The obligations of the Azerbaijani Government

To: The Chairman and members of the Norwegian permanent delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE)

Oslo, 26th May 2005

Re:  The obligations of the Azerbaijani Government to comply with its commitments following its membership in the Council of Europe 

The non-governmental human rights organisations the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights House Foundation and Norwegian PEN find it necessary to direct your attention to how the Azerbaijan authorities continues not to fulfil its obligations before the Council of Europe, and ask you if you are planning to make any steps in this regard.

On Thursday 19 May we received alarming reports from a number of credible sources regarding the detention of at least 30 democracy activists and members of the opposition. The authorities have accused them of violation of public order. We believe that the arrests were connected with the rally planned by the opposition parties Musavat, Azerbaijan Democratic Party and Popular Front joined in the “UGUR”-bloc on May 21st. The Mayor of Baku City refused permission to organise the event citing concerns that it fell too close to the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline scheduled for May 25.  As you may be aware of, the authorities have de facto installed a ban on all rallies and protests organised by opposition parties and other organisations since the terrible events in Baku on October 16th, 2003.  On that day, the police, military and security forces violently broke up the large rally on the Freedom Square protesting the fraudulent October 15th elections.  The Azerbaijani authorities refuse the right of assembly despite the guarantees provided by the Constitution of Azerbaijan, the obligations following the membership in the Council of Europe, and despite the Article 8 of President Ilham Aliyevs Executive order on improvement of the Election Practices.

On May 21st, police surrounded Party headquarters before the scheduled rally, closed entrances to the square where the rally was supposed to take place and also used other measures, including arrests, to prevent protesters to approach the square.  The police in large groups then used batons to beat people who had gathered and attempted to get to the square.  Dozens were injured and more than hundred detained.  We can provide you with lists of the injured and arrested upon request.  The journalist Faris Teymurkhanli was beaten unconscious, even though he was carrying a jacket clearly indicating that he represented the press. Also several other journalists were beaten carrying out their duty, in direct contradiction to the statement made by President Aliyev in a meeting with Reporters Sans Frontiéres on 4 April 2005.  In that meeting, the President stressed that that it was “unacceptable for government officials to attack journalists» and that he wished in future to «establish the rule of law» in Azerbaijan.

Today, we have had reports that even young students, members of the organisations advocating for activation of the role of youth in political processes and propagating the norms of democracy are being arrested.

On 25 April 2005, the PACE Monitoring Committee adopted a declaration expressing deep concern ahead of the November 2 parliamentary elections.  The Committee declared that basic pre-conditions for holding free and fair elections are not met, as freedom of expression is suppressed and there is no right to hold peaceful meetings.  The Committee underscored that even though many political prisoners, including opposition leaders have been released; they are still banned from participating in political life.  On this particular issue, we also would like to remind you that potential candidates are still abroad for fear of persecution if they return, reducing the list of profiled opposition figures on the candidates lists even more.

The declaration adopted by the Committee echoed in particular the PACE resolution 1358 (2004) on the functioning of the democratic institutions in Azerbaijan.  In this resolution, PACE expresses a number of serious concerns related to considering the election of 15 October 2003, PACE also finds the separation of powers inadequate and deplores the fact that media still cannot be considered free.  With regard to fundamental freedoms, PACE concludes that the freedom of expression has been further curtailed, not improved, since the previous report, the freedom of association is restricted, the freedom of peaceful assembly suffers repeated an unacceptable restrictions.  Further, PACE concludes that serious violations of basic human rights by law enforcement bodies are still being reported and torture and ill-treatment of detainees continue.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights House Foundation and Norwegian PEN would like to express our concerns and doubts with regard to the Government of Azerbaijan’s sincere intentions to implement the obligations following the membership in the Council of Europe.  The recent events again seriously put in question the Azerbaijani governments’ understanding of the real content of what a pluralistic, democratic society, governed under rule of law means.  We are seriously concerned that if the Azerbaijani government does not immediately lift all restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, as well as implements recommendations made by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission with regard to election administration, free and fair parliamentary elections in November this year will not be possible.

Our organisations acknowledge that a new member state of the Council of Europe may need a reasonable amount of time to be able to implement the commitments they have voluntarily made.  However, we urge you to raise the question as to whether the Government of Azerbaijan is sincerely committed to its effort to fulfil its obligations before the Council of Europe.  We also urge you to consider the consequences the recent events related to the Republic of  Azes membership in the Council of Europe.

Sincerely yours,

Bjørn Engesland
Secretary General, Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Maria Dahle
Executive Director, Human Rights House Foundation, Norway

Carl Morten Iversen
Secretary General, Norwegian PEN

Copies of this letter are sent to:
President Ilham Aliyev, the Republic of Azerbaijan
The Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jan Petersen
The Norwegian Prime Minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik
The Norwegian Parliament, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Torbjørn Jagland
The Norwegian Embassy, Baku, Steinar Gil
The US Embassy, Baku
Hina Jilani
Freedom House
OSCE, Baku Office
Council of Europe, Baku Office