29 June 2015 - In a show of solidarity against grave rights violations, 25 governments have criticised Azerbaijan’s government in the world’s premier human rights body. The strongly worded joint statement was delivered at the UN Human Rights Council even as Azerbaijan was hosting the first ever European Games (12-28 June).
“It is quite exceptional for so many governments to collectively voice their dissatisfaction with a UN member state’s actions in shrinking space for civil society,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. “President Ilham Aliyev’s government has brazenly harassed and imprisoned lawyers, journalists and peaceful human rights activists, thus inviting this level of censure.”
In a reference to the hosting of the European Games, the joint statement, endorsed by 22 European states, the United States, Canada and Australia, highlighted that while Azerbaijan is “investing significant efforts in promoting its image abroad, these efforts are being undermined by its actions at home.” The statement also underscores the worrying decline in respect for democratic rights in Azerbaijan and condemned the government’s failure to abide by the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe.
Azerbaijani authorities continue to clampdown on all forms of democratic dissent, hounding civil society and political opponents. Nearly 100 human rights defenders, including journalists, members of NGOs and political and youth movements remain in prison today on politically motivated charges. In 2014 alone, the authorities convicted or imprisoned 34 human rights defenders and journalists.
Recently, on 16 April 2015, the Court of Grave Crimes in the capital, Baku sentenced activist Rasul Jafarov to 6.5 years in prison on spurious tax evasion and `abuse of power’ charges. Jafarov, who was in the process of marshalling a list of all political prisoners in Azerbaijan at the time of his arrest, was the founder of “Sports for Rights,” a coalition of civil society organisations committed to highlighting grave violations of human rights in advance of the European Games.
In February 2015, as many as 11 international human rights organisations sent a joint letter to all UN member states urging them to urgently address Azerbaijan’s crackdown on dissent and its flagrant violation of international human rights law.
“Azerbaijan has one of the most repressive and dictatorial governments in the Eurasian region,” said Hodenfield. “We hope that the condemnation yesterday does not stay within the silos of the UN. More diplomatic action is needed from the international community to pressure Azerbaijan’s government to start treating its citizens better.”