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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of Azerbaijan

Committee on Economic, Social 
  and Cultural Rights

3 May 2013

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the third periodic report of Azerbaijan on the country’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

Introducing the report, Khalaf Khalafov, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister of Azerbaijan, said the country’s economy was developing dynamically and poverty levels had dropped.    Over one million Azerbaijanis were refugees or internally displaced, and the Government was taking steps to provide them with a good quality of life.  Most of the recommendations of the last Universal Periodic Review had been adopted, as had a national plan for raising the efficiency of human rights protection.  The relevant bodies of power closely cooperated with civil society.  Two State programmes for the social and economic development of the regions of the country played a significant role in the country’s overall development.  Targeted assistance for those with low income was offered and poverty reduction measures had been taken.  A law against domestic violence was passed in 2010, and the minimum age of marriage was 18.  A major goal was to increase the participation of women and fight corruption. 

Committee Experts asked questions about human rights education and dissemination of the contents of the Covenant, discussion on the Optional Protocol, the percentage of GDP spent on matters related to social and cultural rights, the standard of living of internally displaced persons, domestic violence, the representation of women, forced evictions, civil society, Armenian citizens, human rights impact assessments, gender stereotypes, the Human Rights Commission, privatisation, Sunni and Shi’ite relations, unemployment, trade unions rights, employment of women, the minimum wage, businesses in the informal economy, the minimum pension, the employment of persons with disabilities, minority languages in education, education costs and reform, the education of children with disabilities and school attendance.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Khalafov thanked the Chairperson for his help in guiding them through the process, saying that the dialogue had been very useful as an interactive dialogue was an important tool to correct mistakes and overcome shortcomings.   Azerbaijan was open to working in all these areas and the preparation of the report was done in the spirit of great openness, with the participation of civil society. 

Heisoon Shin, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Azerbaijan, speaking in preliminary concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for its explanation of a whole new range of laws and reforms, adding that these only became useful through monitoring of their success.  He welcomed that non-governmental organizations were free to carry out their activities, and the suggestion that Azerbaijan could possibly ratify the Optional Protocol.

Zdzislaw Kedzia, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for their exemplary conduct and said that he hoped that understanding had been increased on both sides.  Presentations to the Committee were seen as an opening of a process of cooperation.  It was hoped that the next report gave details of the implementation of the recommendations offered by the Committee.

The delegation of Azerbaijan consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Representation of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs, the Department on Work with Law Enforcement Bodies of Administration of the President, the State Committee for Affairs of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, the State Committee for Work with the Religious Organizations and the Central Election Commission.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Monday, 6 May, when it will meet with non-governmental organizations who will brief it on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Togo, Rwanda and Denmark, whose reports will be considered next week. 

The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on country reports reviewed this session will be published on the first working day after the end of the session on Friday, 17 May on its webpage.

Report of Azerbaijan

The third periodic report of Azerbaijan can be read here: (E/C.12/AZE/3).

Presentation of the Report of Azerbaijan

KHALAF KHALAFOV, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister of Azerbaijan, said 2013 had been a busy year for Azerbaijan’s submission of reports on human rights, which had been sent to a number of United Nations treaty bodies.  Azerbaijan was closely following the process of reforms in treaty bodies, which it believed was essential and important to prevent duplication and overlap.  Azerbaijan had ongoing cooperation with the Human Rights Council, and had sent a standing invitation to the Special Procedures mandate holders. 

Azerbaijan’s economy was developing dynamically, with the World Economic Forum ranking it as having the best economic competitiveness in the post-Soviet area for four years in a row.  Poverty levels had dropped from 50 per cent to six per cent, the non-oil sector had grown and inflation was 1.1 per cent.  Human and citizens’ rights and freedoms had a direct force in the territory.  Due to land disputes with Armenia, over one million Azerbaijanis were refugees or internally displaced, and the Government was taking steps to provide a good quality of life for these persons.  This included building housing, schools, and medical and communication facilities.  Most recommendations of the last Universal Periodic Review had been adopted. 

A national plan for raising the efficiency of human rights protection was adopted in 2011, which envisaged an improvement of the definition of human rights and fundamental freedoms, improvement of activities of the State agencies, and awareness raising measures.  The relevant bodies of power closely cooperated with civil society.  Two State programmes for the social and economic development of the regions of the country played a significant role in the country’s overall development.  As a result, more than 1.1 million jobs had been created, directly linked to the success achieved in the non-oil sector.  More than 77 per cent of new jobs were created in the regions, with more than 20 per cent in areas with compact settlement of national minorities.

A number of State programmes facilitated the creation of favourable conditions for the realisation of rights in the field of culture.  The Government was also elaborating an action plan on national and cultural solidarity in the regions, including training events for regional figures of culture, research into the situation of intercultural dialogue, and the publication of brochures on the cultural heritage and diversity of the country.

A law on education was passed in 2009, and approximately 70 documents were adopted for education at all levels.  The programme for educating Azerbaijanis overseas allowed thousands of students to receive education overseas.  Around 2,000 schools had been renovated, (50 per cent) and given modern equipment.  Since 2006, targeted assistance for those with low income was offered, and efforts in pensions and social support were specifically noted.  This allowed for the strengthening of institution building, and awareness raising for officials, improvement of the labour market and social protection.  Poverty reduction measures had been taken to protect and develop human potential in the country in general.  A law against domestic violence was passed in 2010, and the minimum age of marriage was 18 for both men and women.  Measures against forced marriage had been strengthened.  The country had ratified a number of ILO Conventions.

One for the major goals of the current State programme on poverty and sustainable development was to increase the participation of women.  Fighting corruption also played a role in these measures.  Azerbaijan had joined the open government partnership in this regard.  Taking consideration of the need to improve transparency, the State Agency on Services for Citizens and Social Innovations had been established, and within this a number of Ministries were represented.  This facilitated cost-cutting and was time-saving for citizens.  It also promoted the wider use of e-services.

Azerbaijan had proclaimed 2013 as a year of information and communication technologies.  There were no limits on internet use and half the population was online.  A State programme for credible statistics and information was to provide for an application of new methods in the collection of data on employment, with due account of monitoring of life and living conditions.

A statistical study on child mortality was to be undertaken.  On the provision of health services, in the last 10 years some 500 health care facilities were fully equipped with modern technologies.  Another 17 facilities had been constructed.  Raising the standard of medical services for mothers and children was a priority direction and significant measures had been carried out in this field.  Seven perinatal centres were provided with advanced technologies and measures to improve the knowledge of medical personnel.

Questions by Experts

HEISOON SHIN, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Azerbaijan, asked how much education and dissemination of the contents of the Convention was being offered to officials, the judiciary and the public.  What was the status of the discussion on the Optional Protocol in the country?  What percentage of GDP was spent on matters related to social and cultural rights?  Poverty and the standard of living of internally displaced persons was a concern. 

Could more detail of the law on domestic violence be given?  How did it function in preventing violence and protecting victims?  Only two women were in the 21-person delegation.  Perhaps a quota was needed for the representation of women in public life?  There were reports of forced evictions in Baku in the name of beautification of the city.  These could not be accepted and must be immediately stopped.  It was also necessary for the Government to have a good relationship with civil society.  Were reports that activists were being prosecuted true? 

An Expert asked what kind of human rights impact assessments were completed before beautification or similar projects were completed?  It seemed there was a general sense among displaced persons of not feeling self-reliant, what were the delegation’s thoughts on this?  What were the proactive steps taken on tackling gender-stereotypes?  Was a gender equality action programme a more effective way to address this issue?

Having women in a delegation showed that gender equality efforts were bearing fruit, agreed another Expert.  Were campaigns at the national level in relation to the legal status of the Covenant successful?  Why had there been no court cases based on the Covenant yet?  Could more information on the Human Rights Commission be given?  Did it have in its remit Covenant rights?  About privatisation, were Covenant rights negatively impacted by this?  What was the experience of Azerbaijan in bringing harmony between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims?  Were Sunnis represented in Government?  Had the Gender Equality Act produced good results?  Were there concrete examples?  To what extent did Azerbaijan include information and analysis in the education of the judiciary, and a more general national discourse about the Convention?

On unemployment, rates were particularly high amongst persons from 20 to 24, why was this?  What was the strategy to tackle this and was it in any way related to the employment of women or minorities in this group?  On the right to form trade unions, reports had been received about the difficulty of forming these groups in the oil industry.  Why were union rights not fully observed in this industry?  What steps could be taken to tackle this in the future?  Did these measures meet the International Labour Organization standards?  There was a considerable gap in most areas when considering the employment of women, how would this issue be tackled specifically?  What was the status of laws related to forced labour? 

Another Expert wondered if the minimum wage was high enough to ensure a decent standard of living?  More information on the one-stop procedure of registration of businesses in the informal economy was requested, and what protection did this offer?  How did the amount of the minimum pension relate to the standard of living?  How were contributions organised and how was the differential in the retirement age of men and women managed in terms of the level of benefits received? 

The Government had described quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities, said an Expert.  To what extent were these quotas implemented in practice?  Were these only applicable to the public sector?  Administrative procedures could be invoked against those that did not meet the quotas, but what was the punishment and had it ever been levied?  Could the statistics to be created in the new studies, as described in the opening statement, cover the employment of persons with disabilities, and could they be aggregated to detail age and gender?  What was the time frame that the Government intended to use to align the minimum wage with minimum living requirements?  Another Expert asked about labour rights and where they were applicable to foreign workers?  What was the difference between the treatment of foreign and domestic workers?  Was there a gender pay gap?  What efforts had been taken to protect female foreign workers in the informal economy?  How was the minimum wage reviewed, what was the current level, and who participated? 

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said that according to the World Bank Azerbaijan was put in the group of States with a high average income level, and according to the United Nations Development Programme it had a high level of human development.  This showed that despite the global economic financial situation the country had good ratings.  It was the only country in the South Caucasus to have such ratings.  More than half of the economy was related to the oil sector, and this had caused problems; attention would be paid in the future to developing the industry sector.  Concerning the minimum wage levels, according to data from last year the minimum wage was $120, at the same level as the daily minimum allowance based on the consumer basket created according to FAO guidance. 

Concerning persons with disabilities, one of the most important priorities was not to allow social, legal and framework obstacles to integrating persons with disabilities in society.  With this in mind the existing laws had been amended according to proposals from State bodies and civil society, this covered both terms and basic principles.  In addition, a national action plan had been prepared to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, which had been submitted to the Cabinet for approval.

Vocational training and access to infrastructure, representation, and information on social rights were also being considered.  Laws on employment provided for quotas for persons with disabilities, which amounted to not more than five per cent of the average number of employed persons in the organization.  Employers were advised of this information, and it was sent to employment agencies.  On social protection, proposals on the most reliable and effective methods for choosing appropriate employment for persons with disabilities had been created, and a programme had been put forward to create opportunities for them. 

Gender policy was a priority area and a number of decrees had been adopted to extend the role of women.  Projects were in place that allowed women to reach their potential and fill a positive role in society, allowing them equal rights with men in all areas of society.  The employment strategy to reduce poverty and development for the regions addressed employment for women, training, the prevention of violence, and the creation of legal consultations free-of-charge for women.  Women living in rural areas, including those that were internally displaced, were subject to work to promote entrepreneurship and social integration.  Women had received low-interest loans and the number of women business owners had increased by a factor of two.  Sixteen per cent of parliament members were women, and 20 per cent were representatives in local government, the number of female police staff had doubled and there were opportunities to get education for women at every level. 

Work was now underway to prevent violence against women and important changes had been made to important pieces of legislation to reflect the five standards adopted.  Special rules were adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers on help with accreditation.  Awareness-raising was undertaken, as was teaching to law students and enforcement officers on the laws and their application.  Cases of violence had decreased by 25 per cent.  There was help to be provided to women and children to socially integrate persons with health limitations.  Future planning allowed for the implementation of measures to promote the role of women in responsibility and decision-making.  

The realisation of economic, social and cultural rights required the support of the judiciary, and the practice of relating to international agreements had become far more widespread in the judiciary, which referred to them regularly.   The Supreme Court had recently discussed the rights of children and parents, including the right of communication and access, all in relation to international treaties.  In order to use the international provisions, there needed to be a legal literacy and this was a special group created in the Law Academy for those that sought to work in the legal or judicial sectors, part of their curriculum was teaching on international agreements and standards. 

Judges had lifelong appointments and an appropriate financial and material factor of living for judges was also important and salaries had increased by a factor of 30.  The number of judges had also increased.  A new database with all relevant legal texts was being developed to provide for greater access.  There was a single legal portal which provided access to cases under review and the online retrieval of information, and questions and answers were transmitted live.  With respect to corruption, over the past two years eight judges were sentenced for acts which could have induced corruption. 

Azerbaijan was considering joining the Optional Protocol and it was hoped that a decision would be reached soon, though any proposition would need to be passed by the Parliament.  Refugees had entered the country against their will as a result of ethnic cleansing by Armenia.  According to the Constitution, Azerbaijan was a secular country and a survey in 2012 showed that only five per cent of the population practiced their religious duty on a daily basis.  This meant that getting a job was not closely related to a person’s religion.  Many members of management in all sectors had been raised under the Soviet regime and so religion was irrelevant to these persons.  The policy of the Azerbaijani Government sought more than tolerance, but rather mutual respect. 

Questions by the Experts

An Expert asked about the success of efforts against human trafficking and what problems had been encountered?  Could the State party provide an update on the plan to tackle poverty?  Was the poverty line continuing to drop, as represented in the report?  What access did the population have to safe water and sanitation?  Had water and sanitation been updated to come into line with European Union regulations?  What steps were being taken to educate the public on the hazards of smoking tobacco?  Were more details and disaggregated statistics on poverty reduction available so that a real assessment of trends was possible?  What measures did Azerbaijan intend to adopt with regard to bringing their practice up to standard in relation to forced evictions? 

About the adoption of children, what was the impact of State plans for the placement of children away from institutions?  What was the current situation?  How much progress had been made on universal health insurance coverage?  What problems had been encountered?  What was the present status on pollution following mining?  What had been done regarding awareness-raising of reproductive rights in rural areas where levels of education were low?  What impact did Sharia law have in matters such as inheritance?  What was being done to ensure the age of marriage was being respected, especially among internally displaced communities?  Reports had been received about the treatment of orphans, including allegations of organ trafficking. Was this true?

How were the perpetrators of domestic violence dealt with?  Was there simply punishment or was counselling offered?  An Expert raised the case of an author that had been supposedly subjected to ill-treatment following the Russian translation of his book, saying his title as a “Writer of the People” was also withdrawn.  Could the delegation explain the situation around this writer, and other creative persons who were alleged to be suffering from persecution?  There was also an allegation of the destruction of an Armenian cemetery, could fears over this be allayed?  Another Expert wondered about the presence of minority languages in education, the State talked about legal provisions underpinning this right though data in the report related to reductions?  Did this policy relate to nationals, or simply refugees and other aliens?  What steps were being taken to safeguard the rights and protection of authors?  

An Expert reminded the delegation of the need in the Covenant for parents to have liberty in the choice of their children’s schools, and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own religions was respected.  It was also hoped that Azerbaijani policy allowed for totally free higher education.  On the right to education, an Expert noted that preschool education was expensive, and there was a high dropout level for teenagers? 

Despite targeted reforms there was still a lack of staff and equipment in the education sector.  Could the delegation provide information as to what was holding up reforms?  Were there ways and means to resolve the obstacles created by poverty to the receipt of education, for example the marriage of girls?  According to external reports, children with disabilities did not attend school due to a lack of facilities and teachers; which extra and urgent measures were needed to tackle this?  Was there political will to integrate these children?  Why had these children not been included in special programmes?  What results had been seen from the Azerbaijan Higher Education reform plan, currently at its midpoint?

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government had decided to involve civil society in the process of human rights education, and there was a Council that coordinated their projects.  Thanks to this support almost all international instruments had been translated, as well as documents on migration and employment.  These were given to civil society, the civil service and other interested parties.  There was a national programme which provided for the study of the conventions and enlightenment activities, both in the capital city and across the country.  It also helped with the production of human rights manuals and education at higher seats of learning. The programme on human rights was being implemented by the Commissioner for Human Rights in Azerbaijan.  The Commissioner was also vested with the competency to be a preventative mechanism and the ombudsman on access to information.  Units in her office dealt with other fields of human rights.

On refugees, it was noted that refugees in the country had had their rights violated due to alleged ethnic cleansing by Armenia.  Azerbaijan was party to all United Nations agreements on refugees and the strategy was to offer them health, education, an exemption from the payment of taxes, assistance in seeking employment and provision of land, amongst others.  So far, only 140,000 persons had benefitted from allocations for refugees, though the programme continued, and it was planned to move refugees around Baku to a new city.

The right to association was enshrined in the Constitution; all rights were actively pursued, and there were currently 3,000 registered non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  NGOs were supported through a special board and funding was given to encourage their work.  Legislation allowed for the work of NGOs without them being registered as legal entities.  There were no limitations on their work.  Only four cases had been brought to court regarding the cessation of work of NGOs due to flagrant violations of Azerbaijani laws.  The most serious measures were taken against corrupt public officials.  The population was making use of civil law, and cases had increased several-fold, evidencing the trust of the people in the courts.

Regarding reports by local and international organizations of evictions and violations of property, the Government assessed the balance between public needs and personal interests and the programme related to old buildings, considered as slums.  Those removed were moved to new buildings, or given adequate compensation, which was much higher than the market price of those premises.  Most persons involved consented, with only 90 civil claims in the courts as a result, and those cases related to the level of compensation.  Of these, 15 per cent were upheld.  Notice on these occasions was given by the local authority in good time, up to six months before.  There was always a judicial remedy against these acts. 

Follow-up Questions

An Expert asked whether the gender equality plan was linked to the plan on the protection of women and children?  On the suggestion of moving refugees and internally displaced persons to a new city, why was this avenue taken?  About the office of the Ombudsman, the Committee had been informed that half the petitions presented to the Ombudsman were rejected.  Would it be possible to advise people on the proper procedure? 

Response by the Delegation

Evictions which took place in Baku were not related to the Eurovision Song Contest, said a member of the delegation, instead it was related to the construction of highways.  This was catered for in legislation.  About the Ombudsman, the office-holder spent much time in the regions explaining their role, and regularly received complainants personally.  Publications were being produced to explain the process further.  Three regional offices also had direct contact with the local population.  The movement of internally displaced persons out to a new city was a temporary solution, and could not be fully resolved until their home territory was liberated.  The new settlement would not disrupt employment opportunities and connections as it was close to current housing sites.

New facilities built in the country, whether State buildings or otherwise, had to consider the access of persons with disabilities.  In the last four years 14 rehabilitation centres for persons with disabilities had been built, and these provided both care and housing.  Over 3,000 cars had been given to people with disabilities to be able to get around easier.  The Paralympic Committee was also mentioned, together with the fact that a number of Azerbaijanis had won medals at the London Paralympics.  In summary, persons with disabilities considered themselves to be full members of Azerbaijani society.

There had been an overall increase of the number of people in employment, and the Labour Ministry was engaging in active measures to raise youth employment opportunities.  There were employment fairs for young graduates and specialists.  Young people with technical skills had been offered training.  On the employment of women, some work had been done and the number of those out of work had been reduced, with many finding jobs in healthcare and education.  As regards to the labour code, Azerbaijan had signed a State programme, with the International Labour Organization on decent work and the Labour Code had been amended to reflect this.  Furthermore, work was being done on a national strategy for health and safety.

The Labour MInistry had an inspectorate which monitored the implementation of labour law in companies and enterprises and carried out unannounced inspections to ensure that rules were being upheld.  Fines for violations had increased, and as a result it was ensured that 48,000 persons were given proper contracts.  Sanctions were levied against over 350 companies and thousands of dollars worth of fines were paid.  On migrants working without proper authorisation, the migration service had instigated a one-stop policy to gaining the appropriate license, which offered access to all services.  A quota for foreign workers had increased year-on-year, and was now 12,000 persons per year. 

The Constitution stated that no person could be forced to work, though a court ruling had said that a person could be forced to complete tasks after a court ruling, during military service, or in relation to martial law.  In explanation, a member of the delegation said work after a court ruling was a form of sanction and this was tightly regulated, community work could not exceed 480 hours.  Persons doing military service could appeal to a separate prosecutor if they felt they had not been put to work in an appropriate way.  In relation to the marital law provision, persons in custody could only work voluntarily and they would be paid.  Legislation dealt with being forced to work and convictions for this had been seen.  On the right to strike, persons who worked for the Government were not allowed to strike under the labour code.

Pension provisions were that men received benefits as of 63, and women as of 61.  A welfare pension for non-working people was provided by the Labour Ministry.  In Azerbaijan, efforts continued to bring the minimum wage up to 60 per cent of the average wage.  It had already increased by a factor of 6.3.  When it came to people living under the poverty line there had been a reduction thanks to changes made.  Inflation in the country had decreased. 

Follow-up Questions

An Expert said he had not received an answer on the right to strike for oil workers, could this be provided? On another point, why was the Food and Agricultural Organization basket used as a measure, this was not the standard expected?

Response by the Delegation

The Covenant covered the right to decent conditions of living, and the situation had improved with each year that passed.  Many social problems still needed to be solved, such as the high number of refugees and displaced persons.  When the minimum wage and pension levels were discussed, it was important to remember that this was a complex matter that affected people in all walks of life.  It was not possible to immediately put these in place in the same way as in developed countries.  Government policies were to instead guide along this path.  The foundations for prosperity had been laid.

The poverty level in Azerbaijan had been reduced and had obliged itself to ensure the minimum wage was pegged to the minimum subsistence level.  A new concept paper adopted last year set the goal of developing a level of development which put it in the higher echelons on countries with its income.  Education levels were to be brought up to European indicators.  Rates of child mortality were to be brought down to developed country levels.  Employees in the oil sector had the right to strike, and there was no limit on this right.  

National plans to combat human trafficking had been implemented, and the second plan was drawing to a close.  This allowed for the protection of victims, including medical, legal and psychological assistance.  Shelters were provided with consultation offices and access to interpreters.  No information was provided to prosecutors without consent.  Assistance for social rehabilitation was also offered and victims were dealt with in anonymity.  Child victims were given representation and support to defend their rights.  Cash grants could also be distributed.  Discussions were held in the Parliament every year to suggest changes needed to national legislation to deal better with the issue.  In 2013, 221 victims had been sent to the appropriate shelters for assistance.  More shelters were currently being built. 

Careful rules had been created for both internal and international adoption and the matter was dealt with in the courts; some 8,000 children were adopted every year.  A special commission was working with local authorities and it was only with a court order that an adoption could be legally completed.  On international adoption, the final decision was also taken by courts at the appropriate level. 

Azerbaijan was trying to strengthen health in the country, and attention was given to areas such as food, clean water, recreation and a healthy way of life.  Between 2010 and 2013, sweeping reforms had taken place in relation to water provision.  By 2015, every person should have access to a safe water supply.  To achieve this, a supply pipeline had been brought in operation, which offered access to water to a large part of the population on the Absheron peninsula.  The basis for a project of building a sewage and pipeline system for the region had been laid.  This was to increase access to sanitation facilities.

It was forbidden to smoke tobacco in public places, and sanctions for smoking in these places were available.  Further measures on limitation were to be considered by the parliament this year.  In relation to health insurance coverage, the President had endorsed a paper on reform on the system of financing.  The introduction of the compulsory health insurance was to be speeded up.  Medical staff used the protocol on family planning when offering reproductive advice, this covered the idea of birth control, lactation problems, emergency contraception and others. 

A programme of targeted social assistance for those with little means was available.  This set out the criteria for the allocation of assistance.  The provision of documents now had a simpler process.  Assistance in 2010 was given to over 122,000 families, two years later it was around 120,000.  The programme was an annual operation, and as of 2012 it was now provided in five pilot regions.  Following land reform a number of families had been given cash instead of land and this had moved them above the poverty line.  This had had a real impact on poverty. 

On early marriage, the age for marriage had recently increased to 18 years old and there had been criminal code amendments, and persons breaking the rules could be fined or sent to prison.  An action plan to reduce this phenomenon was underway, using films and discussions, among other means.  This involved young people, local governments and the United Nations Children’s Fund.  The rate of early marriages had declined by 20 per cent.

Regarding the linguistic education of minorities, education was available to all groups, regardless of their background.  Minority groups could study in the national language, though executive bodies could also provide teaching in other languages if there was a demand.  Teaching was generally provided in Azerbaijani, Russian and Georgian.  Commonly, the Lezgins minority were supported in studying their own language though other minorities also used this right, and were given materials appropriately.  For the last 10 years the education budget had increased by a factor of 6.5.  Azerbaijan had joined the Bologna process to integrate into European education.  Joint degree programmes with European and North American universities were also in place.  Schools had been provided with many new facilities. 

On the question of Armenian cemeteries, Azerbaijan had suggested that there should be international monitoring of such sites but Armenia had not agreed to it.  This was a humanitarian issue, and the reported incident under discussion had not been reacted to as full details were not available.  Azerbaijan was happy to cooperate on this.  As for the case of the writer, Akram Aylisli, that the Committee had enquired about, it was sad to see he had turned his pen against his own people.  He had suggested that a number of atrocities and issues were the fault of Azerbaijan.  As a result he was deprived of his honour.  He was, however, still living in Baku and there was no pressure on him or his family. 

The ethnic minorities of Azerbaijan had the same access to rights as other citizens of the country.  There were plays, ballets and other productions staged in Baku in Russian, as well as other minority languages.  All persons had the right to cultural identity, and the development of contacts between cultural minorities and their homeland. 

Concluding Remarks

In concluding remarks, KHALAF KHALAFOV, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister of Azerbaijan, thanked the Chairperson for his help in guiding them through the process and said that the dialogue had been very useful.  An interactive dialogue was an important tool to correct mistakes and overcome shortcomings.   Azerbaijan was open to working in all these areas and the preparation of the report was done in the spirit of great openness, with the participation of civil society.  The recommendations of the Committee would be studied with all levels of government and civil society.  The comments made would be drawn upon in daily work going forward. 

HEISOON SHIN, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Azerbaijan, speaking in preliminary concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for its explanation of a whole new range of laws and reforms, adding that these only became useful through monitoring of their success.  There were some differing opinions between the information presented and that from other sources.  He welcomed that non-governmental organizations were free to carry out their activities, and the suggestion that Azerbaijan could possibly ratify the Optional Protocol.
 
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for their exemplary conduct and said that he hoped that understanding had been increased on both sides.  Presentations to the Committee were seen as an opening of a process of cooperation.  It was hoped that the next report gave details of the implementation of the recommendations offered by the Committee.

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