The adventures of Formula 1 in Bahrain have taught us to be very careful of human rights organisations and the credibility of their reports. Sport is sport and it is best to avoid putting a sport into a position where it becomes a political issue. One can argue that giving Russian President Vladimir Putin special privileges at the Grand Prix in Sochi was not perhaps the best way to give F1 a better image. It is clear that the creed in F1 circles is dictated by money, but it is also true that if human rights is brought up, there is scarcely a nation on earth which does not have someone somewhere arguing that the country abuses human rights. There are certainly plenty of claims about the ruling family of Azerbaijan, but this seems to have made no great impression on the Formula One group, which now has a policy that commits it to respect human rights.
“The Formula One Group is committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally,” the statement says. “Whilst respecting human rights in all of our activities, we focus our efforts in relation to those areas which are within our own direct influence. We do so by taking proportionate steps to understand and monitor through our due diligence processes the potential human rights impacts of our activities; identify and assess, by conducting due diligence where appropriate, any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts with which we may be involved either through our own activities or as a result of our business relationships, including but not limited to our suppliers and promoters; consider practical responses to any issues raised as a result of our due diligence, within the relevant context; engage in meaningful consultation with relevant stakeholders in relation to any issues raised as a result of our due diligence, where appropriate; and respect the human rights of our employees, in particular the prohibitions against forced and child labour, the freedom to associate and organise, the right to engage in collective bargaining, and the elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation.”
In other words, F1 commits itself to doing “due diligence” and deciding whether human rights are a problem. Hmmm…
The Sports for Rights campaign, a self-styled “coalition of international organisations working together to draw attention to the unprecedented human rights crackdown taking place in Azerbaijan” held a media briefing and called on the sport “to improve Formula One’s image…rather than just profiting and helping some very corrupt people improve their image a bit.”
Rebecca Vincent, the coordinator of the campaign. said that campaigners want singers Pharrell Williams, Chris Brown and Enrique Iglesias to cancel performances scheduled for the race weekend.
It is claimed that Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev and his government silence critics in order to stay in power. Who does one believe?
Human Rights Watch says that “Azerbaijan’s government has escalated repression against its critics, marking a dramatic deterioration in an already poor rights record. In recent years , dozens of human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists, and bloggers have been arrested or imprisoned on politically motivated charges, prompting others to flee the country or go into hiding.”
Amnesty International ‘s Azerbaijan 2015/2016 report makes grim reading, claiming that “the crackdown on civil society and persecution of political dissent continued. Human rights organizations remained unable to resume their work. At least 18 prisoners of conscience remained in detention at the end of the year. Reprisals against independent journalists and activists persisted both in the country and abroad, while their family members also faced harassment and arrests. International human rights monitors were barred and expelled from the country. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment persisted.”
The Central Intelligence Agency keeps an eye on all these things are its observations are interesting.
“Corruption in the country is widespread,” it says, “and the government, which eliminated presidential term limits in a 2009 referendum, has been accused of authoritarianism.”
Critics will say that the Americans would say that, but generally I find the CIA assessments to be fairly sensible. The British Foreign Office warns only about muggings which occur “from time to time after dark in the centre of town around the western bars and clubs”. The French Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, on the other hand, warns travellers to leave their passports in a safe place and always keep copies, just in case. It also warns visitors to make sure that they watch credit card transactions to make sure that the card stays in full view all the time.
The best answer in all these matters is to go and see what it is like. Hopefully, President Aliyev will not turn up in the cool down room after the race.