memorandum by Mr Agramunt and Mr Debono Grech, co-rapporteurs
Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe
on 21 January 2001. Upon its accession, Azerbaijan undertook to
honour not only the obligations incumbent on all member States under
Article 3 of the Organisation’s Statute, but also a number of specific
commitments set out in Opinion
No. 222 (2000)
, which, together, constitute the basis for the monitoring
procedure in accordance with Resolution
on the setting up of an Assembly committee on the honouring
of obligations and commitments by member states of the Council of
Europe (Monitoring Committee), as modified by Resolution 1431 (2005)
on the initiation of a monitoring procedure and post-monitoring
on the progress of the Assembly's Monitoring Procedure
(May 2005-June 2006) and Resolution
on the term of office of co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring
Since then, the Monitoring Committee has presented to the
Parliamentary Assembly a number of reports on the progress made
in Azerbaijan: full reports on the honouring of obligations and
commitments in 2002 and 2007, and reports on the functioning of
democratic institutions in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010.Note
Furthermore, several reports have been presented by the Committee
on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on the honouring of a specific
commitment, namely that of releasing or re-trying alleged political
The most recent report on this subject
is due to be debated in the Assembly during the January 2013 part-session.Note
Moreover, Azerbaijan has been examined in periodic reports
on the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human
Rights (“the Court”) in all Council of Europe member States, prepared
by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. The most recent
report in this respect was presented to the Assembly in 2011.Note
Some outstanding concerns in the field of human rights in
Azerbaijan have also been the subject of thematic reports on all
or some Council of Europe member States drawn up by other Assembly
committees. Of particular relevance here are the report on the freedom
of expression in Council of Europe member States presented by the
Committee on Culture, Science and EducationNote
as well as the report on human rights defenders
in Council of Europe member States presented by the Committee on
Legal Affairs and Human Rights.Note
In October 2012, the Parliamentary
Assembly held a current affairs debate on the Safarov case.
The political developments of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
have been followed by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.Note
specific situation of refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan
has been dealt with by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and
Representatives of the Assembly have also systematically observed
parliamentary and presidential elections, as well as a constitutional
referendum, since Azerbaijan’s accession and the respective reports
were presented to the Assembly.Note
of the report following the elections in 2005 led to the credentials of
the Azerbaijani delegation being challenged at the opening of the
Assembly’s January 2006 part-session.Note
8. Finally, the honouring by Azerbaijan of its obligations and
commitments is also monitored by the Committee of Ministers of the
Council of Europe in the framework of the sub-group on Armenia and
Azerbaijan of the Rapporteur Group on Democracy (GR-DEM), which,
in December 2011, replaced the so-called “Ago Group”. The sub-group
takes stock of the progress achieved in each country every six months.
9. In the present report, we will use the findings and conclusions
of the relevant institutions and monitoring mechanisms attached
to the conventions of the Council of Europe to which Azerbaijan
is a party. The work of the following bodies has been taken into
account: the European Court of Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers
in its supervisory function of the execution of the Court’s judgments,
the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Congress of Local and Regional
Authorities of the Council of Europe, the Group of States against Corruption
(GRECO), the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money
Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL), the
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the Advisory Committee
on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).
We have also taken advantage of the legal expertise of the
European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission),
and in particular of its conclusions with regard to the assessment
of the compliance of a number of Azerbaijani laws with Council of
Europe standards. During the reporting period, the Venice Commission
delivered the following opinions: on the draft law on amendments
and changes to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan
(joint opinion with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human
Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
on the draft amendments
to the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan;Note
the draft law about obtaining information on activities of the courts
on the draft law on additions
to the law on the status of municipalities of the Republic of Azerbaijan;Note
the compatibility with human rights standards of the legislation
on non-governmental organisations;Note
on the law on the freedom of religious belief.Note
would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Azerbaijani
authorities for their constructive co-operation with the Venice Commission.
We were appointed as co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee
respectively in November 2009 for Mr Debono Grech in replacement
of Ms Evguenia Jivkova (Bulgaria, SOC) who had left the Assembly,
and in June 2010 for Mr Agramunt, in replacement of Mr Andres Herkel
(Estonia, EPP/CD), whose mandate had expired. In the framework of
the preparation of the present report and with a view to maintaining
a political dialogue, we visited Azerbaijan on four occasions: in
February 2011, in February 2012, in June 2012 and in November 2012.
Following these visits, we submitted information notesNote
committee, which were subsequently declassified.
12. During our visits, we held a wide range of meetings, including,
on the one hand, the highest representatives of the legislative,
executive and judicial authorities, and, on the other, representatives
of national and international civil society and leaders of the extra-parliamentary
13. The committee held a hearing on the freedom of expression
in Azerbaijan following the publication of a report by Amnesty International
on that subject in December 2011. We also regularly meet representatives
of Azerbaijani non-governmental organisations (NGOs) present in
Strasbourg during parliamentary sessions.
14. During the preparation of the present report, we were confronted
with unprecedented pressure from a number of Azerbaijani non-governmental
organisations which did not appear to understand the nature of parliamentary
monitoring, based on political dialogue and a constructive approach.
The sometimes unjustified and unfair criticism of our work and attempts
to discredit us have not made our task any easier.
15. From the outset, we tried to structure our dialogue with the
authorities in such a way as to achieve a common understanding of
concerns and possible remedies with a view to improving the situation
and making progress in the fulfilment by Azerbaijan of its obligations
16. We wish to stress here that throughout the entire period of
the preparation of the present report, co-operation with the Azerbaijani
authorities and with the Azerbaijani parliamentary delegation to
the Assembly was excellent, and we received all the necessary information
and organisational support for our fact-finding visits.
17. The table illustrating the state of fulfilment of commitments
undertaken by Azerbaijan upon accession is attached to the present
report (see Appendix 1).
situation of the country
2.1 Regional and geopolitical
18. Azerbaijan’s political and security situation is
to a large extent determined by the geopolitical context and can
hardly be considered in isolation from it. The country is squeezed
between the Russian Federation, Iran and Armenia.
19. Being a secular and multi-religious society, an overwhelming
majority of the population of Azerbaijan is Muslim (over 97%) with
a dominant Shiite branch of Islam. However, unlike most Muslim countries,
Shiites and Sunnis often worship in the same mosques and there are
no conflicts between them. The Azerbaijani government has managed
so far to keep Islamic fundamentalism at bay and ensures that other
religions can be freely practised. We looked closely at the question
of religious freedoms and will come back to it in more detail in
one of the following chapters.
20. Since its independence, Azerbaijani foreign policy has tried
to find a balance in its relations with the European Union, Turkey,
Iran and the other Caspian Sea neighbours, the Russian Federation
and the United States. It has also friendly relations with Israel.
The authorities have always declared their pro-European aspirations
and pursued a policy of integration with Euro-Atlantic structures.
21. The Azerbaijani foreign policy agenda is dominated by the
ongoing conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. We will deal
with this question in the next chapter.
22. Azeri-Iranian relations have been influenced by several factors,
such as a large Azeri ethnic minority of several million people
in northern Iran, the recurrent fears of Islamic infiltrations through
the southern border with Iran, and co-operation on energy. At the
same time, they have been characterised by periodic tensions. A certain
part of the political establishment in Iran even openly considers
Azerbaijan as just a province of the Iran Islamic Republic. Well
aware of this possible threat, and in particular the worry of losing
their secularism in that geopolitical environment, the Azerbaijani
authorities are obviously looking for strong political support from
the European Union. On the other hand, they want to be the European
Union’s reliable modern and secular partner at the eastern boundaries
23. The following incidents with Iran illustrate the problem well:
on 19 January 2012, Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry (MNS)
announced that it had uncovered a terrorist group that was plotting
to assassinate public figures. According to the Ministry, two Azerbaijani
citizens had brought firearms and explosives from Iran to Azerbaijan
illegally and they had been in contact with the Iranian special
services. They were detained by the Azeri security forces. The exposure
of this plot has created an aggressive standoff.
24. On another occasion, Iran has accused Azerbaijan of allowing
the safe passage of Israeli secret servicemen, who, it claims, were
responsible for the latest two of a series of assassinations and
attempts on the lives of Iranian nuclear scientists, which took
place in January 2012. Azerbaijan has denied the accusation and
the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mr Elman Abdullayev,
said that Iran’s stance was an “absurd reaction” to Azerbaijan’s
protest over the alleged plot by Iranian agents to kill Israelis
25. Azerbaijan has developed good relations with the United States.
The visit in June 2012 by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton,
to Baku can be considered a confirmation of the importance that
Azerbaijan has as a strategic ally in the region, both as an energy
producer and for its proximity to Iran.
26. The Russian Federation also plays an important role in Azerbaijani
foreign policy, including in the negotiations on the conflict over
Nagorno-Karabakh. A considerable number of Azerbaijani nationals
work and live in Russia.
27. In 2009, the authorities showed great concern about the improvement
in relations between Armenia and Turkey, in the absence of a solution
to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The establishment of diplomatic relations between
both countries and the reopening of the border closed by Turkey
in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan following the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict, were perceived in Azerbaijan as a threat to the region’s stability.
Last but not least, Azerbaijan’s rich oil and gas resources
make this country a target and object of conflicting interests and
policies. Azerbaijan, as described in a next chapter, is an important
current and future supplier of both oil and natural gas, in particular
to Europe. The conflicting claims over the maritime and seabed boundaries
of the Caspian Sea between all countries having access to this sea,
specifically between Azerbaijan and Iran, create a climate of continued
29. Upon accession, Azerbaijan committed itself to “continue
efforts to settle the conflict by peaceful means only” and to “settle
international and domestic disputes by peaceful means and according
to the principles of international law (an obligation incumbent
on all Council of Europe member States), resolutely rejecting any threatened
use of force against its neighbours”.
30. Since the cease-fire agreement in 1994, the negotiations on
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been conducted within the Minsk
Group, co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation and the United
States, but unfortunately, so far, they have led to no tangible
results. The lack of real progress in the resolution of the conflict
gives rise to strongly felt frustration within the government and
public opinion. We noted that the international community, which
is to be blamed for not fulfilling its own resolutions with regard
to this conflict, is at the same time putting huge political pressure
on Azerbaijan in some other fields.
Eighteen years after the cease-fire agreement, no peaceful
solution has been found: about 20% of the Azerbaijani territory,
including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts,
remains occupied. Some 900 000 people, that is 10% of the country’s
population, remain displaced, putting a heavy burden on Azerbaijan’s
economic and social situation.Note
32. During our visit in February 2012, we visited one of the refugee
settlements in the suburbs of Baku and spoke to the State Secretary
for Refugees and Displaced Persons, who gave us an exhaustive overview
of the situation.
In the “Report of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ Field Assessment
Mission to the Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan Surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh”,
published at the end of 2010, the co-chairs, referring to the disastrous
humanitarian consequences which they could observe throughout the
territories, stressed that “the harsh reality of the situation in
the territories has reinforced the view of the Co-Chairs that the
status quo is unacceptable, and that only a peaceful, negotiated
settlement can bring the prospect of a better, more certain future
to the people who used to live in the territories and those who
live there now”.Note
34. Amidst increasing tension along the Line of Contact, mediation
efforts have resulted in marginal progress in the investigation
of the violation of the ceasefire agreement.
35. We have learnt that the conflict, which is termed “a frozen
conflict”, takes its toll of death and casualties on a daily basis.
According to the information we received during our visits, every
year approximately 30 people are killed and even more are injured.
As one speaker put it, during discussion on Azerbaijan in the committee, “the
country is not at war and not at peace”.
The Parliamentary Assembly has tried to contribute to the
peace process. In 2005, it adopted Resolution 1416 (2005)
on the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt
with by the OSCE Minsk Conference, in which it decided to actively
contribute to the creation of a positive climate around the peace
process without interfering with the negotiations. The Bureau of
the Assembly established an ad hoc committee tasked with ensuring
implementation the resolution, composed of the chairpersons of the
national delegations of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the co-rapporteurs
on both countries, representatives of political groups not represented
by the above members and representatives of the main opposition
party in each country. The late Lord Russell-Johnston was appointed
Chairperson and later replaced by Mr Jordi Xuclà i Costa.
From the very beginning, and in particular following the death
of its first chairperson, the work of the ad hoc committee has been
hindered by the lack of co-operation from the Armenian side. Throughout
2011, the Armenian members refused to take part in the meetings.Note
The ad hoc committee has not yet been reconstituted
in 2012, as the situation remains unchanged.
38. During our visits to Azerbaijan, we could observe a general
political consensus on the conflict, and many of our interlocutors,
including representatives of the civil society, have expressed their
disappointment at the indifference and passivity of the international
community, including in the Council of Europe. We have even heard
accusations of applying double standards to different countries.
It is also quite worrying that the inefficiency of the international
mediation results in more and more frequent hostile rhetoric and
threats of the use of force in public statements. The budget increase
for the army is another matter for serious concern. Since 2005,
Azerbaijan’s defence budget has been increased by 70%, including
45% between 2010 and 2011.Note
2011, arms spending amounted to US$3.1 billion out of a total US$15.9
billion State budget (19.47%).Note
40. The failure to resolve this conflict, which affects the country’s
territorial integrity, has certainly impacted on the country’s progress
in all spheres. The continuing occupation of these territories and
the presence of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)
remains an important challenge. Much of Azerbaijan’s future democratic
progress will depend on the success of a peaceful settlement of
this conflict, which has so far held back Azerbaijan’s internal
development in the political, economic, institutional and social
41. However, only a peaceful solution can be considered and Azerbaijan
should step up efforts, together with Armenia, to reach agreement
on the Madrid Principles, in accordance with the commitments made
by the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the framework of
the Minsk Group. We noted, however, that the credibility of this
format is more and more contested.
2.3 Relations with
the European Union
42. Relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union
are governed by the EU-Azerbaijan Partnership and Co-operation Agreement
(PCA), signed in 1996 and in force since 1999. The main co-operation
objectives and priorities are defined in the Country Strategy Paper
43. Following enlargement in 2004, the European Union launched
the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and Azerbaijan is one of
the five countries covered by this policy. The ENP sets ambitious
objectives, based on mutual commitments of the European Union and
Azerbaijan to common values, including the respect of and support
for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of
internationally recognised borders, as well as democratic values.
In 2006, an ENP Action Plan was agreed; it was meant to “significantly
advance the approximation of Azerbaijani legislation, norms and
standards to those of the European Union” and set up priority areas, including
contributing to a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict;
strengthening democracy in the country, including through a fair
and transparent electoral process, in line with international requirements; strengthening
the protection of human rights and of fundamental freedoms and the
rule of law, in compliance with the international commitments of
Azerbaijan; the fight against corruption and economic integration. On several
occasions, the Action Plan makes a direct reference to the work
of the Council of Europe and our monitoring activities.Note
45. The Action Plan expired on 31 December 2011, but both sides
have agreed to an open-ended extension, until the Association Agreement,
currently under negotiation, has been signed.
46. In 2007-2010, the European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument
envelope amounted to €88 million. The new National Indicative Programme
for 2011-2013 has a budget of €122.5 million. This increase in budget shows
an increased interest in enhanced co-operation. The programme aims
at achieving the objectives and priorities of the Action Plan: democratic
structures and good governance; socio-economic reform and sustainable
development, trade and investment; partnership and co-operation
in different areas including energy, mobility and security.
47. Azerbaijan is actively participating in the Eastern Partnership
(EaP), launched in 2009 and building upon the ENP. It is also a
founding member of Euronest.
48. On 15 July 2010, negotiations were launched on an EU-Azerbaijan
Association Agreement, which is meant to succeed the PCA. They are
progressing at a slow pace. Once signed, the Agreement will cover
a wide range of areas, including political dialogue, justice, freedom
and security and economic co-operation, thus in a significant way
deepening Azerbaijan’s political and economic integration in the
49. This enhanced political dialogue is strictly linked to increased
economic relations. Since 2004, the European Union has become the
main trade partner of Azerbaijan. In 2010, trade with the European
Union represented 42.5% for Azerbaijan.
50. Although Azerbaijan’s share of overall European Union trade
remains very low (less than 0.5%), it remains a major supplier of
oil and gas to the European Union. Its special strategic importance
is recognised in the EU-Azerbaijan memorandum of understanding on
energy concluded in 2006.
51. Oil and gas from the Caspian Sea is shipped to the European
Union through pipelines crossing Georgia and Turkey and through
the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi by rail. The plans foresee
future shipping via a completed “southern corridor” which would
include, inter alia, the Nabucco
gas pipeline. The agreement for the construction of the Trans-Anatolian
Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which could be an alternative to the Nabucco
gas pipeline, foresees future shipping of gas to Europe via a “southern
2.4 Signature and ratification
of Council of Europe conventions
52. As of 5 June 2012, Azerbaijan had signed and ratified
56 of the 213 Council of Europe conventions, including all but one
of the legal instruments included in the list of commitments.
53. The only remaining convention on the list is the European
Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ETS No. 148), which
was signed on 21 December 2001 but has not been ratified, despite
the commitment to do so within one year of accession.
54. During our visit in February 2012, we were informed that the
ratification process is underway, but is advancing at a slow pace.
We imagine that the reluctance of the authorities may be linked
to the fear that the implementation of the Charter may be misused
by some radical groups in the areas close to the Iranian border.
In his biennial report on the application of the European
Charter for Regional or Minority LanguagesNote
in 2012, the Secretary General invited
the Azerbaijani authorities to take advantage of the legal assistance provided
by the Council of Europe experts with a view to drawing up an instrument
of ratification that takes full account of specific concerns that
may exist in the country. During the April 2012 part-session of
the Assembly in Strasbourg, we met the members of the Secretariat
of the Charter, who provided us with useful information on the safeguards
against abuse of the Charter’s provisions. We hope that we will
manage to convince the authorities to speed up the process of ratification
and conclude it without further delay.
56. Finally, Azerbaijan has not yet signed the updated Money Laundering
and Financing of Terrorism Convention (CETS No. 198). We were told
that the process was also underway.
3 Economic and social
The Azerbaijani economy declined dramatically after
the collapse of the Soviet Union and it only started to recover
in the mid-1990s. After exceptionally rapid growth rates between
2001 and 2010, which averaged more than 16% during that periodNote
and were largely driven by the oil exports,
real gross domestic product (GDP) growth almost stalled at +0.1%
Oil and gas remain key factors of the Azerbaijani economy,
accounting for more than 40% of the GDP.Note
The high price of oil has been highly beneficial
for the Azerbaijani economy. However, in 2011, the overall export
of oil products dropped by 21.6%. According to official Azerbaijani
sources, the fall in the oil and in the gas sector was due to repair
work on some drilling platforms and refineries.
Azerbaijan is considered to be one of the most important areas
in the world for oil and gas exploration and development. Proven
oil reserves in the Caspian Basin, which the country shares with
Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkmenistan, are estimated at 7 billion
is comparable in size to the North Sea reserves.
60. The European Union is the main consumer of the Azerbaijani
hydrocarbons, accounting for almost 50% of its export.
Azerbaijan has concluded a number of production-sharing agreements
with various oil companies. The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan
Republic (SOCAR) produces less than 20% of Azerbaijan’s total output,
the remaining 80% being produced by the BP-led Azerbaijan International
Operating Company (AIOC).Note
US$60 billion have been invested in Azerbaijan’s oil extraction,
production and transportation by major international oil companies.
In 2006, the pipeline transporting Caspian oil to the Mediterranean,
via Georgia and Turkey, became operational (BTS pipeline). It carries
approximately 80% of Azerbaijani oil export, with two other pipelines
(Baku-Novorossiysk on the Black Sea in Russia and Baku-Supsa on
the Black Sea in Georgia) sharing the remaining 20%. The “southern
corridor”, including the Nabucco pipeline, is under construction.
As mentioned above, there is also the agreement on the Trans-Anatolian
Gas Pipeline, ratified by the Azerbaijani Parliament on 20 November
62. Azerbaijan has made considerable efforts to modernise and
reform its economy. The government has undertaken regulatory reforms
in a number of areas, including a substantial opening of trade policy,
but inefficient public administration limits the impact of these
reforms. The government has largely completed the privatisation
of agricultural lands and small and medium-sized enterprises. However,
the State continues to play a very important role in industry and
there is still much to be done to further develop the economy, including the
improvement of tax and customs administrations and the strengthening
of the fight against corruption.
63. The dominant role of public spending in non-oil growth and
the weak role of external trade are sources of concern. Other concerns
include: the relatively high rate of youth unemployment and weaknesses
in the environment for investors, including small and medium-sized
enterprises (in particular corruption, budget transparency and governance).
The main challenge for the Azerbaijani economy remains sustaining
this growth, in particular through diversification, for example
development of the non-oil sectors. Further structural reforms are
necessary to boost private sector development by improving economic
governance and opening up competition.Note
65. Azerbaijan applied for membership of the World Trade Organization
(WTO) in 1997 and is still in the process of negotiations, which
advance at a slow pace. The earliest possible date for accession
66. Despite the economic slowdown, Azerbaijan has maintained macroeconomic
stability, continued to reduce poverty and encouraged diversification
of the economy. According to the World Bank, Azerbaijan has achieved
a remarkable success in reducing poverty from 49% in 2001 to about
9% in 2010. This achievement is even more impressive considering
that an estimated one in nine persons in Azerbaijan is internally
displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The poverty reduction
record is also remarkable when compared to other countries, including
those in the region.
Inequality also declined, with the Gini index falling by nearly
8% to 34% in 2008. In 2010, the mean income difference between cities
and rural areas was relatively small, with indices between 33% and
68. The government is currently putting into practice an Action
Plan (2011-2015) on the implementation of the State Programme on
Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development.
69. The unemployment rate remains relatively low and was 5.5%
in 2011. There has been a substantial increase in real wages.
70. In 2005, the President signed a National Employment Strategy
for 2006-2013, drawn up in co-operation with the International Labour
Organization (ILO), and focusing in particular on vocational education
and training, development of small and medium-sized enterprises
and social protection.
71. But much still remains to be done. Access to essential health
facilities, particularly for the poorest part of the population,
remains a cause for concern. Azerbaijan’s rank in the Human Development
Index (HDI), which comprises health, education and income, is still
below the comparator countries in Europe and Central Asia. The World
Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) assessments point to inequities in access to education and
4 Political situation
72. The reporting period was marked by the presidential
election of October 2008 and the parliamentary elections of November
2010, as well as the constitutional reform following the referendum
of March 2009 on the amendments and the additions to the Constitution.
The municipal elections were held in December 2009.
Out of seven presidential candidates registered by the Central
Electoral Commission, the incumbent President, Mr Ilham Aliev, supported
by the ruling party, won the election with 88.73% of the votes cast,
with a voter turnout of 75.64%. The ad hoc committee of the Parliamentary
Assembly that observed the elections concluded that the results
of the election held on 15 October 2008, despite of a number of
shortcomings, “reflected the will of the country’s electorate”.Note
The parliamentary elections of 7 November 2010 resulted in
a majority for the ruling party, the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP),
which won 71 seats (out of 125). Independent candidates won 42 seats,
the Party of Citizens’ Solidarity won three seats, the Ana Vatan
Party won two seats, UMID, Citizens’ Union, Adalat, the Party of
Democratic Reforms, the Party of United Popular Front, the Social
Well-Being, and the Party of Great Construction won one seat each.
The voter turnout was 49.56%. In their joint statement, the observers
from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament and the OSCE/ODIHR
concluded that “the process overall was not sufficient to constitute meaningful
progress in democratic development”.Note
75. The constitutional amendments of 2009, while introducing some
positive modifications, such as the entrenchment of the principle
of public access to the sessions of the parliament and the obligation
to publish the decisions of the Supreme Court and Constitutional
Court and the laws enacted, as well as the extension of the right
of legislative initiative to 40 000 citizens, also raised a number
As a new rule, the possibility of unlimited re-election of
the president gives rise to concern.Note
constitutional limitations on the successive terms of a president
are particularly important in countries where democratic structures
and a political culture have not yet been consolidated. The criticism
made during successive elections further contributes to that concern.
Other issues of major concern relating to the constitutional
amendments introduced in 2009 include the extension of the term
of the Milli Mejlis (Parliament of Azerbaijan) and the president
in case of military operations, the modifications with regard to
local government bodies, in breach of the European Charter of Local
Self-Government (ETS No. 122),Note
and restrictions imposed
on media freedom.
It is to be noted that the authorities had not sought the
Venice Commission’s opinion on the proposed amendments prior to
the referendum, despite their considerable impact on the functioning
of democratic institutions. The request for an opinion was made
at the end of January 2009 by the Monitoring Committee and the Secretary
General of the Council of Europe. However, the opinion was only
adopted in March 2009, a few days before the referendum and was
not taken into consideration by the Azerbaijani authorities.Note
79. In the referendum on the amendments, held on 18 March 2009,
the turnout was 70.83%. The 41 amendments, presented in 29 questions,
were accepted, with the percentage of “Yes” votes varying between 87.15
and 91.76%. The Parliamentary Assembly sent a delegation to be present
during the referendum.
The municipal elections were observed by a delegation of the
Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, which
considered them as “being symptomatic of the still unsatisfactory
situation of local democracy and – more generally – of the weakness
of local governments in Azerbaijan”.Note
81. Since the 2005 parliamentary elections, the relations between
the authorities and the opposition have remained tense, with almost
no dialogue between the two sides. Despite the participation of
the opposition at the 2005 elections, some of the opposition parties
decided not to participate in the next electoral race, citing obstacles
to equal opportunities, and those which took part withdrew in protest
from the partial repeat parliamentary elections in 10 constituencies
in May 2006 and in the October 2008 presidential election. Following
the 2005 elections, the ruling party (New Azerbaijan Party – YAP)
held 64 out of the 125 seats and 45 seats were won by deputies elected
as independent candidates, who usually support the ruling party,
but sometimes are critical towards the authorities. The opposition
party Musavat had four deputies in the parliament. Some opposition
parties, including the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, refused to
take up their seats in the parliament.
82. In the course of the 2010 elections, the opposition did not
manage to unite and was very fragmented (five blocs and two parties)
and, as a result, very few opposition candidates won seats (we will
come back to the question of elections in the chapter entitled “Functioning
of pluralist democracy”).
83. The lack of substantial political dialogue has unfortunately
been aggravated by the deterioration of the political environment.
We have been concerned by the reports on restrictions on freedom
of expression and assembly and human rights abuses, including harassment
and violence against journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers
and activists. These concerns are also developed in the following
84. The dispersion by disproportionate force of the protest demonstrations,
which took place in Baku in March and April 2011, and the detention
of participants, has raised justified concern. Fifteen people, who
were sentenced to between two and three years in prison for hooliganism
on that occasion, have been considered by Amnesty International
as prisoners of conscience. Fortunately, all of them have now been
released either by Court decisions or by presidential pardons. We
will come back to this question in the broader context of the restrictive
use of the Criminal Code and the independence of the judiciary,
in the chapter entitled “The rule of law”. Also, we will continue
to follow up all individual cases of alleged political prisoners
in our future fact-finding visits and reports.
85. In May 2012, the international spotlight fell on Azerbaijan
as it hosted the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. Azerbaijani activists
used this opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the authorities’
human rights abuses, supported by Amnesty International, launching
a campaign entitled “Sing for Democracy”.
86. In all our contacts with the highest authorities, we have
stressed our deep conviction that it is in the best interests of
the entire democratic process, and indeed the ruling party itself,
to confront the real opposition in a representative body and establish
a truly meaningful political dialogue within the parliamentary framework.
87. We have also insisted that critical views cannot be suppressed
by limiting the freedoms of expression and assembly.
5 Functioning of
5.1 Free and fair elections
Since Azerbaijan’s accession to the Council of Europe
in 2001, two presidential elections (in 2003 and 2008) and two parliamentary
elections (in 2005, followed by a partial re-run in 2006, and in
2010) have been held. All of them were observed by the Assembly.Note
none of these ballots fully met democratic standards.
The elections in 2005 even gave rise to the credentials of
the Azeri delegation being challenged on substantial grounds in
the Parliamentary Assembly,Note
and led to the partial re-run elections
Recently, the European Court of Human Rights has delivered
judgments in seven cases (out of 35 considered admissible) relating
to the 2005 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, where it found
a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections).Note
Five of them concerned complaints
about the arbitrary invalidation of election results in the applicants’
electoral constituency depriving them of their victory, submitted, inter alia
, by the leaders of the
opposition parties. Another one concerned a complaint about an arbitrary
and ineffective examination of the applicant’s complaints about
election irregularities. Seven other similar applications were struck
out by the Court after this judgment, based on an unilateral declaration
by the government acknowledging the violations. The last judgment
concerned the arbitrary refusal to register the applicant as a candidate
for parliamentary elections.
During the reporting period, as already mentioned, one presidential
and one parliamentary election took place. In 2008, the presidential
election was observed by international observers from the OSCE Office
for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.Note
In a joint statement, they concluded
that the “presidential election in Azerbaijan marked considerable
progress, but did not meet all the country’s international commitments”
and “additional efforts are necessary to meet crucial international
commitments, especially those related to pluralism, the fairness
of the campaign environment, and the media”. The observers noted
that five opposition parties had boycotted the election, citing
long-standing obstacles to equal opportunities.
92. In its conclusions, the ad hoc committee pointed to a number
of shortcomings and deficiencies in the electoral process, in particular
with regard to the Election Code, the composition of electoral commissions,
the media environment, and the restrictive implementation of the
law on freedom of assembly.
93. Upon accession, Azerbaijan undertook to “revise legislation
on elections, particularly the Law on the Central Electoral Commission
and the Electoral Law, taking account of the recommendation put
forward by the international observers during previous elections,
so that the next general elections in autumn 2000 can confirm definitively
the progress made and their results can be accepted by the majority
of the political parties that will participate in the elections,
and can be considered as free and fair by international observers”.
The Azerbaijani authorities requested the Venice Commission’s
expertise for the reform of the Electoral Code just before the partial
elections of May 2006. The consultations continued until 2008, and
the law on amendments to the Electoral Code was passed by the parliament
in June 2008. In its opinion on these amendments,Note
Commission pointed out that “some previous recommendations are not
addressed in the amendments or are addressed only to a limited degree”.
The biggest concerns were raised by the composition of the Central
Electoral Commission (CEC) and territorial electoral commissions,
candidate registration, observers, the electoral roll and its accuracy,
as well as the complaints and appeals procedure.
95. In two consecutive resolutions on the functioning of democratic
institutions in Azerbaijan, adopted in 2008 and 2010, the Assembly
called on the authorities to ensure the necessary conditions for
full compliance of the November 2010 elections with European standards,
and in particular, to co-operate with the Venice Commission with
a view to revising the outstanding issues in the Electoral Code,
namely those mentioned at the end of the preceding paragraph.
96. Both resolutions also called for the establishment of conditions
for a fair electoral campaign, in particular through full implementation
in practice of the law on freedom of assembly and by ensuring media
97. These outstanding concerns were not fully addressed in time
for the November 2010 parliamentary elections, which, according
to the assessment of the international observers including those
from the Parliamentary Assembly, “were not sufficient to constitute
meaningful progress in the democratic development of the country”.
The observers were particularly concerned by the “limitations of
media freedom and freedom of assembly, and a deficient candidate
registration process”. They also stressed that “a restricted competitive environment
created an uneven playing field for candidates, making it difficult
for voters to make an informed choice”. Furthermore, they raised
other concerns such as “credible allegations of intimidation of
voters and candidates as well as abuse of administrative resources”,
ineffective legal remedies against decisions on election-related
complaints and unbalanced media coverage. The observers regretted
that the recommendations included in the Venice Commission’s opinion
of 2008 had not been addressed.
98. Unfortunately, until now, several of the concerns raised during
previous elections have remained unaddressed. The next presidential
election is due to take place in mid-2013. During our visits, we
stressed the importance of the revision of the Electoral Code with
a view to ensuring its compliance with European standards, as outlined
in the Venice Commission’s recommendations. We hope that this will
be done in time for the forthcoming election.
5.2 Party pluralism
99. There is a variety of registered political parties
in Azerbaijan, many of them critical towards the authorities. However,
following the November 2010 elections, several opposition parties
did not win any seats in the parliament. As already mentioned, the
ruling party obtained 71 out of 125 seats, the other mandates being
won by 45 independent candidates and by single representatives of
other parties who in general support the ruling party. This does
not preclude their often critical approach to governmental policies.
100. Some opposition parties, including the Musavat Party and the
Popular Front Party, contested the result of the last parliamentary
elections. On the other hand, the authorities drew our attention
to the fragmentation of the opposition which, in their view, contributed
to their defeat.
101. In our opinion, the absence of any political dialogue between
the authorities and the major opposition parties is highly unsatisfactory.
We raised this question during all our visits. The authorities insisted
that the lack of dialogue is due to the unconstructive approach
of the extra-parliamentary opposition.
102. However, during our meetings, the representatives of the extra-parliamentary
opposition complained about the continuing restrictive climate for
their activities. They raised the question of the limitations imposed on
freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, lack of access to
public TV, and in some cases, according to them, there was intimidation,
harassment and even persecution of members and supporters (we develop these
questions in the following chapters). They referred to the above-mentioned
judgments of the European Court of Human Rights regarding violations
during the 2005 elections and a number of cases pending before the
Court relating to the 2010 elections.
They also raised concerns about the funding of political partiesNote
and serious problems relating
to logistical facilities, including difficulties to rent premises
for their headquarters and locations for regional branches.
104. Following their defeat in the 2010 elections, on 28 December
2010, candidates from the main extra-parliamentary opposition parties
created a new Civic Movement for Democracy, the so-called “Public Chamber”.
This major opposition bloc includes the leaders of the Musavat and
the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, as well as leaders of eight
other political parties and representatives of civil society. The
declared objective of the Public Chamber is to promote democratisation
and alternative solutions to the country’s concerns. In a statement
published following its session in January 2012, the Public Chamber
set the main targets for its action: ensuring human rights and freedom
of assembly and creating conditions for elections which would fully
comply with democratic standards.
105. The Public Chamber does not regroup the entire extra-parliamentary
opposition. On 12 January 2012, representatives of five extra-parliamentary
opposition parties (the Classical Popular Front Party, Aydinlar,
the Open Society, the Liberal Democratic Party and Azadliq) created
a new Resistance Movement for a Democratic Society. Its declared
objective is to reform election legislation and create conditions
for holding elections that comply with democratic standards, to
combat corruption and to find a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh
106. The new movement is ready to co-operate with the Public Chamber
and both blocs are currently negotiating possible unification. However,
there are differences concerning the assessment of the situation
and the strategy to be adopted.
With regard to party pluralism, we would like to refer here
to the amendments to the 2004 Law on Political Parties, which were
recently adopted by the parliament. In December 2011, the Venice
Commission adopted its opinion on these amendments at the request
of the government.Note
We wish to express here
our satisfaction that the government decided to seek the Venice
Commission’s expertise, but we regret that it did not take into account
all the recommendations.
108. The Venice Commission had already provided an opinion and
identified a number of concerns in the original law on political
parties in 2004. Unfortunately, the proposed amendments did not
address the identified shortcomings identified.
109. In particular, the question of the transparency of funding
and spending of parties’ funds and private donations, already raised
by the Venice Commission in its opinion in 2004, has not been addressed
in the draft amendments. And yet this is a major concern, which
may lead to corruption and creates unfair conditions for party competition.
More generally, party financing remains a problem and results in
an uneven playing field, which to a large extent hinders the opposition
parties’ chances for a fair competition.
While not addressing earlier concerns, some of the proposed
amendments introduce new regulations which have been criticised
in the Venice Commission’s opinion. So far, it is also still not
clear which body would be responsible for possible dissolution of
parties not complying with the law, and the impartiality and independence
of this body should be guaranteed.Note
the other hand, we express here our satisfaction that, following
the recommendation of the Venice Commission, the provision increasing
the number of members required for party registration from 1 000
to 5 000 was dropped in the final text.
111. The creation of an inclusive political system and an environment
favouring the establishment of political pluralism is particularly
important in view of the forthcoming presidential election, scheduled
for 2013. There is still time to address a number of concerns raised
on many occasions by the opposition and civil society as well as
by the international community, including the Parliamentary Assembly
and other bodies of the Council of Europe, including with regard
to the Electoral Code.
112. Furthermore, the outstanding concerns relating to limitations
on freedoms and to human rights abuses, which we will look at in
the next chapter, should be addressed so as to create a truly competitive
and unrestrictive political environment promoting party pluralism.
113. Once again, we would like to stress here our deep conviction
that it is in the best interests of the democratic process and the
ruling party itself to confront the opposition in a representative
body and establish a truly meaningful political dialogue within
the parliamentary framework.
5.3 Separation of powers
and checks and balances system
114. Upon accession, the authorities of Azerbaijan undertook
to “continue reforms aimed at strengthening the independence of
the legislature vis-à-vis the executive, so that the former can
exercise the right to put parliamentary questions to members of
115. The Constitution of Azerbaijan, adopted in 1995, provides
for a strong presidential system, which was further strengthened
by the constitutional amendments introduced in 2002 and 2009. All
our predecessors in their monitoring reports have drawn attention
to the need for increasing parliamentary control of the executive in
order to guarantee checks and balances.
116. With a view to fulfilling this commitment, and providing a
mechanism allowing the legislature to put questions to the members
of the government, a Constitutional Law “on additional safeguards
to the right of the Milli Mejlis to address the issue of confidence
to the Cabinet of Ministers” was adopted in 2001.
However, according to the opinion of the Venice Commission,Note
law did not introduce any changes to the political system of Azerbaijan.
It provided for a mechanism whereby the parliament is able to exercise, by
means of a “recommendatory” vote of no confidence, some control
over the executive. Any substantial strengthening of parliamentary
control would require a revision of the constitution by referendum.
In other words, the law in question set out the framework of a mechanism
which still needs to be introduced. Unfortunately, this was not
done during the referendum on constitutional amendments in 2009.
118. The main weakness of the parliament is that there is no real
opposition. As we mentioned before, some opposition parties remain
outside the elected body and those which are inside are perceived
as supporting the ruling party in most cases. This often unjustified
perception is strengthened by the limits imposed on the possibilities
for parliamentary action by individual members in the present internal
rules of the Milli Mejlis (Parliament of Azerbaijan).
119. According to these rules, the establishment of a parliamentary
faction requires at least 25 members of parliament (20% of 125).
In most Council of Europe member States, this figure is 3% to 5%.
Such a high percentage seems to be particularly inappropriate in
a parliament in which the opposition is so fragmented! Indeed, those
deputies who are not members of the ruling party are either independent
or single representatives of different parties. As a result, there
is only one parliamentary faction, that of the ruling party. And
yet, individual deputies' possibilities for parliamentary action
are extremely limited as compared to those associated to the membership
of a faction. Indeed, individual members are deprived of many important
rights indispensable for the proper carrying out of their tasks.
120. The need for revision of the internal rules of procedure of
the Milli Mejlis was already raised in the 2007 report on the fulfilment
of obligations and commitments by Azerbaijan; it was also pointed
out by our interlocutors, non-members of the ruling party, at the
meeting in the parliament. We fully share this opinion and we believe
that increasing of the role of individual members, and decreasing
the number required for establishment of a faction, would significantly
contribute to strengthening the role of the parliament.
121. Much remains to be done to strengthen parliamentary control
of the executive and improve checks and balances in a State with
a strong presidential system. As did all our predecessors, we stress
that it is necessary to reinforce the actual application of the
constitutionally guaranteed principle of the separation of powers
and, especially, to strengthen the parliament’s role vis-à-vis the
122. The question of the independence of the judiciary is another
matter for concern. We examine this question in a separate chapter.
5.4 Local and regional
123. Upon accession, Azerbaijan committed itself to “sign
and ratify, within one year of its accession, the European Charter
of Local Self-Government”. The charter was ratified in 2002, and
since then, Azerbaijan is subject to the monitoring procedure of
the Congress for Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of
Europe (the Congress).
The most recent monitoring report of the Congress was presented
in October 2012.Note
In their conclusions, the rapporteurs
regretted that Azerbaijan had made no real progress in the implementation
of the charter since the recommendations made by the Congress in
2003. They stressed that the country was failing to comply with
some major principles and requirements of the charter. The concerns
raised in the 2003 monitoring report had not been addressed.
The situation has even deteriorated following the adoption
of the amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan
in 2009, and in particular a new Article 146 on self-government,
as confirmed by the opinion on the draft amendments of the Venice
and the statements by the
President of the Congress quoted above.Note
126. The authorities must undertake complex reforms aimed at administrative
and financial decentralisation in order to develop local self-governance.
The Congress, in its recent report, pointed to numerous concerns, including
the ambiguous and insufficient definition of local self-government.
It is important that municipalities be recognised by the legislation
as State institutions that exercise public power as part of the
overall public administration, in line with the European Charter
of Local Self-Government.
127. The unclear division of responsibilities between municipalities
and local State bodies results in conflicts and undue interference
in the activities of the municipalities. The existing de facto hierarchical
relationship between the local executive bodies directly subordinate
to the central governmental authorities and the elected municipalities,
does not comply with European democratic standards and the Charter.
The Law on the Status of Municipalities should be revised with a
view to defining a clear repartition of tasks and powers between
the parallel centralised system of the State administration under
the President of the Republic and the municipalities.
128. Furthermore, the transparency of local government mergers,
with the involvement of the municipalities concerned and in full
compliance with the Charter and the mechanisms of consultation foreseen
therein, should be ensured.
The draft law on additions to the law on the status of municipalities
of the Republic of Azerbaijan, submitted by the Azerbaijani authorities
to the Venice Commission in 2010, did not address these concerns, as
was confirmed by the opinion of the Venice Commission on the draft
Since then, the law has not been amended.
130. It is important that the authorities undertake effective measures
aimed at capacity-building and training programmes for members of
municipal staff, in order to increase the quality of their daily
adopted by the Congress following
the debate on the above-mentioned report, includes a number of measures
which should be undertaken by the Azerbaijani authorities with a
view to making progress in implementation of the European Charter
of Local Self-Government. We hope that the authorities will address
all the concerns raised by the Congress.
132. Upon accession, Azerbaijan undertook to “amend, before the
next local elections, the current legislation governing the powers
of local authorities so as to give them greater responsibilities
and independence, taking into account the recommendations made in
this respect by the Congress for Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE)”.
133. The Election Code, adopted in 2003 and amended in 2008 and
2009, establishes the rules for the organisation and the conduct
of elections of all elected organs including the municipalities.
As already mentioned, following the request from the Azerbaijani
authorities, the Venice Commission adopted an opinion on the amendments
to the Electoral Code just after their adoption in 2008. The concerns
expressed in this opinion fully apply to the municipal elections.
This was confirmed, as mentioned in one of the previous chapters,
by the conclusions of the delegation of the Congress which observed
the municipal elections in 2009.Note
135. Furthermore, the observers pointed to three major matters
of concern: the lack of a truly pluralistic party landscape, the
scarcity of real opposition candidates and, as a consequence, the
absence of a competitive election campaign; the questionable nature
of the registration process and the vote counting; and the underdevelopment
of territorial democracy in Azerbaijan.
6 Rule of law
136. The Azerbaijani authorities have been co-operating
closely with the Council of Europe on judicial reform since 2000.
The parliament has adopted a number of laws aimed at ensuring greater
independence of judges and improving legal procedures, including
the Law on the Bar and on Judges (The Court and Judges Act), as specified
in the list of commitments undertaken upon accession.
Among the relevant laws, the establishment of the Judicial
Legal Council in 2005 constituted a major step towards ensuring
the smooth functioning of the judicial system. Furthermore, the
newly adopted legislation provided for a revised recruitment procedure
for judges, establishing a fair and transparent selection procedure,
drawn up in co-operation with the Council of Europe.Note
it extended to judges the financial requirements set forth in the
2004 Law on Combating Corruption, including the submission of tax
returns and restrictions on gifts. A channel for individuals and
legal persons to complain about judicial corruption was also created
and training programmes for candidates for the judiciary have been
The authorities have also assured substantial investment in
new facilities, infrastructure and capacity-building.Note
139. In February 2009, the President issued a decree establishing
the 2009-2013 State Programme on Development of the Justice System.
The programme’s objectives included improving legislation and the
quality of professional staff training.
140. However, the undeniable progress made in the establishment
of a legislative framework must be backed by effective and systematic
implementation of the adopted laws. The lack of independence of
the justice system remains of serious concern in Azerbaijan.
141. The independence of the judiciary is one of the basic preconditions
for the democratic principles of the separation of powers and systems
of checks and balances. In our opinion, the authorities in Azerbaijan
should increase their efforts to ensure full independence of the
judiciary, including vis-à-vis the executive. In Azerbaijan, the
executive branch continues to exert influence on the judiciary,
thus contributing to the continuation of the problem. Our visit
to the country in June 2012 focused on this issue.
142. According to Council of Europe standards, the independence
of the judiciary and of individual judges should be safeguarded
by a judicial self-governing body. It is of crucial importance that
the composition, selection of its members and the functions of this
body comply with democratic standards, thus ensuring its full independence
143. Such a body, called the Judicial Legal Council, was established
in Azerbaijan, as mentioned above, in 2005. However, it is not tasked
with ensuring and implementing judicial independence. The Constitution
of Azerbaijan designates the President of the country as the main
guarantor of judicial independence. It would appear problematic
in any country to rely upon a single person, instead of an independent
institution, to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
144. The Judicial Legal Council Act, adopted by the parliament
in 2005, as indicated above, does not include ensuring and implementing
judicial independence among the Council’s functions. Its fields
of competence include the organisation and operation of the court
system, including the selection, evaluation and promotion of judges,
as well as initiation of disciplinary proceedings against them,
their assignment to different posts, and, more generally, the implementation
of the self-governing of the judiciary. In our opinion, in order
to strengthen and safeguard judicial independence, Azerbaijan should
revise the constitution and the Judicial Legal Council Act with
a view to enshrining the main function of the Judicial Legal Council
145. In order to fulfil this main task properly, the Judicial Legal
Council, as mentioned above, must be fully independent. According
to Council of Europe standards, it should be composed either exclusively
of judges or of a substantial majority of judges elected by their
peers. The Judicial Legal Council of Azerbaijan is composed of 15
members, among whom judges constitute the majority, the others being
representatives of executive and legislative bodies, the Prosecutor’s
office, and the Bar Association.
146. While the composition of the Judicial Legal Council complies
on paper with the relevant European standards, the appointment procedure
is more problematic. Appointments are made on the basis of a recommendation
of the General Assembly of Judges. However, of crucial importance
is that the General Assembly must always recommend at least two
candidates for one post and the final appointment, depending on
the post, is made by various bodies, including the Minister of Justice,
the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Justice.
147. This means that the selection procedure for the majority of
the members of the Council involves not only the judges electing
their peers, but also the executive. This procedure does not comply
with Council of Europe standards and should be revised. We recommend
that the Judicial Legal Council Act is amended with a view to streamlining
the procedure of selection and appointment of members of the Council
and transferring the right to directly select and elects Council
members to the General Assembly of Judges.
The influence of the executive over the self-governance of
the judiciary is further increased by the fact that the Council
is, to a very limited extent, involved in the courts’ budget drafting
process, which is not in line with European best practices. The
Judicial Legal Council Act should give more powers to the Council
over its own budget.Note
The manner of selection, appointment and promotion of judges
is also of crucial importance to securing the independence of the
judiciary. The whole procedure should be free from any political
influence and therefore the role of the legislature and the executive
should be limited in the entire process. Regrettably, the current
practice in this respect in Azerbaijan is not in line with European
standards, due to the decision-making power of the President over
the appointment of judges enshrined in the constitution, the Judicial
Legal Council Act and the Courts and Judges Act. We strongly recommend
that the relevant legislation be revised, with a view to increasing
the role of the Judicial Legal Council in the appointment process
by upgrading it from a recommending body to a decision-making body.
Furthermore, we recommend that the law provides for the establishment
of criteria for judicial promotion, inexistent at the moment.Note
150. In order to ensure the judges’ independence and eliminate
any possible influence on them, the duration of the terms of office
of judges should be fixed for all and be made permanent. In Azerbaijan,
however, the legal regulation allows for the extension of judicial
tenure for some judges from the age of 65 to the age of 70. The retirement
age should be the same and mandatory for all. Case-by-case decisions
by the Judicial Legal Council increase the risk of undue influence.
On the other hand, tenure should be guaranteed until a mandatory
age of retirement. The existence of exceptions to guarantee of tenure,
particularly those deriving from disciplinary sanctions, should
be limited to the most serious cases and clearly defined. Regrettably,
the grounds for terminating judicial powers, as specified in the
law, are unclear and inconsistent. Among the reasons for terminating
a judge’s office, there are: engaging in activities not compatible
with the position, a gross infringement or multiple infringements
of the requirements of legislation in the course of considering
cases and inability to fulfil the duties following an opinion issued
by a medical commission. These reasons are vague and leave too much
room for interpretation. We recommend that the legislation in this
respect be revised in order to fully comply with Council of Europe standards.Note
The concern raised in the previous paragraph can also be applied
to disciplinary procedures. Whereas the fact that only the Judicial
Legal Council is competent to initiate the procedure is in line
with European standards, again, some of the grounds for opening
a procedure are not clear enough and might be open to abuse. Taking
into account our previous concerns with regard to the composition
of the Legal Judicial Council, we believe that there is a risk of
undue influence. The whole procedure should be more transparent.Note
The question of the fairness of trials was raised on several
occasions during our meetings with civil society and it is also
of concern to the international community. The OSCE systematically
monitors the most sensitive trials and their most recent report,Note
well as exhaustive information provided to us during our meeting
in Baku, was very useful.
154. Already the pre-trial stage is sometimes marked by irregularities,
such as arrest without an appropriate warrant, pre-trial hearings
behind closed doors, denial of timely access to legal counsel or
denial of a lawyer of the defendants’ choice, extension of pre-trial
detention without providing the necessary justification as required
by the Azerbaijani law.
155. Inequality of arms during the trial is another serious concern.
There have been reports by defence lawyers claiming that they were
denied the opportunity of challenging conflicting or inaccurate
testimonies or arguments presented by the prosecution as incriminating
evidence, or presenting evidence of their own and calling on a number
of key witnesses.
156. Other reported deficiencies of court procedures include alleged
refusal of the judge to enable the defence to examine the evidence
used against the defendant (for example, requests by defence lawyers
in the trial of participants in the April demonstrations that concluded
on 25 August 2011, to have available video footage presented in
court to demonstrate and analyse the alleged criminal actions of
defendants during the protests have not been granted), and convictions
without convincing evidence.
157. In more general terms, it is a matter of concern that, as
in some other countries with a Soviet legacy, in many cases courts
seem to be an extension of the prosecutor’s office. This is evidenced, inter alia, by an almost inexistent
percentage of acquittals (less than 1%). This figure was provided
by the Judicial Council at the meeting.
One of the most outstanding deficiencies of court procedures
is the sometimes difficult access to legal aid, in particular in
politically sensitive cases. The environment for lawyers and human
rights defenders has deteriorated.Note
Arbitrary expulsions from the Azerbaijani Bar Association
and criminal cases lodged against some of them have also been reported.Note
We are particularly concerned
by the reported violations of the Law on the Bar, in particular
with regard to the election of the presidency. We hope that this
situation, detrimental to the rule of law, will soon be remedied.
160. Pressure is also put on the activities of independent lawyers
and human rights defenders. They are subject to threats and blackmailing
by the authorities; sometimes they are prevented from enjoying their professional
rights, or these are interfered with, such as meetings with clients
or independent carrying out of their duties.
161. Several lawyers have allegedly been warned not to defend the
rights of detained persons. The following cases may illustrate the
problem: a criminal case was opened against one lawyer, Mr Khalid
Bagirov, on charges of defamation for having disseminated information
in the media about alleged police involvement in the ill-treatment
and death of Mr Elvin Askarov. However, we note with satisfaction
that the case was terminated by the District Court in April 2011.
162. On 4 February 2011, a well-known defence lawyer, Mr Osman
Kazimov, was temporarily suspended from practising as a legal counsel
by the Azerbaijani Bar Association following accusations of illegal
acts in a criminal case. Later, however, following a favourable
court decision, the Bar Association rescinded its decision and withdrew
163. Mr Alaif Hasanov, the defence counsel of Mr Bakhtiyar Hajiev
and Mr Shahin Hasanli, stated that he was subjected to a smear campaign
by local authorities in the region of his residence after March
According to the information we received, there are few lawyers
in Azerbaijan who are prepared to undertake sensitive human rights
or political cases.Note
165. Our concern has also been raised by reports of restrictive
use of certain articles of the Criminal Code (in particular Articles
221 and 233) against participants of peaceful albeit unauthorised
166. This was particularly the case of 15 people arrested and sentenced
following the protests in Baku in March and April 2011. They were
convicted for “organising and participating in actions that disturb
public order” under Article 233 of the Criminal Code. All those
convicted received sentences of between one and the half and two
and half years of imprisonment. According to Amnesty International,
they were sentenced solely on the grounds of having allegedly organised
and/or participated in protests.
167. We met two activists imprisoned in Prison No. 19 in Baku for
two and three years respectively. The evidence that they provided
us with confirmed our earlier concerns.
168. The above-mentioned Article 233 is a vague and ill-defined
provision. The criminal activities defined by it may range from
“infringement of normal activity of transport and enterprise” to
“insubordination towards the authorities”. There is no distinction
between “organising” and “participating”. Restrictive interpretations
of this article by court judges have, on several occasions, resulted
in the sentencing of people who had called for participation in
peaceful protest demonstrations. The same can be said about Article
221, popularly referred to as the “article on hooliganism”.
169. Allegations of corruption in the judiciary is a concern which
can undermine the population’s confidence in the impartiality of
170. Following the recommendations of GRECO, the government has
undertaken a number of measures to eradicate this problem. An anti-corruption
campaign in the judicial system included the establishment of internal monitoring
groups within the justice institutions and an anti-corruption division
in the Judicial Legal Council. In 2010, the Ministry of Justice
reported that the Judicial Council had initiated disciplinary proceedings
against 21 judges; 11 employees of the Ministry were subjected to
disciplinary actions and two of these cases were sent to the Prosecutor
General’s Office, resulting in one conviction.
171. The capacities of the Anti-Corruption Department of the Prosecutor’s
General Office have been strengthened and the first steps have been
taken to introduce e-services. As a result, in September 2011, the Anti-Corruption
Department of the Prosecutor’s General Office announced that it
had filed 133 criminal cases in 2011, 88 of which had been completed
and submitted to the court. 147 people were accused of bribery, abuses
of position, fraud or forgery.
172. However, the fight against corruption requires a comprehensive
and more systemic approach. The next chapter deals with it in more
6.2 Corruption and
173. Corruption is perceived by public opinion as a normal
practice in Azerbaijan. It affects the whole society including at
the political level, executive branches and the judiciary, and it
has a detrimental impact on the economic situation. Transparency
International has persistently rated Azerbaijan as one of the most
corrupt countries in the world. According to the Corruption Perception
System Index for 2011, Azerbaijan was ranked 143 out of 183 with
a score of 2,4 out of 10. The authorities have declared the fight
against corruption as a political priority in Azerbaijan.
174. Upon accession, Azerbaijan committed itself to “adopt, within
one year of accession, a law on combating corruption and, within
two years of its accession, a State programme on combating corruption”.
Furthermore, it undertook to “sign and ratify, within two years
of its accession, the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and
the Civil Law Convention on Corruption”.
175. Azerbaijan ratified the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption
(ETS No. 173) in 2004. It subsequently joined GRECO and became subject
to the monitoring procedure of the convention. The most recent report
of the third evaluation round dates back to October 2010.
176. Following the ratification of the convention, Azerbaijan introduced,
in 2006, amendments to the corruption provisions of the Penal Code
which can be considered as an important step toward bringing the legislation
into line with the convention’s requirements. Active and passive
bribery in the public sector, trading in influence, non-material
benefits and bribery through a third person are criminalised in
accordance with the convention. In March 2012, the liability of
legal entities was introduced into the Penal Code.
Although Azerbaijan has made important progress in the criminalisation
of corruption, further significant legal amendments are necessary,
in particular with regard to the scope of the definition of “an
official”, which should include all civil servants and public employees
at central and regional level, and of “a completed crime of bribery”
so that it also covers the promise of a bribe as well as acceptance
of an offer.Note
178. Moreover, the immunity granted to public officials should
not present an obstacle to effective criminal prosecution of their
corruption. The immunity should be limited to performance of official
The country has made progress in establishing rules of ethical
conduct for public officials in general and for specific government
authorities and professions, including a code of ethics for judges.
There is a legal obligation for public officials to declare income
and assets, but this obligation seems not to be enforced. Furthermore,
there are no clear regulations on conflict of interests and no legislation
on the protection of whistleblowers.Note
While the legislation of Azerbaijan largely complies with
the convention in the area of confiscation of proceeds from corruption
crimes, implementation of the laws in force should be more efficient.Note
Furthermore, Azerbaijan should reconsider its position concerning
the reservations made to the convention, first introduced for a
period of three years in 2004 and subsequently renewed for a period
of three years from June 2010 to June 2013. They concern bribery
of foreign public officials, members of foreign public assemblies,
members of international parliamentary assemblies and trading in
182. Azerbaijan should also become a Party to the Additional Protocol
to the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (ETS No. 191) without
183. However, the main challenge with regard to fighting corruption
in Azerbaijan lies with the effective application of legislation.
While the authorities, at different levels of power, have declared
fight against corruption a political priority, failure to implement
certain measures may indicate insufficient will to fullfil declarations.
184. In 2007, Azerbaijan elaborated a National Strategy on Increasing
Transparency and Combating Corruption. It was completed by an Action
Plan for 2007-2011. We were informed that a new Action Plan has just
been prepared and is currently being considered by the Cabinet of
Ministers. We were informed that civil society has been involved
in the preparation of some parts of the Action Plan which we find
to be a positive development.
185. In general, however, the involvement of non-governmental organisations
in the anti-corruption activities carried out by the government
remains limited to participation of NGO representatives in one working
group of the Commission on Combating Corruption. This is regrettable
because potentially the NGO contribution could be much bigger. The
government should establish mechanisms to ensure more active participation
of civil society in anti-corruption strategy.
The authorities should be commended for the anti-corruption
campaign launched in early 2011, and including activities and programmes
for public officials and law enforcement officials to raise awareness
about corruption, especially legal issues and reporting. So far,
its impact has been rather modest.Note
187. The authorities have made significant progress in strengthening
the capacity of the Anti-Corruption Department within the Prosecutor’s
General Office, which is the main body to fight corruption through
law enforcement. Last year, the number of employees under the direct
responsibility of the Prosecutor General increased from 60 to 100.
Their salaries have been considerably increased.
188. This autonomous department is composed of specialised prosecutors
who are competent to investigate and prosecute corruption and to
propose anti-corruption measures. A special “161” hotline has been established
for receiving corruption-related complaints from the public.
189. In 2011, the Anti-Corruption Department completed 142 criminal
cases involving 229 people and prosecuted them. In 2012, 70 criminal
cases, involving 134 people, were completed and transmitted to the courts.
6.3 Execution of judgments
of the European Court of Human Rights
190. According to the information provided by the Registry
of the European Court of Human Rights, as of 2011, as many as 1 543
cases against Azerbaijan were pending before the Court.
191. As mentioned before, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human
Rights monitors the execution of the judgments by national authorities
of the countries concerned in periodic reports. In the last report,
debated in the Assembly in 2011, Azerbaijan was not included in
the group of nine countries in which major structural problems with
regard to cases in which extremely worrying delays in implementation
192. The Court’s judgments in respect of Azerbaijan illustrate
all the major concerns which are the subject of the present report.
The majority of complaints brought before the court can be divided
into three groups concerning ill-treatment in detention, freedom
of expression, and the non-enforcement of domestic judicial decisions.
We have also mentioned the cases concerning the violation of electoral
7 Human rights and
193. The last report of the Council of Europe Commissioner
for Human Rights was published in June 2010. In September 2011,
the Commissioner published observations on the respect of human
rights in Azerbaijan, as a follow-up to his 2010 report, in which
he stated that his recommendations from the report had not been implemented.
194. The last ECRI report was published in May 2011. It raised
some concerns about freedom of religion.
195. In December 2011, Amnesty International published a report
on Azerbaijan. As mentioned above, the Monitoring Committee held
a hearing on this subject with Amnesty International’s representative
on 16 December 2011.
196. In the present chapter, we also used reports of Human Rights
Watch, Human Rights House and other international and national watchdog
197. In 2011, the National Programme for Action to Raise Effectiveness
of the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms in the Republic of
Azerbaijan was approved by Presidential Order. It charged the Human
Rights Commissioner (Ombudsperson) of Azerbaijan to lead the working
group on co-ordination of implementation of the Programme. It contains
a number of concrete steps and measures to be taken (including introduction
of legislation) aimed at the fulfilment of Azerbaijan’s obligations
and commitments arising from international treaties and conventions.
7.1 Alleged political
prisoners and humanitarian issues
198. As of today, Amnesty International considers that
there are eight people who are either prisoners of conscience or
facing trumped-up charges in Azerbaijan; 15 others, detained and
sentenced to two to three imprisonment last year following the March
and April demonstrations, have been released following court decisions
or presidential pardons.
199. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the release
of the journalist Mr Eynulla Fatullayev from prison and awarded
him €25 000 in moral damages. It concluded that there had been two
violations of Article 10 of the Convention as well as a violation
of Articles 6.1 and 6.2 (presumption of innocence).
As mentioned above, the question of alleged prisoners is dealt
with by our colleague from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human
Rights, Mr Strässer. His report, adopted in committee last June,
is on the agenda of the Assembly’s January 2013 part-session (Doc. 13079
201. Without prejudice to the Assembly's forthcoming debate, we
would like to raise here the following important questions.
202. There is a persisting problem with regard to justice in Azerbaijan.
There are too many reports by international NGOs on the alleged
use of fabricated charges (see below), or repressive use of some
Criminal Code articles against activists and journalists, to be
ignored or considered as simple mistakes by the courts. Repeated
presidential pardons are not a solution either. It is the judiciary’s
ultimate responsibility to adjudicate cases fairly and on the merits,
and to critically assess the evidence provided by the prosecution
and the defence.
203. Since the beginning of our mandate, we have been very much
concerned with the question of alleged political prisoners and prisoners
of conscience. Whilst we understand Azerbaijan’s fear of extremism
and terrorist threats, at the same time we condemn the suppression
of basic freedoms by means of criminal prosecution. During each
of our visits, we met people who were or had been imprisoned and
who claimed that the real reason for their detention was their opinions
and critical views, even if they had been sentenced on criminal
charges. Their evidence was most troubling. We have discussed individual
cases with the relevant authorities and have achieved some positive
results and some people have been released.
204. Following our consultations with the authorities, civil society
activists, NGO representatives, journalists and independent lawyers,
we urge the authorities to reconsider the cases of the following
persons with a view to finding a legal remedy to concerns raised:
persons still in prison: Aliyev Mamedali Dilavar, Asgarov Mammad Tofiq,
Bayramli Anar, Farzullayev Jeyhun Hidayet, Hasanli Shahin, Ilyasov
Fari, Iskandarov Zaur Shalar, Iskenderov Vivaldi, Ismaylov Araz
Vasif, Jabiyev Azer, Janiyev Aydin, Khasmammadov Taleh, Musayev
Ilgar, Panahov Neymat; as well as persons facing charges and awaiting
court proceedings, whose cases we raised with the authorities: Gonagov
Vugar, Guliyev Zaur, Zeynalli Avaz, Seyidov Elnur, Mamedov Bakthiar, Amiraslanov
Ilhan, Gulaliyev Ogtay, Babayev Dayanat, Huseynov Mehman.
205. In late 2011, the Ministry of Justice allowed the OSCE to
conduct a number of human rights monitoring missions in detention
facilities and we consider this a sign of good will and a better
outlook for the future.
7.2 Conditions of detention
and abuses by law enforcement agencies
7.2.1 Torture and other
206. There have been alarming reports by human rights
defenders and domestic and international NGOs about alleged cases
of torture and other ill-treatment at police stations, during the
investigation period and in penal institutions. Torture is also
reported in the armed forces. There are reports of the use of violence
by the police against journalists documenting events. At our specific
request, representatives of the authorities assured us that the
law enforcement agents take all necessary measures to investigate
207. The circumstances of the deaths in prison of Mr Novruzali
Mammadov, Editor-in-Chief of the Tolishi Sado newspaper
in 2009, and of Mr Turaj Zeynalli in the Nakhichivan branch of the
Ministry of National Security in 2011, are unclear and have not
been properly investigated.
208. Mr Afgan Mukhtarli claimed that he was attacked by law enforcement
officers in January 2009 when, on assignment for Yeni Musavat, he was covering a
rally in front of the Israeli Embassy. The case was dropped by the
prosecutor for lack of evidence and is now before the European Court
of Human Rights.
According to some local NGOs, in February 2009, national security
officials from the Nakhichivan Autonomous Republic detained and
ill-treated freelance journalist, Mr Idrak Abbasov.Note
210. Mr Seymur Haziev, a reporter for Azadiq,
was detained and ill-treated on 15 May 2010, when he took part in
a rally at which demonstrators called for the restrictions on freedom
of assembly to be lifted. He filed a complaint but the investigation
brought no results.
211. Several activists detained at, and subsequent to, the protests
in March-April 2011 have complained of ill-treatment during their
arrest and subsequently while in police custody.
To date, no effective investigation has been carried out in
the cases of the alleged ill-treatment of Mr Hasan Karimov, Deputy
Chairperson of the Popular Front Party, who was arrested at home
without a warrant and detained in conditions threatening his health,
which resulted in his hospitalisation; Mr Tazakhan Miramamli, Chairperson
of the Jalilabad branch of the Popular Front Party, who was beaten
on 2 April 2011 by the police during his arrest and custody; Mr
Tural Abbasli, who was arrested on 2 April 2011 and prevented from
seeing his lawyer for the first two days in detention, and allegedly
beaten; Mr Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, opposition activist, who was detained
and charged with evading military service on 4 March 2011, shortly
after calling for an online protest. He was allegedly threatened
and beaten while in custody. On 4 June 2012, a court granted Mr Bakhtiyar
Hajiyev a conditional release nine months before the completion
of his two-year sentence. However, the allegations of ill-treatment
still remain, without any effective investigation being conducted.Note
213. More recently, the torture of human rights defender, Mr Zeynal
Bagirzade, was reported in Nakhichevan in December 2011; and the
strong pressure on the Editor-in-Chief of the regional broadcasting
company “Khayal”, Mr Zaur Guliyev, and an employee, Mr Vugar Gonagov,
was reported in March 2012.
214. During our visit in June 2012, we met Mr Ogtay Gulaliyev,
a journalist and a co-ordinator of Kur Civil Society, a non-governmental
organisation that advocates the rights of residents affected by
the floods of May 2010. We welcome his release; he had been detained
for two months, since April 2012. During this time, he claimed he
was subjected to ill-treatment and reported abuse by the police.
The charges against him have not been dropped.
The allegations of ill-treatment and the climate of impunity
are confirmed by several judgments of the European Court of Human
Rights. In recent years, the Court has found Azerbaijan guilty of
violations of Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman
or degrading treatment) of the Convention on several occasions.Note
216. In 2007, Mr Jalaloglu won the case concerning torture in prison
during his arrest in 2003, but so far no-one has been punished for
it, even though the identity of one perpetrator is known.
In Hummatov v. Azerbaijan
the Court held that inadequate medical treatment for tuberculosis
was a violation of Article 3 and that the lack of an effective remedy
violated Article 13.Note
218. It is worrying that so far none of these judgments has led
to prosecution of law enforcement officials.
219. More cases are pending judgment before the Court. For example,
Mr Emin Huseynov, a journalist and Director of the Institute for
Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), was detained in June 2008
and allegedly ill-treated in custody. The police has dropped the
investigation and the case is now before the Court. We met him on
several occasions and heard his personal account.
220. The most recent report on Azerbaijan was published by the
CPT in 2008. It also reports ill-treatment in prisons. In this regard,
we welcome the National Programme for Action approved by the President
of Azerbaijan on 27 December 2011, which raises the effectiveness
of the protection of human rights and freedoms. This programme provides
for stronger measures to investigate cases of violation of human
rights of persons in custody, including cases of torture, ill-treatment
and abuse. It also provides for the adoption of a new law on the
rights of arrested persons and training for judges and law enforcement
Violence against journalists documenting different events
is another outstanding concern. Mr Elmin Badalov, a Yeni Musavat
reporter, and another
reporter, Mr Anar Gerayli, allege that they were attacked by police
on 28 July 2010, while they were taking photos for an investigative
story about luxury villas on the outskirts of Baku. They have lodged
On 2 April 2011, several journalists covering the anti-government
protests were prevented by law enforcement officials from photographing
and interviewing participants, and were then detained.Note
Some Azerbaijani journalists, documenting the demolition of
houses in Baku, were subjected to attacks. For example, Mr Idrak
Abbasov, the Index-Guardian Award for Journalism 2012 winner, was
beaten on 18 April 2012 when documenting a demolition on the outskirts
of Baku. Turan Information Agency photographer, Mr Etimad Budagov,
and reporter, Mr Nushaba Fatullayeva, were attacked while filming
another demolition in Baku.Note
7.3 Freedom of expression
224. Freedom of expression raises concern in Azerbaijan.
The situation as described by civil society organisations and the
extra-parliamentary opposition can be characterised by State control
of the broadcast media, limited diversity in the print media, criminalisation
of defamation and practices of placing pressure on critical journalists,
which is aggravated by impunity of the perpetrators.
225. We have been provided with a number of alarming reports on
violations of the freedom of expression by national and international
watchdog organisations, including Reporters Without Borders, the
Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch and The Human Rights House Foundation.
Furthermore, serious concerns with regard to the freedom of
expression were raised by the Council of Europe Commissioner for
Human Rights in his 2010 report on Azerbaijan and his observations
on the human rights situation in 2011, by the OSCE Representative
on Freedom of the MediaNote
and by the European Parliament.Note
227. Azerbaijan ranks 162nd in a list of 173 countries in the Reporters
Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. This is the poorest record
of any Council of Europe member State. Azerbaijan came in lower
than countries such as Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan.
There is a glaring lack of diversity in the broadcast media.
The monitoring conducted on the country’s nationwide television
channels (two State channels, one public channel and five private
channels) in the framework of the “Free Airways” Project, financed
by the European Commission, showed that television is used as a
platform for pro-governmental propaganda and there is a total absence
of any critical opinions.Note
Moreover, several opposition politicians
and human rights defenders are not given sufficient access to airtime and
there is insufficient coverage of their activities.
229. Upon accession, Azerbaijan committed itself to “turn the national
television channel into a public channel managed by an independent
administrative board”. The second State television channel (AzTV2)
was legally transformed into a public service broadcaster in 2005.
However, the first State television channel (AzTV1) still remains
in State hands and continues to operate with an increased budget,
despite repeated calls from the Council of Europe, the OSCE Representative
on Freedom of the Media and the OSCE/ODIHR to remedy this situation.
In 2007, Council of Europe experts made recommendations to establish
safeguards in legislation to secure the independence of the broadcast
media, but the Law on Radio and Television has not been amended so
230. Furthermore, in 2008, the government banned three foreign
radio stations; Radio Liberty, BBC and VOA, from broadcasting via
local FP frequencies. These stations were highly appreciated by
231. The advertising market in Azerbaijan is very limited in volume.
There are, however, a few national newspapers, including two newspapers, Azadig and Yeni
Musavat, expressing the opinion of the opposition and
which maintain their editorial independence, but their total circulation
does not exceed 25 000 copies in a country of over nine million
232. In this situation, the Internet and social media have become
an important platform for expressing critical and opposition opinions.
While the electronic media are considered largely free from direct
censorship in Azerbaijan, the authorities monitor the content and
sometimes take action against those who express critical views (see
The legislative framework with regard to the freedom of expression
also raises some concern. In particular, repeated calls have been
addressed to the authorities by the Parliamentary Assembly, the
OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media and the Commissioner
for Human Rights to delete Articles 147 (defamation) and 148 (insult)
from the Criminal Code, which provide respectively for up to three
years and up to six months of imprisonment. The European Court of
Human Rights has delivered several judgments condemning imprisonment
of defamation is an essential step for the protection of the freedom
The Ministry of Justice has issued warnings to the Institute
for Reporters’ Freedom and SafetyNote
and to the Nakhichivan-based Democracy
and NGO development Resource Centre, citing the dissemination of “biased”
information via the hyperlink www.nakhchivan.org.az
in February 2012.
Over the past years, a number of journalists, including Mr
Eynulla Fatullayev, have been sentenced under the defamation provisions
and this practice continues. Libel in Azerbaijan is considered as
a criminal offence and the authorities have been using it against
opposition journalists to silence critical voices. The problem is
well illustrated by the case of Mr Eyyub Karimov, the Editor-in-Chief
of Femida OO7, who was sentenced to 18 months of corrective labour
and a monetary fine following the charges introduced by the Minister
of Internal Affairs over certain critical articles published in
In the first half of 2011 alone, there were seven libel cases
against journalists; two resulted in imprisonment.Note
237. The “National Action Programme for increasing the efficiency
of human rights and freedoms in the Republic of Azerbaijan” included
plans for the adoption, in 2012, of a new defamation law, which
would decriminalise defamation. During our last visit, in November
2012, we were informed that, in September 2012, the Azerbaijani
authorities had requested the Venice Commission’s assistance in
drafting the new Law on Defamation.
238. The Laws on the Protection of Data and on Access to Information
were recently amended. The recent amendments to the Law on Obtaining
Information put little or no obligation on State bodies to respond
to public requests for information and severely limited the freedom
of information of Azerbaijani citizens.
In his report on Azerbaijan, the Commissioner for Human Rights
draws attention to the existence of a “black list of racketeering
newspapers”, published by the Azerbaijani Press Council.Note
list contains the names of 90 newspapers which have allegedly breached
ethical rules of journalism and have been accused of resorting to
blackmail. While acknowledging the need to ensure the professionalism
of journalists, the Commissioner expressed strong reservations about
this approach, which entails a risk of partial and arbitrary decisions.
On the other hand, we were informed of the positive experience of
keeping such a “black list of racketeering newspapers” by the Azerbaijani
Press Council. A newspaper may be put on the list if it receives several
warnings following complaint examination procedures conducted by
the Council. Such a blacklist has no legal force and, being a form
of public reprimand, also serves the purpose of informing the general
public about newspapers breaching the Code of Conduct for Journalists.
240. We have received some worrying reports on the use of fabricated
charges to arrest journalists, human rights defenders, parliamentary
candidates and activists. One of the recommendations in the 2010
report of the Commissioner for Human Rights was to end practices
of unjustified or selective criminal prosecution of journalists
or others who may express critical opinions.
241. The practice may be illustrated by the example of Mr Eynulla
Fatullayev, who was charged in 2009 with possession of drugs while
in prison in relation to a defamation charge. He was released by
presidential pardon in 2011. The criminal proceedings against the
two activists from Baku, Mr Emin (Milli) Abdulayev and Mr Adnan Hajizadeh,
often referred to as “bloggers”, sentenced in 2010 for hooliganism
and released in 2011, follow a similar pattern.
242. The most recent examples include the case of Mr Avaz Zeynalli,
Editor-in-Chief of Khural,
who was arrested in October 2011 on charges of accepting bribes.
His claim is that the person who has accused him had, in fact, offered
him a bribe in return for silence and he had refused it. Reporters
Without Borders, which is following this case, as well as other
international watchdog organisations, believe that the charges were fabricated.
243. In November 2011, Mr Taleh Khasmammadov, a blogger and human
rights defender, was charged with hooliganism and physically assaulting
a public official, but he claimed that he was prosecuted for his
blogging on human rights activities.
244. Blogger and civic activist, Mr Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who was
conditionally released on 4 June 2012, had been sentenced, in May
2011, to two years’ imprisonment on charges of evading military
service, following his role in organising the March 2011 protests
via Facebook. The timing of his arrest and the charges against him appear
to be indicative of an attempt to stop his criticism of government
activities. Moreover, the conviction relates to the provision of
an alternative to military service, which is guaranteed in Article
76 of the constitution and constitutes one of Azerbaijan’s commitments.
However, the law on alternative to military service has so far not
been adopted (see below).
245. In May 2011, Mr Jabbar Savalan, a member of the youth group
of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, was sentenced to two and
a half years’ imprisonment on drug possession charges. This happened
soon after he had posted several critical comments against the authorities
and called for protests via social networks. International and national
civil society organisations have voiced their concern about what
they consider to be fabricated charges. He was released by presidential
pardon in December 2011.
246. In August 2011, Mr Vidadi Iskenderov, candidate in the 2010
elections, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges
of interference with parliamentary elections. He had earlier spoken
out about fraud during those elections.
According to the Human Rights House Foundation, as at 4 June
2012, seven journalists were imprisoned in Azerbaijan. Human rights
defenders and political and civil activists are confronted with
similar problems when they are critical towards the authorities.
According to the Human Rights House Foundation, as at 4 June 2012,
four human rights defenders were imprisoned.Note
248. During our visit to Azerbaijan on 12 June 2012, Mr Mehman
Huseynov, a photojournalist and blogger, was arrested and charged
with assaulting police officers at an unauthorised anti-government
rally, organised during the Eurovision Song Contest hosted in Baku
in May 2012. He was released after a few hours but the charges have
not been dropped. We spoke to his brother, Mr Emin Huseynov, who
is Director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety and
who believes that pressure on one photojournalist is pressure on
all participants of the Sing for Democracy Campaign.
249. In recent years, those who have been jailed in connection
with the exercise of their right to freedom of expression have often
been released before the end of their sentence (this was the case
for Mr Eynulla Fatullayev, for example, at the end of May 2011,
and for bloggers Mr Adnan Hajizade and Mr Emin Milli). However,
the terms of release leave former prisoners with criminal records,
which is an obvious handicap for their future lives.
250. In addition to spurious charges and imprisonment, journalists
documenting and reporting human rights violations are sometimes
subject to attacks. According to the 2012 Human Rights World Report
on Azerbaijan, there were more than 50 reports of alleged harassment
or attacks on journalists in 2011. In a large majority of these
cases, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
251. The murder of the Editor of the magazine Monitor, Mr Elmar Huseynov, in 2005,
and the fatal stabbing of journalist and writer, Mr Rafiq Tagi,
in 2011, remain unsolved and the ongoing investigations have had
252. Mr Seymur Haziyev, a journalist from the opposition newspaper
Azadliq, was reportedly beaten on 26 March 2011. According to his
report, his attackers warned him against writing critical articles.
His case has recently been sent back by the Court of Appeal for
additional investigation. We have insisted with the authorities
that this case should be clarified.
253. Mr Agil Khalil, an investigative correspondent of Azadliq, has been the victim of
several attacks, including stabbing. Despite his complaints to the
local police about the threats to his life that he had received,
nothing has been done to protect him.
254. On 3 April 2011, another journalist from Azadliq, Mr Ramin Deko, was reportedly
assaulted and warned not to write critical articles.
According to the documents of Human Rights Watch, harassment,
assault, intimidation of, and threats to, Azerbaijani journalists
have increased in recent years. In almost all the cases documented
by them, journalists filed complaints following the attacks, but
effective investigations leading to prosecution of perpetrators
did not follow.Note
256. On 7 March 2012, the investigative reporter of Radio Free
Europe, Ms Khadija Ismailova, who had been investigating claims
of a possible conflict of interest regarding a lucrative construction
project in Baku, received a letter with some intimate pictures of
her taken by hidden cameras in her apartment and a threat that they would
be published on the Internet if she did not halt her investigation.
She publicly exposed this blackmail attempt, which resulted in the
video’s publication. The authorities publicly condemned the publication
of that video. According to information received, the Office of
the Prosecutor General has started a criminal investigation into
Ms Ismailova’s complaint, which is still underway. So far, nobody
has been brought to justice.
7.4 Freedom of assembly
257. Since early 2006, the local authorities in Baku have
regularly prohibited public gatherings in the city centre on the
grounds that they would disturb the population. There are officially
designated areas outside the city centre, with no connection with
daily city life. Demonstrations which go ahead without authorisation
are often dispersed with force and lead to arrests and in some cases
disproportionately harsh sentences of administrative detention or
258. Freedom of assembly encountered serious setbacks in 2011,
in particular in March and April, when approximately 200 people,
including the head of the Youth Organisation of the Musavat Party,
Mr Tural Abbasli, were detained during unauthorised demonstrations
in the centre of Baku. According to the activists, the protests
were sometimes dispersed with excessive force, and the work of journalists
was hindered. According to the authorities, 13 police officers were
injured, more than 20 vehicles were damaged and windows of 17 shops
and banks were broken by protesters. Video footage confirms to a
certain extent the allegations from both sides.
259. The Azerbaijani courts sentenced at least 30 people to between
five and eight days in prison in trials that were closed to the
public. Moreover, most defendants did not have access to their lawyers.
Furthermore, 14 persons received sentences of one and a half to
three years’ imprisonment on criminal charges for participating in
“actions causing disturbance of public order” following trials whose
conformity with human rights standards has been called into question
by some NGOs and human rights defenders.
260. As we mentioned above, during our visit in February 2012,
we met two imprisoned activists, members of the Musavat and the
Popular Front Parties, who had been sentenced to two and three years
respectively for vandalism. They described to us the circumstances
in which they were detained, confirming the concerns raised by domestic
and international civil society.
261. To date, no participants of those demonstrations remain in
detention. During our last two visits, we insisted that all persons
be released without delay using all possible legal means.
262. In March 2012, Baku police used force to disperse an unauthorised
but peaceful demonstration in the city centre. Four youth activists
were beaten and 14 protesters and a journalist documenting the event
Also in March 2012, a peaceful protest in Guba, which gathered
approximately 1 000 participants, demanded the resignation of the
head of the local executive power. The action was dispersed with
use of disproportionate riot forces. At least two journalists were
264. Attempts at unauthorised demonstrations close to the area
of the Eurovision Song Contest
were also dispersed.
In all the above cases, the organisers were denied authorisation
to demonstrate in the centre of Baku, and the authorities proposed
venues on the outskirts. The Commissioner for Human Rights has publicly criticised
this method of restricting the freedom of assembly. The case law
of the European Court of Human RightsNote
indicates that the authorities’ refusal is a violation of Article
11 of the Convention.
266. In a worrying new development, parliament has recently adopted
amendments to the Criminal Code and Administrative Code increasing
penalties for participants in and organisers of unauthorised demonstrations. Combined
with an ongoing blanket ban on rallies in Baku, these amendments
are likely to further limit freedom of assembly and expression.
In our talks with the authorities, we insisted on the need to find
a compromise solution with the organisers of demonstrations and
to designate a place in Baku which would satisfy them and, at the
same time, meet safety requirements.
267. The OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission have jointly published
a set of Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly which should
serve as a useful tool for legislators and authorities.
7.5 Freedom of association
268. According to the authorities, more than 2 700 NGOs
are registered in Azerbaijan. The vast majority of them regroup
people sharing the same interest, which they try to promote (for
example elderly people, women, veterans of war, IDPs, etc.).
269. The government promotes civil activism in some areas and it
receives support from the international community in this respect,
including from the Council of Europe and the OSCE in the framework
of co-operation programmes. While in Guba, we met a representative
of an association tasked with assisting local NGOs to conduct their
activities. This action is financed partly by the government and
partly by the projects of international NGOs.
270. However, the NGOs operating in the field of human rights and
freedoms, in particular those openly critical of the government,
encounter some problems.
271. The question of registration of non-governmental organisations
remains a concern. The amendments to the law on NGOs, adopted on
9 June 2009, introduced a number of restrictive provisions concerning international
NGOs, including the provision barring foreign NGOs from operating
unless their activities were based on a formal international agreement.
The procedure for concluding such agreements, which was announced
by the government in the Decree published only on 16 March 2011,
272. And yet, on 10 March 2011, the branch of the Human Rights
House Foundation in Azerbaijan was closed following a notification
from the Registration Department of the Ministry of Justice, which
stated that the Human Rights House had not concluded any agreement
with that Ministry, as required by the amendments to the law on
NGOs. This organisation has recently selected a local co-ordinator
and continues its operations in the country. At the same time, another
international NGO, present in Azerbaijan since the mid-1990s, the
National Democratic Institute, has been closed.
273. Moreover, according to the requirements defined in the decree,
international organisations must respect “national and moral values”
and not be involved in “political or religious propaganda”, which
may always be used as a pretext not to register an NGO. These terms
are too vague and may easily be subject to misinterpretation.
National NGOs also encounter difficulties in carrying out
Azerbaijani national registration does not explicitly provide for
compulsory registration of local NGOs, in order to acquire the legal entity
status necessary to operate, they have to be registered. Therefore,
in most cases, NGOs apply to the Ministry of Justice for registration.
However, NGOs are sometimes subject to restrictive application of
the regulations, which result in long delays or absence of any formal
decision on registration. In several cases, refusals failed to indicate
the legal basis for a negative decision. According the Norway-based
NGO “Human Rights Home Foundation”, this was the case of the Election
Monitoring and Democracy Education Centre (EMDEC), a well-known
275. On 3 October 2011, the Council of Europe Conference of International
Non-Governmental Organisations criticised the amendments to the
law on NGOs and adopted a recommendation in which it called on the Azerbaijani
authorities to revise this law.
276. In its legal opinion, delivered in October 2011, the Venice
Commission identified a number of problems, referring primarily
to the registration process. It says that the 2009 amendments and
the 2011 decree overturn the previous efforts to meet the requirements
of international standards.
277. Moreover, in the past few months, some national and international
NGOs have faced difficulties in freely carrying out their activities.
There have been reports of threats and harassment against members
of civil society, including human rights defenders and their families.
The concerns raised in the previous chapter on freedom of expression
are directly linked to the activities of civil society in Azerbaijan.
7.6 House demolitions
278. The Baku Mayor’s office began an expropriation campaign
in 2009 in order to build a “garden-park” complex, among other construction
projects, as part of a reconstruction programme. Those who refused compensation
or resettlement were evicted. According to the authorities, some
dissatisfaction emerged with regard to the amount of the financial
compensation given, but a large majority of the residents agreed
with the standard financial proposal.
279. During our meetings with representatives of civil society,
criticism was voiced in this respect. Their concerns are many: firstly,
the whole process lacks transparency. Long-term planning is not
public enough; there is no public access to documentation; the procedure
and decision-making process are unclear; and in some cases inhabitants
are forced to leave their homes at a very short notice. We were
informed that at none of the courts’ hearings where local residents
have challenged the demolition of their houses have the Baku City authorities
presented an urban development programme.
Secondly, forced evictions are against the Azerbaijani law
in force, which guarantees the right to private property and allows
the State to expropriate property only in limited cases, such as
for national defence or State purposes.Note
must be based on a court order.Note
Many demolitions have been carried
without such an order or in some cases, despite the court decision
prohibiting demolition pending the final outcome of the court proceedings.
281. Thirdly, there is a single price of US$1 900 per square meter,
irrespective of a property’s use, age or condition. The authorities
emphasised to us that the premises to be destroyed are mostly old
and dilapidated. On the other hand, it is true that some owners
have valued properties in central Baku at US$5 000 per m2,
and in some cases even more, but during our discussions it became
clear that such prices only concerned well-located apartments in
newly constructed buildings. The inhabitants have not received compensation
for the land on which their houses were located in contradiction
to the law in force.
Furthermore, to date, 30 houses which were designated as architectural
monuments by the Cabinet of Ministers’ decision No. 132 (2001) have
Their owners have
received the same standard compensation.
According to numerous evidence, including video footage, the
police has been actively involved in forced evictions.Note
284. On 12 August 2011, the building in which several human rights
organisations, including the well-known Institute of Peace and Democracy,
were located, was bulldozed. We spoke to Ms Leyla Yunus, a human
rights activist who has long campaigned against forced evictions.
We were told that the staff had not been allowed to evacuate material
(computers, etc.). Ms Yunus estimated the office’s market value
at US$625 000, whereas the authorities emphasise that her own apartment,
together with the IPD office space, totalled 85 m2, thus her financial
demand exceeds US$7 300 USD per m2. She
said that she had not received any eviction notice. Moreover, in
February 2011, she filed a suit against the city and received an
injunction in May from a local economic court, halting any demolition
work while the case was proceeding. In other words, the forced eviction contravened
the court’s decision. However, Ms Yunus has not yet continued her
individual claim under civil law.
7.7 Freedom of conscience
285. According to official figures, out of a population
of 9 million, approximately 97% are Muslim. The remainder of the
population consists mostly of Russian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox,
followers of other Christian groups, Jews and non-believers.
286. The Constitution of Azerbaijan guarantees religious freedom.
However, some concern is raised by other laws and implementing policies
which may restrict the freedom of conscience and religion.
287. Restrictive conditions concerning religious communities were
reinforced on the occasion of the adoption, in May 2009, of amendments
to the law on freedom of religion. The amendments introduced the
requirement for religious communities to re-register as a condition
for further activities and functioning. Furthermore, higher fines
can be imposed on foreigners or stateless persons who disseminate
religious propaganda, as well as on persons who carry out religious
activities at any address other than that registered by their religious
community; who publish, import or export religious literature without
first obtaining the authorisation of the State Committee for Relations
with Religious Organisations, who distribute religious literature
without authorisation, who sell religious literature outside authorised
premises or who engage in proselytising activities not provided
for in the statutes of their religious community.
288. In its last report on Azerbaijan, ECRI expressed serious concern
about this situation, stressing that it was incompatible with the
case law of the Court and in particular with the decisions in the
case concerning the practice of religious activities on private
premises and prior restrictions on publication, as well as the distinction drawn
by the Court between bearing religious witness and improper proselytism.
289. The requirement for re-registration of all religious groups,
regardless of the previous status of registration that came into
force in 2010, was easily fulfilled by some groups. However, other
groups were denied registration and left in limbo. This was particularly
the case of some communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Seventh-day
Adventists, the Fatima Zahra mosque, the Baku International Fellowship,
the Baptist Church in Aliabad and the Cathedral of Praise; the Nehemiah
and Pentecostal Churches have also been denied registration.
290. According to the figures provided by the Ministry of Justice,
before the 2010 amendments entered into force, there were 534 registered
291. As at December 2010, the State Committee reported that a total
of 576 religious communities had been registered, of which 493 were
Muslim, 9 Christian, 6 Jewish, 1 Hare Krishna and 1 Baha’I, and
17 were non-Muslim. Some groups are still completing the process.
However, some communities complain that, despite repeated attempts
to re-register, they have received contradictory replies. Seven
groups have been denied re-registration. According to the case law
of the European Court of Human Rights, any refusal to re-register communities
which have already existed in the country for some time and have
lawfully conducted their activities must be based on particularly
weighty, compelling reasons.
292. Some communities that were denied registration have challenged
this decision in the courts.
293. In December 2010, the parliament adopted a law which substantially
increased the fines for violation of the laws on religious activities,
including the importation of certain religious materials. Under
the previous law, an individual found guilty of a single violation
(producing, importing or distributing religious literature without approval
from the State Committee and the sharing of “religious propaganda”
by foreigners) would be fined 100 to 300 manat (approximately between
€105 and €315). Under the new law, an individual convicted of the
same violation will be fined 1 500 to 2 000 manat (approximately
between €1 580 and €2 100).
294. The amendments to the national legislation, adopted in the
course of 2011, led to a further tightening of the rules for founding
a religious community and established mandatory reporting to the
Caucasus Board of Muslims and the State Committee for Working with
Religious Communities, which considerably increased the severity
of possible sanctions. There are also burdensome registration requirements
for religious groups. The Venice Commission’s opinion was adopted
in October 2012. We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to address the
concerns and follow the recommendations contained therein.
295. At our request, the Monitoring Committee, at its meeting on
31 May 2012, decided to request the Venice Commission’s opinion
on the Law on Religious Freedom.
296. We have to acknowledge that we were impressed, during our
visit in June 2012, when we met representatives of the major confessions
in Azerbaijan (Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish). According
to them, the conditions for worship are fully satisfactory, and
co-operation between the confessions is exemplary, which confirms
the climate of religious tolerance prevailing in the country. They
all emphasised that they are completely free to practice their religion
and expressed their strong support for the policy of the Azerbaijani authorities
with regard to the freedom of religion. They called on the European
Union to focus on this specific aspect of Azeri society and to give
clear support to Azerbaijan in order to encourage this policy of
religious tolerance at the outskirts of Europe.
297. While the traditional religious communities do not face any
major obstacles to exercising their faith, the authorities have
reportedly monitored and raided some services and confiscated religious
materials of small sectarian religious groups. The ongoing controversy
regarding the official prohibition of wearing the hijab (veil) at
school and the imprisonment of the leaders of the Islamic Party
of Azerbaijan in 2011, may risk fuelling religious extremism in
an otherwise tolerant society.
7.8 Alternative military
298. Upon accession, Azerbaijan undertook to “adopt, within
two years of accession, a law on alternative service in compliance
with European standards and, in the meantime, to pardon all conscientious
objectors presently serving prison terms or serving in disciplinary
battalions, allowing them instead to choose (when the law on alternative
service has come into force) to perform non-armed military service
or alternative civilian service”.
299. There is an explicit provision in the Constitution of Azerbaijan
stipulating that “If military service is contrary to a person’s
convictions, then, in cases provided for by law, an alternative
form of military service may be permitted in place of regular military
service” (Article 76, paragraph II). Unfortunately, the relevant
law was never adopted.
300. A draft law has been prepared and the Venice Commission delivered
an opinion on it in 2006. However, since then it has not been adopted.
301. The authorities have explained us during our visits that the
delay had been caused by the unsettled conflict with Armenia over
Nagorno-Karabakh. However, during the visit in June 2012, we were
glad to hear that the law on alternative military service is being
302. We urge the authorities to adopt without further delay a law
on alternative civilian service in compliance with Council of Europe
standards and, in the meantime, not to prosecute or imprison those
who refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience
and provide them with an opportunity to accomplish their duty to
society in line with their conscience.
7.9 Protection of minorities,
xenophobia and intolerance
303. Azerbaijan is a multiethnic and multicultural country.
The main ethnic groups of the population are Azerbaijanis (91.6%),
Lezgins (2.02%), Armenians (1.35%), Russians (1.35%), Talysh (1.26%),
Avars (0.56%), and Turks (0.43%). Upon accession, Azerbaijan committed
itself to adopt, within three years, “a law on minorities which
completes the provisions on non-discrimination contained in the
Constitution and the Criminal Code and replaces the presidential
decree on national minorities”.
304. Azerbaijan ratified the Framework Convention on the Protection
of National Minorities (ETS No. 157) in June 2000 and since then
it has been subject to the monitoring procedure of the Convention.
The most recent report of the Advisory Committee dates back to 2008.
The latest country report was presented in 2011.
305. The legal and institutional framework for national minority
protection is very limited in Azerbaijan. The law on minorities,
which constitutes one of Azerbaijan’s commitments, has been a subject
of public debate for several years but it has not been adopted to
date and the Presidential Decree of 1992 on the rights and liberties on
national minorities as well as Article 45 of the Constitution establishing
the right to learn in minority languages remain the legal basis
for minority policies.
306. Furthermore, there is no institutional structure to deal specifically
and on a regular basis with issues related to the protection of
national minorities. Neither is there a mechanism to enable consultation
and effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities
in decision-making on issues of relevance to them.
307. Policies in favour of national minorities and of activities
of their organisations are scarce, despite some efforts to maintain
national minorities’ cultural monuments such as religious buildings.
Moreover, there is no institutional system of allocation of support
for minorities’ organisations.
308. On the positive side, there has been progress in minority
education, and there are schools with entire curricula in Russian
and Georgian. Moreover, it is possible to study other minority languages
as part of primary education in regions inhabited by minorities.
309. Persons belonging to national minorities are present in Azerbaijani
political life including in elected bodies. However, reportedly,
they have no means to effectively advocate minority interests and
7.10 The Ombudsman institution
310. The Constitutional Law “On the Commissioner for Human
Rights of the Republic of Azerbaijan” was signed into law in 2002.
The Ombudsperson is elected by the parliament from among three candidates
put forward by the President of the Republic. Since the establishment
of the Office, the post has been held by Ms Elmira Suleymanova,
whom we have met on many occasions. There are four regional centres
of the Commissioner’s Office.
311. Apart from dealing with individual complaints with regard
to human rights violations, the Commissioner may submit motions
to the parliament with a view to revising legislation.
By the President’s Order in 2009, the Commissioner has been
designated to act as the national preventive mechanism against torture.
He or she is entitled to pay regular visits to places of detention,
isolation centres, investigatory isolators, penitentiary institutions,
prisons and psychiatric institutions. The Commissioner publishes
periodic reports on the findingsNote
and submits proposals
addressing identified concerns.
313. As mentioned above, the Commissioner is also responsible for
co-operation on the implementation of the National Action Plan on
Protection of Human Rights.