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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Azerbaijan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Azerbaijan, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
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 is a republic with a presidential form of government. Heydar Aliyev, a former Communist Party First Secretary of Azerbaijan and Soviet Politburo member, assumed presidential powers after the 1993 overthrow of his democratically elected predecessor, Abulfez Elcibey, and was elected President in October 1993. He and his supporters dominate the Government and the 52-member Milli Maclis (National Council), which exercises parliamentary powers.

Police and the Ministry of National Security are entrusted with internal security. They were responsible for widespread human rights abuses, including beating and detaining persons arbitrarily, conducting searches and seizures without warrants, and suppressing peaceful demonstrations.

Azerbaijan has a state-controlled economy rich in oil, gas, and cotton. The economy continued to deteriorate in 1994 because of the conflict with the Armenians over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Government has not effectively replaced or restored the trade links with the rest of the former Soviet Union.

There were widespread human rights abuses in 1994, some of which arose out of the continuing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Both sides used artillery and rocket fire indiscriminately against civilian targets, and Azerbaijanis also mounted air attacks against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Both sides have thus far respected the cease-fire negotiated in May. The Government waged a harsh campaign to suppress the political opposition and to censor the press. Security authorities beat detainees and demonstrators and arrested persons arbitrarily. While the Government tolerates the existence of independent media and political parties, it has demonstrated a disregard for the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association when it has deemed it in its interest to do so. Although harassment of ethnic Armenians outside Nagorno- Karabakh--by individual Azerbaijanis rather than as deliberate government policy--has subsided considerably, that community continues to live in fear and uncertainty.


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

a. Political and Extrajudicial Killing

On the night of September 29, gunmen killed two high-ranking Azerbaijani officials: Afiyaddin Jalilov, Vice Speaker of the Parliament, and Shamsi Rahimov, a member of the President's staff. These killings marked a significant increase in the level of political violence. By year's end, the authorities had been unsuccessful in discovering the perpetrators of these assassinations, as well as of the terrorist bombings that claimed several dozen lives in Baku subway and railway stations in 1994. The Azerbaijanis have accused Armenians based in Russia of responsibility for the bombing incidents. According to the National Security Ministry, bombing attacks in 1994 on rail lines and the Baku subway resulted in 37 deaths and over 100 wounded. No group claimed responsibility.

b. Disappearance

The practice of taking and exchanging hostages was relatively less common than in the early phases of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Both sides have reportedly taken both military prisoners and civilian captives. Private parties have in some instances held prisoners of war and civilians and arranged ransoms for profit. A separate practice has been the government-to-government exchange of civilian prisoners; such official exchanges in 1994, including an exchange in October under the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) auspices, involved under 40 persons from each side. Azerbaijani gangs have ceased their kidnaping of ethnic Armenian residents in Baku. The overwhelming majority of ethnic Armenians outside Nagorno-Karabakh have already been driven out of the country, and those who do remain by necessity maintain a very low profile.

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

There were no reports of torture, but supporters of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front (APF) assert credibly that police beat opposition leaders in the course of breaking up political demonstrations (see Section 2.b.).

Prisons conditions are grim, and provisions for medical care are inadequate. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) monitors the treatment and conditions of Armenian prisoners in Azerbaijani detention centers. In Nagorno-Karabakh, the ICRC has visited Azerbaijani prisoners held in connection with the conflict in order to monitor their treatment and conditions of detention.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

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 Section 2.a. and 2.b.). In addition, in another instance of arbitrary use of police powers, police on August 13 detained 10 intellectuals at a Baku teahouse on vague charges of disobeying police authority but released them after a few days in detention. Arbitrary detentions occurred in several waves during periods of political unrest and demonstrations. Estimates of the number detained differ widely, but a total of about 200 people may have been detained without charges. They were released after brief periods of detention (under a week in most cases).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Azerbaijan's criminal justice system, including its courts, laws, and procedures, follow the former Soviet model. The courts of general jurisdiction may hear criminal, civil, and juvenile cases. District and municipal courts try the overwhelming majority of cases, but a Supreme Court tries some. Both may act as the court of first instance, depending on the nature and seriousness of the crime.

Prosecutors, like the courts, are organized into offices at the district, municipal, and republic levels and are ultimately responsible to the Prosecutor General, appointed by Parliament. Prosecutors and defense attorneys by law have equal status before the courts. In practice, prosecutors still are very influential because court proceedings are not conducted in an adversarial manner. Prosecutors direct all criminal investigations, which are usually conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Moreover, the presumption of innocence with respect to defendants has not been incorporated into the Criminal Code.

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 then be dropped or closed, occasionally without informing the court or the defendant.

By law, trials are to be publicly conducted except when government secrets are considered at issue. Defendants may confront witnesses and present evidence. The court appoints an attorney for indigent defendants. Defendants have the right of appeal, as do prosecutors.

Judges do not function independently from the other branches of government. The current Government has removed judges considered close to the previous Elcibey government. The statutory commitment to public trial also has not always been upheld, e.g., in the case of Azerbaijani military officer Arif Pashayev. Pashayev was a prominent APF figure charged with the willful loss of military positions in the Karabakh conflict. In July police dispersed and beat relatives protesting court proceedings. Several related cases have been pending in the courts. There were about 25 persons in prison on political grounds at year's end.

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

The Soviet surveillance apparatus, reorganized as the Ministry of National Security, became more active than under the previous Elcibey government. It is widely and credibly believed that the Ministry taps telephones, especially those of foreigners and prominent political and business figures. The police have periodically raided the offices of opposition press and political parties on the grounds of a search for illicit weapons. The post-October emergency legislation, extended in December by the legislature until early February 1995, made explicit the right to conduct such searches. The police also make periodic sweeps in search of young men evading the draft.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began in 1988. The ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh sought union with Armenia until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of independent Armenian and Azerbaijani republics with internationally recognized borders. The demand of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians later became one for independence from Azerbaijan. By June 1992, ethnic Armenians had expelled all ethnic Azerbaijanis from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and had opened a corridor to Armenia through the Azerbaijani region of Lachin, which had a substantial Kurdish population. In 1993 they captured the province of Kelbacar, which lies between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, as well as large areas surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. They drove out the inhabitants and looted and burned the provincial capitals and most of the villages of these regions. The U.N. Security Council condemned these offensive actions, including the looting and burning.

Until the May 1994 cease-fire, all parties to the conflict engaged in indiscriminate shelling and rocket fire against civilian targets, including in both directions along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Before the cease-fire, the Azerbaijanis also mounted fixed-wing air attacks against civilian targets in both Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. 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.

After agreeing to a cease-fire in May, the parties maintained it throughout the rest of the year.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Government severely restricts freedom of speech and press. It officially censors the press and subjects newspaper premises to searches and raids. It may close newspapers for 1 month if they violate military censorship by publishing information contrary to what it believes are the interests of the country. Despite warnings to several papers, the Government has not exercised this authority. Official censorship decreased after the state of emergency was lifted in September 1993, but its existence remained influential in convincing editors to self-censor their copy. Police searches and raids were another way of interfering with the operations of the press, much of which is affiliated with political parties. For example, in February police temporarily seized part of the Azadliq newspaper's premises after weeks of repeated unauthorized searches of Azadliq and other newspaper premises. Police conducted similar searches at Azadliq's premises on at least one other occasion during 1994. Both incidents involved a search for arms and unspecified subversive literature. The searches were carried out on the authority of the district police commander, without judicial involvement. Both newspaper offices and their distributors remained subject to surprise raids. For example, authorities raided the distributor Gaya in March after a caricature of the Interior Minister was published.

After imposing a new state of emergency in early October on Gance and Baku, following the political crisis, the Government added a third a third level of censorship to the existing military and political censors, with immediate and noticeable effect on newspaper editorial content.

The number of newspapers available, both in Azerbaijani and Russian, remained large, although many suffered economic hardship, and some folded or reduced their frequency. However, new papers were also started. Many opposition newspapers continued to publish, including at least five major newspapers sympathetic to or officially published by the APF, the Musavat Party, and the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, the main political opposition. Small sensationalist newspapers continued to publish investigative interviews and news items.

The Government controls most radio and television, and the opposition has little access to the official electronic media. In June the Government closed an independent television station, B-M-TI, allegedly for violating government regulations but apparently because its owners spoke out against the Government's foreign policy. In an incident in November, the director of an independent television-radio company, ANS, was beaten at the direction of the head of the state radio- television entity, and the Baku commandant briefly closed ANS' FM radio and television stations. President Aliyev ordered the resumption of ANS broadcasting.

Correct political connections are a prime requisite for those seeking new posts in government-controlled institutions, including universities. However, there are several professors with tenure who are active in opposition parties.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

While the Government tolerates the existence of political parties, it has demonstrated a disregard for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association when it has deemed it in its interest to do so. The authorities have invoked imminent danger to law and order in carrying out such actions as the search of APF offices in February, when they allegedly discovered arms caches. The authorities frequently denied opposition requests for permits to hold demonstrations. When unauthorized demonstrations were held, police frequently suppressed them, using force and causing injuries, as in the May 21 demonstrations against the Government's policy toward Nagorno-Karabakh and the September 10 protests against both foreign and domestic policies. In the May demonstrations, police detained over 200 persons, including 3 Milli Maclis deputies, holding some detainees for up to 1 month without bringing formal charges and without allowing relatives access. Associations other than political parties can generally function freely.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is no state religion. Members of all faiths practice their religions without restrictions, with one important exception: Armenian churches, many vandalized in past years, remain closed, and few of the Armenians left in Azerbaijan would have felt secure enough to attend them had they been open.

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

The Ministry of National Security enforces a longstanding restriction zone in the southeast on the Iranian border from which all nonresidents are excluded. The October state of emergency restricts access to the Baku region by nonresidents.

The Government officially recognizes freedom of emigration. Jewish emigration to Israel continued, although less than 1,000 emigrated during the first 9 months of 1994. Some 18,000 Armenians and part-Armenians, mostly in mixed marriages, remain in the country. The Government stripped many of the remaining ethnic Armenians of their official documents for both internal and external travel, making it difficult for them to change residence or to travel outside Azerbaijan. In general, low-level officials seeking bribes harass members of minorities wishing to emigrate; this is especially the case of draft-age men, who are required to obtain documentation from several levels of military authorities before they may leave for any international travel. All citizens of Azerbaijan wishing to travel abroad must first obtain exit visas or official passports from the Government.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) offices in Baku estimate that, as of November 1994, there were 900,000 refugees and internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan. These figures do not include the 50,000 internally displaced persons caused by the hostilities in the spring of 1994. Close to 500,000 fled the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian offensives into Azeri- inhabited areas outside the bounds of Nagorno-Karabakh between March and September 1993, joining the 150,000 who fled in 1992 and the over 200,000 who were expelled from Armenia in 1988-89.

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

Citizens do not have the right to change their government by peaceful means. Heydar Aliyev assumed presidential powers in June 1993 after the overthrow of the democratically elected president, Abulfez Elcibey, and won the presidential election in October 1993.

In theory, the President shares power with the 52-member Milli Maclis (National Council) which took over parliamentary powers after the 1992 dissolution of the Supreme Soviet. In fact, President Aliyev and his close supporters dominate government policy and tolerate little opposition to their views. Parliamentary elections are due in 1995.

There were no restrictions on women or minorities participating in politics. Currently, the Education Minister is the only woman of ministerial rank. In the Milli Maclis, there are 3 women out of 52 representatives, or 6 percent. Minorities such as Lezghis and Talysh formed regional groupings in Parliament and published newspapers in their own languages. There are no minority parties, and a separatist Talysh leader faces charges of sedition. There are two Islamic religious parties.

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

The local human rights community is composed largely of individuals rather than well-developed organizations. Police have occasionally harassed such individuals.

The Government has expressed willingness to receive delegations from human rights organizations and has met with such delegations. On the other hand, police disrupted a July meeting between opposition parties and a visiting delegation from Human Rights Watch/Helsinki.

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

The 1991 constitutional act of independence prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or gender.


Women nominally enjoy the same legal rights as men, including the right to participate in all aspects of political, economic, and social life. President Aliyev has appointed women to senior government positions. The most active supporters of the APF after Elcibey's overthrow were the women's groups attached to it. In general, women are given extensive opportunities for education, work, and political activity. However, traditional social norms continue to restrict women's role in politics and the economy. In general, representation of women is sharply lower in higher levels of the work force. Female representation in executive positions in leading businesses is even lower--1.5 percent, according to a recent UNICEF study.

Violence against women is a taboo subject in Azerbaijan's patriarchal society. In rural areas, wives 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 are prosecuted. Police sources indicate that there are about 200 cases annually of crimes of violence against women. These figures probably reflect underreporting, especially from conservative rural areas. Crime levels in this field, as in others, have risen considerably due to the flood of refugees to the cities and the economic crisis of the past few years.


The 1991 constitutional law on independence guarantees children 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 are far from covering the shortfall of family budgets, and the Government does not have the financial means to meet its new commitments.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Both governmental and societal repression and discrimination against ethnic Armenians continued. Recently, members of the Russian community have lodged complaints with the Government as well as with the Russian Embassy, alleging official inaction concerning some 108 seizures during the past year of apartments of Russian speakers by ethnic Azerbaijani displaced persons.

The 18,000 ethnic Armenian and part-Armenians, most of them members of mixed families, continued to live in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Kidnapings of ethnic Armenians from Baku virtually ceased after early 1994, although scattered incidents of harassment have been reported in the press. There are credible reports of denial of medical treatment to ethnic Armenians and confiscation of their travel and residence documents, and most of those Armenians who lost jobs in previous years are still unemployed. Many are too frightened to appear in public.

People with Disabilities

The law on support for invalids, enacted in late 1993, prescribes priority for invalids and the handicapped 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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Azerbaijani labor unions still operate as they did under the Soviet system and remain highly dependent on the Government. Such progovernment umbrella organizations as the Azerbaijani Union of Professional Workers are free to participate in international bodies. There is a legal right to strike. Widespread strikes in the crucial oil sector during the summer over unpaid back wages led to a backdown of the Government and an agreement to raise wages. In general there are no established mechanisms to avoid such wildcat strikes. Unions and workers per se were not the subject of human rights abuses. The 1991 constitutional law grants freedom of association, including the right to form labor unions. However, most industrial and white-collar workers are organized into one or another subbranch of the Azerbaijani Labor Federation (Profsoyuz), run by the Government (which also still owns the major industries). There are no formal restrictions on strikes nor provisions for retribution against strikers (under normal conditions before the imposition of a state of emergency in October). Unions are free to form federations and to affiliate with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining remained 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 to be members of the Profsoyuz.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law and is not known to be 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 14 are allowed to work during vacations with the consent of their parents and certification of a physician. Children of 15 may work if the workplace's labor union does not object. There is no explicit restriction on the kinds of work that children aged 15 may perform with union consent. The Government (Labor Ministry) has primary enforcement responsibility for child labor laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government set the nationwide administrative minimum wage by decree, raising it numerous times because of inflation. As of December, it was less than $1.00 (4,000 manats) per month. The recommended wage level to meet basic subsistence needs was estimated to be 67,000-75,000 manats, as of November. It is not known how effectively the payment of the minimum wage was enforced.

The disruption of trade links with the rest of the former Soviet Union has affected employment in many industries. Idle factory workers typically receive a third of their former wage. Under these conditions, even recourse to the extended family's "safety net" and outside sources of income make it difficult for broad sectors of the population to reach the subsistence level.

The legal workweek is 41 hours. There is a 1-hour lunch break per day, plus shorter breaks in the morning and afternoon. Health and safety standards exist but are by and large ignored in the workplace.

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