Azerbaijan and Syria: this weekend’s faces of human rights abuse

I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of the Eurovision Song contest, mainly because I struggle to cope with the high level of cheese content, but being a dutiful European I sat through three quarters of it on Saturday night before my brain decided it had had enough and I fell asleep.

Part of the reason I made the effort to  watch it was to see how much mention there would be of Azerbaijan’s human rights record, which is far from being perfect.  Even in the build up to the competition protesters had been detained in full view of international journalists.  This Guardian article outlines many of the human rights problems in Azerbaijan and Krish Kandiah has also pulled together some information including this infographic:

Eurovision were unsurprisingly quiet over the whole issue although at least Foreign media were guaranteed uncensored reporting rights for the duration of the competition –  something that local media do not enjoy.  Over the course of the whole event broadcast only the presenter delivering the German voting results made a dissenting comment saying, “Tonight nobody could vote for their own country but it is good to be able to vote and it is good to have a choice. Good luck on your journey Azerbaijan, Europe is watching you.”  This was in reference to the lack of fair elections in Azerbaijan since its current president, Haidar Aliyev took power in a coup in 1993.

The BBC has made an effort to balance its broadcasting with last Monday’s Panorama programme on Azerbaijan’s human rights issues and Graham Norton managed to get in a few subtle comments during the show too.

So should any more have happened? Should anyone have boycotted the show? How much of a fuss should have been made?  At an individual level we can easily feel that what we think makes no difference.  At best we can be informed so that any propaganda that came out of Azerbaijan’s hosting of Eurovision is seen in the appropriate context.  For the Eurovision committee the dilemma is whether to make any sort of statement or take any action.  It’s the same sort of problem that the Olympics organisers are having with dealing with the Syrian regime.  If they were to take action then the problem is where do they draw the line?  Other Eurovision countries have flaws in their human rights record and if you single out one country because it is hosting, doesn’t that let others off the hook?

The least that we should have expected is for our media to have informed us and the world of what is going on in Azerbaijan and for our government to acknowledge the situation to raise awareness when Europe’s eyes were fixed on Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital.  You’ve got to say that in this time round our media didn’t let us down.  Now that the Eurovision circus is over for another year, if more people are educated about Azerbaijan and have seen the injustices there then in the long run hopefully a lingering spotlight will be shining on President Aliyev that will remind him that the world is now watching a little but closer.

Having gone through most of the Eurovision show with a slightly bad taste in my mouth, later that night I felt physically sick when I heard of the slaughter that had taken place in Houla, Syria.  The news that has been coming from Syria has continued to shock, but this report of children and adults being massacred was the worst yet that I’ve seen.

The only potentially good thing that has come out from Syria this weekend has been the galvanising of international opinion against the Syrian regime and the need for an effective resolution to the violence.   The United Nations (UN) condemned the attack on  Houla as an “outrageous act of force”.  Russia who are staunch allies of Syria are now increasingly isolated and struggling to justify their support.

Although human rights abuses in Azerbaijan are concerning and need to be exposed, compared to what is going on in Syria at the moment, in some respects they are pretty tame.  At times like this we have to put our trust in the politicians and the UN, not because we do necessarily trust them to do the right thing, but because there is no alternative.  As individuals we can petition our government, although in this case they do appear to be making a big effort to act.  William Hague is expected to have pressed his Russian counterpart on the Syrian crisis during his visit to Moscow today.  We can also support the work of human rights organisations such as Amnesty International or Christian ones such as Barnabas Fund and Open Doors working on the ground in Syria and those of us who pray can pray hard.

One thing I’ve been reminded of again this weekend is how blessed we are to live in a country as stable free and open as ours. Certainly it’s not perfect and there is plenty that could be better, but how many countries are there that we would rather live in around the world?

The danger when life is relatively easy is that we begin to take things for granted and also that little issues can become big ones as we lose perspective on our situation.

When you’re being shot at and your friends and family are dying around you, the only human right on your mind is the one to be allowed to live.  The last thing you’re likely to be thinking is whether prisoners are having their human rights denied by not being allowed to vote.

There are fundamental human rights that we all deserve.  After that there are a whole load more that aren’t really human rights.  They’re just privileges.  Human rights are about what humanity needs to function and work as a society.  They apply to everyone, not just the few.  When selfishness and self-interest come before the good of society then we’re outside the arena of human rights.

Take a look at President Assad and President Aliyev and you’ll see the consequences of selfishness coming before the interests of others.  It’s in places like these that we really understand what human rights or the lack of them are all about.  Those of us who have it easy shouldn’t lose sight of that.

If you want to examine a Christian understadning of human rights and you’ve got your brain plugged in, then this article from the Jubilee Centre is a good place to start.



Categories: Human rights, Justice, Persecution

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. As long as we can have a cheap hot pasty, all is well in the world. That is what makes life worth living, is it not???

    • You would think that by the antics of our ‘leaders’. Though to be fair Hague has tried his best to keep dialect going. But good point Tracywb.

  2. “Take a look at President Assad and President Aliyev and you’ll see the consequences of selfishness coming before the interests of others. It’s in places like these that we really understand what human rights or the lack of them are all about. Those of us who have it easy shouldn’t lose sight of that.” Absolutely agree with this.

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