GENEVA (4 October 2013) – Three United Nations independent experts today urged the Azerbaijani Government to recognize and facilitate the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations in the run up to the Presidential elections, due to take place on 9 October 2013.
“We have observed since 2011 a worrying trend of legislation which has narrowed considerably the space in which civil society and defenders operate in Azerbaijan,” the international human rights experts said. “We are very concerned about the challenging and restrictive environment which defenders and civil society currently face in the country.”
“All demonstrations complying with international human rights standards should be allowed and facilitated, and peaceful gatherings should not face the use of excessive force and administrative detention against demonstrators, even if such assemblies are not authorized,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, Maina Kiai.
“In times of elections, States should make greater efforts to facilitate and protect the exercise of the core rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” he said, referring to the presentation of his new report to the General Assembly later this month.
“Amendments to the law on Freedom of Assembly adopted in 2012 have tightened the existing restrictions to the right to assemble peacefully, including by increasing penalties for those organizing rallies,” he stressed.
For the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, “the right to assemble peacefully is a powerful tool for human rights defenders and civil society to freely express opinions and claim rights and freedoms.”
“Any undue limitations to these rights are always detrimental to their valuable work and to society in general, particularly in the context of elections,” she said. “Civil society and human rights defenders play a fundamental role in the context of elections as they are key actors in monitoring and ensuring the smooth exercise of basic public freedoms.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, expressed particular alarm about cases of intimidation and harassment of journalists, including by unwarranted judicial proceedings, and urged the Government to consider the implementation of its 2012 National Action Plan commitment to decriminalize defamation.
“The mere threat of arrest or of excessive damages claims in civil defamation cases has a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression in a society,” he said. “I am also concerned about a recent amendment to relevant legislation extending defamation provisions to online expression.”
The three experts also warned that recent changes to the 2013 law on grants could seriously deter the work of human rights organizations by imposing unreasonable fines and liability on organizations for operating outside formal grant agreements and not notifying the receipt of grants within the established period.
“The ability for civil society organizations and human rights defenders to receive funding, regardless of the origin, is crucial,” they said, recognizing nevertheless the Government’s intention to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism. “Any unnecessary restrictions to this could seriously hinder the critical role they play in any democratic society.”
The human rights experts appreciated the engagement of the authorities when they have raised these issues over the past few months, and reiterated their availability to provide further assistance and technical advice on legislation and other measures affecting the work of civil society and right defenders in the country.
Azerbaijan has extended a standing invitation to the independent experts of the Human Rights Council, something which the experts welcomed. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, Maina Kiai, further thanked again the Government for inviting him to visit the country. He hopes to be able to honor this invitation soon.
UN Human Rights – Azerbaijan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/AZIndex.aspx
Check the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/Declaration.aspx
For more information log on to: Peaceful assembly: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx
Human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx
Freedom of expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
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