Engelbert Humperdinck, the 75-year old chosen by the BBC to represent Britain at the Eurovision song contest, is more famous for such hits as “After the Lovin’” than for political campaigning. But some activists hope that when he showcases his crooning in Baku in Azerbaijan on May 26th, the event will be made memorable for another reason. With some 120m people expected to tune in, they want to highlight the country’s deteriorating human-rights record.
Azerbaijan’s government is spending a great deal of money tarting up its capital for the contest. The contest will take place in the new Baku Crystal Hall, a gleaming 23,000-seat arena. But a new report from Human Rights Watch highlights the abuses that were committed along the way. Local authorities expropriated houses and evicted residents with scant regard for due process or the rights of homeowners.
One family woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of bulldozers. They made it out of the building in one piece, but lost many of their belongings. Police broke down a door to arrest another family; by the time of their release five hours later, little remained of their home.
President Ilham Aliev hopes the event will serve as a celebration of Azerbaijan as it celebrates 21 years of independence. His government has spent millions of dollars on a public-relations campaign to boost the country’s standing. It is streamlining its unwieldy visa regime to encourage international visitors.
Indeed, Azerbaijan has come a long way since the dark days of the early 1990s, when the country fought a bitter war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. True, 13-16% of the country’s territory (depending on how you count) remains in Armenian control, the conflict remains frozen, and Azerbaijan hosts roughly 600,000 people displaced from their homes.
But huge oil revenues have led to a flurry of infrastructure and reconstruction projects. Social-welfare payments trebled between 2006 and 2010, and living standards have been boosted considerably as a result, according to the World Bank. Another newreport, from the International Crisis Group, describes how this wealth has benefited some of the displaced—even though many more need help.
FULL ARTICLE (The Economist)