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Disabilities / Justice System: UN expert group raises concerns after official visit to Azerbaijan

AZERBAIJANI version

BAKU / GENEVA (26 May 2016) – The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention today expressed concern about the institutionalization of persons with disabilities, especially persons with psycho-social and intellectual impairments, and the criminal justice system in Azerbaijan.

“The practice of detention of persons with disabilities is very common and constitutes indeed an exclusion from the society, with little chance for those individuals to be reintegrated, a situation which violates international human rights standards and, as it currently appears, leads to a life sentence,” said a Group’s delegation at the end of their first official visit* to Azerbaijan to assess the situation of deprivation of liberty in the country.

During the ten-day visit, from 16 to 25 May, human rights experts Sètondji Roland Adjovi and José Guevara –Chair and Vice Chair of the Working Group respectively– visited some 22 detention and institutionalization places and interviewed more than 80 inmates and patients, in addition to meeting with the authorities, civil society and other stakeholders in Baku, Ganja and Nakhchivan City.

The experts noted the practice of imposing treatment on persons with disabilities while in detention: “It appears that the judicial control provided in the laws does not allow in reality any room for challenge of these practices by the individual affected,” they noted.

“A shift is required, and the Working Group recognises that such a shift will be both at the State level through the legal framework, but also at the society level, with adequate measures to address social stigma attached to disability,” they said. “Persons with disabilities ought to be included in our society and fully enjoy their rights.”

As to the criminal justice system, they observed a wide range of violations of basic human rights, such as the principle of legality, the right to a prompt notification of the charges, the right to legal counsel of one’s choice, the right to challenge one’s detention, and the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill treatment.

The Group’s delegation was alarmed by the treatment of children in conflict with the law. “While their detention should be a measure of last resort, many juveniles are quasi automatically detained even for minor crimes,” they noted. “In addition, the dire conditions they are subjected to in various detention facilities may have deep negative impact on their rehabilitation and re-education journey.”

The human rights experts also expressed their concerns on “the vagueness of certain administrative offences, let alone the disproportionate sentences associated to them.”

Finally, the Working Group observed a trend of using the criminal justice system to silence human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents. “Ilgar Mammadov, Khadija Ismaylova and Zeynalabdin Bargirzade come to mind first. Ms Ismaylova has been conditionally released in a Supreme Court Judgment which we are yet to fully analyze. But Rashad Ramazanov and Nijat Aliyev are also among them,” the experts said. “This list should extend to their laywers who have been subjected to a variety of intimidating measures including disciplinary within the Bar Association.”

The experts acknowledged the authorities’ efforts to improve the current laws to match international human rights standards, except in the case of public demonstration and associations, where the laws have been increasingly restrictive.

“The Working Group is conscious that the initiative of inviting it for this country visit is the starting point of the reforms that the Government is envisaging. We are honoured and committed to accompany the Government and the peoples of Azerbaijan in such a laudable journey and will continue the dialogue initiated during the mission,” they concluded.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will present its final report on its visit to Azerbaijan to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2017.

(*) Check the Working Group’s full end-of-mission statement:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20021&LangID=E

The Working Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world, namely: Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi (Benin), Chair-Rapporteur; Mr. José Guevara (Mexico), Vice-Chair on Communications; Ms. Leigh Toomey (Australia), Vice-Chair on Follow-Up; Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (Republic of Korea) and Mr. Vladimir Tochilovsky (Ukraine). Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/WGADIndex.aspx

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Azerbaijan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/AZIndex.aspx

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