4 May 2016
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined seventh to ninth periodic report of Azerbaijan on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Khalaf Khalafov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, said that racial discrimination was prohibited in Azerbaijan, while equality before the law was guaranteed to all. Complex measures had been undertaken to implement the national action plan for the protection of human rights, and for the protection of the cultural heritage of national minorities. In 2008, the Forum on Intercultural Dialogue had been initiated as a platform for the coordination of international efforts aimed at strengthening mutual understanding and tolerance, and the fight against discrimination, extremism and xenophobia in the society. Mr. Khalafov called attention to the grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed during the ongoing conflict with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and stressed that Azerbaijan was unable to fulfil its human rights obligations in the occupied territories.
A representative of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) said that the Office was an independent institute established by the Constitutional law, and had been awarded status A under the Paris Principles in 2006. As a main mechanism for the protection of human rights, it played an essential role in building bridges between State bodies and civil society. The Ombudsmen was concerned about the increase in discrimination against migrants and refugees, in particular Muslims, stressing the need to address hate crimes, especially in the context of conflict prevention and post-conflict rehabilitation, and with the view to prevent tension between communities.
During the dialogue, Committee Experts recognized that the Nagorny Karabakh conflict had displaced almost the entire Armenian population and had stoked ethnic tensions in the area. Experts noted that the State party’s report was silent on the statistical data on combatting discrimination and protecting minorities, and expressed concern about the under-representation of women, including women from minorities, in the political and civil life of the country. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination contained an admirable legal arsenal to help States make headway in promoting integration and incorporating the Convention into domestic law, said Experts, urging Azerbaijan to examine the application of the principle of non-discrimination and to ensure that the definition of racial discrimination was aligned to the Convention.
In concluding remarks, Amir Noureddine, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, said that it was clear that there was no discrimination between nationalities in the country, that every person had a right to express themselves in the media, particularly in the foreign media, and that there was an important participation of women in civil and political life. There was still a lot to be done for minorities, particularly in remote and mountainous regions, and to continue building Azerbaijan as a country of unity.
Mr. Khalafov, in concluding remarks, said the Government would give special scrutiny to the Committee’s recommendations and ensure that all State structures and bodies studied the ways in which they could improve the implementation of the Convention and the national legislation.
The delegation of Azerbaijan included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Ministry of Education, and the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin its review of the combined thirteenth to fifteenth periodic report of Namibia (CERD/C/NAM/13-15).
The country reviews can be watched via live webcast at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
The combined seventh to ninth periodic report of Azerbaijan can be read via the following link: CERD/C/AZE/7-9.
Presentation of the Report
KHALAF KHALAFOV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, introducing the report, said that the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination were applied directly in Azerbaijan, while the national legislation prohibited racial discrimination and guaranteed equality before the law regardless of race, nationality, religion, language, sex, origin, conscience, and political or social affiliation. The Code of Administrative Offences, which entered into force on 1 March 2016, prohibited imprisonment or release of anyone on those grounds, while the Criminal Code provided liability for acts of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred, humiliation of national dignity, and restrictions or privileges for national, racial or religious origin. Complex measures had been undertaken to implement the national action plan for the protection of human rights, and for the protection of the cultural heritage of national minorities, and the year 2016 had been declared the “Year of Multiculturalism” by a Presidential decree. The Service of the State Advisor on inter-national, multicultural and religious issues had been created in 2014, and the Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, initiated in 2008 as the “Baku process”, represented a platform for the coordination of international efforts aimed at strengthening mutual understanding and tolerance, and the fight against discrimination, extremism and xenophobia in the society. The Seventh United Nations Global Forum on the Alliance of Civilizations had been held in Baku in April this year; it had identified new challenges and threats, including the prevention of discrimination, xenophobia, racism, and the fight against aggressive separatism, and had discussed measures to strengthen intercultural and inter-religious dialogues.
Azerbaijan had invested considerable efforts to ensure the independence of the judicial system and improve the activities of the courts. It had established a single Internet portal and information system “E-court” to substantially improve legal assistance to citizens, ensure efficiency, and increase control over the implementation of court decisions. The fight against corruption was one of the priorities for the State policy and the Government continued to implement consistent measures in this regard, while the State Agency – “ASAN Service” had been established to increase the effectiveness of public service provisions through the application of innovative methods. The implementation of the third State programme on socio-economic development 2014-2018 also covered regions with a high concentration of residence of national minorities, under which measures were being taken to improve infrastructure and social services, increase investments, create jobs and reduce poverty. The Migration Code defined the State migration policy and ensured that the legislation was based on the principles of respect of the rights and freedoms of individuals and citizens, rule of law, and equality before the law and courts; it was aligned with generally recognized international legal norms. The State programme on the improvement of life conditions and the increase of employment rates for refugees and internally displaced persons had been adopted in 2004; as a result of measures undertaken under this programme, the poverty level among internally displaced persons had reduced from 75 to 12 per cent in the last 12 years. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan was unable to fulfil its human rights obligations in the occupied territories as a result of the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, during which grave violations of international humanitarian rights and humanitarian law had been committed, including extrajudicial executions and mass killings, torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment, and punishment of the civilian population.
Questions by the Country Rapporteur and other Committee Experts
AMIR NOUREDDINE, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, said that during the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, almost the entire Armenian population had left the region, while the conflict had stoked ethnic tensions in the area and had displaced more than 600,000 persons. The Country Rapporteur thanked Azerbaijan for providing information about the ethnic composition of the population, but said that the report was silent on the statistical data on combatting discrimination and protecting minorities and asked about the mechanisms in place to ensure consultations with minorities. The Code of Criminal Procedure lacked provisions from the Convention. The situation of women in the society was of concern, particularly their under-representation in representative bodies and their participation in political and civil life. Turning to the situation of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons, Mr. Noureddine expressed concern about the lack of protection of migrant workers, and the lack of protection of the rights of internally displaced persons, including the protection from discrimination.
The Country Rapporteur asked whether a law on the protection of minority rights existed in Azerbaijan, about a consultative mechanism in place, especially for consultation with those who did not declare an ethnicity, and about the protection against racial discrimination. Prominent journalists and activists, including Mr. Mammadov, had been arrested for denouncing incitement to racial and religious hatred.
During the last census, some 3,500 individuals had declared themselves stateless and Committee Experts asked about the system in place to ensure that they had identity documents, including children born to stateless parents, and that they were not excluded from access to social and other State services.
Another Committee Expert took up the issue of the incorporation of the principles and provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. He said that the Convention contained an admirable legal arsenal to help State parties make headway in promoting integration and incorporating the Convention into domestic law, and noted that Azerbaijan could have done more in this regard. The Constitution enshrined the principle of non-discrimination, but it was not possible to see clearly how the Convention came in and how it fitted in the domestic legal system. States should make an effort to incorporate into domestic laws the definition of racial discrimination as per Articles 1 and 4 of the Convention, an Expert further said, noting that hatred was not the only aspect of racial discrimination and that Azerbaijan should aim to include in its legislation the prohibition of all forms of racial discrimination.
Migrants were, for one reason or another, deported from the country and the delegation asked about children who were in school and what happened to them if their parents were expelled. Azerbaijan had an official list of ethnic minorities, but this list did not include people of African descent, so Experts wondered whether there were any complaints of racial discrimination filed by people of African descent and who filed them.
The delegation was asked to provide data about unemployment rates of ethnic minorities, which bodies monitored the implementation of the Labour Code and sanctioned discrimination in employment, the situation for ethnic minorities with regards to access to housing and health care, and the access of refugees to education and measures in place to support it. Experts also inquired about the procedure through which refugees could obtain Azerbaijani nationality, whether the media broadcast exclusively in Azerbaijani or also in other languages, and whether Azerbaijan was inclined to establish an independent national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles. It was unclear how many Armenians still lived in Azerbaijan, an Expert said, adding that according to the Government’s data, they were the second most numerous ethnic group living in the country.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, inquired about the involvement of women from minorities in areas of concern to the Committee and, noting the official figure of five per cent unemployment, asked who were those unemployed.
Replies by the Delegation
The conflict in the Nagorny Karabakh region had started before the break-up of the Soviet Union and had its origin in the territorial claims by the countries bordering Azerbaijan and the aggressive separatism in the region itself. The armed struggle for the secession of Nagorny Karabakh from Azerbaijan had started in 1988, and had started the process of secession of seven other regions; today, 20 per cent of the territory of Azerbaijan was occupied by Armenia. Over the 25 years of the conflict, nothing had been done to ensure a positive settlement and the end of the conflict. Armenia was constantly undermining the negotiating process leading to a peaceful settlement of this armed conflict and the aggression of Armenia over the territory of Azerbaijan. The withdrawal of the occupying force and the full return of the one million persons displaced by the conflict were the prerequisites for the final settlement. This conflict was the main obstacle to the development of the entire region and was preventing both Armenia and Azerbaijan from fully enjoying their independence. Before the conflict, 40,000 Azerbaijanis had lived in Nagorny Karabakh, and today there were none left.
Azerbaijan had special quotas for labour migration and had established a special commission to regulate labour migration; quotas were revised annually, and some 12,000 foreigners were accepted in the country for labour purposes every year. All categories of foreigners enjoyed the same rights as citizens, with the exception of some political rights such as the right to hold political office.
There was a provision in the legislation which stipulated that all international instruments which applied to Azerbaijan were automatically a part of the legal system; therefore, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was directly applicable in Azerbaijan. Important efforts had been undertaken to implement the provisions of the Convention and Azerbaijan had adopted more than 85 normative acts to this effect. For example, perpetration of a crime on the basis of national, racial or religious hatred was recognized in the law as an aggravating circumstance. Incitement to national, racial or religious hatred or hostility was prohibited as well, and to date two persons had been convicted for this crime.
Many minorities spoke the national language and spoke Russian fluently; there was a possibility of official and free court translations for those who did not speak the national language.
Mr. Mammadov had been arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment for inciting national, racial and religious hatred; he had been pardoned earlier this year and released early. There were 63 women in the judiciary, representing more than 20 per cent of judges, while women represented more than 20 per cent of the staff of the Ministry of Justice, including women from national minorities. Azerbaijan had recently adopted two very important laws, on combatting extremist terrorism and the law on citizens’ complaints, which would further pave the way to the future implementation of the Convention, as they incorporated the principle of equality.
Statement by the National Human Rights Institution of Azerbaijan
A representative of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) said that the Office was an independent institute established by the Constitutional law, and had been awarded status A under the Paris Principles in 2006. The Office of the Ombudsman was fully independent from other State bodies and, as a main mechanism for the protection of human rights, played an essential role in building bridges between State bodies and civil society. The protection and promotion of freedom of conscience of national and religious minorities had always been the main focus of the Ombudsman, who had also implemented several awareness raising campaigns concerning the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and had put forward many proposals in respect of ensuring religious tolerance, legal and moral education and mutual relations between people of various religions. The Ombudsman also received and responded to complaints and applications made by Armenian people living in Azerbaijan and so ensured the protection of their rights. The Ombudsmen was concerned about the increase in discrimination against migrants and refugees, in particular Muslims, and stressed the need to address hate crimes, especially in the context of conflict prevention, post-conflict rehabilitation and with the view to prevent tensions between communities.
Responses by the Delegation
In response to the issues raised by the Experts, a delegate said that women in Azerbaijan actively participated in the political and cultural sphere: 70 per cent of all officials working in the cultural sphere were women, three ministerial posts were held by women, while women held several other high-ranking posts in the administration and in the foreign and diplomatic service. More than 20 different cultural centres operated in Baku for different national and ethnic minorities living in the city.
Concerning the religious makeup of the country, a delegate said that 96 per cent of the population of Azerbaijan were Muslims, while the remaining four per cent were made up of Orthodox Christians, Jews, Christians, Bahai’s, and others. All religious communities were registered with the State committee, and those communities were solely self-identified; there were more than 700 Muslim religious communities, 27 Christian communities, seven Jewish communities, and one Krishna community, among others.
The 2009 Law on Education granted the right to education to all citizens, and education could be provided in other languages as well, provided it included Azerbaijani language, history and geography. Ethnic minorities were taught their native language several hours per week in regions with greater concentration of minorities. After the occupation of Nagorny Karabakh region, the State managed to re-establish the functioning of the educational institutions from the area, thus successfully ensuring access to education for internally displaced persons and refugees from the area. As 2016 had been declared the Year of Multiculturalism, a series of events had been planned to maintain and develop cultural diversity, such as a mass readings on multiculturalism in schools.
Azerbaijan was a party to several international agreements on human trafficking and was focused on improving its own legislation in this regard. A national mechanism to support victims of trafficking was in place, and efforts were being undertaken to address the root causes of internal human trafficking. In 2015, a total of 108 cases of human trafficking had been identified, representing a 20 per cent increase compared to 2014.
Several hundred non-governmental organizations were registered in the country, of which some 50 were active in the field of minority rights, and more than 130 in the field of women’s rights.
Further Questions by the Committee Experts and Answers by the Delegation
In the second round of questions, Committee Experts asked the delegation to explain what “an attack to personal dignity” meant as they were concerned by arbitrary interpretations, to inform about the various Muslim religious communities, and to provide additional information about bilingual education and public broadcast.
Responding, the delegation stressed that racially or religiously motivated crimes were considered as aggravated circumstances and carried harsher sentences. As for Muslim religious communities, some 60 per cent were Shia and 35 per cent were Sunnis; the rest were subgroups. Azerbaijan had established a judicial legal council composed of judges and representatives of all branches of the government, which had in its competence the selection of judges, assessment of their competence and their career development. In cooperation with the Council of Europe, a transparent system for the selection of judges had been put in place; the selection was a multi-staged process which included testing, serving abroad, court internships, etc. More than 60 per cent of judges today had been selected though this modern procedure.
All information about racial discrimination against migrants, stateless persons and refugees was immediately provided to State services. The State Migration Service provided the official registration of all foreigners and stateless persons who received temporary or permanent residence permits; they were all provided with special identity cards. A special 2014 law provided procedures for non-citizens staying in special centres, including timing and conditions of voluntary and involuntary stay in such temporary centres. Refugees and internally displaced persons had the right to voluntary accommodation in those centres in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Migration Code; they could apply for accommodation even before the official designation of the status of refugee. During the stay in those centres, residents were provided with three meals a day, they had access to health services, leisure and sport services and play areas for children.
Following up on the responses provided by the delegation, Experts asked for further clarification concerning the criteria established to define the 700 Muslim religious communities, whether Azerbaijan intended to create a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles, and how the progress in the implementation of new legislation was being measured.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, commended the efforts to develop legislation in Azerbaijan and noted that there was no centralized record of complaints for racial discrimination. She asked whether Azerbaijan was considering additional administrative provisions to ensure that complaints were registered, including those filed by migrants and refugees. As far as the judiciary and the law enforcement were concerned, the question was about their explicit training in recognizing, addressing and creating restitution for persons who were victims of racial discrimination.
Responding, a delegate said there were only two criminal cases brought on the basis of racial discrimination. Azerbaijan was trying to build an inclusive society and tolerance among the people; detailed legislative documents were in place, providing sanctions for any acts of racism and racial discrimination.
During the Soviet period, 250,000 Azerbaijanis had lived in Armenia, and 40 per cent of the population of the Armenian capital had been Azerbaijanis. Many of those had been forcibly deported from Armenia and this was one of the root issues of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict.
In 2016, a law had been adopted on complaints, declarations and grievances, regardless of their nature, and it gave citizens the right to complain about State officials, regulated the bodies receiving complaints, and defined a specific mechanism to answer the complaints filed.
AMIR NOUREDDINE, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, said that it was clear that there was no discrimination between nationalities in the country, that every person had a right to express themselves in the media, particularly in the foreign media, and that there was an important participation of women in civil and political life. There was still a lot to be done for minorities, particularly in remote and mountainous regions, and to continue building the country of unity, concluded Mr. Noureddine.
KHALAF KHALAFOV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue, which was marked with a sincere spirit and mutual understanding. The Government would give special scrutiny to the Committee’s recommendations and ensure that all State structures and bodies studied the ways in which they could improve the implementation of the Convention and the national legislation.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, acknowledged that Azerbaijan was a new nation, with all challenges it entailed, and the difficulties in implementing the Convention in the occupied areas of Nagorny Karabakh. Ms. Crickley expressed hope that Azerbaijan would encourage non-governmental organizations to engage with the Committee and present their views in the future.
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