David Kramer: "US" putting Azeri election behind is a big mistake"

Now that Azerbaijani presidential campaign is over, senior American officials headed to Baku to discuss the prospect of the bilateral relations and the ways forward.

But the leading human rights watchdog in Washington DC urges that Administration shouldn't be turning in its back onmass election frauds and rights violations.

"After hesitation over recognizing the results of the elections, it seems, that the international community is resigning itself to dealing with the Aliyev regime," David Kramer, president of Freedom House, said on Wednesday, speaking in front of the audience of Johns Hopkins University. 

"One of the US officials who are traveling to Azerbaijan this week said in our recent meetings that wekind of put the elections behind:In my view, that's a big mistake, because I would argue that IlhamAliyev doesn't have a legitimacy, that he could have, had he permitted free and fair elections,"he emphasized.

Backing the OSCE assessment to the October 9 vote which declared it not 'free and fair', the Obama administration fiercely debated how to respond to the election, with some officials favoring a strong condemnation of the results. 

The White House ultimately settled on a tempered statement on November 8, emphasizing themutual partnership between the two countries would achieve its "full potential" if Azerbaijan bolstered democratic reforms "to deepen respect for the universal freedoms of association, assembly, and expression; to promote political pluralism and judicial independence; and to strengthen the electoral system."

In his speech on the human rights declines in the Eurasia region, Kramer said on Wednesday thatAzerbaijan "has actually gone worse than Belarus this year."

"We've seen the worse crack down against civil society, against journalists. What they've done in particular to one RFE'RL journalist and imprisoning opposition figures:I think Aliyev and those around himare scared, and are engaged in the kind of activities that were unnecessary, but certainly inexcusable,"he said.

For Freedom House president,Azerbaijan is on the wrong path because Aliyev"shows zero respect for human rights."

"It's a concern for us, because we place a lot of emphasis on the importance of Azerbaijan, the security, energy issues, etc.But if Aliyevcontinue this crack-down, I would argue that people in Azerbaijan would feel that they don't have any choices and options but to resort to more extremist options, which isn't in his interest."

Speaking about the reasons behind human rights declining in the region, Kramer said, the problem is in the corrupted increasingly authoritarianleaders,"who also don't have respect for human rights in the countries and essentially focus on staying in power at any cost".

"Part of the problem with Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan is that these leaders come to power not in the interest of serving for the great of good, but in the interest of serving for their own interests. And in fact serving for their own interests is harming their country," he emphasized, adding that by undermining electoral political processes the governments become more human rights abusers."

Speaking on Ukraine uprisings, Kramer called for the imposition of targeted sanctions against President Viktor Yanukovych and his family. "Yanukovych has never cared about integrating his country into Euro-Atlantic institutions, unless it would help him personally,"he said.

In Belarus, he argued, the western sanctions have not been effective, because Lukashenko"doesn't feel that the sanctions are important:Sanctions are largely psychological as much as they are financial and economical."

In the meantime, Kramer added, yet, the activists in all these countries "still look up to us for support."

"I was in Turkey recently and I saw that there was criticism of the West, but mostly focused on Obama: That he did not use his relationship with Erdogan to address the human rights problems in Turkey."

Washington, DC

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