Azerbaijan’s human rights record will be examined duringthe United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva today, 14 November 2023. The review will be webcast live. The UPR is a unique mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council, through which each UN Member State makes commitments to improve its human rights record, following an assessment of progress made against previous commitments.
Prior to the upcoming review, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) had made a UPR submission on the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan. The NHC evaluated the implementation of recommendations made to Azerbaijan during its previous UPR, including on the rights to freedom of expression, gender-based discrimination and women’s rights, and concerns on the bogus and politically motivated charges against the government critics. NHC’s submission details that the government of Azerbaijan has largely failed to act on its earlier commitments to protect human rights in the country. This submission did not report on the issues related to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The NHC urges the Human Rights Council to call Azerbaijan out for failing to make progress on commitments it made during its 2018 UPR, when the government agreed to enable the operation of NGOs without interference and ensure freedom of expression, investigate the bogus charges against its critics and allegations of torture and fulfil other human rights pledges.
Since the last review in 2018, Azerbaijan’s record on human rights has continued to worsen. The government released several human rights defenders, journalists, opposition activists, and other perceived critics imprisoned on politically motivated charges. But dozens of others remained wrongfully imprisoned, while authorities continued to target its critics and other dissenting voices. Impunity for torture and ill-treatment in detention persists. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people continued to face discrimination. It should be pressed to end the retaliation against its critics, and to unconditionally release those, arrested on bogus and politically motivated charges, and signed false confessions under duress and torture.
Civil society groups, including non-governmental organizations, operate under tight restrictions. While dozens of independent human rights organizations have been arbitrarily denied registration, the existing legislation impeded the civic groups’ work by restricting their activities and ability to access foreign funding.
The NHC had documented restrictions on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan for many years and identified an increasingly narrow space for journalists, social media activists and others who criticize the government or seek to expose human rights abuses. Apart from its restrictive media laws, Azerbaijan has a number of broad and vague regulations on offline and online expression and criminal defamation, which are not in line with international human rights standards. These provisions have often been abused to target critics, journalists, and independent media outlets, creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country.
Since the previous UPR, the government failed to effectively address its epidemic of domestic violence and protect women from facing abuse. Gender-based violence remained pervasive. NHC’s report on the gender-based violence in 2021 describes how Azerbaijan’s law enforcement, judicial, and social systems do not protect or support women facing abuse. While the law enforcement response to domestic violence remains inadequate, police are often reluctant to investigate charges, and it fosters impunity and places the victim in greater danger.
The NHC highlighted these concerns in detail in the submission, and suggested concrete recommendations that the UN member States must direct to Azerbaijan during the review process, to ensure human rights are respected in the country. UN member states should not miss this rare opportunity to call for reforms and strengthen their previous recommendations on fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan.