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Title:  Azerbaijan Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State 
Date:  March 1996 
 
 
 
 
                              AZERBAIJAN 
 
 
Azerbaijan is a republic with a presidential form of government.  Heydar 
Aliyev, who assumed presidential powers after the overthrow of his 
democratically elected predecessor,  was elected President in 1993.  He 
and his supporters, many from his home region of Naxcivan, dominate the 
Government and the multiparty, 125-member Parliament chosen in the 
November 12 elections.  The new Constitution, approved by voters in 
November, established a tripartite system of government.  It consists of 
an executive with strong presidential powers, a legislature with the 
power to approve the budget and impeach the President, and a judiciary 
with limited independence.  Following years of interethnic conflict 
between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, forces of the self-styled "Republic 
of Nagorno-Karabakh" (which is not recognized by any government) occupy 
20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory.  While a cease-fire, and peace 
process continue, there are about 700,000 Azerbaijani refugees and 
internally displaced persons (IDP's) who cannot return to their homes.  
In the part of Azerbaijan that the Government controls, government 
efforts to hinder the opposition hampers the transition to democracy.  
In the part of Azerbaijan that Armenians control, a tightly controlled, 
heavily militarized ruling structure is in place. 
 
Police and the Ministry of National Security are entrusted with internal 
security.  Despite the cease-fire, military operations continue to have 
an impact on the civilian population.  There have been reports of cease-
fire violations from both sides of the cease-fire line resulting in 
civilian injuries and deaths.   
 
Azerbaijan has a state-controlled economy rich in oil, gas, and cotton.  
An informal private sector, operating outside official channels, but 
often with ties to persons in the Government, is an increasingly 
important part of the economy.  An international oil consortium moved 
forward its plans to develop several oil fields with a decision in 
October to use multiple pipelines to ship oil to world markets.  In 
November the Azerbaijanis and foreign oil companies created a new 
international consortium to develop an additional oil field.  However, 
the economy continued to suffer due to:  the continuing effects of the 
breakup of the former Soviet Union; lack of economic reform and 
privatization; the closure of the Russian border for much of the year; 
and partial closures of the Iranian border for several months.  The 
continued burden of over 700,000 refugees and IDP's as well as the loss 
in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of significant amounts of productive 
agricultural land placed added strain on the economy.  International 
assistance to the refugees and IDP's is critical to maintaining the 
population at the barest minimum standard of living.  The Government is 
working with international financial institutions on a privatization 
program, which has not yet been implemented.  Widespread corruption 
hampers economic development.  The overall economic situation of the 
average citizen continued to deteriorate, although in urban areas a 
small monied class, with trade and oil-related interests, has emerged.  
In Armenian-controlled areas, the economy is primarily agricultural and 
contributions from abroad are an important supplement to the economy. 
 
The Government's human rights record continued to be poor.  During a 
March coup attempt, government forces continued firing on opposition 
forces after a white flag was raised, resulting in additional deaths.  
One opposition politician died while in jail, while others complained of 
receiving poor medical care.  The security forces arbitrarily arrest, 
beat, and detain persons and conduct searches and seizures without 
warrants.  Through threats and intimidation, they also inhibited 
opposition political parties from carrying out a full range of 
activities.  Prison conditions are harsh.  Journalists were imprisoned 
for publishing a satirical article about the President, although they 
were later pardoned.  Political censorship continued although at lower 
levels than in 1994.  Some opposition parties and candidates were 
prevented from running in elections as a result of questionable 
registration practices.  The elections themselves were flawed by 
multiple voting, widespread instances of official intimidation and 
misconduct, and chaotic, nontransparent tabulation procedures.  The 
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/United Nations 
(OSCE/UN) Joint Electoral Observation Mission concluded that the 
elections "did not correspond to internationally accepted standards."  
Government interference in the elections restricted citizens' ability to 
change their government.  The Government tolerates the existence of some 
opposition political parties.  It has demonstrated, however,  a 
disregard for the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, 
association, and privacy when it has deemed it in its interest to do so.  
Societal discrimination and violence against women are problems.  
Insurgent Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied 
territories continued to prevent the return of IDP's to their homes.  
This resulted in significant human suffering for hundreds of thousands 
of people.   
 
Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
A coup attempt in early March resulted in fighting between government 
and rebel forces and the deaths of government and rebel soldiers.  On 
March 17, during fighting in Baku, opposition forces raised a white flag 
indicating a desire to surrender.  However, government forces continued 
to fire, resulting in additional deaths. 
 
On June 17, Shakhsultan Jafarov, former commander of the Naxcivan border 
guard, an activist of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front (APF), and 
a Member of Parliament, was shot five times as he sat in his car while 
being arrested in connection with his alleged leadership of an illegal 
private militia.  He died 2 weeks later, reportedly having been denied 
adequate medical care.  No charges were levied against the perpetrators. 
 
  b.  Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.  All 
sides to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict still detain prisoners.  In 1995 
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegates visited 221 
people held in relation to the conflict.  A total of 150 were freed 
during the year; 39 by Azerbaijan, 47 by Armenia, and 64 being held in 
Nagorno-Karabakh.  However, the ICRC still visits 71 people held in 
connection with the conflict.  These 71 comprise 65 Azeris being held in 
Nagorno-Karabakh, 4 Azerbaijanis held by Armenia, and 2 Armenians held 
by Azerbaijan.  The ICRC repeatedly asked the concerned parties for 
notification of any person captured in relation to the conflict, access 
to all places of detention connected with the conflict, and release of 
all such persons.  The ICRC also urged the parties to provide 
information on the fate of persons reported missing in action.   
 
The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, a group connected to the Social 
Democratic Party, reports that by July it had visited 97 Azerbaijani 
prisoners of war in Nagorno-Karabakh.  These prisoners were from 16 to 
59 years of age.  The group's report lists 929 prisoners whose locations 
are known out of 4,774 Azerbaijani citizens who are missing or known to 
have been taken prisoner in Nagorno-Karabakh.  This number includes 
women, children, and elderly people in addition to soldiers. 
 
  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
Torture is illegal; however, the security forces' practice of beating 
prisoners during arrest and interrogation is widespread.  On April 14, 
Farrukh Agaev was arrested and beaten by police for allegedly "reading 
(opposition-oriented) bulletins on a wall in Lenkoran."  This is a 
typical example of complaints from those members of the political 
opposition who are detained by the Government. 
 
Supporters of former Minister of Internal Affairs Iskendar Hamidov claim 
that Hamidov, convicted on charges of beating a journalist and stealing 
government funds, has been denied medical treatment for ulcers and 
kidney failure.  In response to inquiries into Hamidov's medical 
treatment, the authorities reportedly investigated the matter and found 
that Hamidov was not being denied medical care.   
 
Prison conditions are harsh.  According to credible reports, food and 
housing are poor, and provisions for medical care are inadequate.  There 
are repeated, credible allegations that prisoners are beaten.  Rape in 
prisons does not appear to be common.   
 
Various foreign embassies have petitioned the Government for permission 
to visit all prisons.  In general, access to regular prisons for foreign 
officials is not a problem; however, access to those held in security 
prisons is denied. 
 
  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
Arbitrary arrests made without legal warrant occur, and those arrested 
are normally brought to prison without notification of family members.  
It is often days before family members are able to obtain information as 
to whether someone has been arrested and where they are being detained.  
Family members do not enjoy the right of visitation.  Such individuals 
are generally denied bail and often are not informed of the charges 
against them.  Access to lawyers is often poor.   
 
Police and security forces regularly detained and arrested persons in 
conjunction with government efforts to restrict freedom of the press and 
opposition political activities (see Sections 2.a. and 2.b.).  Various 
local estimates put the number of prisoners and detainees currently 
under arrest on politically motivated charges at 70 to 100, compared 
with about 25 at the end of 1994.  Former Foreign Minister Tofig Gasimov 
was arrested in October, immediately after his name was placed second on 
the election list of the opposition Musavat Party.  He was charged with 
having been involved in preparations for the March coup attempt.  The 
authorities had information about the alleged acts for months, and the 
timing of the arrest appeared linked to the announcement of his 
intention to participate in the elections.  The head of a "social 
defense committee for bank customers' rights" was arrested on July 4, 
for having formally protested the refusal of several banks to honor the 
withdrawal requests of those with savings accounts.  Ramis Zeynalov, a 
civil rights attorney, was arrested without a warrant by police who came 
to his apartment in the middle of the night.   
 
Four journalists and two others involved in distributing a newspaper 
were convicted in October of defaming the President by publishing 
satirical material about him.  The journalists spent 6 months in prison 
awaiting trial.  The President pardoned them in November, just before 
the elections.   
 
Azerbaijan does not practice forced exile. 
 
  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The Constitution provides for a judiciary with limited independence.  
Supreme and Constitutional Court judges are appointed by the President 
subject to confirmation by Parliament.  Lower level judges are appointed 
directly by the President with no requirement for confirmation.  Judges 
have not functioned independently from other branches of government.  
The judicial system has been subject to the influence of executive 
authorities and has been widely seen as corrupt and inefficient. 
 
Courts of general jurisdiction may hear criminal, civil, and juvenile 
cases.  District and municipal courts try the overwhelming majority of 
cases, but the Supreme Court may also act as the court of first 
instance, depending on the nature and seriousness of the crime.  
Azerbaijan's previous criminal justice system, including its courts, 
laws, and procedures, followed the Soviet model.  The new Constitution 
adopted on November 12 made significant changes.  These changes include 
introducing the presumption of innocence in criminal cases, an 
exclusionary rule barring the use of illegally obtained evidence, and 
numerous other rights.  Those arrested or detained must be informed 
immediately of the charges against them.  How the new Constitution will 
affect the operation of the criminal justice system remains to be seen. 
 
Prosecutors, like the courts, are organized into offices at the 
district, municipal, and republic levels.  They are ultimately 
responsible to the Attorney General, appointed by the President and 
confirmed by Parliament.  While in the past, prosecutors were very 
influential, prosecutors and defense attorneys now by law have equal 
status before the courts.  Prosecutors direct all criminal 
investigations, which are usually conducted by personnel of the Ministry 
of Internal Affairs. 
 
Cases at the district court level are tried before a panel consisting of 
one judge and two lay assessors.  Judges frequently send cases unlikely 
to end in convictions back to the prosecutor for "additional 
investigation."  Such cases may be either dropped or closed, 
occasionally without informing the court or the defendant. 
 
By law, trials are to be publicly conducted except when government, 
professional, or commercial secrets, or family matters could be 
revealed.  Defendants may confront witnesses and present evidence.  The 
court appoints an attorney for indigent defendants.  Defendants and 
prosecutors have the right of appeal.   
 
The statutory commitment to public trial has not always been upheld, for 
example, the trial of former Interior Minister Hamidov (see Section 
1.c.) was closed to the public. 
 
  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
It is widely believed that the Ministry of National Security monitors 
telephones, especially those of foreigners and prominent political and 
business figures.  The police have periodically raided the offices and 
homes of opposition press and political parties and their leaders, 
allegedly searching for illegal weapons or other materials.  Usually 
conducted without any sort of warrant, these investigations often result 
in the confinement of the person to the Baku city limits or a brief jail 
sentence for questioning. 
 
During the summer, President Aliyev reportedly issued a decree that all 
highly placed government officials, as well as regional and municipal 
government officials and other employees must join his New Azerbaijan 
Party. 
 
Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The new Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press.  
However, there is no evidence yet that the Government will respect these 
rights in practice.  Past practices have led journalists to exercise 
self-censorship.  The Government officially censors the press for 
military purposes and subjects newspaper premises to searches and raids.  
In October the authorities closed the office charged with political 
censorship but left open a second censorship office.  While opposition 
media reported a loosening of censorship, some articles continued to be 
censored, especially articles personally critical of the President.  The 
arrest and conviction of journalists who published an article satirizing 
the President (see Section 1.d.) reinforced this message.  The OSCE/UN 
Joint Electoral Observation Mission found that "Political censorship of 
party and independent newspapers...restricted the freedom of speech of 
political parties."  Nevertheless, articles critical of government 
policy and of high government figures apart from the President do appear 
in the press.  The press is able to publish articles about many 
controversial subjects such as the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, 
allegations of government rigging of the elections, and failure of 
government leadership in the economic field.  Newspapers may be closed 
for 1 month if they violate military censorship rules which restrict 
publication of military secrets.   
 
The number of newspapers remains quite large, with some estimates 
reaching 300 or more, including newspapers operated by major and minor 
opposition parties.  The price of newsprint, exceeding world prices by 
30 to 40 percent, has forced several of the most prominent newspapers to 
halt publication for various periods and has forced some papers out of 
business entirely.  The state-run printing monopoly also has raised its 
prices and acted to keep certain opposition newspapers out of its 
distribution kiosks.  Independent news distributors, however, continue 
to sell opposition papers. 
 
The Government controls most radio and television, and the opposition 
has little access to the official electronic media.  During the election 
campaign, opposition parties and candidates received free air time to 
campaign and a wide variety of views were voiced, including some strong, 
direct criticism of the Government.  However, in at least three 
instances, opposition candidates' statements were censored in part.   
 
There is an independent television station accessible only to the small 
number of Baku residents who own modern foreign-produced television 
sets.  Bodyguards of the head of the state television and radio beat the 
head of this independent station earlier in 1995 in a clear attempt to 
harass the station off the air.  There are about 10 other independent 
television stations in the country, but their operations are generally 
very limited.  Independent radio is almost entirely entertainment 
oriented.  Independent television and radio outlets are generally 
reluctant to air controversial political topics because they fear 
Government retaliation.   
 
Correct political connections are a prime requisite for those seeking 
posts in government-controlled institutions, including universities.  
However, there are several professors with tenure who are active in 
opposition parties.  There were no complaints of abuse of academic 
freedom, or of censorship of books or academic journals. 
 
  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for these rights.  While the Government 
tolerates the existence of most opposition parties, it disregards the 
right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association when it decides it 
is in its interest to do so.  The authorities frequently denied or 
obstructed opposition requests for permits to hold demonstrations, and 
broke up "spontaneous" demonstrations.  It used a state of emergency 
declared in response to a coup attempt in October 1994 to bar meetings 
until it was revoked in June.  While opposition parties have been 
allowed to hold party congresses, some report arrests of party members 
who meet outside of Baku in groups as small as 10.   
 
Reports of harassment by the Ministry of National Security of political 
and human rights figures continued.  Before the elections, the 
authorities disallowed several attempts to hold rallies in Baku to 
protest irregularities in the registration process.  No clear criteria 
are cited when denying such groups permission to assemble.  When an 
opposition newspaper issued a call for journalists to meet to discuss 
the prospective sentencing of journalists for satirizing the President 
(see Sections 1.d. and 2.a.), police barricaded the street, and barred 
all visitors to the building, claiming that they had received a bomb 
threat.  The editor of the newspaper was told that it was prohibited to 
call for such a meeting under the state of emergency, even though the 
state of emergency had been lifted several months earlier. 
 
Associations other than political parties are generally allowed to 
function freely. 
 
  c.  Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for no state religion and allows people of all 
faiths to practice their religion without restrictions.  The Government 
respects this provision in practice with one exception:  because of the 
forced departure of most of the Armenian population and anti-Armenian 
sentiment, Armenian churches remain closed.  Other Christian groups can 
hold services and conduct religious education activities.  Azerbaijan's 
Jewish community has similar freedom to worship and conduct educational 
activities. 
 
  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The new Constitution provides for the right of all citizens to choose 
freely their place of domicile and to travel abroad.  In 1995 the 
Government dropped the requirement for an exit visa to travel outside 
the country.  The Ministry of National Security enforces a long-standing 
restriction zone in the southeast on the Iranian border from which all 
nonresidents are excluded.  There have been sporadic efforts over the 
past year to insist that foreigners obtain visas to visit areas outside 
Baku.  Residents of border areas in both Azerbaijan and Iran are allowed 
to travel across the border in this restricted zone without visas.   
 
Prominent political and human rights leaders under criminal 
investigation are forbidden to leave the city boundaries of Baku.  This 
limited their campaigning in the election period.  This is true in the 
cases of Ali Karimov of the Azerbaijan Popular Front (charged with 
concealing hand grenades in his pockets), who is prevented from leaving 
the country.  It is also true for Isa Gambar of the Musavat Party, 
(charged in the events leading to the overthrow of the Elcibey 
government in 1993), who cannot travel outside of Baku.  Other political 
activists have suffered harassment when traveling beyond Baku to meet 
party delegations in the countryside or when visiting refugee camps. 
 
The Government officially recognizes freedom of emigration.  Jewish 
emigration to Israel continued, though it has slowed to a trickle.  The 
remaining Armenian population in Azerbaijan is approximately 10,000 to 
20,000, mostly people of mixed descent or in mixed marriages.  There is 
no government policy of discrimination against Armenians, who are free 
to travel.  Low-level officials seeking bribes often harass members of 
minorities wishing to emigrate. 
 
The Government officially notified all draft-age men to be prepared for 
mobilization in July.  During that time, men between 18 and 45 years of 
age were forbidden to travel beyond their city or regional limits.  
Guards at the borders and at the Baku airport were on alert, questioning 
any young men they found.  Draft-age men must obtain documents from 
military officials before they can leave for international travel.  All 
citizens wishing to travel abroad must obtain a passport. 
 
The number of refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan is over 
700,000.  The Armenians have begun the settlement of Armenians in some 
of the occupied territories.  However, the Armenians have not allowed 
the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis who were forced out of the 
now-occupied territories to return to their homes.  These people 
continue to live in camps and other temporary shelters, often living at 
below-subsistence levels, without adequate food, housing, education, or 
medical care.  All parties to the conflict have cut normal trade and 
transportation links to the other sides, causing severe hardship to 
civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, and the Azerbaijani exclave of 
Naxcivan. 
 
The new Constitution provides for political asylum consistent with 
international legal norms.  The Government is receptive to international 
assistance for refugees and cooperates with international organizations 
to provide aid for refugees. 
 
Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
In theory, the new election law and Constitution allow citizens to 
change their government by peaceful means.  However, the Government's 
interference in the November 12 elections restricted citizens ability to 
peacefully change their government.  The parliamentary elections were 
flawed, by, among other things, the banning of major opposition parties 
and candidates from the ballot through arbitrary application of 
signature requirements .   
 
The November 12 parliamentary elections and concurrent constitutional 
referendum were carried out following a registration process that 
inhibited full participation and produced cynicism among the public.  
There were major problems during the party registration period in 
August.  The Ministry of Justice initially decided not to register some 
parties because they opposed the Government.  Following internal and 
international protests, almost all parties were registered.  A Supreme 
Court ruling allowing the Communist Party to register was not issued, 
however, until mid-September.  The Islamic Party, a prominent Iranian-
controlled and -funded opposition party, was not registered to 
participate in the elections.   
 
There were further problems when candidates and parties attempted to 
procure the necessary signatures (2,000 for individual candidates and 
50,000 for parties) to qualify for the ballot.  Several parties 
including the Musavat Party, a leading opposition party, and the 
Communist Party were ruled off the ballot based on the judgment of so-
called handwriting experts.  These experts disagreed among themselves as 
to when signatures were valid, international observers suggested that 
more objective and scientific methods be used to verify signatures.  
Large numbers of opposition candidates for district elections were 
similarly ruled off the ballot.  Opposition parties claimed their most 
capable candidates were ruled off the ballot, while more marginal 
candidates remained.  There were widespread, credible reports that some 
candidates were allowed on the ballot after paying bribes to local and 
election officials. 
 
The elections themselves were carried out in an uneven manner.  The 
reported turnout of 80 percent was much greater than that observed by 
election monitors.  They reported turnout in the 40 percent range in 
most areas.  Turnout was inflated by multiple voting, with many 
instances of males voting for the entire family and local housing 
officials casting ballots for groups of residents.  Election officials 
filled out ballots themselves in order to meet a perceived need to 
report high turnouts.  The counting procedures at the district level 
were chaotic, with no effective control over ballots.  In many instances 
local observers were barred from polling places for part of the day or 
during the counting process.  This led to suspicions that votes were 
falsified.  Local election results were not reported publicly, and the 
Central Election Commission only announced final results after a lapse 
of a week.  There were many instances of local officials working hard to 
carry out free and fair elections, and independent and party monitors 
worked to ensure a democratic process.  Overall, however, the elections 
were flawed and mark only an initial step in a long process toward 
democracy in Azerbaijan. 
 
The final composition of the 125-member Parliament will not be 
determined until after special elections in February 1996--most members 
of Parliament likely will be either members of the President's party, or 
nominal independents closely aligned with the President.  Several of the 
other parties represented in Parliament are also close to the President.  
There will be few opposition members.  Opposition parties continue to be 
active outside the legislature, agitating for their views in their 
newspapers and through public statements.   
 
There are no legal restrictions on women's participation in politics.  
However, traditional social norms restrict women's roles in politics.  
Men continued to vote for their wives and other female members of their 
families, an abuse that was widely noted in the November parliamentary 
elections.  The number of women members of Parliament remains to be 
determined along with the final composition of the Parliament.  
Currently the acting Minister of Justice and the Education Minister are 
the only women of ministerial rank. 
 
There are no restrictions on the participation of minorities in politics 
as individuals.  However, explicitly ethnically or religiously based 
parties were prohibited from participating in the November elections.  
Minority groups have in the past been able to form regional groups in 
Parliament.  Indigenous ethnic minorities such as the Talysh and Lezyhis 
fill some senior government positions; the deputy defense minister is 
Lezyhi; and the head of the electoral commission is Talysh. 
 
Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
The Government welcomed a joint OSCE/UN monitoring mission for the 
elections and provided monitors with countrywide access.  The ICRC has 
had access to prisoners of war held in regular prisons but not to those 
held in special prisons.   
 
The local human rights community is still largely composed of 
individuals rather than well-developed organizations.  Some of these 
individuals are beginning to organize groups as they grow in stature and 
experience as evidenced by the appearance of over a dozen women's 
groups.  These organizations and their leaders are subject to 
harassment, searches of their homes, and arrest.  Attorneys who 
represent those charged with political offenses have been arrested and 
held for periods of several months in apparent retaliation for their 
active defense of their clients. 
 
However, the Government has met with delegations from human rights 
organizations.  Several local nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) have 
been formed to assist refugees and to carry out humanitarian activities.  
During the November election campaign, a local NGO produced an 
independent monitoring bulletin which reported on election-related 
rights violations and abuses in Baku.  Several human rights groups 
investigate human rights abuses and disseminate their findings through 
the local media and the internet.   
 
The Government has also opened its own NGO-style organizations, such as 
the Women's Rights Organization headed by President Aliyev's daughter.  
This organization received government support and funds, whereas other 
independent, prominent women's rights' activists did not.   
 
Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The new Constitution provides for equal rights irrespective of  
nationality, religion, gender, national origin, social status, or 
political views.  While it is to early to tell how effectively the new 
Constitutions provisions will be carried out, in the wake of the 
conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh there are strong anti-Armenian sentiments 
in society.   
 
  Women 
 
Discussion of violence against women is a taboo subject in Azerbaijan's 
patriarchal society.  In rural areas, women have no real recourse 
against violence by their husbands, regardless of the law.  Rape is 
severely punishable, but, especially in rural areas, only a small 
fraction of offenses against women are reported or prosecuted.  Police 
sources indicate that there are about 200 cases annually of crimes of 
violence against women.  These figures probably reflect underreporting, 
especially from the conservative rural areas.  Crime levels, in general, 
have risen considerably due to the flood of refugees to the cities and 
the economic crisis of the past few years. 
 
Women nominally enjoy the same legal rights as men, including the right 
to participate in all aspects of  economic and social life.  In general, 
women have extensive opportunities for education and work.  However, 
traditional social norms continue to restrict women's roles in the 
economy.  In general, representation of women is sharply lower in higher 
levels of the work force.  There are few or no women in executive 
positions in leading businesses.   
 
The Association for the Defense of Rights of Azerbaijan Women spends 
most of its time fighting uniquely post-Soviet problems.  It has helped 
widows whose landlords "privatized" their apartments and then forced 
them to move out.  It also works with divorced women who feel cheated by 
the divorce court. 
 
  Children 
 
The Constitution and laws commit the Government to protecting the rights 
of children to education and health, difficult economic circumstances 
limit the Government's ability to carry out the commitments.  The 
Constitution places children's rights on the same footing as adults.  
The Criminal Code prescribes severe penalties for crimes against 
children.  The Government has attempted to shield families against 
economic hardship in the wake of price liberalization by authorizing 
child subsidies.  The subsidies do not come close to covering the 
shortfall in family budgets, and the Government does not have the 
financial means to meet its new commitments.  There are a large number 
of refugee and displaced children living in unhealthy conditions in 
refugee campsites.  Children beg on the streets of Baku and other towns 
in Azerbaijan. 
 
  People with Disabilities 
 
The law on support for invalids, enacted in late 1993, prescribes 
priority for invalids and the disabled in obtaining housing, as well as 
discounts for public transport, and pension supplements.  The Government 
does not have the means in its current financial crisis to make good on 
its commitments.  There are no special provisions in law mandating 
accessibility to buildings for the disabled.   
 
  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
The outbreak of hostilities and anti-Armenian riots led to the expulsion 
of many Armenians and the departure of others.  Estimates put the 
current Armenian population at 10,000 to 20,000.  With the almost 
complete departure of the Armenian population there have been far fewer 
problems reported by ethnic minorities.  Those Armenians who have not 
left are for the most part of mixed descent, in a mixed marriage, or 
have changed their nationality, as reported in their passports and 
documents, to Azerbaijani.  As a result of the war, there is a high 
level of animosity towards Armenians among much of the general 
population. 
 
Nonindigenous minorities, such as the Kurds of the Lachin region and the 
displaced Meskhetian Turks, occasionally reported problems of 
discrimination.  The latter, Turks originally from the Black Sea coast 
of Georgia, have been spread throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus, 
and want to return to their original homeland.  While they suffer from 
economic hardship as much as any others in Azerbaijan, they are 
receiving help from the Government. 
 
Indigenous ethnic minorities such as the Talysh and Lezghis do not 
suffer discrimination. 
 
In the area of the country controlled by insurgent (Armenian) forces, 
about 500,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis have been forced to flee their homes.  
The regime that now controls the contested areas has effectively banned 
ethnic Azerbaijanis from all aspects of civil, political, and economic 
life.   
 
Section 6  Worker Rights 
 
  a.  The Right of Association 
 
Most labor unions still operate as they did under the Soviet system and 
remain highly dependent on the Government.  The new Constitution 
provides for freedom of association, including the right to form labor 
unions.  However, most industrial and white-collar workers are organized 
into one or another sub-branch of the Azerbaijani Labor Federation, run 
by the Government (which also still owns most major industries).  There 
is at least one independent labor union, the Independent Oil Workers 
Union, which is active in voicing the demands of the oil workers.   
 
There are no restrictions on strikes nor provisions for retribution 
against strikers.  Oil workers conducted a 10-day strike in late August, 
demanding back pay.  The strike ended when the workers received 
assurances that they would meet with the President.  However, after the 
meeting took place, the workers' demands for payment were not met.  In 
general, there are no established mechanisms to avoid such wildcat 
strikes. 
 
Unions are free to form federations and to affiliate with international 
bodies.   
 
  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
Collective bargaining remains at a rudimentary level.  Government-
appointed boards and directors run the major enterprises and set wages.  
Unions do not participate in determining wage levels.  In a carryover 
from the Soviet system, both management and workers are considered 
members of the professional unions. 
 
There are no export processing zones, although there is a U.N. 
Development Program-supported effort underway to create such a zone in 
Sumgayit. 
 
  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
Forced or compulsory labor is allowed by the Constitution only in case 
of martial law.  It is not known to have been practiced.  Two 
departments in the prosecutor's office (the Department of Implementation 
of the Labor Code and the Department for Oversight Over Minors) enforce 
the prohibition on forced or compulsory labor. 
 
  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The minimum employment age is 16 years.  Children of age 14 are allowed 
to work during vacations with the consent of their parents and 
certification of a physician.  Children of age 15 may work if the 
workplace's labor union does not object.  There is no explicit 
restriction on the kinds of labor that children of age 15 may perform 
with union consent.  The Labor Ministry has primary enforcement 
responsibility for child labor laws.  With high adult unemployment, 
there have been few, if any, complaints of abuses of child labor laws. 
 
  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
The Government sets the nationwide administrative minimum wage by 
decree, and raised it several times because of inflation.  As of 
September 1, the minimum wage was approximately $1.20 (5,500 manat) per 
month.  The recommended monthly wage level to meet basic subsistence 
needs was estimated to be $70.00 (310,000 manat).  There seems to be no 
active mechanism to enforce the minimum wage.  Since most people 
actually earn more than the minimum wage, this is not presently a major 
issue in labor or political debate. 
 
The disruption of trade links with the rest of the former Soviet Union 
continues to affect unemployment in many industries.  Idle factory 
workers typically receive a small fraction--less than half--of their 
former wage.  Under these conditions more and more rely on the extended 
family's safety net.  This usually ends in a police officer, customs 
official, or government official of some level whose "side income" may 
support many family members.  Still more turn to moonlighting such as 
operating the family car as a taxi, reselling bread on the street, or 
selling the modest produce from one's private garden.  Using some 
combination of these and other strategies is the only way it is 
possible, though still difficult, for broad sectors of the urban 
population to reach the subsistence income level. 
 
The legal workweek is 41 hours.  There is a 1-hour lunch break per day 
and shorter breaks in the morning and afternoon. 
 
Health and safety standards exist, but they are mostly ignored in the 
workplace.   
 
(###)

[end of document]

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