EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World (Azerbaijan)
1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: The human rights situation remains of concern. Violations of the fundamental freedoms of association, expression and assembly and the authorities’ persecution of critics or perceived critics continue. The shrinking space for civil society was further reduced by restrictive legislation, including provisions for foreign funding; prominent media websites were closed down with no court ruling; there were cases of journalists imprisoned or detained under administrative order. The access to justice was seriously hampered due to new rules prohibiting practicing lawyers, who are not members of the Bar Association, from appearing in court. Some lawyers active in the cases of Human Rights (HR) defenders were disbarred by the Bar Association. In line with its international commitments, Azerbaijan needs to improve its compliance with ECHR rulings.
2. EU action – key focus areas: The EU’s cooperation with Azerbaijan has recently intensified in particular with the endorsement, in September 2018, of the Partnership Priorities which will guide and enhance our partnership over the coming years. These priorities also provide a policy framework for our financial cooperation till 2020.
Negotiations on the new EU-Azerbaijan Agreement are ongoing. Respect of democratic principles, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms and cooperation with civil society are at the core of the agreement.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: Three statements concerning the situation of HR and democracy in Azerbaijan were issued in 2018: Statement by the Spokesperson on the sentencing of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli in Azerbaijan (14 January 2018); the EU Statement on the presidential elections in the Republic of Azerbaijan, (12 April 2018) and Statement by the Spokesperson on the conditional release of Ilgar Mammadov, (14 August 2018).
The EU and Azerbaijan reviewed the state of play of social rights and social inclusion, poverty reduction and social protection and discussed possible forms of cooperation in this area during the meeting of the People to people subcommittee that took place in March 2018.
The EU Delegation in Baku established working level contacts to address urgent human rights issues with the Ministries of Justice and Interior and submitted several requests of humanitarian nature. In close cooperation with Member States the EU Delegation closely monitored the ongoing cases of political prisoners, administrative detentions of opposition activists, held meetings with lawyers and relatives, representatives of opposition parties, CSO as well as state institutions. Several meetings with the Ombudsman’s office took place to discuss the human rights situation in the country. 23
On the electoral framework, the EU side encouraged AZ to implement the recommendations made by ODIHR and cooperated closely with OSCE/PACE Election Observation mission during the presidential elections.
EU funded projects on support to penitentiary management and health standards, increasing capacities to implement ECHR decisions, reinforcement of judicial system, support to prevention of corruption and improvement of offender management system. Work on alternative dispute resolution also started in 2018.
Several HR defenders and/or their families received support under the Human Rights Defenders mechanism in 2018.
A number of EU funded projects on social service delivery, inclusive education, socio-economic rights of vulnerable populations were implemented in 2018. New EU funded projects with UNDP and UNICEF started on inclusive education. A new EU funded project implemented by OHCHR started in 2018, providing free legal aid to vulnerable populations, and capacity building for civil society in UN human rights reporting mechanisms
The EU Delegation cooperated with the State Committee for Women, Family and children both on horizontal approaches and concrete projects (implemented through UNDP and UNFPA) concerning gender biased sex selection, fight against domestic and gender based violence. A series of EU funded projects on advancing gender equality and women empowerment and the rights of disabled persons were implemented in 2018.
The EU Delegation facilitated the visit of Azerbaijani religious clergy delegation, assisted by the State Committee, to Brussels, on 27-28 June 2018.
4. EU financial engagement: EU assistance to Azerbaijan was indicatively programmed between EUR 139 million and EUR 169 million over seven years (2014-2020). In the first five years of the ENI, Azerbaijan’s assistance package amounted to EUR 76 million.
The envisaged 2019 EU assistance package (EUR 15 million) will support the implementation of EU-Azerbaijan Partnership Priorities in all four EaP priority areas, with a part of funds supporting civil society.
5. Multilateral context: As a member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has the duty to comply with the ECHR rulings and is responsible to fully implement them. CoE cooperation programmes in Azerbaijan (often joint programmes CoE–EU) remain a constructive channel of communication. In line with the Action Plan, adopted in October 2018, the Council of Europe and Azerbaijani authorities agreed to jointly carry forward, through co-operation programmes, the reforms aiming to further increase effectiveness, accountability and transparency of the judiciary and the prosecution service, to enhance the application of European human rights standards, to advance the reform of the penitentiary, and continue to strengthen the fight against corruption and money laundering. 24
As a member of the UN Human Rights Council Azerbaijan presented a resolution on ‘Promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Terrorism and Human Rights’ (March 2018).