Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Azerbaijan
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Author||Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders|
|Publication Date||19 June 2008|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Azerbaijan, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/486466895f.html [accessed 23 October 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The year 2007 in Azerbaijan was marked by such a serious deterioration of human rights that in August 2007, during a session of the European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights devoted to the European Neighbourhood Policy, the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan was described as "unacceptable" for the European Union .1 In May 2007, the Institute for Peace and Democracy had also called on the Council of Europe to adopt sanctions against Azerbaijan because of the worsening situation of human rights in the country.
The situation of prisons in Azerbaijan has remained a matter of particular concern. In April 2007, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe thus adopted Resolution No. 1545 on Azerbaijan's compliance with its obligations, which emphasised the "persistent allegations of torture and poor treatment perpetrated mainly by law enforcement officials during police custody or preliminary investigation",2 a practice which remains largely unpunished. In June 2007, 38 inmates of the Qobustan prison who were previously sentenced to death carried out a hunger strike to alert the authorities on their detention conditions and to demand the implementation of the resolution, which also calls on the authorities to review the detainees' sentences on a case-by-case basis. On November 18, 2007, Ms. Faina Kungurova, 33 years old and a member of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, was found dead at the central prison hospital, where she had been admitted a month before. Her death would have been caused by malnutrition.
In 2007, freedom of expression has also been particularly restrained: pressure on the media intensified and several independent journalists who were critical of President Aliev's administration were sentenced to long prison sentences for "defamation," "encouraging terrorist acts" or even "hooliganism." In this regard, Mr. Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, reminded President Aliev during his visit to Azerbaijan in April 2007 that Azerbaijan sadly held the record for the number of imprisoned journalists among OSCE countries, and called for a moratorium on criminal convictions of journalists. In response, the President included in his Presidential Pardon Decree the names of five journalists sentenced in 2006 and 2007. The Council of Europe and OSCE welcomed this gesture indicating, however, that other journalists should also be released.
Improvement in the legislative environment surrounding human rights defenders' activities
Although the human rights situation remains particularly preoccupying in the country, progress has been observed in 2007 in terms of legislation and institutional reform. In December 2007, the creation of a Council of State support to NGOs was announced. It will consist of 11 members, including eight NGO representatives and four persons appointed by the President. Each member of the Board will oversee a special theme on human rights. It remains to be seen whether the institution will have genuine independence and be given concrete means to improve the situation of human rights.
On December 15, 2007, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe discussed the draft amendments to the Azerbaijani law on freedom of assembly and agreed that the draft contained a number of significant improvements that will enable this law, if passed, to conform to European standards. The Commission nevertheless stressed that "due implementation of the law will then be crucial".3
However, NGOs still face difficulties in obtaining registration: in 2007, the European Court of Human Rights examined five complaints filed by several NGOs, including a housing organisation in Baku, which filed suit against Azerbaijan because of refusal of registration. One complaint was declared admissible, two complaints led to the conviction of Azerbaijan, the fourth case was settled out of court and one case was dismissed because of the death of the complainant.
Increased repression against defenders of freedom of expression
Attacks on freedom of expression intensified in 2007 and human rights defenders who denounced the repressive measures used against independent journalists were regularly pressured. For example, in December 2007, the police raided the office of the Resource Centre on Human Rights, the only human rights NGO that exists in the autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan. This raid was linked to the arrest of Mr. Ilgar Nasibov, the husband of the chairwoman of the Centre, Mrs. Malakhat Nasibova, and correspondent for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, who was accused of defamation against the police. The police seized the computers and all the working documents of the Centre. After a wave of protests in Azerbaijan and abroad, Mr. Nasibov was released in December 2007. Throughout the year, members of the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety (IRFS), a media-monitoring organisation, have been subjected to acts of reprisal by the police and security services.
Demonstrations for freedom of the press have also been violently dispersed in a systematic manner by the police. On June 14, 2007, nearly 50 journalists demonstrated in Baku to protest against the pressure of the authorities on the press. One person was wounded during the intervention of the police.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
1 See August 27, 2007 hearing of the European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights, during which the issue of human rights in Azerbaijan was raised, among other issues.
2 See Resolution No. 1545 (2007) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, April 16, 2007.
3 See Opinion on the draft amendments to the law on freedom of assembly of Azerbaijan, adopted by the Venice Commission at its 73rd plenary session, Venice, December 14-15, 2007.