In a letter addressed to EU leaders, 76 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including 42 members of the network of Human Rights Houses, have urged the EU and its member states to “secure tangible human rights improvements and changes from the government of Azerbaijan at the very outset of negotiations of the new partnership agreement”.
In the letter they also urge EU leaders to “use this high-level visit to insist that President Aliyev commits to concrete, lasting human rights reforms”.
To further raise attention on the dire human rights situation in Azerbaijan, an event entitled “EU/Azerbaijan partnership: human rights under the carpet?” was hosted at the European Parliament, organised by the Human Rights House Foundation, Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights, and Eastern Partnership Civil Society.
During the event, two prominent Azerbaijani journalists, and former political prisoners, Emin Milli and Khadija Ismayilova, highlighted continued human rights violations. Outlining the detention of activists and journalists, and the severe restrictions imposed on civil society organisations and their access to funding.
President Ilham Aliyev arrived in Brussels on his first official visit since 2014, where he met leaders of key institutions of the European Union including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini, and European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn.
This visit is expected to trigger the official start of negotiations for a new partnership agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan, to replace the current agreement dating from 1999.
Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy, HRHF said “These steps forward in relations between Brussels and Baku are in clear contrast with the lack of improvement of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. “
The last visit of President Aliyev to Brussels dates from January 2014; on that occasion, a journalist asked him about his position on political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The President denied the presence of any political prisoner in the country, and insisted that anyone who considers themselves to be unfairly treated can apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and stressed that Azerbaijan complies with the Court’s decisions. Contrary to the assurances of Preisdent Aliyev, opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov is still in prison despite numerous requests by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to implement ECtHR decision to release him.
“EU leaders will have an opportunity now to confront President Aliyev on this and many more issues key to improving the human rights situation in Azerbaijan in order to finally obtain long-awaited engagements. “ concluded Florian Irminger.