Growing domestic violence endangers women’s lives in Azerbaijan

Women in Azerbaijan have the right to a life without violence, abuse, and harassment. Domestic violence is persistent in the country, seriously undermining the core principle of combating all violence against women.

You can find the full report in both English and Azerbaijani at the bottom of the article.

Those facing domestic violence need protection and support at every step to escape abuse, seek justice, and rebuild their lives. The existing gaps in Azerbaijan’s legislation, inadequate law enforcement and judicial responses to domestic violence, and poor quality of services often leave women with little or no protection. If the Azerbaijani government does not act to alter the situation, it will continue to put lives of women at risk and leave the victims to face abuse on their own.

The report, which was published today with the support of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, urges the Azerbaijani authorities to take urgent steps to fulfill its international obligations on domestic violence. Prepared in close cooperation with a group of Azerbaijan’s leading activists in 2020, the report’s primary objective is to provide broad insights into the existing situation in Azerbaijan and explore how domestic violence and the public reaction to it evolved in the past few years. The report exposes serious gaps in the authorities’ response to domestic violence, including inadequate enforcement of existing legislation, and a failure to hold abusers accountable and ensure access to justice for survivors. The authors used diverse data sources, legislative review and held in-depth interviews with victims of domestic violence, and with lawyers, women’s rights groups, shelter staff and other experts.

In these days, the accounts of horrific, and sometimes fatal, domestic violence cases increasingly make headlines and goes viral in social media in Azerbaijan. But authorities fail to take the issue seriously even though there is a spike in reported incidents of domestic violence. Even women facing severe physical abuse do not get adequate protection and assistance. Reports in social media show that the deaths from domestic violence could have been prevented, if police and other responsible authorities had not failed to respond to domestic violence complaints with shocking regularity. In February 2021 alone, three young women committed suicide, including a prominent feminist 20-year-old Sevil Atakishieva, who prior to her suicide allegedly received death threats from her father. According to the screenshots of her messages that she exchanged with activists on Facebook, she detailed abuse she suffered at the hands of her family. As with most domestic violence killings, her death also followed a longstanding pattern of control and violence by her abuser. This is why early intervention and access to critical services – such as shelters – are vital. Another recent victim of domestic violence was 32-year-old Banu Maharramova, whose dismembered body of was found in the trash bin in central Baku. Local police alleged that she was brutally killed by her 75-year-old father-in-law.

The report found that the domestic abuse is still widely perceived as a “family matter” and is oftentimes underreported to police. There is also a lot of victim blaming, even from people, like policemen, who are supposed to be offering services to help. According to the interviewed victims, police often encourage them to drop their complaints and reconcile with their abusers.

According to Azerbaijan’s State Statistical Committee, at least 1,180 cases of domestic violence against women were reported in 2020. Activists say the real number is likely much higher, as social stigma, family rejection, economic dependence on abusers, and lack of awareness prevent women from reporting abuse and getting help. State policies aimed at keeping the family “intact” make it more difficult for women to escape violence.

In Azerbaijan, as in many other places worldwide, both domestic violence and judicial proceedings related to domestic violence, involve rights guaranteed by the national legislation, as well as international and regional normative instruments. Azerbaijan’s Constitution allows the conventions to be part of the applicable legislative framework along with the 2010 Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and subsequent amendments to other relevant laws. The country is yet to sign the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). Considerable shortcomings of judicial proceedings involving domestic violence, as well as police investigation of such cases, demonstrate how much enforcement of otherwise very good laws matters and emphasize the role played by the law enforcement agencies and specifically courts in ensuring access to justice for victims of domestic violence in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has an obligation – as a party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – to work to eliminate violence, including domestic violence, against women by ensuring adequate protection, access to essential services for survivors and holding abusers accountable.

Domestic violence survivors in Azerbaijan are basically left on their own. The government-provided resources for survivors of domestic violence are limited and there are only few spaces in shelters that specialize in protecting women from domestic violence. The state fails to protect the survivors as it doesn’t assist them on the scale that is urgently wanted. It needs to change. More drastic initiatives are needed across all elements of domestic violence such as signing the Istanbul Convention, amending the national legislation, reducing incidence of violence, increasing reporting, establishing multiple crisis centers and shelters for women-victims of domestic violence, especially in the rural and remote areas, ensuring access of women to social services, and improving the capacity of the criminal justice system to prosecute violence against women. More importantly, in order to deal with the root causes of the problem, along with impunity and poor enforcement of the existing laws, it is important to acknowledge that the awareness raising is the only course of action to change the attitudes toward gender-based violence, discrimination and legal prosecution for crimes. Considering the reports of domestic violence cases have increased during the lockdowns, authorities should ensure that police respond effectively and timely to domestic violence reports and that women facing abuse, including in rural areas, have access to support services and emergency shelters.

Azerbaijani government should take a crucial step by immediately signing the landmark international agreement, the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence, that ensures necessary protections for survivors and accountability for their abusers. In 2014, President Ilham Aliyev commenting on the gender equality at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly at the Council of Europe (PACE), said: “We are currently considering the Istanbul Convention and have no objections towards it.” So far, no efforts had been made by the government to sign it. If not signed, Azerbaijan’s legislation and inaction will leave abusers free to continue hurting women.

Read the full report:
In English

In Azerbaijani

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Berit Lindeman

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