Status of Civil and Political Rights in Azerbaijan in 2005
Area: 86.6 thousand sq. Km (33,774 square miles), more than 16% under foreign occupation
Population: 8.436 Mln (Jan 1, 2004), 51% reside in urban areas, 49% in rural areas. About 13% are refugees and IDPs
Birth rate: 17.1 births/1,000 population (2005)
Death rate: 6.1 deaths/1,000 population (2005)
Median age: 27.3 years (2004)
Life expectance at Birth: 72.4 years
Labor force: 4.99 million (2004 est.)
Economic indicators: Per capita GDP: $537, average salary $123/month
Population below poverty rate: 29% (2005 est.)
Military manpower: males age 15-49: 2,187,847 (2004 est.), fit for service: 1,748,567 (2004 est.)
Ethnic groups: Azeri 90%, Dagestani 3.2%, Russian 2.5%, Armenian 2%, other 2.3% (1998 est.)
Religion: Majority of population (96%) is Muslim, of them approximately 70% Shi'a and 30% Sunni
Azerbaijan is a post-Soviet republic with authoritarian regime led since June 1993 by family of Aliyev. After death of Heydar Aliyev, the President became his son Ilham Aliyev (15.10.03). Change of leadership provoked the internal competition within the ruling team, which became obvious in the eve of Parliamentary elections of 6 November 2005.
Being inspired after the “colored revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, the opposition became more active since the pre-election campaign. However, the electoral frauds could not launch the prominent protest actions. At the end 2005, the opposition refused to participate in the work of Parliament where got 10 seats of 125. The struggle for power was accompanied by violations of freedoms of assembly and association, arbitrary arrests, defamation in media.
The campaign against corruption started by the Government in January resulted in scandalous dismissals and arrests of middle rank officials. But top rank corruptioners still occupy the leading position in the government, and corruption still is a powerful factor of political and social life.
Unresolved conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region as well as existence of number of refugees and IDPs still are main factors aggravating the economical, social and political situation in Azerbaijan. Up to 20% of territory still is occupied by Armenian forces, and in the country are up to 880,000 forcedly displaced persons (refugees and IDPs). The peace negotiations were blocked by the electoral campaign
The visible split is between legal framework and practice. The courts demonstrated the dependence from executive power, especially in property cases and politically sensitive cases.
In February, the criminal leaders provoked a prison riot which was a cause to strengthen a regime. However, dismissal of high officers of penitentiary system and better access of human rights defenders improved the general conditions in prisons.
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan had been discussed by PACE in June. Despite of expired deadline of obligations before Council of Europe, some of them still are not implemented. For example, new legislation on national minorities was not adopted, alternative service was not established, political prisoners still are in detention, etc.
Good Governance According to the Transparency International (TI), Azerbaijan took in 2004 140th place in the list of 145 examined countries with Corruption Perception Index 1.9 of 10 possible. As TI Chairman Peter Eigen noted, “oil-rich Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen all have extremely low scores. In these countries, public contracting in the oil sector is plagued by revenues vanishing into the pockets of western oil executives, middlemen and local officials.”1 In January 2005, a new anti-corruption law adopted by the Government of Azerbaijan came into force; it aims to reduce corruption and increase professionalism of officials. In January-February, about 30 officials of penitentiary system were dismissed and arrested.
In March, a criminal group lead by the Colonel-Lieutenant of Police Hadji Mammedov was disclosed and arrested for murders, racket, kidnapping. Among members of gang were other police officers, even Chief of the Department of Criminal Search of Ministry of Interior, Zakir Nasirov. The gang enjoyed impunity since 1996.
In September 6, 17 middle-rank officers of Ministry of Defense, Ministry of National Security were sentenced for different punishments up to 8-years imprisonment for bribery of conscripts and soldiers.
In October, in connection to the announced return of exiled oppositionist R.Quliyev, in Baku and Ganja cities were arrested 2 Ministers, 1 former minister, dozens businessmen and officials were arrested or dismissed. Main figures were accused of attempt of coup d’etat and embezzlement of public funds, others were charged of different financial crimes. This anti-opposition campaign also was related to the struggle against corruptioners who allegedly invested into the opposition movement.
National Human Rights Protection On March 25, the Ombudsman E.Suleymanova reported to Parliament the results of her work in 2004. She mentioned that her office received 6,300 complaints, in 70% more than in 2003. The majority of complaints concerns activities of policemen, courts and corruption. According to E.Suleymanova, “bribery became a norm of officials’ life”. At the basis of recommendations of Ombudsman, 34 prisoners were pardoned in 2004.
On December 30, the newly elected Parliament of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR) adopted amendments to the Constitution of NAR about establishment of institute of Ombudsman of the NAR. This official will act separately from and will not subordinate to the Ombudsman of Azerbaijan.
In March-June, some human rights defenders were intimidated by pro-governmental media in connection to the discussions on political prisoners. E.g, on March 23, a Director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy Leyla Yunus got the death threats sounding really at the background of murder of prominent journalist Elmar Huseynov on March 2. After this killing, some other human rights defenders reported about surveillance, threats, etc.
In May 9, the Hesabat magazine published an article about a grant received by the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan with photographs of unsealed and unsigned grant contract obviously copied from secretly opened letter. The HRCA asked explanations from the Ministry of National Security but got no answer until the end of year.
Since May, several newly established non-governmental organizations (NGOs) established so called “Public Council on Control over Political Prisoners” with goal of denial of problem itself and membership of several dozen pro-governmental NGOs. While some human rights groups failed to get registration, the Council has obtained official registration on October 21.
Commenting statements of human rights defenders that the problem of political prisoners is not solved yet completely, a head of Political Department of President Administration Ali Hasanov accused them on April 15 of “juggling” and stated: “I openly declare, that I do not respect with any human rights defender. They are not worthy to be not only human rights defender, but also citizens of Azerbaijan.2”
In contrast, some other officials initiated cooperation with human rights defenders. In particular, the mixed working groups to deal with prison reform were established by Ombudsman and Minister of Justice. The ad hoc Working group on political prisoners with participation of some leading human rights defenders, members of Parliamentary delegation to PACE, officials of Presidential Executive Staff, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Azerbaijan’s Agent in the European Court of Human Rights was established in June. However, after several sessions, the ad hoc group stopped its activity.
In September, the UN Special Representative for human rights defenders, Hina Jilani visited a conference in Baku to support Azerbaijani human rights defenders. The group of local human rights NGOs announced at the event an establishment of Human Rights House, their joint project together with the Human Rights House Foundation (Norway).
Elections and Referenda On 6 November 2005, the citizens of Azerbaijan elected 125 members of unicameral Parliament (Milli Medjlis). Respectively, there were established 125 Constituency Elections Commissions (ConECs) and 5,053 Precinct Election Commissions (PECs). That created some confusion, because the elections of 2000 were conducted in 100 constituencies. ConECs and 487 PECs subordinated to them were reserved for IDP voters and located in areas where these IDPs moved to after the 1991 hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan. One constituency was created for Nagorno-Karabakh controlled by Armenia, with announce that ethnic Armenians of this area can vote by available ways.
The process of candidate registration was much more liberal than in 2000. As a result, 2,063 of 2,148 applicants were registered including several former political prisoners who managed to lift their previous convictions. Consequently, 41 candidates were deregistered by the Court of Appeal or had their candidatures cancelled by the CEC. Also, 476 withdrew their candidacy in short period between the arrests of some ministers and opposition activists on Mid-October and the deadline of 26 October, some of them allegedly under a pressure.
According to the statistics, 1,974,036 of 4,675,572 voters participated in elections, and official figure of turnout was initially 46.6% and after the cancel of some results by CEC and Con.ECs became 42,2%. At the background of high activeness of electorate, that proves allegations that about 2 million citizens eligible for voting live in CIS countries, while Minister of Interior Ramil Usubov claimed that only about 237,000 Azerbaijani citizens are in reality living abroad.
Some improvements were related to the May 11 and October 25 Presidential decrees. For example, there were allowed exit polls and domestic and foreign observers, and finger inking. First time in the history of elections in Azerbaijan, the exit polls were conducted by American and Estonian companies.
However, the recommendations by the PACE, Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR on more balanced election administration were not implemented. As a result, in the day of voting, the commissions in number of precincts permitted serious violations of law. Domestic and international observers have reported with regards to election day procedures, that the most frequent breaches of the Electoral Code are interference of local executive authorities and police in polling stations, voters not found on the lists, participation of voters not living in the precinct, intimidation of observers and election commissioners, violation of the principle of secret voting, telling voters who to vote for and campaigning in precincts. Disorder in some polling stations has also been reported3. International observers assessed that in 43% of the cases the proceedings during the vote count was bad, or very bad. Tampering with the final protocols was observed in 15% of the polling stations observed, while final protocols were completed with pencil in another 15% of the cases. Moreover, observers and party representatives were intimidated in 17% of the polling stations and unauthorized persons were directing the counting process in 14% of the vote counts observed.4
The elections were observed mainly by the representatives of the candidates. Just several days before the elections, the Parliament abolished the restriction for observation of voting process by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which budgets had more than 30% foreign investments. That prevented many NGOs from getting grants for election observation and to observe. Additionally, many traditional international observers like US National Democratic Institute were invited too late. The observation group under the auspices of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) election observation project including representatives from Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan failed to get accreditation. Some activists of other organizations like Ukrainian Party “Pora” and Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) were prevented from entrance in the country.
Following an invitation by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) decided on 20 June 2005, to set up an ad hoc Committee to observe the elections in Azerbaijan. On November 29, this Ad Hoc Committee led by Mr. Leo Platvoet issued a report5. The document noted that elections “did not meet a number of Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic Elections. While there were improvements in some respects during the pre-election period, shortcomings were evident with regard to key aspects of the process such as voter registration, and continued restrictions on the freedom of assembly, a fundamental right, marred the campaign period. Voting was generally calm, but the Election Day process deteriorated progressively during the counting and, in particular, the tabulation of the votes. High level state authorities expressed the political will to improve the overall election process, as reflected in two presidential decrees. However incoherent implementation by executive authorities, most notably with regard to provisions prohibiting interference by the authorities in the election campaign, or the abuse of administrative resources in favor of certain candidates, undermined the effectiveness of these degrees”. The Press Statement of the US Department of State of November 7, 2005 also noted that “parliamentary elections were an improvement over previous elections in some areas. However, we share the preliminary assessment of the OSCE Observer Mission that, despite these improvements, the elections did not meet a number of international standards… We are disturbed… by credible reports in selected districts around the country of major irregularities and fraud that may have disenfranchised voters in those districts. Flaws included credible reports of serious violations in vote counting and tabulation as well as intimidation of observers. The OSCE's preliminary assessment also noted significant problems in the pre-election period.”
As during all previous elections, the opinion of observation mission of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which had an unprecedented 640 observers was positive and concluded that “the vote proceeded in a calm and good working atmosphere in [the] majority of precincts… Certain violations and misgivingsin the pre-election campaign process were not massive,and did not significantly effect the free expression of voters' will and the results of the polls”.6 Responding the international criticism, the CEC abolished results of elections in 4 and Constitutional Court in 6 more constituencies. The by-elections are scheduled for My 13, 2006. The Prosecutor’s Office started 11 criminal cases which results were unknown at the end 2005. Three regional governors were dismissed for intervention into the electoral process.
Currently, the ruling Party New Azerbaijan has in new Parliament 55 seats (in previous – 74), 42 MP are non-Party, 10 are oppositionists, and the rest are the representatives of pro-governmental parties or did not mention their political affiliation.
Prior the elections, the PACE stated: “It hopes that the forthcoming parliamentary elections will be held in a democratic and transparent manner, so as to cast no doubt over the credentials of the new delegation”7. The issue of credentials of new Parliamentary delegation to PACE would be discussed during its January session 2006.
In the same day of November 6, the residents of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan elected 45 members of local parliament (Ali Medjlis) from 145 candidates. The Ali Medjlis of NAR includes 38 members of ruling party, 5 non-party, 2 members of opposition Party of Popular Front of Azerbaijan. In contrast with a rest of territory of Azerbaijan, there was registered no complaints at all.8 Freedom of Expression, Free Media and Information In January, the number of registered media was 2,145, of them 2,080 printed media. In first half of 2005, 244 new media were registered. Among media, approximately 15% are owned by the Government, about 35% by political parties.
The election campaign aggravated a work of media. The wide-spread was so called “Black PR” which was used in struggle between the various candidates for members of Parliament as well as government and opposition.
Taking into account that 88% of population of capital and 93% of country-side residents considered TV as a main source of information, an establishment of Public TV channel (iTV) was a prominent event of 2005. The government transformed into the iTV Second channel of State TV (AzTV-2), but it was obviously underpaid, in 10 times less than state channel AzTV. The monitoring of iTV work conducted by the Nadjaf Nadjafov Foundation revealed that instead of balanced coverage the election campaign, in November one-sided coverage of elections took 54.3% of broadcasting time of iTV.
Many journalists became the victims of police abuses during the not authorized mass events of opposition despite they have been dressed in special dark blue waistcoats with word “Press”. Only in rare cases, the authorities reacted for the complaints of victims. For example, on May 21, the journalist Farid Teymurxanli was beaten by policeman while covering opposition meeting. As a result of his complaint, the policeman was dismissed from Ministry of Interior. Covering an opposition meeting of October 9, the journalist of Ayna newspaper Idrak Abbasov was severely beaten in Baku by police in civil clothes. After the strong protests of journalists unions, the criminal investigation started and in late December, the Sabail district prosecutor’s office found out the concrete perpetrator. In other case, during an allowed opposition street rally of November 9, Deputy Chief of Yasamal district police administration had beaten in the presence of witnesses the journalists Sarvan Rizvanov and Mehman Safarli. The Yasamal district prosecutor’s office refused to open criminal case, however the Ministry of Interior obliged to punish in disciplinary order the policemen if they would be found guilty.
In December, the Chief Inspector of Main Administration of Public Security of Ministry of Interior, Colonel-Lieutenant M.Quliyev was disciplined for “unreasonable and rough intervention in work of journalists”.
Till end of 2005, there were not discovered and arrested the suspects of murder of editor-in-chief of Monitor magazine Elmar Huseynov on March 2. The government assessed the crime as a terrorist act and even attracted the foreign experts to the investigation. However is strange that investigation refused to publish in local media the identikit of alleged criminals which was ready in June.
The still actual is a problem of access to information. For example, the League of Protection of Labour Rights of Citizens informed in December that in 2005, the NGO had used 7 ways of monitoring. Most effective way to get information appeared a written request, but even in this case, only 17 of 27 letters were answered by officials.
On September 30, the Parliament passed a law “About reception of the information”. On December 19, the law signed by President was officially published. It created a post of Commissioner on Freedom of Information who has a right to bring a case in court against state, municipal and public organizations which would violate the Law. The law is provided, that a public information having operative interest should be given within 24 hours. The information connected with drawing of damage to health of the person, should be given within 48 hours. In general, a term of granting of the information can make up to 7 days. If the information demands specifications this term can be prolonged. The state and municipal bodies are obliged to create own websites. The Law also lists over 30 kinds of information which the above-named bodies cannot hide.
Peaceful Assembly Freedom of peaceful assembly became in 2005 vital in the context of pre-election campaign. Until June 04, no opposition rallies had been allowed, and the attempts to hold the mass events were suppressed by police forces. The permissions for rallies are refused under the pretext of maintaining law and order and with the presumption that any rally would be at the origin of violence.
For example, after the announce of not allowed street rally of May 21 in Baku city, the police surrounded the headquarters of 3 leading opposition parties, blocked the place of action, have beaten and arrested dozens demonstrators.
In June, the PACE called on the Azerbaijani authorities, with regard to freedom of assembly, “urgently to comply with European standards and practice as regards the organisation of rallies and maintenance of law and order by the police and stop the practice of arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters based on the presumption that they are potential trouble-makers9.”
After that, a governmental policy became more liberal. E.g., up to 50,000 people gathered for the opposition meeting in Baku on July 9. In Nakhchivan, first opposition meeting since 1993 was allowed on July 26. According to the Minister of Interior R.Usubov, until October 14, the candidates for members of Parliament had 13,582 meetings with the electorate. During the election campaign, 43 applications for street rallies and open-air meetings were received by the authorities. Twenty of 26 of appeals from the opposition parties were fulfilled.
Close to elections, the opposition tried to hold some of its meetings without permission and every time, they were dispersed by excessive police force even those being non-violent. For example, on October 9, the non-allowed opposition rally was dispersed, at least 27 arrested and dozens people were beaten including journalists in special blue waistcoat. On October 17, the hundreds oppositionists were beaten and arrested to prevent them from gathering at the Baku Airport to meet a returning opposition leader Rasul Quliyev. The government assessed that as a crime and started investigation. On November 26, hundreds oppositionists and general publics were beaten and arrested after organizers of this allowed opposition meeting in Baku appealed participants not to dissolve and to begin a non-stop protest action. The criminal investigation started against the organizers of meeting. The police had detained 23 people and beaten up dozens during an unsanctioned demonstration in Baku on December 18. After the dispersal of demonstrators on October 17, the Constitutional Court urgently adopted on October 21 a decision explaining the Article 49 of Constitution. The CC statement that “the limitations useful in democratic society and defined by law can be applied to the right for freedom of assembly” was consequently used as excuse for any excessive use of police force. Freedom of Association According the NGO Forum of Azerbaijan, in January the total number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was 2,935, but only 1,769 of them have been registered. In 2005, the Ministry of Justice (MJ) registered 174 non-governmental organizations (NGO). In 2004, there were established 934 new NGOs, and 164 NGOs were registered. At least 4,340 people worked in the non-governmental sector.
Only about 500 NGOs are active. 283 NGO passed through tax registration. In 2004, only 33 NGO submitted the information on their 107 received grants (totally $3,330,000) to the MJ. The procedure of submission of this information is not forcible; therefore a real figure of foreign investments into the NGO sector is much bigger.
At the end of year, 50 political parties were officially registered, 8 of them in 2005. The equal number of parties acted without registration. In Parliament are represented only 11 parties: ruling Party of New Azerbaijan (YAP), Ana Veten (Motherland) Party, Party of Civil Solidarity, Musavat Party, Umid Party, Party of Civil Prosperity, Party of Popular Front of Azerbaijan, United Party of Popular Front of Azerbaijan, Democratic Reforms’ Party, Party of Great Creation, Party of Civil Unity.
During their election campaign, the opposition political parties had faced intimidation, arrests, mobsters attacks at offices, restriction of their non-violent assemblies.
In December, after the strike of Azeri workers, in the McDermott Co. had been established first trade union in the foreign companies operating in Azerbaijan.
Judicial System, Independence of the Judiciary (and Lawyers),
Right to a Fair Trial and Effective Remedies The national judicial system had been developed. In September, the 5-years term of office of the judges of first instance courts inspired but was prolonged until election of new judges, who will work permanently, until pension age of 65 years.
On September 18, the first 865 candidates passed a first stage of test examination, of them about 130 women. Only 223 candidates got through and on November 26 participated in second stage, written exam on 4 themes. In December was announced that only 68 people had success. There are remaining several more stages including oral interview. Both examines were monitored by diplomats, lawyers, human rights defenders.
According to the head of Supreme Court Ramiz Rzayev, the bad quality of work of judges is related not only to their professional skills but to their overwork. E.g., in 2004 they reviewed 61,700 cases, in some regional courts, the judges dealt with 500-600 cases monthly. In 2005, in the last weeks before elections, the district and regional courts reviewed 20,117 complaints related to the registration of voters, and satisfied 20,105. However, the complaints of failed candidates faced other attitude: 71 complaints were rejected by the Court of Appeal and 38 by the Supreme Court.
The high officials announced the serious personal changes in the courts. And really, in 2005, the Chairmen of the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and Economical Court were dismissed from positions. 3 judges of Court of Appeal and 50 judges of other courts were disciplined by the Judicial and Legal Council.
The situation with Bar Association remained unsatisfactory. The Law “About advocates and bar activities” was adopted in late 1999, and Azerbaijan’s obligation before the Council of Europe was “to re examine and amend the law on the Bar, at the latest within three years of its accession”, i.e. until January 2004. However, the Association was re-established only on 4 November 2004 and rejected membership of many licensed lawyers (about 150 in total). In February 2005, the Nasimi district court tried a lawsuit of 18 rejected advocates and closed the case, because allegedly there is not a way to bring case against the Bar Association in current legislation. The scandalous story ended on June 14 with adoption of amendment to the law permitting the licensed advocate to be the members of Bar Association. However, even after widening of Bar Association, there are 0.6 barristers/10,000 population, while in Armenia are 1.5, in Russia – 4.1, etc.
The newly established Forum of Lawyers of Azerbaijan failed to be officially registered and brought a case against the Ministry of Justice. However, they failed in domestic courts which supported a monopoly of the Bar Association.
In June, the Prosecutor General Zakir Qaralov issued an order “About cooperation of prosecutor’s offices with media and NGOs”. The order established the positions of employees responsible for PR at all levels of Prosecutor’s Offices.