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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Azerbaijan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Azerbaijan, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa32c.html [accessed 26 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.
AZERBAIJAN

 

Azerbaijan is a republic with a presidential form of government. Heydar Aliyev, who assumed presidential powers after the overthrow of his democratically elected predecessor, was elected President in 1993. He and his supporters, many from his home region of Naxcivan, dominate the Government and the multiparty, 125-member Parliament chosen in the November 12 elections. The new Constitution, approved by voters in November, established a tripartite system of government. It consists of an executive with strong presidential powers, a legislature with the power to approve the budget and impeach the President, and a judiciary with limited independence. Following years of interethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, forces of the self-styled "Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh" (which is not recognized by any government) occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory. While a cease-fire, and peace process continue, there are about 700,000 Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP's) who cannot return to their homes. In the part of Azerbaijan that the Government controls, government efforts to hinder the opposition hampers the transition to democracy. In the part of Azerbaijan that Armenians control, a tightly controlled, heavily militarized ruling structure is in place.

Police and the Ministry of National Security are entrusted with internal security. Despite the cease-fire, military operations continue to have an impact on the civilian population. There have been reports of cease-fire violations from both sides of the cease-fire line resulting in civilian injuries and deaths.

Azerbaijan has a state-controlled economy rich in oil, gas, and cotton. An informal private sector, operating outside official channels, but often with ties to persons in the Government, is an increasingly important part of the economy. An international oil consortium moved forward its plans to develop several oil fields with a decision in October to use multiple pipelines to ship oil to world markets. In November the Azerbaijanis and foreign oil companies created a new international consortium to develop an additional oil field. However, the economy continued to suffer due to: the continuing effects of the breakup of the former Soviet Union; lack of economic reform and privatization; the closure of the Russian border for much of the year; and partial closures of the Iranian border for several months. The continued burden of over 700,000 refugees and IDP's as well as the loss in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of significant amounts of productive agricultural land placed added strain on the economy. International assistance to the refugees and IDP's is critical to maintaining the population at the barest minimum standard of living. The Government is working with international financial institutions on a privatization program, which has not yet been implemented. Widespread corruption hampers economic development. The overall economic situation of the average citizen continued to deteriorate, although in urban areas a small monied class, with trade and oil-related interests, has emerged. In Armenian-controlled areas, the economy is primarily agricultural and contributions from abroad are an important supplement to the economy.

The Government's human rights record continued to be poor. During a March coup attempt, government forces continued firing on opposition forces after a white flag was raised, resulting in additional deaths. One opposition politician died while in jail, while others complained of receiving poor medical care. The security forces arbitrarily arrest, beat, and detain persons and conduct searches and seizures without warrants. Through threats and intimidation, they also inhibited opposition political parties from carrying out a full range of activities. Prison conditions are harsh. Journalists were imprisoned for publishing a satirical article about the President, although they were later pardoned. Political censorship continued although at lower levels than in 1994. Some opposition parties and candidates were prevented from running in elections as a result of questionable registration practices. The elections themselves were flawed by multiple voting, widespread instances of official intimidation and misconduct, and chaotic, nontransparent tabulation procedures. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/United Nations (OSCE/UN) Joint Electoral Observation Mission concluded that the elections "did not correspond to internationally accepted standards." Government interference in the elections restricted citizens' ability to change their government. The Government tolerates the existence of some opposition political parties. It has demonstrated, however, a disregard for the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and privacy when it has deemed it in its interest to do so. Societal discrimination and violence against women are problems. Insurgent Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories continued to prevent the return of IDP's to their homes. This resulted in significant human suffering for hundreds of thousands of people.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

A coup attempt in early March resulted in fighting between government and rebel forces and the deaths of government and rebel soldiers. On March 17, during fighting in Baku, opposition forces raised a white flag indicating a desire to surrender. However, government forces continued to fire, resulting in additional deaths.

On June 17, Shakhsultan Jafarov, former commander of the Naxcivan border guard, an activist of the opposition Azerbaijan

Popular Front (APF), and a Member of Parliament, was shot five times as he sat in his car while being arrested in connection with his alleged leadership of an illegal private militia. He died 2 weeks later, reportedly having been denied adequate medical care. No charges were levied against the perpetrators.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. All sides to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict still detain prisoners. In 1995 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegates visited 221 people held in relation to the conflict. A total of 150 were freed during the year; 39 by Azerbaijan, 47 by Armenia, and 64 being held in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the ICRC still visits 71 people held in connection with the conflict. These 71 comprise 65 Azeris being held in Nagorno-Karabakh, 4 Azerbaijanis held by Armenia, and 2 Armenians held by Azerbaijan. The ICRC repeatedly asked the concerned parties for notification of any person captured in relation to the conflict, access to all places of detention connected with the conflict, and release of all such persons. The ICRC also urged the parties to provide information on the fate of persons reported missing in action.

The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, a group connected to the Social Democratic Party, reports that by July it had visited 97 Azerbaijani prisoners of war in Nagorno-Karabakh. These prisoners were from 16 to 59 years of age. The group's report lists 929 prisoners whose locations are known out of 4,774 Azerbaijani citizens who are missing or known to have been taken prisoner in Nagorno-Karabakh. This number includes women, children, and elderly people in addition to soldiers.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Torture is illegal; however, the security forces' practice of beating prisoners during arrest and interrogation is widespread. On April 14, Farrukh Agaev was arrested and beaten by police for allegedly "reading (opposition-oriented) bulletins on a wall in Lenkoran." This is a typical example of complaints from those members of the political opposition who are detained by the Government.

Supporters of former Minister of Internal Affairs Iskendar Hamidov claim that Hamidov, convicted on charges of beating a journalist and stealing government funds, has been denied medical treatment for ulcers and kidney failure. In response to inquiries into Hamidov's medical treatment, the authorities reportedly investigated the matter and found that Hamidov was not being denied medical care.

Prison conditions are harsh. According to credible reports, food and housing are poor, and provisions for medical care are inadequate. There are repeated, credible allegations that prisoners are beaten. Rape in prisons does not appear to be common.

Various foreign embassies have petitioned the Government for permission to visit all prisons. In general, access to regular prisons for foreign officials is not a problem; however, access to those held in security prisons is denied.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrests made without legal warrant occur, and those arrested are normally brought to prison without notification of family members. It is often days before family members are able to obtain information as to whether someone has been arrested and where they are being detained. Family members do not enjoy the right of visitation. Such individuals are generally denied bail and often are not informed of the charges against them. Access to lawyers is often poor.

Police and security forces regularly detained and arrested persons in conjunction with government efforts to restrict freedom of the press and opposition political activities (see Sections 2.a. and 2.b.). Various local estimates put the number of prisoners and detainees currently under arrest on politically motivated charges at 70 to 100, compared with about 25 at the end of 1994. Former Foreign Minister Tofig Gasimov was arrested in October, immediately after his name was placed second on the election list of the opposition Musavat Party. He was charged with having been involved in preparations for the March coup attempt. The authorities had information about the alleged acts for months, and the timing of the arrest appeared linked to the announcement of his intention to participate in the elections. The head of a "social defense committee for bank customers' rights" was arrested on July 4, for having formally protested the refusal of several banks to honor the withdrawal requests of those with savings accounts. Ramis Zeynalov, a civil rights attorney, was arrested without a warrant by police who came to his apartment in the middle of the night.

Four journalists and two others involved in distributing a newspaper were convicted in October of defaming the President by publishing satirical material about him. The journalists spent 6 months in prison awaiting trial. The President pardoned them in November, just before the elections.

Azerbaijan does not practice forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for a judiciary with limited independence. Supreme and Constitutional Court judges are appointed by the President subject to confirmation by Parliament. Lower level judges are appointed directly by the President with no requirement for confirmation. Judges have not functioned independently from other branches of government. The judicial system has been subject to the influence of executive authorities and has been widely seen as corrupt and inefficient.

Courts of general jurisdiction may hear criminal, civil, and juvenile cases. District and municipal courts try the overwhelming majority of cases, but the Supreme Court may also act as the court of first instance, depending on the nature and seriousness of the crime. Azerbaijan's previous criminal justice system, including its courts, laws, and procedures, followed the Soviet model. The new Constitution adopted on November 12 made significant changes. These changes include introducing the presumption of innocence in criminal cases, an exclusionary rule barring the use of illegally obtained evidence, and numerous other rights. Those arrested or detained must be informed immediately of the charges against them. How the new Constitution will affect the operation of the criminal justice system remains to be seen.

Prosecutors, like the courts, are organized into offices at the district, municipal, and republic levels. They are ultimately responsible to the Attorney General, appointed by the President and confirmed by Parliament. While in the past, prosecutors were very influential, prosecutors and defense attorneys now by law have equal status before the courts. Prosecutors direct all criminal investigations, which are usually conducted by personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Cases at the district court level are tried before a panel consisting of one judge and two lay assessors. Judges frequently send cases unlikely to end in convictions back to the prosecutor for "additional investigation." Such cases may be either dropped or closed, occasionally without informing the court or the defendant.

By law, trials are to be publicly conducted except when government, professional, or commercial secrets, or family matters could be revealed. Defendants may confront witnesses and present evidence. The court appoints an attorney for indigent defendants. Defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal.

The statutory commitment to public trial has not always been upheld, for example, the trial of former Interior Minister Hamidov (see Section 1.c.) was closed to the public.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

It is widely believed that the Ministry of National Security monitors telephones, especially those of foreigners and prominent political and business figures. The police have periodically raided the offices and homes of opposition press and political parties and their leaders, allegedly searching for illegal weapons or other materials. Usually conducted without any sort of warrant, these investigations often result in the confinement of the person to the Baku city limits or a brief jail sentence for questioning.

During the summer, President Aliyev reportedly issued a decree that all highly placed government officials, as well as regional and municipal government officials and other employees must join his New Azerbaijan Party.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The new Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. However, there is no evidence yet that the Government will respect these rights in practice. Past practices have led journalists to exercise self-censorship. The Government officially censors the press for military purposes and subjects newspaper premises to searches and raids. In October the authorities closed the office charged with political censorship but left open a second censorship office. While opposition media reported a loosening of censorship, some articles continued to be censored, especially articles personally critical of the President. The arrest and conviction of journalists who published an article satirizing the President (see Section 1.d.) reinforced this message. The OSCE/UN Joint Electoral Observation Mission found that "Political censorship of party and independent newspapers...restricted the freedom of speech of political parties." Nevertheless, articles critical of government policy and of high government figures apart from the President do appear in the press. The press is able to publish articles about many controversial subjects such as the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, allegations of government rigging of the elections, and failure of government leadership in the economic field. Newspapers may be closed for 1 month if they violate military censorship rules which restrict publication of military secrets.

The number of newspapers remains quite large, with some estimates reaching 300 or more, including newspapers operated by major and minor opposition parties. The price of newsprint, exceeding world prices by 30 to 40 percent, has forced several of the most prominent newspapers to halt publication for various periods and has forced some papers out of business entirely. The state-run printing monopoly also has raised its prices and acted to keep certain opposition newspapers out of its distribution kiosks. Independent news distributors, however, continue to sell opposition papers.

The Government controls most radio and television, and the opposition has little access to the official electronic media. During the election campaign, opposition parties and candidates received free air time to campaign and a wide variety of views were voiced, including some strong, direct criticism of the Government. However, in at least three instances, opposition candidates' statements were censored in part.

There is an independent television station accessible only to the small number of Baku residents who own modern foreign-produced television sets. Bodyguards of the head of the state television and radio beat the head of this independent station earlier in 1995 in a clear attempt to harass the station off the air. There are about 10 other independent television stations in the country, but their operations are generally very limited. Independent radio is almost entirely entertainment oriented. Independent television and radio outlets are generally reluctant to air controversial political topics because they fear Government retaliation.

Correct political connections are a prime requisite for those seeking posts in government-controlled institutions, including universities. However, there are several professors with tenure who are active in opposition parties. There were no complaints of abuse of academic freedom, or of censorship of books or academic journals.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights. While the Government tolerates the existence of most opposition parties, it disregards the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association when it decides it is in its interest to do so. The authorities frequently denied or obstructed opposition requests for permits to hold demonstrations, and broke up "spontaneous" demonstrations. It used a state of emergency declared in response to a coup attempt in October 1994 to bar meetings until it was revoked in June. While opposition parties have been allowed to hold party congresses, some report arrests of party members who meet outside of Baku in groups as small as 10.

Reports of harassment by the Ministry of National Security of political and human rights figures continued. Before the elections, the authorities disallowed several attempts to hold rallies in Baku to protest irregularities in the registration process. No clear criteria are cited when denying such groups permission to assemble. When an opposition newspaper issued a call for journalists to meet to discuss the prospective sentencing of journalists for satirizing the President (see Sections 1.d. and 2.a.), police barricaded the street, and barred all visitors to the building, claiming that they had received a bomb threat. The editor of the newspaper was told that it was prohibited to call for such a meeting under the state of emergency, even though the state of emergency had been lifted several months earlier.

Associations other than political parties are generally allowed to function freely.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for no state religion and allows people of all faiths to practice their religion without restrictions. The Government respects this provision in practice with one exception: because of the forced departure of most of the Armenian population and anti-Armenian sentiment, Armenian churches remain closed. Other Christian groups can hold services and conduct religious education activities. Azerbaijan's Jewish community has similar freedom to worship and conduct educational activities.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The new Constitution provides for the right of all citizens to choose freely their place of domicile and to travel abroad. In 1995 the Government dropped the requirement for an exit visa to travel outside the country. The Ministry of National Security enforces a long-standing restriction zone in the southeast on the Iranian border from which all nonresidents are excluded. There have been sporadic efforts over the past year to insist that foreigners obtain visas to visit areas outside Baku. Residents of border areas in both Azerbaijan and Iran are allowed to travel across the border in this restricted zone without visas.

Prominent political and human rights leaders under criminal investigation are forbidden to leave the city boundaries of Baku. This limited their campaigning in the election period. This is true in the cases of Ali Karimov of the Azerbaijan Popular Front (charged with concealing hand grenades in his pockets), who is prevented from leaving the country. It is also true for Isa Gambar of the Musavat Party, (charged in the events leading to the overthrow of the Elcibey government in 1993), who cannot travel outside of Baku. Other political activists have suffered harassment when traveling beyond Baku to meet party delegations in the countryside or when visiting refugee camps.

The Government officially recognizes freedom of emigration. Jewish emigration to Israel continued, though it has slowed to a trickle. The remaining Armenian population in Azerbaijan is approximately 10,000 to 20,000, mostly people of mixed descent or in mixed marriages. There is no government policy of discrimination against Armenians, who are free to travel. Low-level officials seeking bribes often harass members of minorities wishing to emigrate.

The Government officially notified all draft-age men to be prepared for mobilization in July. During that time, men between 18 and 45 years of age were forbidden to travel beyond their city or regional limits. Guards at the borders and at the Baku airport were on alert, questioning any young men they found. Draft-age men must obtain documents from military officials before they can leave for international travel. All citizens wishing to travel abroad must obtain a passport.

The number of refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan is over 700,000. The Armenians have begun the settlement of Armenians in some of the occupied territories. However, the Armenians have not allowed the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis who were forced out of the now-occupied territories to return to their homes. These people continue to live in camps and other temporary shelters, often living at below-subsistence levels, without adequate food, housing, education, or medical care. All parties to the conflict have cut normal trade and transportation links to the other sides, causing severe hardship to civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, and the Azerbaijani exclave of Naxcivan.

The new Constitution provides for political asylum consistent with international legal norms. The Government is receptive to international assistance for refugees and cooperates with international organizations to provide aid for refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

In theory, the new election law and Constitution allow citizens to change their government by peaceful means. However, the Government's interference in the November 12 elections restricted citizens ability to peacefully change their government. The parliamentary elections were flawed, by, among other things, the banning of major opposition parties and candidates from the ballot through arbitrary application of signature requirements .

The November 12 parliamentary elections and concurrent constitutional referendum were carried out following a registration process that inhibited full participation and produced cynicism among the public. There were major problems during the party registration period in August. The Ministry of Justice initially decided not to register some parties because they opposed the Government. Following internal and international protests, almost all parties were registered. A Supreme Court ruling allowing the Communist Party to register was not issued, however, until mid-September. The Islamic Party, a prominent Iranian-controlled and -funded opposition party, was not registered to participate in the elections.

There were further problems when candidates and parties attempted to procure the necessary signatures (2,000 for individual candidates and 50,000 for parties) to qualify for the ballot. Several parties including the Musavat Party, a leading opposition party, and the Communist Party were ruled off the ballot based on the judgment of so-called handwriting experts. These experts disagreed among themselves as to when signatures were valid, international observers suggested that more objective and scientific methods be used to verify signatures. Large numbers of opposition candidates for district elections were similarly ruled off the ballot. Opposition parties claimed their most capable candidates were ruled off the ballot, while more marginal candidates remained. There were widespread, credible reports that some candidates were allowed on the ballot after paying bribes to local and election officials.

The elections themselves were carried out in an uneven manner. The reported turnout of 80 percent was much greater than that observed by election monitors. They reported turnout in the 40 percent range in most areas. Turnout was inflated by multiple voting, with many instances of males voting for the entire family and local housing officials casting ballots for groups of residents. Election officials filled out ballots themselves in order to meet a perceived need to report high turnouts. The counting procedures at the district level were chaotic, with no effective control over ballots. In many instances local observers were barred from polling places for part of the day or during the counting process. This led to suspicions that votes were falsified. Local election results were not reported publicly, and the Central Election Commission only announced final results after a lapse of a week. There were many instances of local officials working hard to carry out free and fair elections, and independent and party monitors worked to ensure a democratic process. Overall, however, the elections were flawed and mark only an initial step in a long process toward democracy in Azerbaijan.

The final composition of the 125-member Parliament will not be determined until after special elections in February 1996--most members of Parliament likely will be either members of the President's party, or nominal independents closely aligned with the President. Several of the other parties represented in Parliament are also close to the President. There will be few opposition members. Opposition parties continue to be active outside the legislature, agitating for their views in their newspapers and through public statements.

There are no legal restrictions on women's participation in politics. However, traditional social norms restrict women's roles in politics. Men continued to vote for their wives and other female members of their families, an abuse that was widely noted in the November parliamentary elections. The number of women members of Parliament remains to be determined along with the final composition of the Parliament. Currently the acting Minister of Justice and the Education Minister are the only women of ministerial rank.

There are no restrictions on the participation of minorities in politics as individuals. However, explicitly ethnically or religiously based parties were prohibited from participating in the November elections. Minority groups have in the past been able to form regional groups in Parliament. Indigenous ethnic minorities such as the Talysh and Lezyhis fill some senior government positions; the deputy defense minister is Lezyhi; and the head of the electoral commission is Talysh.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government welcomed a joint OSCE/UN monitoring mission for the elections and provided monitors with countrywide access. The ICRC has had access to prisoners of war held in regular prisons but not to those held in special prisons.

The local human rights community is still largely composed of individuals rather than well-developed organizations. Some of these individuals are beginning to organize groups as they grow in stature and experience as evidenced by the appearance of over a dozen women's groups. These organizations and their leaders are subject to harassment, searches of their homes, and arrest. Attorneys who represent those charged with political offenses have been arrested and held for periods of several months in apparent retaliation for their active defense of their clients.

However, the Government has met with delegations from human rights organizations. Several local nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) have been formed to assist refugees and to carry out humanitarian activities. During the November election campaign, a local NGO produced an independent monitoring bulletin which reported on election-related rights violations and abuses in Baku. Several human rights groups investigate human rights abuses and disseminate their findings through the local media and the internet.

The Government has also opened its own NGO-style organizations, such as the Women's Rights Organization headed by President Aliyev's daughter. This organization received government support and funds, whereas other independent, prominent women's rights' activists did not.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The new Constitution provides for equal rights irrespective of nationality, religion, gender, national origin, social status, or political views. While it is to early to tell how effectively the new Constitutions provisions will be carried out, in the wake of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh there are strong anti-Armenian sentiments in society.

Women

Discussion of violence against women is a taboo subject in Azerbaijan's patriarchal society. In rural areas, women have no real recourse against violence by their husbands, regardless of the law. Rape is severely punishable, but, especially in rural areas, only a small fraction of offenses against women are reported or prosecuted. Police sources indicate that there are about 200 cases annually of crimes of violence against women. These figures probably reflect underreporting, especially from the conservative rural areas. Crime levels, in general, have risen considerably due to the flood of refugees to the cities and the economic crisis of the past few years.

Women nominally enjoy the same legal rights as men, including the right to participate in all aspects of economic and social life. In general, women have extensive opportunities for education and work. However, traditional social norms continue to restrict women's roles in the economy. In general, representation of women is sharply lower in higher levels of the work force. There are few or no women in executive positions in leading businesses.

The Association for the Defense of Rights of Azerbaijan Women spends most of its time fighting uniquely post-Soviet problems. It has helped widows whose landlords "privatized" their apartments and then forced them to move out. It also works with divorced women who feel cheated by the divorce court.

Children

The Constitution and laws commit the Government to protecting the rights of children to education and health, difficult economic circumstances limit the Government's ability to carry out the commitments. The Constitution places children's rights on the same footing as adults. The Criminal Code prescribes severe penalties for crimes against children. The Government has attempted to shield families against economic hardship in the wake of price liberalization by authorizing child subsidies. The subsidies do not come close to covering the shortfall in family budgets, and the Government does not have the financial means to meet its new commitments. There are a large number of refugee and displaced children living in unhealthy conditions in refugee campsites. Children beg on the streets of Baku and other towns in Azerbaijan.

People with Disabilities

The law on support for invalids, enacted in late 1993, prescribes priority for invalids and the disabled in obtaining housing, as well as discounts for public transport, and pension supplements. The Government does not have the means in its current financial crisis to make good on its commitments. There are no special provisions in law mandating accessibility to buildings for the disabled.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The outbreak of hostilities and anti-Armenian riots led to the expulsion of many Armenians and the departure of others. Estimates put the current Armenian population at 10,000 to 20,000. With the almost complete departure of the Armenian population there have been far fewer problems reported by ethnic minorities. Those Armenians who have not left are for the most part of mixed descent, in a mixed marriage, or have changed their nationality, as reported in their passports and documents, to Azerbaijani. As a result of the war, there is a high level of animosity towards Armenians among much of the general population.

Nonindigenous minorities, such as the Kurds of the Lachin region and the displaced Meskhetian Turks, occasionally reported problems of discrimination. The latter, Turks originally from the Black Sea coast of Georgia, have been spread throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus, and want to return to their original homeland. While they suffer from economic hardship as much as any others in Azerbaijan, they are receiving help from the Government.

Indigenous ethnic minorities such as the Talysh and Lezghis do not suffer discrimination.

In the area of the country controlled by insurgent (Armenian) forces, about 500,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis have been forced to flee their homes. The regime that now controls the contested areas has effectively banned ethnic Azerbaijanis from all aspects of civil, political, and economic life.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Most labor unions still operate as they did under the Soviet system and remain highly dependent on the Government. The new Constitution provides for freedom of association, including the right to form labor unions. However, most industrial and white-collar workers are organized into one or another sub-branch of the Azerbaijani Labor Federation, run by the Government (which also still owns most major industries). There is at least one independent labor union, the Independent Oil Workers Union, which is active in voicing the demands of the oil workers.

There are no restrictions on strikes nor provisions for retribution against strikers. Oil workers conducted a 10-day strike in late August, demanding back pay. The strike ended when the workers received assurances that they would meet with the President. However, after the meeting took place, the workers' demands for payment were not met. In general, there are no established mechanisms to avoid such wildcat strikes.

Unions are free to form federations and to affiliate with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining remains at a rudimentary level. Government-appointed boards and directors run the major enterprises and set wages. Unions do not participate in determining wage levels. In a carryover from the Soviet system, both management and workers are considered members of the professional unions.

There are no export processing zones, although there is a U.N. Development Program-supported effort underway to create such a zone in Sumgayit.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is allowed by the Constitution only in case of martial law. It is not known to have been practiced. Two departments in the prosecutor's office (the Department of Implementation of the Labor Code and the Department for Oversight Over Minors) enforce the prohibition on forced or compulsory labor.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum employment age is 16 years. Children of age 14 are allowed to work during vacations with the consent of their parents and certification of a physician. Children of age 15 may work if the workplace's labor union does not object. There is no explicit restriction on the kinds of labor that children of age 15 may perform with union consent. The Labor Ministry has primary enforcement responsibility for child labor laws. With high adult unemployment, there have been few, if any, complaints of abuses of child labor laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets the nationwide administrative minimum wage by decree, and raised it several times because of inflation. As of September 1, the minimum wage was approximately $1.20 (5,500 manat) per month. The recommended monthly wage level to meet basic subsistence needs was estimated to be $70.00 (310,000 manat). There seems to be no active mechanism to enforce the minimum wage. Since most people actually earn more than the minimum wage, this is not presently a major issue in labor or political debate.

The disruption of trade links with the rest of the former Soviet Union continues to affect unemployment in many industries. Idle factory workers typically receive a small fraction--less than half--of their former wage. Under these conditions more and more rely on the extended family's safety net. This usually ends in a police officer, customs official, or government official of some level whose "side income" may support many family members. Still more turn to moonlighting such as operating the family car as a taxi, reselling bread on the street, or selling the modest produce from one's private garden. Using some combination of these and other strategies is the only way it is possible, though still difficult, for broad sectors of the urban population to reach the subsistence income level.

The legal workweek is 41 hours. There is a 1-hour lunch break per day and shorter breaks in the morning and afternoon.

Health and safety standards exist, but they are mostly ignored in the workplace.

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