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Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 Azerbaijan

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 Azerbaijan 

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/236712.pdf

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Azerbaijani constitution provides for a republic with a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Mejlis (parliament). The president dominated the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The 2013 presidential and 2010 parliamentary elections did not meet a number of key Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards for democratic elections. Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other Azerbaijani territories. Largely as a result of the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, 622,892 persons remained displaced, according to the UNHCR. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by Russia, the United States, and France. There was an increase in violence along the Line of Contact and the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Military actions in July, August, and the fall resulted in the highest number of deaths in one year since the signing of the 1994 ceasefire agreement. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights problems during the year were the following:

1. Increased government restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, although authorities allowed some peaceful opposition rallies. Restrictions included intimidation, incarceration on questionable charges and use of force against human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists. Authorities employed legislation, intense pressure, and other measures to narrow further the operating space for activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Although the government resurrected a working group on human rights issues in October to conduct a dialogue with selected activists, a number of domestic and international NGOs reported a crackdown unprecedented for the country, including intimidation, arrest, and conviction of staff on charges widely considered politically motivated; criminal investigations into their activities; restrictive legislative amendments; and/or frozen bank accounts. As a result of such pressure, many groups were unable to function, an estimated 30 reportedly ceased their operations, and at least three organizations had closed their offices as of November.

2. Government use of the judicial system to punish peaceful dissent--including increased reports of arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated imprisonment, lack of due process, and lengthy pretrial detention--by secular and religious individuals perceived as a threat by government officials, while crimes against such individuals or their family members went unpunished. At the same time, the number of defense lawyers willing and able to accept sensitive cases declined due to actions by the authorities. Authorities released some individuals widely considered incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

3. Restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections.

Other reported human rights problems included physical abuse in the military; torture or other abuse in prisons; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; and detentions for several days without warrants or incommunicado. Authorities often failed to provide due process with regard to property rights, resulting in forced evictions, demolition of buildings on dubious eminent domain grounds, and inadequate compensation for property taken by the state. There were reports of continued arbitrary government invasions of privacy, incarcerations of religious figures, and restrictions on the religious freedom of some unregistered Muslim and Christian groups. Authorities at times restricted freedom of movement, particularly for civil society figures under investigation. Constraints on political participation persisted. Allegations of widespread corruption at all levels of government continued, although some government agencies took steps to decrease petty corruption at the local level. There were continued reports of official impediments to the registration of human rights NGOs, violence against women, gender-biased sex selection, and trafficking in persons. Societal intolerance, violence, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained problems. Societal stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS and government failure to enforce labor laws prohibiting discrimination in employment or occupation were also reported.

The government failed to take steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed human rights abuses, and impunity remained a problem.

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