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In Dialogue with Azerbaijan, Experts of the Committee against Torture Welcome Human Rights Training for State Officials, Ask about Reported Abuse of Armenian Prisoners of War and Efforts to Improve Prison Conditions

Meeting Summaries

The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Azerbaijan, with Committee Experts praising the human rights training provided for State officials, and raising questions about reported widespread torture and ill treatment in detention and efforts to improve prison conditions.

Ana Racu, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee welcomed that various law enforcement officials received training on human rights topics, including the prevention of torture.  Were law enforcement officers trained on non-coercive interrogation techniques, and on the use of force and firearms?

Todd Buchwald, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that reports stated torture and ill treatment remained widespread in Azerbaijan, and authorities routinely dismissed complaints and denied detainees access to family, lawyers of their choosing, and independent medical care.  There were also widespread allegations of severe physical ill treatment of persons detained by the police, including juveniles as young as 15.  What was the State party’s position on these allegations?

Ms. Racu said most prisons had very old buildings, not enough toilets and showers, poor quality food, and did not offer quality extra-regime activities. There were reportedly serious problems in providing medical care to persons in pre-trial detention and prisons. How would the State party improve material conditions in prisons?

Introducing the report, Samir Sharifov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and head of the delegation, said that during the last five years, the Government of Azerbaijan had undertaken new reforms, enacted new programmes, and made amendments to the national legislation for the further promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Due to the Second Garabakh War of 2020 and anti-terror measures of 2023, which made it possible to restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and full sovereignty, the Government was now able to implement the provisions of the Convention over the whole territory of the State, unlike in the past.

Mr. Sharifov said human rights training courses, especially torture prevention awareness programmes, had been organised and conducted on a regular basis for different branches of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, addressing topics such as the Istanbul Protocol, the Convention, and the recommendations of the Committee.

The delegation said that the allegations of non-governmental organizations did not always reflect reality.  Allegations of ill treatment against prisoners in Azerbaijan had been investigated independently, including by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and had been found to be false.  Medical examinations of detainees were conducted in private, and some detainees who required it were provided with outpatient medical services. Various international monitoring bodies had visited places of detention over the reporting period.  None had found torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. 

There was political will to transform prison conditions, the delegation said. One prison with poor facilities had been shut down.  In 2022, prisons for women and juveniles had been opened.  A new mixed-regime prison had recently been opened close to the border with Iran and a new pre-trial detention facility was also under construction. The budget allocated to the penitentiary system had increased 1.6 times since 2020.  There had also been a gradual increase in the quality of medical treatment provided in prisons.

In closing remarks, Claude Heller, Committee Chair, said that in the positive and constructive dialogue, the situation in Azerbaijan and the war in the region had been discussed.  The Committee had received information that Azerbaijan was in the process of seeking an agreement with Armenia in this regard.  The Committee and the international community supported this process.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Sharifov said the Government had taken all necessary measures to implement the Convention over the reporting period, adopting several laws, policies and national strategies to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  Any recommendations that were not based on established facts and reports received from credible sources did not contribute to the review process. 

The delegation of Azerbaijan consisted of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Deputy Minister of Health, Deputy Chief of the Supreme Court, and the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva; and representatives from the State Statistical Committee; State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs; Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population; State Migration Service; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Defence; State Security Service; General Prosecutor's Office; and the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue concluding observations on the report of Azerbaijan at the end of its seventy-ninth session on 10 May.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage.  Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, and webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 25 April at 10 a.m. to hold a meeting with the Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

 

Report

 

The Committee has before it the fifth periodic report of Azerbaijan (CAT/C/AZE/5).

Presentation of Report

SAMIR SHARIFOV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and head of the delegationsaid that during the last five years, the Government of Azerbaijan had undertaken new reforms, enacted new programmes, and made amendments to the national legislation for the further promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  It was committed to honouring obligations to the promotion and protection of human rights at a national level.  Due to the Second Garabakh War of 2020 and anti-terror measures of 2023, which made it possible to restore Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and full sovereignty, the Government was now able to implement the provisions of the Convention over the whole territory of the State, unlike in the past.

In 2023, amendments were made to the constitutional law of Azerbaijan on the Human Rights Commissioner to strengthen the independence of this institution.  These amendments empowered the Ombudsperson and its national preventive group to make photo, audio and video recordings during monitoring visits, establish monitoring groups, set up new requirements to speed-up the complaints review process, and criminalise any restriction or interference to the activities of the Ombudsperson, the national preventive group, or independent monitoring groups. For the period from 2020 to 2023, places of detention were subject to monitoring more than 350 times by various observers.  In 2022, the national preventive group conducted 201 visits to prisons, including 62 ad-hoc visits.

An electronic court system launched in 2020 improved both the security of the convicts and the consideration of court cases in an operative manner.  The national action plan for the promotion of open government for 2020-2022, and the national action plan to strengthen the fight against corruption for 2022-2026 were adopted to consolidate anti-corruption efforts.  A system for making urgent electronic calls to the Ministry of Justice had also been set up in penitentiary institutions.  Citizens could also use this service to apply for notary services.  The personal electronic window information system was upgraded to allow for electronic registration of non-governmental organizations. 

Pardons, amnesties, releases on paroles and probations were extensively used in Azerbaijan.  From 2020 to 2023, 2,700 prisoners were pardoned, 11,131 were released on parole, 5,200 were released on probation, and 5,400 were released based on court decisions.  The State programme for the development of Azerbaijani justice for 2019-2023 further improved the centralised prisoner information system, allowing for real-time mutual information exchange between the judiciary and penitentiary facilities. It also included measures for renovating Soviet-era penal institutions and constructed new medical facilities to improve mental health care, emergency management, and tuberculosis treatment in prisons.  In 2022 in Baku city, new modern penitentiary facilities were built for women with a capacity of 550 and juveniles with a capacity of 150.  Necessary infrastructure was put in place for the prisoners to spend their leisure time and engage in sports and education.  In 2023, a new penitentiary establishment was created in Umbaki settlement and in 2024, a similar one was established in Lankaran, with a capacity of 1,300 persons in each.  A wide public presentation and a media tour was organised to inform the public about the conditions created in these penitentiary complexes.  Further, renovation works were made in the regime blocks of some pre-trial detention facilities and measures were implemented to ensure that medical services in prisons met national health-care standards. 

For the last six years, the Government had improved access to quality legal aid for detainees.  The Azerbaijan Bar Association regularly organised mobile legal aid trips to the regions and remote areas.  Over the past six years, it provided free legal aid services to more than 36,500 low-income people in both urban and rural areas.  In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 restrictions put in force, the mobile application "Legal Aid" was launched.  The number of lawyers had increased more than 2.5 times in the last six years and currently the Bar Association had 2,431 members. 

In 2022, a brand-new Centre for Legal Examination and Legislative Initiatives was established to enhance the skills and competencies of public servants responsible for the application of legal norms. Human rights training courses, especially torture prevention awareness programmes, had been organised and conducted on a regular basis for different branches of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, addressing topics such as the Istanbul Protocol, the Convention, and the recommendations of the Committee.  Educational and informative events, seminars, lectures and training courses had been organised by different State bodies to raise awareness and educate the public on topics related to domestic violence.  Between 2020 and 2023, about 52,000 employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were involved in training on the promotion and protection of human rights. 

In 2022 and 2023, Baku court on grave crimes, Baku military court and Baku district courts issued acquittals on 38 criminal cases of persons accused of torture or inhumane treatment.  In 34 cases, the courts revoked decisions requesting to refuse opening a criminal case on torture or inhumane treatment, and returned those cases for re-examination to preliminary investigation bodies.  In 2023, one employee of penitentiary establishment no. 5 was sentenced; and two employees of the same establishment were subjected to disciplinary measures.  From 2020 to 2023, 571 violations of human rights and freedoms were recorded.  After investigations, 705 police officers were subjected to disciplinary measures for bringing citizens to the police offices without substantial reasons and for other degrading treatment.

During the reporting period, the Government adopted the national action plan on combatting domestic violence for 2020-2023 and the national action plan on gender equality for 2023-2025.  The State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs coordinated these and prepared annual reports on their implementation.  In July 2022, the “Women's Helpline” service was established.  It provided psychological support for people facing domestic violence.  The Department for the Social Rehabilitation of Victims of Domestic Violence had provided social services to 164 victims of violence. Special aid services for persons subjected to domestic violence were also provided by eight accredited non-State assistance centres. 

The Government had adopted the strategy on children in Azerbaijan for 2020-2030 and the action plan for its implementation for the period 2020-2025.  The latter launched the process of drafting the law on the rights of the child, which envisaged norms on the corporal punishment of children.  A new legal norm would be introduced in the Administrative Offences Code to hold parents or employees of alternative day care institutions responsible for applying corporal punishment to children.

In 2020, the Government adopted the national action plan on combatting human trafficking in Azerbaijan for 2020-2024.  This plan stipulated provisions for the protection of victims of human trafficking, especially women, children and other high-risk groups, as well as ensured their social rehabilitation.  From 2020 to 2023, 287 victims of human trafficking crimes were placed in a safe shelter, and provided with special protection, medical and psychological assistance, and necessary clothing items.  Health institutions aided persons with psychological, psychiatric and other medical services, and undertook HIV testing and treatment and awareness raising activities.

Questions by Committee Experts 

TODD BUCHWALD, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that reports stated that torture and ill treatment remained widespread in Azerbaijan, and authorities routinely dismissed complaints and denied detainees access to family, lawyers of their choosing, and independent medical care.  There were also widespread allegations of severe physical ill treatment of persons detained by the police, including juveniles as young as 15.  What was the State party’s position on these allegations?

The Committee was particularly concerned about the treatment of journalists and human rights defenders, and allegations about the failure of authorities to investigate and prosecute abuses against them.  There were reports of human rights defenders being attacked and subjected to smear campaigns, harassment, travel bans and arbitrary arrests. What more could the State party do to ensure the protection of human rights defenders and prevent arbitrary arrests at protests? 

There were many reports of abuses against Armenian prisoners of war.  There was video footage of Armenian prisoners of war being kicked and hit, including with sharp metal rods.  One horrifying video showed an Azerbaijani soldier decapitating a struggling Armenian man, with the assembled crowd clapping and cheering. What steps had been taken to investigate these and other cases of ethnic hatred or incitement to violence against ethnic Armenians, prosecute any persons responsible, and address the overall climate of ethnic intolerance?  Could abused prisoners of war or detainees pursue claims for compensation and redress against the Government?  Was Azerbaijan prepared to become a party to the Rome Statute and cooperate with the investigations of the International Criminal Court?

Was Azerbaijan willing to allow the publication of the reports of the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture on its December 2022 visit and the reports of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture under the Optional Protocol? 

Could a superior be held responsible if they had failed to take all reasonable and necessary measures to prevent torture?  The penalty for committing torture could be as low as just two years imprisonment, or six years for acts causing “heavy harm to health”.  Did the State party plan to increase the penalty? Why, in the Terter case from 2017, had nine officers convicted of committing torture received sentences of three years and why had seven been sentenced to six months?  What was the status of the statute of limitations regarding crimes of torture?  Who bore the burden of proof for excluding evidence obtained through torture?  Would the State party modify legislation to empower separate, independent investigators to assess claims that evidence was obtained through torture or ill treatment?

Was there legislation that addressed the protection provisions provided by the Convention to asylum seekers and refugees?  What administrative procedures were available to persons fleeing armed conflict?  In 2022, asylum seekers had been extradited without their asylum claims having been resolved.  How would the State party prevent the recurrence of such incidences?  How would the State party ensure against violations of requests from the Committee for interim measures?  Had the State party relied on diplomatic assurances as a basis for extraditing persons?

Did the law require authorities to inform persons of their rights immediately after arriving at remand centres?  What steps had been taken to protect the rights of detainees?  Persons deprived of liberty were reportedly being denied access to lawyers of their choice, and in some cases, access was delayed. There were complaints of persons not being able to meet with lawyers in private and ex-officio lawyers not defending their clients, demanding undue payments for their services and making decisions not supported by their clients.  How was the State party addressing such issues? 

What findings had been made by the State’s internal survey into allegations of torture in pre-trial detention?  How was the State party ensuring that all interviews of detainees were electronically recorded?  Confessions were given great weight in criminal proceedings.  What steps had been taken to move away from confession-based investigations in line with the Mendez Principles?  How would the State party guarantee detainees’ right to an examination by an independent doctor?  Under what rules did the State party determine whether medical examinations could be conducted in private?  There were numerous reports of incommunicado detention, and of notification of custody being delayed until persons had been interviewed and signed a statement or confession.  How did the State party respond to these claims?

The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions had reported that the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner of Azerbaijan had failed to respond to gross human rights violations and remained silent in relation to Government crackdowns on civil society.  What steps had been taken to respond to the Alliance’s concerns?  How was the Government ensuring that civil society could exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association independently?  How many independent non-governmental organizations had sought to register with the Government over the reporting period, and how many registrations had been denied?

ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteursaid the Committee welcomed that various law enforcement officials received training on human rights topics, including the prevention of torture.  What training on the Convention was provided for all relevant public officials and medical personnel?  Were law enforcement officers trained on non-coercive interrogation techniques, and on the use of force and firearms?  Training on gender-based violence was not sufficient.  Would it be strengthened?  Had medical personnel dealing with prisoners received training on the Istanbul Protocol?  Were there plans to make such training mandatory?  How would the State party assess the effectiveness of training programmes?  Had the State party provided training to military officers on the prevention of torture and the treatment of prisoners of war?

Most prisons had very old buildings, not enough toilets and showers, poor quality food, and did not offer quality extra-regime activities.  There were reportedly serious problems in providing medical care to persons in pre-trial detention and prisons.  Ms. Racu commended the reconstruction and repair works carried out in several detention facilities, including the opening of a new block of the administrative detention centre.  To what extent were alternatives to detention applied?  What progress had been made in constructing new prisons?  How were occupancy rates in prisons monitored?  How would the State party improve material conditions in prisons? 

Ms. Racu welcomed efforts by authorities to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV in prisons.  However, patients with infectious and viral diseases, in particular hepatitis C and tuberculosis, were often not isolated from other prisoners. What were the current rates of infection of these diseases in prisons?  How were treatment plans being implemented?  What measures were in place to ensure that detainees had proper access to medical and psychiatric treatment?  What protocols were in place once medical staff found evidence of torture? What budget had been allocated to the needs of the prison system?

Azerbaijan's penitentiary institutions faced several staffing problems and there was an apparent lack of progress towards increasing the number of female custodial staff.  This was of particular concern at Nakhchivan Prison, where there was only one female custodial officer.  What steps had been taken to substantially increase the number of staff, including female staff and crisis management staff?  There were also reports of widespread corruption among prison officers. What measures were in place to prevent and punish bribes and corruption?

It was positive that a new penitentiary for women and juveniles had been built in Zabrat.  How were the recommendations of the Committee and other international organizations being respected in this prison?  Did it have sufficient space in cells, and did it offer opportunities for recreation to prisoners?  How many female prisoners did Azerbaijan have, including those on remand?  How many women went through educational programmes in prisons?  How many convicted mothers were in prison, and could they access appropriate medical care?

The Committee welcomed the establishment of the advisory and referral system for children at risk and various rehabilitation programmes designed for minors behind bars.  What was the current number of juvenile detainees?  In which institutions were minors held in pre-trial detention?  Were they separated from adults?  Which authorities monitored minors in detention and how many visits were carried out on average per year?  What alternatives existed for the detention of juveniles? Was there a complaints mechanism available for minors?  How many complaints had Azerbaijan registered from minors?  Had staff working with minors been trained on the treatment of minors in detention?

Were there due process rights provided regarding disciplinary sanctions issued in prisons?  Could juveniles and persons with disabilities be subjected to solitary confinement? Had the State party reviewed the prison sanction system in accordance with the Mandela Rules and other relevant standards?  Could the State party provide data on the number of deaths in custody, which some non-governmental organizations had reported as rising?  How were deaths in custody investigated and how many investigations had been conducted in recent years?  How was the State party preventing deaths in custody, violent clashes between detainees, and the excessive use of force and firearms by authorities?  Was there data on the use of force by prison staff against detainees and disciplinary measures implemented against such staff?

The Committee was concerned by reports of the use of coercive measures, including physical restraints, prolonged isolation of adults with disabilities, and incidents of involuntary hospitalisation and forced institutionalisation in psychiatric institutions and social care homes. How were these institutions monitored? Was there a complaints mechanism available for patients and how many complaints had been received?  Did the State party plan to revise legislation in this regard?  What indicators were used by staff to determine that a patient needed to be put under mechanical restraint?  What protocol was used to implement and oversee the use of restraints?  What measures were in place to improve material conditions in psychiatric institutions and social care homes?

Was there a protocol for the investigation of torture and ill treatment by Azerbaijan’s armed forces?  What measures had Azerbaijan undertaken to ensure redress, compensation and restitution for the victims of forced displacement and for protecting their property and housing rights?  How many times had redress and compensation been requested and granted, and what amounts and forms of redress had been granted to victims?

One Committee Expert commended the State party’s national action plan against trafficking in persons.  The Expert noted concerns of a lack of independent monitoring of anti-trafficking measures and support measures for victims.  What were the priorities and challenges regarding the implementation of this plan? 

Other Committee Experts asked questions on measures taken to ensure that all public authorities respected the right of all persons deprived of liberty to protection from torture in situations of conflict, punished perpetrators, and provided redress to victims; the number of citizens detained during the armed conflict and measures to ensure that the rights of prisoners of war were protected; the definition of terrorism in the Criminal Code and whether it was applicable in situations of armed conflict; and planned legal norms regarding the corporal punishment of children.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said Azerbaijan paid due attention to the Committee’s recommendations and worked to implement its obligations under the Convention.  The allegations of non-governmental organizations did not always reflect reality.  The Government had outlined plans to reintegrate residents of areas formerly under the control of Armenia.  The Armenian Government had for decades promoted the idea of “ethnic incompatibility” as a basis for rejecting the rights of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees.  Azerbaijan had issued several guarantees of the rights of Armenians living in Karabakh. Authorities had created a website for the reintegration of Armenian residents.  The Government was committed to ensuring the free and voluntary return of all Armenians.  The military operations in the region had not damaged civil infrastructure.  The Government welcomed that many Armenians had expressed their desire to return to Garabakh and gain Azerbaijani citizenship.

Azerbaijan was committed to upholding international standards and rejected claims that Armenian prisoners of war were not treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.  Claims made by non-governmental organizations in this regard were false.  Prisoners of war were not tortured and received necessary medical care.  After the signing of the Trilateral Statement, Azerbaijan had returned all Armenian prisoners of war to Armenia.  Prisoners of war could inform persons of their detention, and places of detention of prisoners of war were regularly visited by monitoring authorities. All allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against prisoners of war were thoroughly investigated.  In the First Garabakh War, over 3,000 Azerbaijani citizens went missing.  Over 4,000 Azerbaijani prisoners of war had allegedly been tortured by Armenian authorities.  The Armenian Government had refused to investigate these allegations.

The Prosecutor General’s Office had undertaken investigations regarding the treatment of Armenian detainees captured on video.  In five cases, it was not possible to identify the persons shown on videos.  Some military officers had been found guilty of desecrating Armenian corpses and graves and were issued disciplinary sanctions or prison sentences.  Two individuals had been issued prison sentences for the murder of Armenian nationals.  Nine prisoners of war were found to have been deliberately killed in the Second Garabakh War and 18 corpses were desecrated.

Regarding the 44-day war in 2020, the Government of Azerbaijan had received 275 communications from the European Court of Human Rights concerning the treatment of prisoners of war.  The Government had established a working group to investigate allegations of enforced disappearance and torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. All necessary investigative measures had been adopted by the State party.  More than 230 applications for interim measures were lifted by the Court after the Azerbaijani Government’s response.  There were currently no prisoners of war in Azerbaijan, as currently detained individuals were captured in Azerbaijan territory at least one month after the conflict had ended.  Those individuals had been convicted of crimes such as terrorism for the shelling of villages.  They were not covered by the Geneva Conventions.

Allegations of ill treatment against prisoners in Azerbaijan had been investigated independently, including by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and had been found to be false.  Medical examinations of detainees were conducted in private, and some detainees who required it were provided with outpatient medical services.  Various international monitoring bodies had visited places of detention over the reporting period.  None had found torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  The rights of Armenian detainees were protected.  The State party had handed over the bodies of over 2,000 Armenian nationals who had died in the conflict.  Currently, only 22 Armenian nationals were detained, 17 of whom had been charged.

Azerbaijani land had been occupied for 30 years.  The Azerbaijani Army had participated in a war to de-occupy and free its legitimate land.  The Army respected international law and the rules of conflict and had engaged in measures to prevent human rights violations.  Instructions had been developed for the military on respecting international law, responses to violations, and humane treatment of prisoners of war and civilians.  These instructions had been included in the curriculum taught daily to the Army, which included modules on the prevention of torture.

Police officers were obliged to inform detainees of their rights, including their right to inform a loved one of the detention.  Detainees were given booklets explaining their rights in three languages. At police stations, there were rooms for private meetings with legal counsel.  Detainees were given a medical examination upon detainment, and any evidence of injuries was recorded.  The Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted investigations into all allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  Government and non-governmental organizations conducted monitoring of places of police detention, and there were 358 monitoring visits in 2022 and 2023. 

The interrogation of minors could only take place with a legal guardian and a doctor present.  Children could only be detained in the case of particularly severe crimes.  The State party had expanded programmes at the Police Academy on how to carry out interrogations and had carried out a workshop on the Convention in September 2023.  There had been seven cases of suicides in prison.  Each case had been investigated, and in one case, a prison officer had been dismissed for negligence and other officers had been disciplined.

The State party had identified 373 victims of trafficking and prosecuted 69 persons for facilitating trafficking in persons.  A mechanism for the identification of victims had been developed. Azerbaijan had aided more than 200 victims with medical, psychological, employment and training support.  More than 100 child victims had been given educational support.

The Constitution stated that all international agreements adhered to by Azerbaijan had direct legal force across the whole territory of the State.  The decisions of the European Court of Human Rights had direct force in the State. 

Detainees’ requests for private doctors were honoured by the State party. Court judgements could only be based on evidence presented during trials.  Victims of ill-treatment had a right to remedies and compensation. Victims’ claims were examined in civil proceedings.  There were several cases where victims of ill treatment by public officials received damage payments.  Independent medical examinations were carried out in investigations of these events.

There was a law on domestic violence and a national action plan on combatting domestic violence.  The Government had established monitoring bodies on gender-based violence.  Where cases of violence were identified, perpetrators were punished and victims were rehabilitated.  The State party had trained 696 members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and several police officers on responding to and preventing gender-based violence.  In 2020, the State party opened a hotline for making complaints related to violence. Over 900 complaints had been received through this hotline.  The State party was also carrying out an awareness raising campaign on sexual violence. Further, it had set up “women’s resource centres” in regional areas working to prevent gender-based violence through training and awareness raising.

Azerbaijan had prepared a new draft law on children that included legal norms on corporal punishment.  Penalties were issued to teachers and other caregivers who used corporal punishment. Children could submit complaints of violence to the State.  Acts of corporal punishment could lead to the repealing of parental rights.  The Government conducted information sessions on children’s rights.

Psychiatric Clinic 1 was currently being refurbished and work on it would be concluded this year.  If there was a danger to patients or those around them, they could be briefly isolated, but physical restraints were not used.  There were various regional incentives in place to increase the number of psychiatrists.  The State party had established a Children’s Psychological Centre and a children’s hotline. In 2020, the Centre carried out a project to support the reintegration of patients into family settings.  A law on the ethical behaviour of professionals had been developed in 2011.  Staff who treated patients improperly were dismissed from their posts.

Azerbaijan planned to expand rehabilitation centres for drug addictions. There were initiatives in place aiming to combat tuberculosis.  The tuberculosis situation was now stable.  A research centre and laboratories had been set up to improve the diagnosis of tuberculosis and other serious diseases.  Patients with tuberculosis could access free health care.  The death rate for tuberculosis in prisons had been reduced by 196 times between 1993 and 2013 and by a further three times between 2013 and 2023.  A Government programme was also in place to combat HIV.  Thanks to this, last year, there was not a single case of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.  In 2023, the State party received certification from the World Health Organization as a “malaria-free” country.

From 2020 to 2024, disciplinary procedures were initiated against 102 prosecutors, and 12 persons were removed from their positions for committing violations. Two criminal cases had been initiated regarding abuse of power by prosecutors.  Training had been provided for more than 200 prosecutors on combatting torture, protecting children’s rights, and the Mendez Principles.

There was political will to transform prison conditions.  Most prisons were formerly located in Baku, making it difficult for regional residents to visit detained family members.  The Government was working to build more prisons in regional areas.  One prison with poor facilities had been shut down.  In 2022, prisons for women and juveniles had been opened.  A new mixed-regime prison had recently been opened close to the border with Iran, and a new pre-trial detention facility was also under construction.  All facilities provided at least four square metres of space in cells.  Staff numbers in prisons had increased by 12 per cent since 2020, including a four per cent increase in female staff.  There were currently eight female prison guards overseeing six female prisoners.  The budget allocated to the penitentiary system had increased 1.6 times since 2020. There had also been a gradual increase in the quality of medical treatment provided in prisons. 

A probation service was established in 2018.  Since its establishment, the State party had used around 20,000 bracelets. Around 24,000 persons were currently on probation.  About 35 crimes had been decriminalised over the reporting period, leading to the release of around 6,000 persons.  The State party also widely used parole.  Since 2020, about 11,000 prisoners were released on parole.  About 2,700 persons were released on amnesty and 1,800 persons were pardoned.  Azerbaijan had become a member of the European Forum on Restorative Justice.

Azerbaijan had stopped using solitary confinement in juvenile detention facilities and had drafted a legal amendment to abolish the practice.  There had been no allegations of torture in prisons for juveniles and women.  Seven-day vacations were provided to prisoners who behaved well.  Vocational training was provided to prisoners and hotels and restaurants often provided work to released prisoners.

The penalty for acts of torture was in line with those for other serious crimes. If accused persons ran away or hid from investigations, the period in which they ran away was not counted when measuring the statute of limitations.

Diplomatic assurances did not have decisive value.  They were examined together with other circumstances.  If there were any security risks for the foreigners concerned, diplomatic assurances were not always trusted.  The State party had rejected extraditions to Iran on two occasions and to Oman on one occasion due to security concerns. In extradition cases to Thailand and India, the State party requested security assurances and guarantees that the death penalty would not be executed.  International fact-finding missions had monitored extraditions and found that the human rights of the persons involved were not violated.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts 

TODD BUCHWALD, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked whether the State party was willing to release the reports of various international monitoring bodies on visits to Azerbaijan.  How many non-governmental organizations were operating in the State? Would the State party consider accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court?  How did the State party deal with a request for interim measures from the Committee? 

Did Armenian prisoners of war have the right to pursue a remedy for alleged human rights violations and would they be appointed an Azerbaijani lawyer?  It was difficult to determine whether the 23 Armenian citizens currently detained in Azerbaijan were terrorists.  More Armenians had previously been detained. Who were these people and why were they returned, while others remained detained? 

Were there prospects for enhancing the State party’s ability to compile and analyse data?  There were reports that there were no laws protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and there were allegations of abuse of such people by the police.  What was being done to deal with these problems?

ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about the findings of monitoring visits of juvenile detention centres by independent bodies.  Could the State party provide data on all deaths in custody, including natural deaths and deaths from violent incidents among detainees, as well as the number of cases of excessive use of force by staff in prisons?  What legislation regulated the use of force in prison settings?

What hygiene products were provided to women prisoners?  What protocols were in place for documenting injuries allegedly caused by ill treatment in prisons?  How was the State party supporting prisons to obtain medical supplies? The State party seemingly had a very impressive structure in place for tackling tuberculosis.  Did detainees need court orders to be transferred from prisons to special hospitals for tuberculosis?  Were there procedures in place for persons who refused treatment? What measures had been taken to improve conditions in pre-trial detention facilities, which were reportedly the most overcrowded?  How was the State supporting prisoners with disabilities and elderly prisoners?  The delegation had provided a very positive update regarding the solitary confinement of minors.  What procedures were applied for the solitary confinement of adults? 

What legislation was in place regarding the use of chemical restraints in psychiatric institutions?  How often were reviews of placements in psychiatric institutions conducted?

Could investigations into gender-based violence be initiated ex-officio? How many victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment had received compensation during the reporting period?  Did victims have access to public apologies and other remedies?

One Committee Expert asked a follow-up question on the implementation of an amendment to legislation allowing for video meetings for detainees.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government openly worked with the Committee and had published many reports from international bodies previously.  It would duly consider the Committee’s interest in publishing recent reports.  The State party was still considering whether to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. 

All citizens were equal before the law in Azerbaijan, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.  In one case before the European Court of Human Rights, the State party had recognised the violation of the rights of 25 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals.  There had been no cases of detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons subsequently.

The 23 Armenian individuals currently detained were captured far away from battle zones and could not be treated as prisoners of war.  All these people were offered legal assistance and interpreters. The State party had sent 50,000 pages on criminal proceedings to these persons in Armenian language.  It had received no complaints of torture or ill treatment from them.  Although these persons were charged with terrorism, it was up to the courts to determine the crimes committed.

Juvenile detention centres, as with other prisons, were monitored by the Public Council, which was made up of non-governmental organization representatives. The Council could visit facilities without prior notification and issue recommendations to the Ministry of Justice for follow-up.  The State party had guidelines on the use of force which were based on the standards of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

Women could not be sentenced to life imprisonment.  There were only three mothers in prison who had children under three years old.  Separate cells with playrooms were available for such children.  Officers received mandatory training on the Istanbul Protocol. Women prisoners were provided with hygiene packs, and the budget for the provision of such packs was recently increased. No persons diagnosed with tuberculosis had rejected treatment.  There were two new pre-trial detention facilities being established to improve conditions in pre-trial detention centres.  Prisoners subjected to solitary confinement could lodge appeals to the prison ward, the penitentiary service, and the Ministry of Justice.  The State party had recently introduced equipment to facilitate video meetings between prisoners and relatives.

When psychiatric institution patients were aggressive, belts could be used to restrain them for up to one hour.  The use of restraints was recorded.  All psychiatric institutions worked according to British standards.

Persons seeking asylum status were considered under the refugee conventions and national legislation on asylum, and were processed by the migration service. Persons who were refused refugee status had the right to appeal decisions and to leave Azerbaijan voluntarily. There had been no deportations of persons who had received refugee status in recent years.

The Centre for Assistance for Victims of Human Trafficking implemented measures to help victims reintegrate into society.  Such measures treated physical injuries and mental trauma, and supported the education and training of victims of human trafficking.  The Centre acted as a shelter and had provided support to 291 victims.  A department had also been set up to prevent domestic violence and provide support to victims.  Social services had been provided to over 1,000 victims of domestic violence. Between 2022 and 2023, the hotline for reporting domestic violence had received over 3,000 calls.  Persons identified as victims of domestic violence were immediately placed in support institutions.  Since 2013, the Ministry of Labour had provided funding to non-governmental organizations working to prevent domestic violence.

There was a law on compensation and redress which addressed moral compensation. In one case involving torture and inappropriate deprivation of liberty, three people had been granted compensation. All persons who took part in these acts would be punished.

The State party had prepared booklets to explain the situation to Armenian residents during the 2020 war.  There was a decree issued on the prohibition of acts to deform the cultural heritage of the local area.  Members of the army who violated this decree or other legislation were prosecuted.  The army abided by international law.

Concluding Remarks 

CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Chair, said that in the positive and constructive dialogue, the situation in Azerbaijan and the war in the region had been discussed.  The Committee had received information that Azerbaijan was in the process of seeking an agreement with Armenia in this regard.  The Committee and the international community supported this process. Mr. Heller thanked the delegation for the responses it had provided to the Committee’s questions throughout the dialogue.  The Committee would independently identify in its concluding observations issues that it believed could be addressed within one year and would follow up on these. It was interested in maintaining dialogue with Azerbaijan. 

SAMIR SHARIFOV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and head of the delegation, said the Azerbaijani Government worked to protect and promote human rights and was considering further actions to improve the situation of human rights in Azerbaijan.  The Committee’s review process was an important step in assessing the implementation of the Convention.  The Government had taken all necessary measures to implement the Convention over the reporting period, adopting several laws, policies and national strategies to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Any recommendations that were not based on established facts and reports received from credible sources did not contribute to the review process.  Mr. Sharifov expressed thanks to all who had contributed to the engaging and productive dialogue.

 

 

Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the media; 
not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.

 

 

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