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Peace necessary to restore human rights of internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan: UN expert

BAKU -- “Despite efforts to improve conditions, internal displacement in Azerbaijan has lasted too long. It is necessary to come to a peace agreement to restore the human rights of internally displaced persons,” said Walter Kaelin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, upon the completion of his follow-up visit to Azerbaijan. He last visited the country in 2007.

“I was pleased to be invited back to Azerbaijan in order to see the changes that have taken place and the progress made over the last three years, but also the problems that remain or that have newly emerged,” Mr. Kaelin said. “I have seen very positive measures and progress since my last visit, and welcome assurances by the Government of Azerbaijan that internal displacement issues remain their number one national priority.”

He noted important achievements in the areas of housing, the building of educational infrastructures, and in improving access to the right to health in the more remote rural areas. “I commend the authorities for their commitment and encourage them to continue and reinforce their efforts, with particular focus on improving the very difficult living conditions in urban collective centres.” He noted with appreciation that the Government’s next objective will be to address the problem of urban housing for internally displaced persons, including by building new apartments.

“I am concerned as well about the risk of future evictions in urban centres, for instance as a consequence of public construction works or privatisation. It is key that internally displaced persons be provided with adequate notice, housing alternatives and assistance in such situations,” Mr. Kaelin said.

The Representative of the Secretary-General highlighted that more concerted attention is needed to improve employment and livelihood opportunities for internally displaced persons, both men and women, both in new settlements and in the cities. “Their resilience, dignity and capacity to contribute fully to Azerbaijani society, as well as to rebuild their lives, depends on it.” He emphasised that at the same time, appropriate assistance to vulnerable groups, such as female headed households, the disabled and the elderly, and attention to conditions that may place them at increased risk, is necessary to ensure that their human rights are protected. “The contributions that internally displaced persons can make to this country are many and important, and it is vital that they fully participate in decisions that affect their day to day lives as well as their futures,” he said .

With regard to the right to education, Mr. Kaelin recommended undertaking an assessment of the quality and educational needs of internally displaced persons with a view to ensuring that they benefit from the same quality of education as other children, and from the social integration and employment opportunities that schooling should offer.

He noted that access to healthcare continues to be limited for some internally displaced persons, but welcomed an Action Program of the Ministry of Health which aims to ensure both more comprehensive health services, including in the area of mental health, and increased deployment of qualified medical staff to rural areas.

The Representative of the Secretary-General appealed to the international community to continue supporting the Government of Azerbaijan with technical assistance in improving the living conditions of internally displaced persons, and the search for durable solutions. “This protracted displacement of more than 18 years, that has now affected several generations and which despite government efforts is continuing to cause much human suffering, has no place in Europe,” he stressed. “I urge the international community to actively renew and strengthen their efforts to facilitate the speedy adoption of a peace agreement, and to ensure that in this process the human rights of internally displaced persons are addressed, in particular their right to voluntary return in safety and dignity.”

During the course of his visit. Mr. Kaelin met with President Ilham Aliyev, Deputy Prime Minister, Ali Hasanov, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Economic Development, Health, Labour and Social Protection, and the Deputy Minister of Education. He also met with the Ombudsperson of Azerbaijan, representatives of the international community and non-governmental organisations. He visited locations where internally displaced persons live in Baku, Beylagan and the Lachin winter grounds in Aghjabedi.

ENDS

Walter Kaelin, professor of law at the University of Bern (Switzerland), has been the Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons since 2004. Learn more about the mandate and work of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/idp/index.htm