Updated: CAT raises deep concerns over treatment of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan
The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) concluded its review of Azerbaijan on 10 December. This follows CAT members questioning a large delegation from Azerbaijan in Geneva on 11 and 12 November 2015.
Friday, 13 November 2015, by Human Rights House Network (HRHN)
Updated 23 December 2015
On 10 December, the UN Committee Against Torture gave the following concluding observations and recommendations in its review of Azerbaijan.
The Committee is deeply concerned by consistent and numerous allegations that a number of human rights defenders have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, subjected to ill-treatment, and in some cases have been denied adequate medical treatment in retaliation for their professional activities, such as: Leyla and Arif Yunus, Ilgar Mammadov, Intigam Aliyev, Mahamad Azizov, Rashadat Akhundov, and Rashad Hassanov. The Committee takes note of the fact that Mr.Yunus’s incarceration had been replaced with house arrest. The Committee regrets the State party’s categorical position that all the above allegations are unfounded, despite the existing reports of United Nations and other international organisations human rights mechanisms.
The State party should:
- Investigate promptly, thoroughly, and impartially all allegations of arbitrary arrest, denial of adequate medical treatment, and torture or ill treatment of human rights defenders, including those listed above, prosecute and punish appropriately those found guilty, and provide the victims with redress.
- Release human rights defenders who are deprived of their liberty in retaliation for their human rights work.
- Amend and bring in line with international standards its legislation to facilitate the registration of human rights organizations and financial grants for the work of such organisations and change its practice to ensure that all human rights defenders are able to freely conduct their work.
Published 13 November 2015
Contradictions about torture in Azerbaijan
The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) reviewed Azerbaijan on 11 and 12 November 2015. A large delegation from Azerbaijan arrived to face questions from CAT members with 20 delegates headed by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Khalaf Khalafov on Thursday.
The Committee challenged Azerbaijan on its report, submitted to the Committee by the Government. In this report, the Government of Azerbaijan claims that no cases of torture have been recorded. This in stark contrast to the 678 cases submitted to the prosecutor’s office 2010-2013 only to be dismissed - usually for a lack of evidence, in addition, cases of torture are widely reported by human rights activists and NGOs.
During the session, CAT member George Tugushi noted that with a population of over 9 million, the fact that no one is ever prosecuted for ill-treatment and torture is unlikely to be “indicative of proper treatment of people in police custody” and represents “problems of accountability” within the system. Also mentioned by George Tugushi were overcrowded prisons, insufficient medical treatment and widespread corruption within the prison system of Azerbaijan, and poor access to lawyers.
On Thursday, the Azerbaijani delegation answered, represented by the Head of Department on Human Rights and Public Relations of the Ministry of Justice, Faig Gurbanov. He highlighted that Azerbaijan adopted new codes that regulates the election of judges and that all trials are open and recorded. He also claimed that the Council of Europe recognised their procedure of election of selection of judges as the best in Europe.
Felice Gaer, Vice-chairperson of the CAT, also took issue with Azerbaijan’s claims about their torture record and expressed her outrage at reports of inter-prisoner violence committed against Leyla Yunus. As she heard about the release on house arrest of Arif Yunus, Felice Gaer enquired why his wife Leyla Yunus had not been transferred to a safe place, too. She also inquired why Ilgar Mamadov had been beaten until he had lost consciousness. In particular with the case of Ilgar Mammadov, the Azerbaijani delegation were asked about the nature of an offer of a presidential pardon, which would be granted on the condition that he apologizes to the President; of this she asked: “Is this a normal release procedure in Azerbaijan?”
Regarding Leyla Yunus' case, the CAT Chairperson, Claudio Grossman vehemently reacted to affirmations of the Azerbaijani delegation that she suffers neurasthenia. Claudio Grossman asked when and by which competent psychiater she was seen and asked to receive information about her medical situation.
CAT Member Kening Zhang highlighted that during 2009, 2010, and 2011, cases of death by tuberculosis increased in Azerbaijani prisons. Included in his questions was a query about why no proper investigation was held into the death of Turac Zeynalov, and mentioned that his family still receive threats to leave their home in Nakhchivan.
Concerns were also raised about the legislation of NGOs, which serve as a basis in which to arrest and persecute human rights lawyers, journalists and activists. Regarding this particular issue, Khalaf Khalafov’s statement was representative of the inexact information provided by the Azerbaijani delegation to CAT:
The legislation of the Republic of Azerbaijan does not envisage the mandatory state registration of local NGOs as legal entities. Local NGOs can carry out their activities without state registration.
In line with the Law on Registration of legal entities and state register the obligatory state registration is foreseen for commercial organizations, as well as representations and branches of foreign legal persons. With a view of further development of civil society the draft laws on Social orders and Trade unions were also elaborated.
This is clearly not the case with the many of the country’s top human rights defenders in prison for this very reason. HRHN interviewed the Moldovan lawyer Serghei Ostaf and Emin Huseynov, and received their opinions on the delegation’s statement.
In fact, the participation from Azerbaijani NGOs to the CAT itself has been a motive for the imprisonment of human rights activists in the country. For its previous review at CAT in 2009, the Human Rights House Azerbaijan submitted a NGO report and contributed to the review. Rasul Jafarov was one of those travelling to Geneva, working at the time with the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety. He was inspired by the work of the Committee to further the defence of human rights in Azerbaijan. Today Rasul Jafarov is one of the detained human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. Felice Gaer expressed her worries about the fact that today Rasul Jafarov is in detention, as she met him in 2009 in Geneva. In 2011 the Human Rights House Azerbaijan was ordered to cease all activities. This prompted Jens Modvig, anoter member of the CAT, to state that “the country is going backwards based on what has been going on between 2009 and 2015.”
Findings in report:
The report submitted in 2015 reflects the grave deterioration of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan in the past few years. The country’s situation, reviewed in 2009, was already challenging but can in no way be compared to today’s situation:
The UN Human Rights Committee has opined that the right to a fair trial “is a key element of human rights protection and serves as a procedural means to safeguard the rule of law.” At its core, the fairness standard requires that a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal that is established by law conduct criminal trials. Human Rights House Network organised mobile groups observing a number of cases against human rights defenders in 2015 and all groups reported failings to comply with rules of a fair trial. The report documents procedural violations, violations of the rights to independent and unbiased proceedings, right to presumption of innocence, right to assistance of legal counsel, pressure against lawyer, independence of the judiciary and cases of intimidation and disbarments of lawyers defending human rights activists;
The report also documents use of torture and other mistreatment, abuse of pre-trial detention, lack of adequate medical treatment and poor detention condition;
During the first day, the Azerbaijani delegation answered some of the questions raised relating to; crime and prosecution, a lack of need for torture in the country (because the “the existing system allows us to investigate successfully”), prosecution for illegal detention, and once again they reiterated that they have “never had cases related to the use of torture”. All of these answers completely contradicting NGO reports and first-hand observations.
Human Rights House Network (HRHN)
Submission to CAT:
The Human Rights House Foundation elaborated a report on the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT) with the support of the Human Rights House Network's contacts in Azerbaijan and outside and of the Resource Centre for Human Rights Moldova (CReDO).
CAT also received two other civil society submissions, from World Organisation against Torture / International Partnership for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch.
In addition, the government submitted a report to CAT, also answering the List of Issues.
Emin Huseynov and Moldovan lawyer Serghei Ostaf were also in Geneva to brief CAT members about torture.
Emin Huseynov was the leader of the Azerbaijani Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety but had to flee Azerbaijan to secure himself. Serghei Ostaf is the leader of the Moldovan Ressource Centre for Human Rights. He has observed a number of trials of human rights defenders in the framework of Human Rights House Network mobile groups in Azerbaijan.