Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review
4 February 2009 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record
· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Azerbaijan this morning, during which 58 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.
· This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Djibouti, following the review of the country on Monday, 2 February.
· Presenting the national report of Azerbaijan was KHALAF KHALAFOV, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, who noted that the legislation of his country was being regularly improved to bring it in line with international standards in the field of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. According to the Constitution, human rights and freedoms were secured in accordance with international treaties. According to the amendments to the Constitution, the Commissioner for Human Rights – Ombudsman – had the rights to make an inquiry to the Constitutional Court with respect to normative acts of legislative and executive authorities, municipalities and courts violating human rights and freedoms. It was noted that on 18 March 2009 the referendum on amendments to the Constitution of Azerbaijan would be held. Azerbaijan was a State party to most of the international and regional treaties in the field of human rights including seven core universal instruments. The Government of Azerbaijan closely cooperated with United Nations treaty bodies, with Special Procedures and with regional mechanisms in the field of human rights, particularly with the Council of Europe.
The Government took all measures to strengthen the functioning and further development of the media, the Deputy Minister noted. In recent years, with a view of supporting the independence of the media and strengthening its material and technical basis, the Government had taken a number of important steps. Moreover, a Council on NGOs, under the auspices of the Offices of the President, was established in 2007. Reforms in the judiciary were among the essential measures aimed at strengthening democratic principles and the realization of human rights. The adoption of a number of new laws laid the ground for the democratization of legal policies and the judiciary. The Government of Azerbaijan together with the Council of Europe set up a working group aimed at improvement of the effectiveness of the judiciary. Among other things, a special law on the Judicial Legal Council was adopted and significant amendments were made to the law on the Courts and Judges. The Government, in cooperation with the European Commission against Torture, took complex measures for the betterment of the functioning of the penitentiary system. The Ombudsperson and her staff had the right to freely visit penitentiaries without prior notification and, as a result of reforms to the penal system, these establishments were also open to human rights NGOs.
In order to promote and realize social and economic rights the Government adopted a number of State programmes dealing with poverty issues, employment and food security, among other areas, he added. It was noted that the World Bank declared Azerbaijan as the most active reformer country last year. The visit of Pope John Paul II to Azerbaijan in 2002 was an important event in the social life of the country and served as an acknowledgement of the tolerance in Azerbaijan. The promotion of cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue was one of the priority areas of the foreign policy of Azerbaijan. Today in Azerbaijan women were represented in legislative, executive, judicial and administrative bodies and participated actively in the political life in the country. The Government took concerted action to combat violence against women and, in January 2008, launched a joint project on combating violence against women. It was also noted that 2009 was declared the Year of Children in Azerbaijan. Among other measures taken, was the initiation of the State programme for 2006 to 2015 on giving children from various State-run institutions to family and alternative care. Moreover, in 2006 the Government and UNICEF signed an Action Plan on the implementation of reforms in the field of juvenile justice. The Government also took relevant legislative and social measures in the fight against human trafficking.
The Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remained the most difficult problem for Azerbaijan, the Deputy Minister affirmed. More than one million Azerbaijanis became refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons) as a result of an ethnic cleansing policy carried out by Armenia which had negative affects on the protection of their rights and freedoms. For this reason, Azerbaijan was not able to entirely able to implement the international human rights obligations in its territories which were occupied by Armenia. Consequently, while acceding to a number of international human rights instruments, Azerbaijan was obliged to make special reservations or declarations regarding the impossibility of guaranteeing the implementation of their provisions in the occupied territories until their complete liberation.
· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the efforts of the Government to combat violence against women; the attention given to the well-being of children; the accession to the Optional Protocols of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; accession to most of the core human rights treaties; the cooperation between the Government and civil society; the cooperation between the penitentiary administration and NGOs in monitoring the situation in detention facilities, as exemplified by ICRC prison visits in Azerbaijan; steps to combat human trafficking; progress made in the area of economic, social and cultural rights; achievements in combating poverty in the country; the accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; and the measures taken to alleviate the suffering and improve living conditions of IDPs, particularly as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to The measures to alleviate pressure on the media in the country; the steps to promote media freedom; the plans to establish a separate office on mass media within the Office of the Ombudsperson; the steps being taken to ensure the release of imprisoned journalists; steps taken to ensure religious freedom; measures to ensure the human rights of displaced people; and clarification on measures taken to redress the situation of discriminatory treatment of the Armenian population.
Other issues raised concerned the measures intended to guarantee the independence of the judiciary; steps taken to promote the criminal legislation allowing for victims’ right to remedy; training programmes aimed at enhancing the knowledge of judges in the field of human rights; measures to improve the situation of prison overcrowding; measures to avoid cases of torture and police abuse; the steps to cope with social segregation and potentially lower quality of education; steps to address the increase in school enrolment rates; challenges faced in the employment sector; the steps taken to implement the recommendations of the Committee on economic, social and cultural rights in terms of the conditions of prisoners; further steps envisaged to ensure economic and social rights, in view of the State’s poverty reduction schemes; and measures being taken to address the high rates of maternal mortality.
Other issues covered the initiatives in place to eliminate any inequalities between men and women; specific challenges faced in overcoming obstacles with regard to combating violence against women; the human rights situation of vulnerable groups such as children and women IDPs; activities at raising awareness in human trafficking and combating such acts; steps to implement the national plan of action against human trafficking; training for law enforcement officials on domestic violence; and the situation of street children.
· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To uphold media freedom in accordance with international standards; that crimes and violations against journalists and human rights defenders were effectively investigated and prosecuted and that those responsible were punished; to discourage State officials from continuing the current practice of instituting lawsuits against journalists and human rights defenders that published criticisms; to uphold the right to freedom of assembly; to modify or repeal the criminal legislation on defamation; to respect the work of human rights defenders and that legislation concerning NGOs was implemented accordingly; to ensure that all branches of the State fully respect and promote the freedom of expression; to take all necessary measures to ensure that the Law on Freedom of Assembly was not applied in an unduly strict manner by the local authorities; to consider to abolish the pre-approval requirement for public assemblies altogether and to replace it with an obligation of notification for the organizers of public assemblies; to reconsider the decision to ban the broadcast of foreign radio stations on local frequencies and permit broadcasting by non-Azeri outlets on FM frequencies; and to ensure that all journalists remaining in detention were released.
Other recommendations included: To take into account the recommendation of the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion aimed at promoting and fully ensuring freedom of religious for all religious communities throughout Azerbaijan; to take all necessary measures to shorten the period of pre-trail detention of all persons arrested on criminal charges, in particular minors; to urgently improve prison conditions; to improve services for the administrative of justice; to provide adequate standards of living for all displaced persons; to establish mechanisms to address the situation of ethnic minorities, IDPs and asylum seekers; to promote and strengthen the cooperation on international humanitarian assistance for the benefit of refugees and IDPs; for Azerbaijan to stop discriminatory practices against its own citizens as stated in the recommendations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child of 2006 and to redress the situation to achieve full protection of human rights for all its citizens, especially children.
Additionally, Azerbaijan was recommended to continue efforts to improve access to education for all children; to develop a national strategy to guarantee a better access to education to all children; to continue with efforts to increase the living standards of its people; to enhance human rights education efforts; to review poverty reduction programmes with a view of addressing the root causes of poverty and the adoption of effective ways of dealing with ensuing social challenges; to fully implement the recommendations of the United Nations study on violence against children; to increase efforts to eliminate discrimination against women; to take concrete steps to ensure the efficiency of a child protection system; to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment against children; to take measures to ensure that persons below 18 who were in detention were not subjected to corporal punishment; to continue its work in implementing the State programme on transferring children to families and alternative care; to take additional measures to protect and promote the rights of women and children; to adopt specific legislation as regards violence against women and forced marriages; to ensure that women victims of violence were afforded access to justice and rehabilitation; to consider enacting the appropriate legislation on domestic violence for the better protection of women; to institute public awareness campaigns about gender balance; and to ensure the effective implementation of the national action plan against human trafficking.
Other recommendation included: To take necessary measures to fight against corruption, in order to increase transparency in local and national institutions; to ratify the Convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances; for the Government to continue cooperating with human rights NGOs; to issue a standing invitation to the Special Procedures; and for Azerbaijan to accede to the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court.
· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Slovenia, the Netherlands, Cuba, Germany, the Republic of Korea, China, Mexico, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, France, South Africa, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Jordan, the Russian Federation, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Italy, Canada, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Senegal, Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines and India.
· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Liechtenstein, Sweden, Norway, Tunisia, Spain, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Austria, Hungary, the United Arab Emirates, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Lithuania, Armenia, Holy See, Iran, Poland, Syria, Estonia, Chad, Afghanistan, Palestine and Ireland.
· The 13-person delegation of Azerbaijan consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population, the Office of the President, the State Committee on Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons and the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Azerbaijan are Saudi Arabia, Slovenia and Mauritius.
· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Azerbaijan can be found here.
· Adoption of report on Djibouti: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Djibouti are the Russian Federation, Bolivia and Indonesia. Introducing the report GUSTI AGUNG WESAKA PUJA (Indonesia), said the troika was pleased with the level of commitment of the State under review in the preparation of the report. It was hoped that Djibouti would benefit from the UPR process. Representing the State under review, MOHAMED-SIAD DOUALEH, Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said Djibouti would examine the recommendations laid in the report with interest and close attention. Djibouti attached great importance to the UPR process.
· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Azerbaijan on Friday, 6 February.
· When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Cameroon after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Canada.
Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx. To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp.