Azerbaijan failing to meet commitments to Council of Europe - rights activist

Turan news agency
27 Dec 04


BAKU

Azerbaijan has failed to fulfil some of its vital commitments to the
Council of Europe and the OSCE this year, the director of the Human
Rights Centre of Azerbaijan HRCA , Eldar Zeynalov, has told Turan.

These commitments are connected to the fight against corruption, the
policy to set up public TV, the laws on elections and lawyers, a
solution to the problem of political prisoners, the freedom of the
press and other issues.

Asked how the law-enforcement system is being reformed, Zeynalov said
that it is being done "formally". The Constitutional Court plays the
role of the "fourth instance", overturning the rulings of the Supreme
Court only in civil cases. The "new" board of lawyers is in fact a
copy of the old one and keeps a monopoly in this area. It still
remains unclear when and how new members will be admitted to the
board.

The police remain unpunished for torture and the rude treatment of
citizens. Some police officers were rewarded last year for dispersing
opposition rallies in October 2003. Among them are employees from the
department to fight organized crime, who fight demonstrators and
journalists.

The National Security Ministry "got into a scandal" after failing to
ensure security at NATO events in Baku and "missing" Armenian
fugitives who said they came to Baku to seek asylum . "Reforms" in
this ministry were reflected in the replacement of the leadership at
the ministry and the arrival of police officers there.

An experiment on public control over prisons was conducted in the
penitentiary system, which drew a lot of criticism for the
administration's attempts to control experts from the public council.

As for ensuring the rights of national and other minorities, there are
no problems that could cause conflict. Nevertheless, the law on
national minorities and some other European conventions have not been
passed and there is no government support for education and literature
in the languages of national minorities (for example in Talish). The
consequences of the Karabakh conflict are telling on some citizens of
Armenian origin, the human rights activist said.

Asked what tasks the Azerbaijani public and the authorities are facing
in the light of the European Union's New Neighbourhood policy,
Zeynalov said that the main problems to be resolved are the completion
of market reforms. Besides, it is necessary to intensify the fight
against corruption, ensure human rights and resolve the Karabakh
problem. Otherwise, Azerbaijan will not be admitted to the EU.

At the same time closeness to the EU will lead to gradual integration
into European civilization and, in the distant future, concessions in
economic, political and other relations with EU member states,
Zeynalov thinks.

Commenting on the attitude of the authorities to the activities of
human rights activists, Zeynalov said that the authorities are trying
to use NGOs to convey the ideas of the ruling party to various strata
of society. Any refusal to accept this role is perceived as an NGO's
"disloyalty", Zeynalov noted.

Asked about attacks on his own organization, the activist said that
they were not a manifestation of "public outrage". The authorities do
not accept the culture of dialogue with their opponents. Therefore,
the so-called investigation into the attack on the office of the HRCA
ended with nothing in view of the "absence" of witnesses to the
attack. Thus, the police did not review video footage from three days
of filming and announced the absence of witnesses to the attack.

The authorities value their human rights activists even lower than
visiting Armenians whose attackers were convicted. "I believe in the
possibility that human rights activists may cooperate with the
authorities. This is the only way of effectively protecting human
rights, something we see in the West. Much energy is being allocated
to the fight against artificial obstacles made by the
authorities. This energy could have been channelled in a useful
direction," Zeynalov said.