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In dialogue with Azerbaijan, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights asks about discrimination against sexual minorities, and about women’s labour rights

1 October 2021

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today completed its review of the fourth periodic report of Azerbaijan on measures taken to implement the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, inquiring about discrimination against sexual minorities, and about women’s labour rights, notably their access to all professions.

Committee Experts asked about measures Azerbaijan had taken to address the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  They also asked for statistical data on investigations, prosecutions and convictions for corruption.  On the broad issue of discrimination, the Committee asked Azerbaijan to detail the steps it had taken toward adopting all-inclusive anti-discrimination legislation, and also asked about the right to just and favourable conditions of work, as well as asking what progress the country had made in abolishing its list of professions barred to women.  The Committee also pursued more information on the improvements Azerbaijan had made in its health and education system, in accordance with the Covenant. 

Khalaf Khalafov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and head of the delegation, updated the Committee on progress made since the submission of the report, which covered the period from 2013 to 2018.  During the recent war with Armenia, religious and cultural monuments had been destroyed.  Turning to other developments in the country, he explained that Azerbaijan had implemented forums where public services were provided in a comprehensive manner.   As for the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, about half the target population had been fully vaccinated.  On the subject of the healthcare system, reforms would introduce compulsory medical insurance from 2020, which was aimed at creating additional sources of health care financing and mobilising new resources. 

During the ensuing dialogue, the delegation of Azerbaijan gave further details on war-related damage to cultural monuments, explaining how the country was in the process of surveying sites.  In response to questions about its response to domestic violence, the delegation noted that a domestic violence hotline had been launched in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund, and there were two shelters for victims of domestic violence.  The delegation explained that the list of jobs prohibited to women was a legacy of Soviet times, adding that it was appropriate to reduce the list of professions from which women were banned.  In practice, the list was not really applied, the delegation said, adding that it was used to protect women who had children under the age of 18 months, as well as protecting the rights of pregnant women.  Over the next few years, Azerbaijan could fully eradicate the list of professions that were closed to women. 

The delegation of Azerbaijan was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population, the State Committee for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, the State Migration Service, and the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Azerbaijan at the end of its seventieth session, which concludes on 15 October.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 1 October at 3 p.m. to conclude its review of the report of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Report

The Committee has before it the fourth periodic report of Azerbaijan (E/C.12/AZE/4).

Presentation of the Report

KHALAF KHALAFOV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and head of delegation, introducing the report covering the period from 2013 to 2018, reviewed recent developments in Azerbaijan since its submission.  During a war with Armenia in 2020, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, religious and cultural monuments had been destroyed.  As for other significant measures taken since the report’s submission, he noted that Azerbaijan had increased its allocations for pensions and social protection.  The minimum wage had also been increased.  New legal and regulatory acts were adopted to strengthen the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.  Much work had been done to provide social protection to families of deceased and disabled war veterans, with beneficiaries being provided with apartments, private houses, and cars. 

Fighting corruption was one of Azerbaijan’s priorities.  A national plan aimed to improve anti-corruption legislation, awareness-raising for the population, increase the activities of civil society, and develop proposals to fight crimes linked to corruption.  Regarding citizens’ access to service, Azerbaijan had implemented forums where public services were provided in a comprehensive manner.  Relatedly, a new agency to improve the management of employment, labour, social protection and security had been established.  Turning to education, Mr. Khalafov said Azerbaijan had a high level of literacy, and all citizens had access to free secondary education.  A student loan fund ensured access to higher education for all.  Azerbaijan had implemented projects for national minorities, with the result that in areas with ethnic minority populations, two hours per week were allocated to native language studies. 

Every year the financial resources allocated from the State budget to healthcare  increased.  Under Azerbaijan’s COVID-19 pandemic vaccination strategy, about half the target population had been fully vaccinated.  Reforms to Azerbaijan’s healthcare system would introduce compulsory medical insurance from 2020, which was aimed at creating additional sources of health care financing and mobilizing new resources.  Turning to women’s rights, Mr. Khalafov said the country had many women in management positions, including 18 per cent of its Parliament, amounting to 22 members.  An action plan aimed to prevent sex selection before birth, and demographic plans included provisions on monitoring gender inequality. 

Azerbaijan continued taking necessary measures to combat domestic violence, Mr. Khalafov said, noting that a domestic violence hotline had been launched in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund.  There were two shelters for victims of domestic violence, and a new public institution provided social services to vulnerable groups.  Azerbaijan had formed a standing task force including among its members the Human Rights Commissioner, or Ombudsman, to prepare all periodic reports to the United Nations human rights treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the Human Rights Council.  The task force also monitored the implementation of recommendations adopted.  Thanking the Committee, Mr. Khalafov reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s readiness for an open dialogue. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

ASRAF ALLY CAUNHYE, Committee Member, asked for information about measures Azerbaijan had taken to address the disproportionately harsh socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  He also asked for statistical data on investigation, prosecutions and convictions for corruption.  How many of those cases involved public officials?  Which measures protected whistleblowers?  He then turned to the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, whose acceptance would allow victims of violations of economic, social and cultural rights to present their complaints directly to the Committee.  Was Azerbaijan considering ratifying the Optional Protocol?  If not, why not?  On climate change, what measures were taken to tackle the problem of fresh water shortage, particularly in protecting the more vulnerable sectors of the population?  Azerbaijan had signed the Paris Agreement, he noted, adding that the Committee noted the positive measures taken by the Ministry of Energy.  What was Azerbaijan’s progress toward meeting its target for greenhouse gas reductions? 

Turning to the issue of discrimination, he asked which steps had been taken toward adopting all-inclusive anti-discrimination legislation.  Which steps were taken to ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people could access their rights?  On the issue of women’s rights, Azerbaijan was asked to provide information about measures it was taking to repeal the list of professions and occupations prohibited to women, and promote and facilitate women’s entry into previously restricted jobs.  Which measures were being taken to overcome entrenched negative gender stereotypes?  More information on the practice of sex selection was also requested. 

Mr. Caunhye also asked for details about measures taken to ensure independent and objective investigation of any serious violation of the Covenant which might involve the armed forces. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said Azerbaijan had a timely organization of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, purchasing additional medical equipment which had allowed the country to keep the death rate low.  Azerbaijan had begun a comprehensive vaccination campaign for everyone over the age of 18. Approximately half of the eligible population had already received two doses.  Mobile vaccination teams traveled to remote areas.  Responding to questions about corruption, the delegation said a new draft law would directly protect persons involved in criminal procedural cases. 

Returning to the issue of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the delegation explained that in 2020, wages had not been reduced, and the vulnerable part of the population had been supported through grants.  Special attention had been paid to people who had lost their jobs, or were self-employed.  Benefits were increased to families who needed it, having wages below the minimum.  The vulnerable population had consisted mainly of elderly people.      

In response to questions regarding gender equality, the delegation said Azerbaijan had two laws enabling work to be carried out in the country against gender discrimination.  Every year, Parliament received a report on the implementation of the gender laws.  The report provided information from all the state agencies and bodies on their work carried out in that direction.  There were gender focal points in all State structures.  On domestic violence, Azerbaijan was developing training projects with the cooperation of Lithuania and Austria.  Monitoring groups carried out investigations on domestic violence, identified families that could be subject to domestic violence, and carried out preventive work with them.  There was also a national hotline against domestic violence.  The delegation explained that the list which Committee Experts had referred to was a legacy of Soviet times, and prohibited women from being employed in certain “hard” jobs.  Azerbaijan looked forward to the total elimination of that list, and the document was being considered by Azerbaijan’s Cabinet of Ministers. 

Turning to the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons, the delegation said the issue was very sensitive for the country.  1 in 7 of Azerbaijan’s citizens had been a refugee or an internally displaced person.  The latter group had been helped with access to housing and additional financial assistance.  There were regular job fairs for internally displaced persons.  The only lasting solution for internally displaced persons was ensuring their right to voluntarily and safely return to their places of residence, the delegation stressed.  Azerbaijan also worked to re-integrate internally displaced people, and provide them with social services and educational benefits.  The return of internally displaced persons was one of Azerbaijan’s national priorities. 

In response to questions about domestic violence, the delegation said all instances were thoroughly prosecuted, yet Azerbaijan had not been able to eradicate violence against women.  One of the main reasons was the lack of awareness among the population, and for that reason work in that field would be stepped up. 

The delegation stated that mandatory registration of non-governmental organisations was only necessary if they opened bank accounts and conducted bank transactions.  An amended law on grants facilitated registration, which could now be done online. 

In response to questions asked about damage to cultural objects, the delegation said that after the end of the conflict with Armenia, the Ministry of Culture had begun taking an inventory of cultural objects and taking protective measures.  It was upsetting, the delegation said, that most of the monuments which had been surveyed had been completely destroyed.  The delegation looked forward to receiving the recommendations of the Committee as regards finding those responsible for destruction of cultural monuments. 

As for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, the delegation said that in any country, there were specific procedures, and as Azerbaijan had no hindrances, the Optional Protocol could well be ratified. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

PREETI SARAN, Committee Member, posed questions on the right to work, the right to just and favourable conditions of work, the right to form and join trade unions, and the right to social security and social insurance.  Commending Azerbaijan for its new strategy of diversification of employment opportunities beyond the energy sector, she asked which steps the Government had taken to create sustainable opportunities for self-reliance?  As for the right to work, how was the economically active population in the country identified?  What measures were in place to ensure people with disabilities had access to employment?  Turning to gender equality, she asked which steps Azerbaijan had taken to promote and facilitate the entry of women into previously restricted or prohibited jobs, and promote the education of women in areas which had not traditionally been popular for them?  

On the issue of migrant workers, Ms. Saran noted that there had been cases of exploitation and forced labour, asking whether workers in the informal sector were protected by labour and social protection laws.  Transnational companies in the energy sector violated the principles of equal pay for equal work, the Committee had been informed; weren’t such companies obliged to follow domestic legislation?  Could workers in the oil and gas sector freely exercise trade union rights, and were they protected against reprisals? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government had integrated a number of digital services.  That had an impact on the general level of employment.  The majority of the population who had felt the adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic had been able to register, including people from the tourism sector.  A new programme was developed for vocational training.  Azerbaijan was working on developing a map showing job vacancies in different sectors.  More than 20 new normative regulatory acts were adopted to support the job market, self-employed included. 

Regarding discrimination against women on the job market, the delegation acknowledged that it was appropriate to reduce the list of professions from which women were banned.  In practice, the list wasn’t really applied.  It was used to protect women who had children under the age of 18 months, as well as protecting the rights of pregnant women.  Over the next few years, Azerbaijan could fully eradicate the list of professions that were closed to women.  A government scholarship programme for doctoral level studies had equal numbers of women and men.  Vocational education would be a priority area over the coming years,  as women represented only around a quarter of those who chose vocational training.      

Questions by the Committee Experts

LUDOVIC HENNEBEL, Committee Member, addressed the topic of sexual orientation.  Which measures had Azerbaijan taken to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sexual characteristics?  Which measures were taken to ensure access to medical care and legal services for persons of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, and which measures had been taken to combat violence against them?  Could the delegation provide statistics on complaints, and explain which measures Azerbaijan had taken to combat stereotypes and homophobia?

Had Azerbaijan adopted its draft law on amending gender equality guarantees prepared by its National Commission on Family, Women’s and Children’s Issues?  Azerbaijan’s family code denied persons with disabilities, particularly persons with mental disabilities, the right to marry and adopt.  Had measures been taken to repeal that?  Did Azerbaijan intend to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)?  How did Azerbaijan’s criminal code define rape? 

Mr. Hennebel asked which mechanisms were in place to prevent violations of the right to an adequate standard of living occurring through evacuation, demolition of houses and expropriation of owners in the Karabakh region?  The delegation was also asked to provide information on measures taken to improve farmers’ access to processing, marketing and distribution of their products. 

Regarding access to health, the delegation was asked which measures had been taken prevent people belonging to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from being denied health care?  Which measures were taken to ensure the right to health and in particular the right to mental health in penal institutions? 

What steps were being taken to allocate sufficient resources to increase the number and capacity of health personnel, particularly in rural areas?  The goal was to ensure women's access to quality health services, including prenatal and obstetric care, as well as reducing maternal mortality, and increase access to public health services for women and girls with disabilities. 

Replies by the Delegation

In response to questions about climate change and the environment, the delegation said Azerbaijan had experienced a series of record temperatures, high winds, and other weather phenomena.  An early weather warning system would need to be set up, and over the last years, Azerbaijan had purchased modern radar for its meteorological services.  Water resources in Azerbaijan were affected by population growth, as well as climate factors.  There had been a significant drop in rainfall and snow, and dry periods were on the increase, meaning water resources were lacking.   

Azerbaijan’s anti-corruption strategy had been built to create favourable conditions for business, including attracting foreign investment to Azerbaijan.  In 2019 and 2020, a number of public officials in high positions had been subject to prosecution on suspicion of corruption.  Azerbaijan had legislation that ensured whistleblowers were protected.  The recommendations of various international organisations were taken into account when developing a guide for anti-corruption measures.  A specific mechanism had been created to support the development of small and medium enterprises. 

Regarding the employment of people with disabilities, there were a few strategies in place.  Due to the pandemic, some had worked remotely, but professional training had been provided.  To maintain working standards, specific norms had been adopted for employers recruiting people with disabilities, meaning that people with disabilities would be able to deal with their employers through an electronic portal allowing for monitoring. 

A draft national plan aimed at improving gender equality, women’s rights, and boosting entrepreneurship among women.  An analysis of women’s access to justice had been conducted.  Sexual violence was a form of crime that was not typical for Azerbaijan, the delegation said, adding that the Criminal Code stipulated that rape was a crime leading to imprisonment from four to 15 years.  In general, the rights of all groups of people in Azerbaijan were enforced without limitations.  Representatives of sexual minorities were claiming they were part of a group of non-traditional sexualities.   

Azerbaijan had adopted an action plan to reduce maternal mortality and bring better health assistance to urban and rural areas.  Seven perinatal centers had been established, and contributed toward reducing maternal mortality.  There was also a draft law under review on the protection of reproductive health which would go toward protecting the health of mothers and children.  Legal provisions guaranteed the access of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people to equal medical care.  The delegation said that Azerbaijani legislation did not allow for people with psychological troubles to marry or have children, however people with disabilities could marry, but not adopt children. 

In response to questions about poverty, the delegation explained that there had been a considerable decline in the number of people living below the poverty line.  As a result of protective measures for small and medium enterprises, production had increased in the country, and the level of self-sufficiency was rather high. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

LYDIA CARMELITA RAVENBERG, Committee Member, noted that the Committee had reports that Azerbaijan’s military forces were involved in damaging and destruction of schools, kindergartens, and historical, cultural and religious buildings and monuments.  Which measures were being taken to restore access to education in areas affected by military hostilities?  What concrete measures were planned to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure?  Were measures being taken to restore the damaged historical, cultural and religious buildings and monuments, including mosques and churches?  What measures were being taken to consult ethnic and religious communities in those restoration efforts? 

The Safe Schools Declaration was an inter-governmental political commitment that provided countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict.  Was Azerbaijan considering endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration?  

The Committee had information that many children in the country could not follow online classes, and were without education.  What steps would Azerbaijan take to ensure that those children who were left behind could catch up?  What steps were taken to make the internet accessible for educational purposes and the experience of cultural rights? 

As for the right to education, how did Azerbaijan tackle difficulties faced by disadvantaged and marginalised children in access to primary and secondary education?  The question also concerned migrant, asylum-seeking, refugee and internally displaced children, children living in poor and marginalised households, children with disabilities, and children living in rural areas. 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation told the Committee Experts that some of the information they had gleaned from various sources did not correspond with facts.  Turning to answering questions, the experts were told men and women had the same retirement age of 65 years.  In response to questions about the independence of the judiciary, the delegation explained that changes in law had led to wage increases.  Lawyers’ independence were also protected by law.  The delegation explained that nontraditional sexual minorities were not prosecuted differently from the rest of the society, so there were no statistics on the cases concerning them.  They were engaged in various programmes including work preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS.  In response to questions about the institute of the Ombudsman, the delegation said it was getting stronger in its work protecting human rights.  The Ombudsman was an institute that needed to fight the government, it was like an intermediary between the government and the public sphere. 

There were no barriers or obstacles to achieving the principles of the Istanbul Convention in Azerbaijan, yet the actual ratification required some domestic procedures.  The goals and principles of the Istanbul Convention did not differ from Azerbaijan’s national views.  In response to questions on the situation of refugees and internally displaced people, the delegation said Azerbaijan’s law on citizenship gave Azerbaijani citizenship to all refugees from Armenia.  As for the protection of cultural monuments, the delegation said that Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture had established special headquarters to coordinate the work of the different entities working on the restoration of monuments and institutions. 

There was no population living below the international poverty line in Azerbaijan.  Following a Presidential Decree, one of the national priorities for 2030 was to fight poverty.  In response to questions about the negative impact that the pandemic had on Azerbaijani education, the delegation explained that following the closure of schools, lessons had been broadcast on public television, and online platforms had been created so children could carry on with their education.  Regarding questions about inclusive education for children with disabilities, the delegation said it had been introduced in the country, but it required training and preparation.  In partnership with relevant international partners, the Ministry of Education was working in that direction with concrete targets. 

Closing Remarks

Committee Experts expressed their appreciation for the fruitful dialogue and the wealth of information provided by the delegation.  It would help the Committee to prepare relevant recommendations for Azerbaijan. 

KHALAF KHALAFOV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and head of delegation, thanked the Committee Experts for the constructive dialogue, adding that the delegation was convinced it constituted a solid base to carry out an analysis of the economic, social and cultural rights situation in the country.  Azerbaijan attached great importance to cooperation with international human rights institutions.  The dialogue would have a positive impact on the promotion of human rights throughout the country, and the questions posed would continue to be a topic within the government as well, he said.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/10/le-comite-des-droits-economiques-sociaux-et-culturels-examine-la

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