Baku, Azerbaijan will host on the 22 May 2012 the Eurovision song contest organized by the European Broadcasting Union. Broadcasting of this week’s events can be the occasion for European media to transmit information about the deficit of democracy in the country and the constant violations of human rights. Will they be brave, considering the economic ties with Baku related to energy, to speak of human rights and democracy? While many EU member states are conducting their realpolitik without regard for human rights, the situation in Azerbaijan is getting worse every day, with non-governmental organizations being closed, journalists killed or deprived of liberty and the number of prisoners of conscience constantly growing.
Azerbaijan is bound by the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR); on 15 April 2002 it ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It cooperates with the European Union, among other in the frames of the Eastern Partnership, whose goal was to tighten the economic links between the EU and the cooperating states, as well as to promote democracy, good governance and human rights. It is also one of the countries aspiring to sign an association agreement with the EU.
In spite of this, in the Freedom House report of 2011, Azerbaijan once again was referred to as a state that is “not-free”. Numerous violations of human rights show that ensuring effective compliance with human rights is a serious challenge to Baku.
A number of violations can be seen in the context of the exercise of freedom of association (Article 11 ECHR). This is due to the actions taken by the authorities, but also inadequate legal provisions.
The government of Azerbaijan, pointed to the need to limit the activities of Azerbaijani NGOs in international fora, including at a meeting of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in January 2011.
Moreover on 10 March 2011 Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan closed down the Human Rights House (member of an international organization, the Human Rights House Network), removing the organization from the register. The basis for the closure was the amendment to the Act of 2009, requiring international NGOs operating in Azerbaijan to obtain authorization of the state.
Demolition of the office of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) and the Women’s Crisis Center that took place on 11 August 2011 is an extreme example of impeding the functioning of human rights organizations. Request for more time in order to bring equipment and documents out from the building were denied. The private property of the IPD directors, as well as all computers, office appliances, documents, a library and a private archive that were inside the building, were completely destroyed. Demolition of the building was executed despite the Baku Administrative Economic Court´s ruling in 24 May 2011, which stated the inadmissibility of destruction of the building without the final court decision.
The contest and the reorganization of the city of Baku was preceded by months of forced evictions, demolition of houses without proper compensation, or even court decision.
The legislation on non-governmental organizations of the Republic of Azerbaijan has been scrutinized by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission). According to the Commission The Law on NGOs adopted in 2000 and amended in 2009 as well as The Decree No. 43 issued in 2011 do not meet the European standards. They create a lengthy and complicated registration procedure, they introduce the requirement of the minimal nominal capital that is necessary for the establishment of funds, this nominal capital amount to approximately 9000 EUR, in addition, the procedure is centralized: all the NGO’s must register at the Ministry of Justice Office in Baku, despite the fact the Ministry of Justice has branches in the different regions. It has also been stressed that the provisions concerning the liability and dissolution of NGOs are drafted in an unclear manner.
Also freedom of expression, guaranteed by article 10 of the ECHR, is subject to numerous restrictions. The arrest of Eynulla Fatullayev for publishing two articles in the local press was a glaring example of this. The first article was published in April 2005 and described the events in Nagorno-Karabakh. Proceedings for defamation were initiated against the journalist. The second article, spoke of the President Ilham Aliyev, and was published in 2007. In the two proceedings Mr. Fatullayev was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment. In the judgment of 22 April 2010, ECtHR found this to be a violation of article 10 of ECHR and ordered the journalist to be freed (he regained freedom after 4 years of imprisonment). The Court pointed out that in a democratic state there is no justification for the imposition of a prison sentence for the exercise of freedom of expression. The Court also noted that there has been a violation of article 6 § 1 of the Convention – the case was not dealt with by an impartial tribunal, because one of the judges was involved in a civil law suit against the journalist, and of article 6 § 2 (presumption of innocence) – one of the high officials made a public statement declaring the journalist guilty before the judgments was issued. Despite the clear signal from the ECHR and the numerous appeals of international NGOs, the journalist was detained in prison for many months after the ruling.
Other examples of violation of freedom of expression include: the murder of journalist Elmar Huseynova, circumstances of which have not been explained, sentencing two bloggers, Adnan Hadjizadeha and Emin Milli, for criticizing the government on the Internet, and convicting at least 30 people for participating in peaceful protest against the authorities in March 2011 (their trials were classified, not everyone had access to lawyer).
In light of these drastic forms of human rights violations, the dialogue on human rights is undoubtedly one of the challenges faced by the European Union and Azerbaijan. The November 2011 EU-Azerbaijan human rights dialogue did not bring spectacular effects, the country is regularly denying human rights violations and cooperation in that respect.
Next week will show if the glamour and entertainment in the media will again take over weighty problems. Let’s hope for the better!
Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska “Europe of Human Rights”
The article was based and inspired by the campaign “Sing for Democracy” organized by the Alliance for Defense of Political Freedoms (ADPF), Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and Human Rights Club (HRC).