts point to its ineffectiveness in resolving human rights problems around the world. It is not a coincidence that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as part of his recent efforts to reform the UN, has proposed abolishing this commission and, instead, creating a smaller permanent council composed of member states committed to tackling abuse throughout the world. “We have reached a point at which the commission’s declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations as a whole,” said Annan in April. The Secretary-General plans to push through his reform agenda by September.

This might hinder Azerbaijan’s plans to seek international assistance for its refugee and internally displaced persons crisis. Another challenge for Azerbaijan will be the presence of its archrival Armenia on the same commission, to which it was elected in 2001. Thus it is yet to be seen whether official Baku will be able to reap the fruits of its diplomatic victory.

(ASSA-Irada, Baku Today, Turan, APA News Agency, April 29-30)