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The text of the report on Azerbaijan is available below. The full report is available from here.
The year 2017 continued to present challenges to full implementation of human rights according to international standards. Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly did not abate and the streamlining of the procedure for registration of foreign grants did not result in the hoped-for facilitation of access to funds for civil society organisations (CSOs). Regarding the execution of the European Court of Human Rights judgement on the case of Ilgar Mammadov, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe referred on 5 December 2017 to the Court, under Article 46(4) of the European Convention of Human Rights, the question of whether Azerbaijan had failed to fulfil its obligation under Article 46(1) of that convention. A law limiting legal representation in courts (at criminal, civil and administrative proceedings) only to members of the Bar Association was adopted, making access to qualified legal advice more difficult due to the limited number of members of the Bar.
Among positive measures taken by Azerbaijan in 2017, the adoption of the "humanisation package" of 300 amendments to the Criminal Code entered into force in December. The new amendments aim to improve the penitentiary system and introduce reforms in the execution of criminal sanctions, the establishment of probation service and the liberalisation of penal policies, application of alternative sanctions instead of imprisonment, as well as application of administrative instead of criminal, sanctions.
Negotiations started in 2017 between the EU and Azerbaijan on a new agreement to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Human rights and democracy will be an integral part of the agreement. The negotiations on the new agreement as well as the sixth EU-Azerbaijan Subcommittee on Justice, Freedom, Security and Human Rights and Democracy in October 2017 provided ample opportunities for dialogue on these issues. Human rights issues and concerns have also been prominently raised in all high-level contacts, including during the visit of the President of Azerbaijan to Brussels in February 2017.
The EU Delegation monitored individual cases of human rights defenders, and discussed with the Ombudsman's office various ongoing cases and issues. It also met with lawyers and family members of imprisoned activists and members of opposition parties during the year.
Concerns remain in the areas of gender equality. Azerbaijan show little progress on gender equality and is ranked 98 out of 144 (2017) countries covered by the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index. Even though legislation protects the principle of equality between women and men and prohibits discrimination based on gender, implementation remains inadequate. In addition, Azerbaijan remains among the worst countries globally when it comes to female-to-male sex ratios at birth. There are also high levels of domestic violence and 11% of all girls in the country are married before their 18th birthday. Despite the Family Code which states that the minimum age for marriage for men and women is 18, religious marriage ceremonies are conducted without requesting proof of age for those marrying. Other challenges in this area include women’s low political representation (one women minister in the present Government and 17% of women in Parliament) and their limited role in the labour market.
The EU made several public statements in 2017– for the most part through the Spokesperson of the High Representative and through the EU Delegation to the OSCE – in response to cases of restrictions of freedom of expression (imprisonment of journalists or blocking of media outlets). The EU continued to call on Azerbaijan to uphold its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe, to meet its commitments taken under the European Convention on Human Rights, to comply with judgements of the European Court of Human Rights and to release Ilgar Mammadov.
The EU Delegation promoted the active role of civil society, by organising regular meetings with CSOs, including on the occasion of high-level visits, and participating in meetings and events organised by different civil society platforms.
As a result of intense lobbying, the EU saw a number of its grants to civil society issued under bilateral Financing Agreements registered in late 2017.
A series of EU funded projects in the area of human rights continued implementation in 2017, including, projects in support to efficiency of justice, increasing management and health standards in prisons, increasing capacities of the judiciary to implement decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, support to the Ombudsman's office and fight against corruption, and aligning NGO legislation with Council of Europe standards. EU also continued to provide support to civil society initiatives for voter education and awareness-raising on voter's rights and the election legislation, and in support of socio-economic rights of vulnerable populations.