December 14, 2015

UNPO Publishes Conference Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Azerbaijan

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization is releasing a report entitled Double Standards and Crackdown on Minority Rights in Azerbaijan following a conference organised in May 2015 at the European Parliament. In that occasion, UNPO and the National Talysh Movement, thanks to the support of Bogdan Wenta (EPP), Jaromír Štětina (EPP) and Laurenţiu Rebega (S&D), organised a stimulating debate involving various activists, MEPs, journalists, experts and members of civil society, to discuss the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. This report contains the transcription of all speeches delivered at the event as well as the speakers’ biographies.

The situation of minorities and human rights activists in Azerbaijan has been progressively deteriorating. While the country is moving closer to the EU in economic terms, the human rights situation has not improved. On the contrary, repression of journalists and representatives of minority groups – such as the Lezghin and the Talysh – has increased in the last years. The government sees minorities as a threat to national security and therefore represses them through a policy of assimilation, imposing Azerbaijani as the only official language.

In this context, the EU has a great role to play. On the one hand, it put into place the Eastern Partnership (EaP), an initiative involving its member states and six eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine –, based on a commitment to democracy, rule of law and human rights and promoting sustainable economic development and good governance. On the other hand, panellists expressed their concern over the EU’s relationship with Azerbaijan, which seems to be based exclusively on economic terms, while largely disregarding human rights issues.

The conference’s first panel focused on minority rights and the challenging environment in Azerbaijan. Ethnic minorities – of which the main ones are Lezghins, Russians, Talyshs and Avars – make up 9% of the total population in the country. In addition to this, people of Armenian origin also find themselves in a delicate situation, as hate speech – on behalf of the population as well as of the government – is widespread and many are therefore scared of publicly affirming their Armenian roots. Legal frameworks for the protection of minorities exist, but these are often vague and there is no clear procedure on how to implement them. Moreover, the working environment for human rights-based NGOs is highly restricted and the scope of their actions is therefore limited. As various speakers mentioned, human rights activists such as Khadiya Ismailova, Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev are currently in prison charged with possession of drugs, terrorism, and/or financial crimes.

The second panel brought together different ideas on potential ways forward, such as civil society initiatives, regional economic development and international strategies. Azerbaijan has a centralised government in the hands of the President, meaning that regions have no autonomy. This implies that minorities, such as the Talysh, are unable to use their language and express their culture. In this context, the President of the National Talysh Movement discussed the idea of increasing regional self-governance as a solution to under-representation. In addition to this, the Director of the Armenian General Benevolent Union stressed once again the role of the EU in promoting human rights and democratic governance – in Azerbaijan as well as in neighbouring countries (e.g. Turkey) – to improve the situation of Armenians and other minorities.

During this event, UNPO gave a speech concentrating on the plight of the Lezghins, an Azerbaijani minority often forgotten, but reiterated the importance of providing adequate representation to all peoples at all levels of decision-making.

To download the full report, please click here.

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