U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Azerbaijan
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Azerbaijan, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa63c.html [accessed 26 July 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
AZERBAIJANAzerbaijan 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. Although Azerbaijan took significant steps toward economic reform in 1997, it made little progress in moving toward democracy. President Aliyev and his supporters, many from his home region of Nakhchivan, continue to dominate the Government, the multiparty 125-member Parliament chosen in the November 1995 elections, and the judiciary. The Constitution, adopted in a November 1995 referendum, established a system of government based on a division of powers between a strong presidency, a legislature with the power to approve the budget and impeach the President, and a judiciary with limited independence. After years of interethnic conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, Armenian forces and forces of the self-styled Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh" (which is not recognized by any government) occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory. A cease-fire was concluded in 1994, and the peace process continues. Serious clashes along the Azerbaijan-Armenian border and along the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh in the spring and summer caused scores of casualties. Military operations continued to affect the civilian population. There are 780,000 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 continue to impede the transition to democracy. In the part of Azerbaijan that Armenians control, a heavily militarized ruling structure prevents ethnic Azerbaijanis from returning to their homes. Police, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Ministry of National Security are responsible for internal security. Members of the police committed numerous human rights abuses. The economy is in transition from central planning to a free market. A highly organized system of corruption and patronage hampers economic development. The country has rich petroleum reserves and significant agricultural potential. Oil and oil products are the largest export, followed by cotton. Other key industries are chemicals, oil field machinery, and air conditioning equipment. However, most industry languishes in a post-Soviet depression. The Government signed five oil production sharing agreements with foreign oil companies in 1997, bringing the total to nine. In agriculture, which employs 35 percent of the labor force, the leading crops are cotton, grapes, tea, and tobacco. The Government continued its policies of fiscal and monetary austerity, inflation continued to fall, and interest rates declined to less than half of 1996 levels. The pace of privatization accelerated with the initiation of auction sales of shares in large state-owned enterprises. Privatization of the cotton gins ended the Government's monopoly on trade in cotton. Privatization of farmland continued, but new small farmers have poor access to credit and markets, and commercial agriculture remains weak. Per capita gross domestic product is about $300 per year. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of citizens live in poverty. Much of the labor force is employed" by state enterprises that operate at very low levels of capacity and pay their workers intermittently if at all. The overall economic situation of the average citizen remains precarious, although in urban areas a growing moneyed class with trade and oil-related interests has emerged. Economic opportunity depends on connections to the Government. Severe disparities of income have emerged that are partly attributed to patronage and corruption. The Government's human rights record continued to be poor, and the Government continued to commit serious abuses. Police beat persons in custody, and some beatings resulted in deaths. Police also arbitrarily arrested and detained persons; conducted searches and seizures without warrants; and suppressed and refused to allow peaceful public demonstrations. In most instances, the Government took no action to punish abusers. In a variety of separate incidents, the Government arrested at least 19 members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. Prison conditions remained harsh. The entire judiciary is corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence. The Government holds about 120 political prisoners. The Government tolerated the existence of many opposition political parties, although it continued to refuse to register some of them. The Government restricts citizens' ability to change their government peacefully. The Government restricted freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and privacy when it deemed it in its interest to do so. Press censorship continued, as did the Government?s control over the broadcast media. Discrimination against ethnic minorities and societal discrimination and violence against women are problems. Worker rights suffered a setback when managers in the state-owned oil industry, without a vote of the union membership, formed a progovernment union of oil and gas workers to displace the independent union that had represented the interests of workers in those industries. Nevertheless, there were some positive signs. Scores of opposition and independent newspapers continued to publish and discuss a wide range of sensitive domestic and foreign policy issues. The Government abolished military censorship and the press began open discussion of the issue of censorship. Opposition political parties carried on a variety of public activities. After 4 years of internal exile, and 2 months of confinement to a village, former president Elchibey returned to Baku in October and resumed full political activity. Although critical of certain domestic human rights activists, the Government was open to limited dialogue with domestic and international human rights organizations. The Government arrested two police officials for inflicting injuries on detained persons that resulted in death. Cease-fire violations by both sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict increased. They resulted in injuries and deaths among combatants and the taking of prisoners, including civilians. Insurgent Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories continued to prevent the return of IDP's to their homes. This restriction resulted in significant human suffering for hundreds of thousands of people.