Crowley: US Should Not Reward Violence and Repression in Azerbaijan

WASHINGTON DC–Congressman Joseph Crowley (NY-07) expressed deep disappointment over the Bush Administration’s decision to extend its waiver of the Section 907 restriction on direct US assistance to Azerbaijan–in light of that government’s recent crackdown on political opposition–human rights violations against their own citizens–and the continued blockade of Armenia.

Human Rights Watch recently published a 61-page report–"Crushing Dissent: Repression–Violence–and Azerbaijan’s Elections," that documen’s hundreds of arbitrary arrests–widespread beatings and torture–and politically motivated job dismissals of members and supporters of the political opposition parties that have occurred since the October 15 presidential elections in Azerbaijan.

"The release of the Human Rights Watch Report shows that it was a mistake to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act and provide direct government-to-government aid to Azerbaijan when its so-called newly-elected government deliberately disregards the most basic norms of democracy and human rights and continues its economic blockade of neighboring Armenia," said Congressman Crowley. "President Bush has expressed his commitment to bring democracy to neighboring countries in the Middle East–but continues to reward through direct US taxpayer aid a government whose human rights standards have worsened. The foreign policy of the United States must reinforce our commitment to the basic principles of human rights and democracy globally and not on a case-by-case approach. With this quiet waiver–there are no incentives for the government of Azerbaijan to improve its practices and take immediate steps to end political repression. I strongly urge President Bush to re-examine this response to the current situation Azerbaijan."

President Bush recently granted Azerbaijan a waiver on adhering to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–that was enacted by Congress in 1992. This provision restricts certain types of direct government-to-government aid–including military aid–to Azerbaijan until it has ended its aggression and lifted its blockades against Armenia and Karabagh. This law does not prevent over $200 million in humanitarian–democracy-building–anti-crime–and anti-proliferation aid to Azerbaijan.

On October 2003–during elections marked by fraud and violence–the late President Heydar Aliyev’s son–Ilham Aliyev–was elected the new President of Azerbaijan. Since assuming this position–the new government of Azerbaijan has continued to implement a brutal campaign of political violence–repression–and intimidation. The Azerbaijani authorities have used the post-election violence as a pretext for a massive crackdown on the opposition parties and their supporters. Police arrested close to 1,000 people–including national leaders of the opposition–local opposition party members–as well as activists from nongovernmental organizations–journalists–election officials–and observers who have challenged the presidential elections.

On December 30–2003–President George W. Bush extended the waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–citing that it was "necessary to support United States efforts to counter international terrorism. . .necessary to support the operational readiness of United States Armed Forces or coalition partners to counter international terrorism. . .important to Azerbaijan’s border security; and will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia."

Congressman Crowley is currently serving his third term in Congress. In January 2003–he was selected to serve in the Democratic Leadership in the prestigious position of Chief Deputy Whip–making him the highest-ranking New York Member in the Democratic Leadership. He is a member of the Committee on Financial Services–the International Relations Committee–and the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues. In August of 2003–the Congressman visited Armenia–and discussed with political leaders the effects the Turkish and Azerbaijani economic blockades have had on the economy and people of Armenia.

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