Azerbaijan: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004

U.S Dept of State
Azerbaijan: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 28, 2005

Azerbaijan is a republic with a presidential form of government. The
Constitution provides for a division of powers between a strong presidency
and parliament (Milli Majlis), which has authority to approve the budget and
to impeach the President. The President dominated the executive,
legislative, and judicial branches of government. Ilham Aliyev, the son of
former president Heydar Aliyev, was elected President in October 2003 in a
ballot that did not meet international standards for a democratic election
due to numerous, serious irregularities. There were similar irregularities
during parliamentary elections in 2001 and 2003, and some domestic groups
regarded the Parliament as illegitimate. Only 5 of the Parliament’s 125
members were opposition members. The Constitution provides for an
independent judiciary; however, it was corrupt, inefficient, and did not
function independently.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and Ministry of National Security are
responsible for internal security and report directly to the President.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces.
Members of the security forces committed numerous human rights abuses.
The Government continued programs to develop a market economy; however, the
pace of reforms was uneven. The population was approximately 8 million, of
which an estimated 2 million lived and worked abroad. Widespread corruption
and patronage reduced competition. The slow pace of reform limited
development outside the oil and gas sector, which accounted for more than 80
percent of export revenues. Private commercial agriculture remained weak;
subsistence farming dominated the rural economy. Economic growth was
approximately 10 percent. Nationwide poverty decreased, although 44 percent
of the population lived below the poverty level. Unemployment estimates
ranged from 15 to 20 percent.
The Government’s human rights record remained poor, and it continued to
commit numerous abuses. The Government continued to restrict the right of
citizens to peacefully change their government. There were four deaths that
occurred in custody allegedly due to beatings. Police tortured and beat
persons in custody, and used excessive force to extract confessions. In most
cases, the Government took no action to punish abusers. Prison conditions
remained harsh and life threatening, and some prisoners died as a result of
these conditions; however, the Government permitted independent monitoring
of prison conditions by local and international humanitarian groups.
Arbitrary arrest and detention and lengthy pretrial detention continued to
be problems. After the October 2003 presidential elections, authorities
conducted a wave of politically motivated arrests of more than 700 persons,
including, opposition members, journalists and election officials. According
to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers,
many of the trials of those accused of post-election violence did not meet
OSCE and other international standards. In a series of presidential pardons,
a number of political prisoners, as defined by the Council of Europe (COE),
were released. Authorities interfered with privacy rights.
The Government continued to restrict freedom of speech and of the press.
Defamation lawsuits brought by officials against independent journalists and
newspapers and high court fines for libel remained significant problems for
the media. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and did not
sanction any demonstrations by opposition political parties during the year.
The Government continued to restrict freedom of association by harassing
domestic human rights activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
There were some restrictions and abuses of religious freedom, and low-level
and local government officials continued to harass minority religious
groups. Violence against women, societal discrimination against women and
certain ethnic minorities, trafficking in persons, and limitations of some
worker rights remained problems.
Despite a cease-fire in effect since 1994, minor outbreaks of fighting with
Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh occurred, resulting in six deaths of civilians
and combatants during the year. Armenian forces continued to occupy an
estimated 16 percent of the country’s territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh.
The occupation dominated national politics and undermined democratic and
economic development in the country. The Government did not exercise any
control over developments in territories occupied by Armenian forces, and
little verifiable information was available on the human rights situation
there. Approximately 800,000 Azerbaijanis remained refugees or internally
displaced persons (IDPs) after fleeing or having been forced from their
homes between 1988 and 1993.
Section 1
Respect for the Integrity of the Person, including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports of politically motivated killings by the Government or
its agents; however, during the year there were four deaths in custody due
to alleged abuse and mistreatment. Authorities did not prosecute suspected
abusers in these cases (see Section 1.d.).
In March, Etibar Najafov was arrested on misdemeanor charges and taken to
Sabayil District Police Department. Authorities allegedly beat him during
questioning, but the Government reported that he died while trying to escape
from a 2nd floor window. In April, Akif Mirzayev died in a prison hospital
after allegedly being beaten in the Organized Crime Department of the
Ministry of Internal Affairs while serving a 5-year sentence for kidnapping.
The Government said he was a drug addict who had cirrhosis of the liver. In
May, Azer Safarov died after allegedly being beaten at the Sumgayit City
Police Station. Authorities acknowledged arresting Safarov on burglary
charges but denied responsibility for his death. In December, Badal Babayev
died after allegedly being beaten in an Absheron police station. His body
was covered in bruises. Authorities said Babayev died of a heart attack
after he left the police station. Authorities did not conduct further
investigations into any of these cases.
In October 2003, law enforcement officials beat to death one person at a
post-election demonstration that turned violent (see Section 2.b.). There
was no development in this case or in the 2002 death of Beylar Kuliyev, who
died in police custody after 10 days of interrogation.
During the year, the press reported that four army conscripts died of causes
attributed to military hazing.
Occasional cease-fire violations by both sides in the conflict with Armenia
over Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in six deaths and injuries to civilians and
soldiers during the year. According to the National Agency for Mine Actions,
landmines killed 13 persons and injured 21 during the year.
b. Disappearance
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued to urge the
Government and Armenia to provide information on the fate of persons missing
in action since the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh began. Since the early
1990s, the ICRC has collected the names of approximately 3,100 individuals
of various ethnic backgrounds that remain missing because of the conflict.
However, the Government estimated that approximately 4,850 citizens remained
missing and were allegedly held by Armenia.
During the year, the ICRC assisted in the return of four Azerbaijani
citizens from Armenia at the request of the Government.
c. Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices and provides for punishment of up to 10
years in jail; during the year, there were fewer credible reports that
security forces beat and tortured detainees and used excessive force to
extract confessions during interrogations and pretrial detention. However,
torture remained a problem.
Following post-election disturbances that turned violent in Baku in October
2003, MIA personnel detained, tortured, and beat three leading opposition
leaders: Hope Party Chairman Iqbal Agazade, Azerbaijan Democratic Party
(ADP) Secretary General Sardar Jalaloglu, and the ADP’s election secretary
Natiq Jabiyev (see Section 3).
In 2003, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented numerous cases of beatings,
torture, and verbal abuse, including threats of rape, by the MIA’s organized
crime unit following the post-election violence in October 2003 (see Section
1.d.). HRW reported that police also severely beat and tortured detainees to
extract confessions and pressured them to sign false statements to denounce
and implicate opposition leaders in the post-election violence. For example,
during the trial of seven opposition leaders accused of organizing and
participating in the post-election violence, some witnesses testified that
they were coerced into giving false depositions (see Section 1.e.). By
year’s end, there had been no investigation into these abuses.
Police also harassed members of certain religious groups, such as Baptists,
Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Muslim Juma Mosque Community, and
there were reports of several beatings of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
(see Section 2.c.). No measures were taken against police who detained and
beat Haji Jubrail Alizade following clashes in 2002 in Nardaran between
protesters and police.
Prison conditions remained harsh and sometimes life threatening.
Overcrowding and poor medical care combined to make the spread of infectious
diseases a serious problem. Tuberculosis (TB) remained the primary cause of
death in prisons. The Government reported that 774 prisoners were treated
for TB during the year. However, due to the absence of systematic medical
screening, prisoners often started TB treatment when already seriously ill.
Many prisoners relied on families for food and medicine, who often paid
bribes to gain access to imprisoned relatives.
Harsh prison conditions resulted in deaths during the year
There were separate facilities for men, women, juveniles, convicts, and
pretrial detainees.
In maximum-security facilities, authorities limited physical exercise for
prisoners, as well as visits by attorneys and family members. Some pretrial
detainees were kept in “separation cells,” often located in basements, to
conceal evidence of physical abuse and where food and sleep reportedly were
denied to elicit confessions.
During the year, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which oversees the prison
system, continued a program to improve prison conditions and renovated five
prisons. In 2003, the Government built five new prisons and several were
The government permitted visits by international and local humanitarian and
human rights groups. In 2002, the Government extended the ICRC’s access to
all detainees and prisoners. The ICRC also had access to prisoners of war
(POWs) and to civilians held in connection with the conflict over
Nagorno-Karabakh. Foreign observers were allowed to enter maximum-security
prisons and to meet with alleged political prisoners. During the year, human
rights activists worked with the MOJ to create a monitoring group that could
visit prisons regularly and report on conditions. The group worked with the
MOJ’s Deputy Minister to increase accountability of prison staff and to
improve prison conditions. In September, the head of one Baku prison was
dismissed after the monitoring group complained to the MOJ about his
conduct. Domestic observers’ access to police stations remained restricted.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the
Government generally did not observe these prohibitions in practice, and
impunity remained a problem.
The MIA and Ministry of National Security are responsible for internal
security and report directly to the President. The MIA oversees local police
forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. The Ministry of National
Security has a separate security force.
Police corruption mainly consisted of levying spurious and informal fines
for traffic and other minor violations and extracting protection money from
local residents. Police officers received a pay raise during the year;
however, low wages of law enforcement officials continued to contribute to
police corruption.
In most cases, the Government took little or no action to investigate
reports of arbitrary arrest or detention; however, the Government reported
that during the year, it took disciplinary action against 78 police officers
for 57 cases of abuse of human rights and civil liberties. Of these, 11
officers were dismissed from the Ministry of Interior, 12 officers were
charged criminally, 6 officers were dismissed from their positions, and 1
officer was demoted.
By year’s end, the Government did not arrest any police officers or announce
the results of an investigation into election-related police clashes with
journalists and opposition activists in September and October 2003.
The Government did not investigate or take any punitive action against
individuals named in a 2003 HRW report that documented numerous cases of
torture and abuse of opposition supporters that were detained by the MIA’s
Organized Crime Department following the post-election violence in October
2003. Several of the officers allegedly involved in the abuses received
promotions during the year, including the Chief of the Organized Crime
Department, who was promoted from Colonel to General (see Sections 1.c. and
During the year, an international foundation trained more than 160 security
officers attached to the Special State Protective Service (SSPS) in human
rights theory, standards, and practices. The officers who participated in
the training were recruited from the SSPS, the State Border Guard, the Army,
and police. The SSPS, a government agency responsible for protecting the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, coordinates pipeline security with different
Authorities often arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without legal
warrants. The law allows police to detain and question individuals for 3
hours without a warrant. The Constitution also states that persons who are
detained, arrested, or accused of a crime should be advised immediately of
their rights, reason for arrest, and should be accorded due process of law;
however, authorities did not respect these provisions in practice.
The Constitution also provides for access to a lawyer from the time of
detention; however, access to lawyers was poor, particularly outside of Baku
(see Section 1.e.). Authorities often restricted family visits and withheld
information from family members; frequently, days passed before they could
obtain any information about detained relatives. Bail was commonly denied
and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem.
Police detained more than 700 persons across the country in October 2003,
most of whom were members of the opposition Musavat party, following
post-election demonstrations in Baku that turned violent. Of 126 persons
found guilty, 41 were given prison terms, 79 others received suspended
sentences, and 6 received limited liberty sentences. The trial for the
remaining 10 defendants continued at year’s end. Other opposition parties
also reported numerous brief detentions before the October 2003 presidential
In August, authorities again detained ADP Secretary Taliyat Aliyev following
an incident outside the trial of seven opposition leaders charged with
participating and organizing the October 2003 post-election violence (see
Section 1.e.). Authorities charged Aliyev with pressuring a witness to give
false testimony and with assaulting and injuring a police officer and
detained him while the charges were investigated. At year’s end, the case
had not been tried and Aliyev remained in detention. Authorities had also
detained Aliyev in September 2003.
As compared with the previous year, there were fewer incidents of police
harassing members of opposition political parties or their families.
In August, police reportedly threatened the family of Gabil Rzayev, Deputy
Chairman of the Umid (“Hope”) Party, to disclose his whereabouts. According
to party officials, Rzayev sought political asylum outside the country after
he alleged that police tortured him in detention in September 2003.
On April 2, a three-judge panel convicted Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, the Imam of the
independent Juma Mosque, of inciting and committing violence in connection
with a post-election demonstration in October 2003 that turned violent. He
was given a 5-year suspended sentence and released immediately, having
served 4 months in pre-trial detention. On July 30, authorities detained the
Imam again together with 25 members of the Juma Mosque in connection with
activities of the Juma Mosque but released him the same day (see Sections
2.c. and 4).
Two relatives of former Speaker of Parliament and exiled ADP leader Rasul
Guliyev remained in jail at year’s end after convictions for crimes related
to corruption during Guliyev’s term in office. In September, authorities
pardoned one other relative who was jailed in 2003.
During the year, President Aliyev pardoned 810 prisoners, including 55
prisoners considered political prisoners by local activists. For example, in
March, 33 persons accused of participating in 2 coup attempts against the
late President Heydar Aliyev were freed. They included former Prime Minister
Surat Huseynov. In May, Faina Kunqurova, an ADP member convicted on
hooliganism charges in 2002, and Jan Mirza-Mirzoyev, who publicly criticized
the Minister of Defense and was convicted of murder in 2001, were both
pardoned. In September, former separatist leader Alikram Humbatov and four
other persons connected with coup attempts against the late President were
freed. None of the 126 persons convicted on charges stemming from the
October 2003 post-election violence were pardoned. Forty-one remained in
prison, and the others were either on suspended sentences or limited
Also during the year, authorities reportedly released three POWs from
Armenia taken in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
e. Denial of a Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in
practice, judges did not function independently of the executive branch. The
judiciary was corrupt and inefficient.
The executive branch exerts a strong influence over the judiciary. The
President appoints Supreme and Constitutional Court judges, whom Parliament
confirms. The President appoints lower-court judges without confirmation, as
well as the Prosecutor General and the Deputy Prosecutor General, both of
whom Parliament confirms. The Prosecutor General hires prosecutors at the
district and republic level.
Judges’ salaries have steadily increased over several years; however, there
continued to be credible allegations that judges accepted bribes, which
contributed to the overall lack of respect for the rule of law. There were
also credible reports that judges and prosecutors took instruction from the
Presidential Administration and the MOJ, particularly in cases that drew
attention from international observers.
Judges preside over and direct trials. Courts of general jurisdiction may
hear criminal, civil, and juvenile cases. District courts try the majority
of cases. The Supreme Court may not act as the court of first instance. One
judge hears cases at the district court level, while a three-judge panel
hears cases at the Court of Appeals, the Court of Grave Crimes, and the
Supreme Court. The Constitution provides all citizens with the right to
appeal to the Constitutional Court. Citizens also have the right to appeal
to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Constitution provides for public trials except in cases involving state,
commercial, or professional secrets or matters involving confidential,
personal, or family matters. The Constitution provides for the presumption
of innocence in criminal cases, pretrial discovery, a defendant’s rights to
confront witnesses and present evidence at trial, a court-approved attorney
for indigent defendants, and appeal for both defendants and prosecutors;
however, these provisions were not generally respected in practice. Foreign
and domestic observers usually were allowed to attend trials. Although the
Constitution prescribes equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys,
in practice prosecutors’ prerogatives outweighed those of the defense.
The law limits representation in criminal cases to members of a
state-controlled Collegium of Lawyers (bar association), thereby restricting
the public’s access to legal representation. In August, the Government
enacted a law that was expected to reform the legal profession and establish
a more independent bar association by allowing independent lawyers to join
the Collegium automatically. However, by year’s end, there was still no
independent bar association. The Government retained control over the
Collegium by using a narrow and questionable interpretation of the new law
that prevented most independent lawyers from joining the bar. Instead, the
state-controlled Collegium instituted examinations for new members and for
the right to argue cases before the Supreme and Constitutional Courts. In
December, several groups of independent lawyers filed lawsuits against the
Collegium and the MOJ challenging the membership rules. At year’s end, one
case was decided against the lawyers, and two others were pending.
The Constitution prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence; however,
investigations often focused on obtaining confessions rather than gathering
physical evidence against suspects. Despite defendants’ claims that
testimony was obtained through torture or abuse, no cases based on claims of
abuse were dismissed, and there was no independent forensic investigator to
determine the occurrence of abuse (see Section 1.c.). Serious crimes that
were brought before the courts were likely to end in conviction; this was a
result of judges requiring only a minimal level of proof and the close
collaboration between prosecutors and judges. In the rare instance when a
judge determined the evidence presented was not sufficient to convict a
defendant, judges could and did return cases to the prosecutor for
additional investigation, in effect giving the prosecution a “second chance”
for a conviction.
On October 22, the Court of Grave Crimes found seven opposition leaders
guilty of inciting post-election violence in October 2003 and sentenced them
to prison terms ranging from 30 months to 5 years. On November 19, the Court
of Appeals upheld the convictions. At year’s end, the defendants’ appeal was
pending with the Supreme Court. The defendants were: Rauf Arifoglu, Deputy
Chairman of the Musavat Party and Editor-in-Chief of Yeni Musavat newspaper;
Arif Hajili, Deputy Chairman of Musavat Party; Ibrahim Ibrahimli, Deputy
Chairman of Musavat Party; Panah Huseynov, Chairman of the People’s Party;
Sardar Jalaloglu, General Secretary of the ADP; Igbal Agazade, Chairman of
the Hope Party; and Etimad Asadov, Chairman of the Karabakh Veterans
The trial began with pretrial testimony in May and was marked by lengthy
delays and questionable court decisions. In August, several witnesses
testified that they either had been beaten or pressured to give false
depositions against the defendants (see Section 1.c.). However, the judges
neither requested a thorough investigation into the allegations of torture,
nor gave the witnesses’ testimony serious consideration in the conviction
and sentencing. The OSCE, in its report issued after the trials, stated that
many of the international rights that defendants were entitled to were
violated, from the time of arrest through the right to a public and reasoned
judgment. Specifically, officials did not adequately investigate pervasive,
credible claims of torture; the seven defendants did not have adequate
access to the prosecution’s evidence or time to prepare a defense once they
were given the materials; there were questions as to the impartiality of the
judges; and the judgment, which rejected the defense’s witnesses on spurious
grounds and did not address inconsistencies in witness testimonies, was not
The country also has a military court system with civilian judges. Cases go
either to the Court of Grave Crimes on Military Cases or to the Collegium on
Military Cases under the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
Local NGOs maintained that the Government continued to hold political
prisoners. However, NGO estimates of the number of political prisoners
varied, due in part to differing definitions of what constitutes a political
prisoner. For example, some reported that the Government held more than 200
political prisoners, including those sentenced in connection with the
post-election violence in October 2003. During the year, NGO activists
forwarded to the COE more than 170 names for consideration as political
In 2002, the COE tasked 2 independent experts to examine 716 cases of
individuals whom local NGO activists said were political prisoners. Using a
definition of political prisoners developed by the COE for Azerbaijan and
Armenia, independent experts eliminated 504 names for lack of accurate
information, such as a person was not actually detained or a person’s case
had already been investigated. Of the remaining 212 cases, the COE experts
rendered decisions on 104 and released those findings in July. The COE
report stated that the experts determined that 45 persons were actual
political prisoners. Of these 45, 11 were retried (in retrials later
determined not to meet international standards), 34 were pardoned either in
2003 or during the year, 2 were released following a retrial, and 4 others
were released 2 months after a retrial.
At year’s end, 9 persons deemed to be political prisoners by the COE,
together with approximately 170 other persons who NGO activists said were
political prisoners, remained in prison.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of
correspondence and other private communications; however, in practice, the
Government restricted privacy rights.
The Constitution allows for searches of residences only with a court order
or in cases provided by law; however, authorities often conducted searches
without warrants, particularly after the October 2003 election.
It was widely believed that the Ministry of National Security and MIA
monitored telephone and Internet communications, particularly those of
foreigners and prominent political and business figures; however, there was
no evidence to support this claim.
Police continued to intimidate and harass family members of suspected
criminals. In comparison to the previous year, there were fewer allegations
that the authorities interfered with opposition members and members of their
families (see Section 1.d).
Some local officials continued to prevent Muslims from wearing headscarves
(see Section 2.a.).
Section 2
Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press and
specifically prohibits press censorship; however, the Government did not
respect these rights in practice.
The Government intimidated and harassed the media, primarily through
defamation suits, prohibitively high court fines for libel, and through
measures that hampered printing and distribution of independent newspapers
and magazines. The print media enjoyed more freedom than the broadcast
media, and there was lively public debate of government policies. However,
the Government continued to control state-run television and radio, which
was the primary source of news and information for most of the population.
A large number of opposition and independent media outlets operated during
the year. There were more than 40 active independent newspapers and
magazines and 24 television and radio stations. There also were 10
“national” state newspapers and 80 newspapers funded by city or
district-level officials.
Most newspapers and magazines were printed in government publishing houses
or on private printing presses owned by individuals close to the Government.
The majority of independent and opposition newspapers remained in a
precarious financial position; they continued to have problems paying wages,
taxes, and court fines. These financial difficulties were worsened by the
Government’s practice of prohibiting state businesses from buying
advertising in opposition newspapers and pressuring private business to do
the same. In January 2003, the late President Aliyev suspended until the end
of 2005 an estimated $300,000 (1.5 billion manat) in debt that newspapers
owed to the state-owned publishing house. These unpaid debts continued to
put indirect pressure on opposition newspapers by influencing their decision
to shut down temporarily.
Government-run and independent kiosks distributed most newspapers and
periodicals. Distribution of independent and opposition newspapers outside
of Baku was sporadic. Baku-based journalists reported that authorities in
the exclave of Nakchivan continued to block distribution of opposition
In Baku, the Government tightened enforcement on unregistered, independent
newspaper vendors who mainly distributed opposition newspapers. Authorities
claimed that the illegal vendors created traffic hazards on city streets. In
December, the administrator for the Baku subway system prohibited the sale
of opposition newspapers within the subway system; however,
government-affiliated newspapers continued to be sold. The country’s largest
independent newspaper distributor, Gaya, did not report any new closures of
its kiosks during the year. However, it was unable to reopen any of its
newsstands that were torn down in 2002 in an effort to run the company out
of business. Gaya reported that of the 55 newspaper stands it once operated
throughout the country, it retained 36. In June, the Economic Court ruled
that the 13 Gaya newsstands dismantled in Baku should be re-opened. The Baku
Executive Authority appealed the court’s ruling, and both the Court of
Appeals and the Supreme Court upheld the appeal against Gaya. There were no
independent newsstands in Nakchivan or other parts of the country.
The Hurriyet newspaper closed in March, and the financial situation of most
other opposition newspapers remained precarious due to government
harassment, high court fines, libel lawsuits, and declining readership.
Unlike previous years, the courts began collecting libel fines primarily
through freezing bank accounts and collecting profits through distribution
agencies, which increased the financial burdens of some opposition
newspapers. During the year, many opposition and government-run newspapers
reduced circulation and several, including prominent opposition paper Yeni
Musavat, reduced periodicity and stopped printing for short periods because
of lack of funds. Other publications like Monitor Magazine stopped printing
at times during the year because of technical difficulties. However, some
government newspapers also reduced circulation and moderate independent
newspapers like Echo, Zerkalo, and Ayna either maintained their circulation
or slightly increased it.
In addition, Monitor magazine, Yeni Musavat, and Baki Kheber endured
additional difficulties when they were forced to relocate after landlords
threatened them with eviction due to government pressure. Other opposition
newspapers endured threats from the state-owned publishing house, which
stated that it would not print opposition newspapers with unpaid debts.
Government-controlled radio and television remained the main sources of news
and information for much of the population. The Government periodically used
state-run television to denounce and harass political parties and leaders
who criticized the Government. Private television channels broadcast the
views of both government and opposition officials, but their programs were
not available in all parts of the country. A total of 36 television and
radio channels were registered with the MOJ, although only 15 television
stations and 9 radio stations operated. Most television stations were either
controlled by the Government or by individuals close to the Government.
Radio was oriented largely to entertainment programming. Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Voice of America operated without
restriction; however, in January, the MOJ rejected RFE/RL’s October 2003
registration application because the paperwork was not in order. In April,
RFE/RL reapplied, and the MOJ approved the application in May. There were no
restrictions on satellite broadcasts by foreign stations.
Harassment and violence against journalists continued. The Azerbaijan
Committee for the Protection of Journalists (RUH) reported 81 incidents of
physical attacks or harassment during the year, in contrast to 170 during
In July, unknown persons allegedly kidnapped and beat Aydin Guliyev, editor
of the Baki Kheber newspaper. He was subsequently released. On July 25, two
unknown assailants struck Eynulla Fatulliyev, a staff writer for Monitor
magazine, on the head with a lead pipe. Both journalists had written
articles critical of presidential chief of staff Ramiz Mekhdiyev; however,
there was no evidence to suggest the attack on Fatulliyev was connected with
his work. The Government continued its investigation into the incidents at
year’s end.
In 2003, police injured and detained many journalists at various
election-related events (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.). Most of the injuries
occurred at election-related demonstration in October 2003. According to the
Azerbaijan Journalists Confederation and RUH, police beat 54 journalists,
detained or arrested 18, and damaged the equipment of 6 others.
There is no transparent or independent mechanism to issue licenses for
television or radio stations. The National Council for Television and Radio,
which was created in 2002, was responsible for issuing licenses and for
monitoring television and radio broadcasts. However, it was inefficient and
did not function independently of the Government. Because the Government had
not established a fee structure to obtain a broadcast license, no new
television stations could be licensed within the provisions of the law
during the year. At year’s end, nine applications for license renewals from
entertainment-oriented television stations remained pending.
In March, the President vetoed a bill on Public Television and Radio
Broadcasting, sending it back to Parliament for revisions that would bring
it more in line with international requirements set out by the COE. In
September, the President signed a new version of the law, which provides for
a public television channel to be created on the basis of a second,
state-run channel, AZTV2. The primary state-run channel, AZTV1, would
continue operating. International and local NGOs expressed concern that
without abolishing AZTV1, a public television channel would not have the
resources to become an effective alternative source for news and
Libel is a criminal offense; the law allows for large fines and up to 3
years’ imprisonment. According to the RUH, 13 lawsuits were successfully
brought against 7 print media outlets during the year. Six of these cases
resulted in monetary fines, totaling approximately $69,000 (345 million
manat). In contrast, in 2003, 40 libel suits were brought against 18
journalists and media outlets for total fines of $325,000 (1,592.5 million
manat). In 2002 and 2003, the popular opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat was
successfully sued for libel 22 times with fines totaling approximately
$100,000 (500 million manat).
In February, a libel suit brought against the Mukhalifat newspaper in 2003,
ended with a 2-year suspended sentence against the editor and
editor-in-chief. Two of three criminal charges brought in 2002 against Yeni
Musavat’s Editor-in-Chief Rauf Arifoglu were pending at year’s end. Arifoglu
himself was found guilty in October of inciting post-election violence in
October 2003 (see Section 1.e.).
In August, Baki Kheber editor Aydin Guliyev was sentenced to a 1-year
suspended sentence as a result of a libel suit brought by Jalal Aliyev, the
brother of former president Heydar Aliyev. Guliyev had reprinted an article
from Alternative newspaper; however, Aliyev did not bring a lawsuit against
Alternative newspaper.
In October a district court in Baku ordered Eynulla Fatulliyev to begin
paying a $2,000 (10 million manat) fine for libeling two high-ranking
Ministry of Defense officers in a Monitor Magazine article in 2002 about
military hazing. Under the court order, Fatulliyev was required to pay $2
(10,000 manat) every month for 30 years. In addition, court executors
inventoried Fatulliyev’s parents’ apartment. The court also impounded
Monitor Magazine’s profits from distribution agencies to pay for its portion
of the same libel fine.
The Government required Internet Service Providers to have licenses and
formal agreements with the Ministry of Communications and Information
Technologies. At year’s end, there were 21 licensed providers. Public
Internet access at a wide variety of Internet clubs and cafes cost less than
50 cents (1,500-2,000 manat) per hour; however, home connectivity and access
to affordable computers were still cost-prohibitive for the average user.
Internet usage grew significantly in Baku, Sumgayit, Ganja, Mingechevir,
Lenkoran, and Sheki, but it was less common in other parts of the country.
There was no evidence to support the widely held belief that the Government
monitored Internet traffic of foreign businesses and opposition leaders (see
Section 1.f.).
The Government generally did not restrict academic freedom. Several tenured
professors were active in opposition parties; however, some faculty and
students did experience political pressure. Following the October 2003
election, some professors and teachers said they were dismissed because of
their membership in opposition political parties. Also in 2003, police
harassed and detained Elnur Sadikhov, a university student and correspondent
for the Popular Front Party’s (PFP) Azadliq newspaper in Ganja. Ganja State
University subsequently suspended his enrollment; press reports said
Sadikhov had left the country.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, the Government
restricted this right in practice. While the law allows individuals and
political parties to assemble and organize demonstrations, it also requires
prior notification and in some cases a permit from government authorities.
During the year, the Government sanctioned only 1 rally, a gathering of some
250 persons in September in Baku to protest the planned arrival of Armenian
officers for a NATO exercise.
In May, the PFP applied several times for a permit to hold a demonstration.
The Baku Executive Authority (BEA) repeatedly denied the requests stating
that the issues the PFP wanted to protest were either being addressed by the
Government or were not true. In June, the PFP sought to overturn the BEA’s
denials in district court, but the court upheld the BEA’s actions. However,
the Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling and remanded the
case back to the district court. The case remained pending at year’s end.
The BEA also repeatedly denied requests from other opposition political
parties during the year for permits, and police frequently broke up pickets
and demonstrations, at times detaining protestors.
In June, members of the Organization of Karabakh Liberation (OKL) protested
the Armenian military presence at a planning conference for a NATO exercise.
Several protestors shoved their way into the conference room by breaking a
glass door. Authorities arrested 15 protestors. In August, six OKL members
were convicted of hooliganism and disrupting public order; they were
sentenced from 3 to 5 years’ imprisonment. In September, the Court of
Appeals reversed the jail terms and issued suspended sentences.
In the months before and after the October 2003 election, the Government
routinely and forcibly disrupted unsanctioned protests. Police and MIA
officers harassed, beat, and detained opposition party members,
demonstrators, and journalists who took part in mostly peaceful
demonstrations and political meetings in Baku, Lenkoran, and Nardaran.
Authorities injured and detained many persons, some of whom were beat in
detention (see Sections 1.c., 1.d., and 2.a.). On October 22, the trial of
seven opposition leaders arrested in connection with the post-election
demonstrations in October 2003 ended with guilty verdicts (see Section
1.e.). They were sentenced to imprisonment of up to 5 years for inciting
clashes between police and protestors.
Following the election, Musavat Party supporters gathered outside party
headquarters to protest election results; security forces broke up the
meeting, harassing and beating many participants. The following day a large
crowd gathered in downtown Baku for an unsanctioned demonstration that
turned violent. Security forces used excessive force, beating demonstrators,
killing 1 person, and injuring at least 300 persons. Several hundred persons
were arrested. Of that number, 41 were convicted of crimes related to the
disturbances and given moderate prison terms. Another 79 were found guilty
but given suspended sentences (see Sections 1.c., 1.d. and 1.e.). The trial
of the remaining 10 defendants continued at year’s end.
A joint monitoring group, created by an NGO and the MIA in 2003, continued
to work to improve police-journalist interactions at demonstrations. During
the year, the monitoring group distributed personal identification cards,
vehicle identification cards, and special clothing to distinguish
journalists from demonstrators.
During the year, the Government took no action to investigate or prosecute
MIA officers who reportedly beat villagers in Nardaran in 2002.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association; however, in practice,
the Government continued to restrict this right. A number of provisions
allowed the Government to regulate the activities of political parties,
religious groups, businesses, and NGOs, including a requirement that all
organizations register either with the MOJ or the State Committee on Work
with Religious Associations (SCWRA). Registration was required to rent
property, open a bank account, and function as a legal entity. However, the
vague, cumbersome, and nontransparent registration procedures resulted in
long delays that, in effect, limited citizens’ right to associate. There
were more than 40 registered political parties (see Section 3).
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the law expressly
prohibits the Government from interfering in the religious activities of any
individual or group except in cases where public order and stability may be
threatened; however, several legal provisions allow the Government to
regulate religious groups. There were some abuses, restrictions, and
instances of discrimination against minority religions.
In the northern city of Khachmaz, community members reported that on several
occasions police harassed and detained some Muslims who had disrupted public
order. The police allegedly shaved the detainee’s beards; however, police
officials denied detaining anyone for religious reasons.
The Law on Religion requires religious organizations to register with the
SCWRA. Government authorities gave SCWRA and its chairman, Rafiq Aliyev,
sweeping powers over registration; control over the publication, import, and
distribution of religious literature; and the power to suspend the
activities of religious groups that violate the law. The registration
process was burdensome; there were frequent, lengthy delays to obtain
registration. Religious groups may appeal registration denials to the
courts. Since SCWRA was established in 2001, more than 350 groups have
successfully registered. Only registered religious groups may maintain a
bank account, rent property, and act as a legal entity. Unregistered
organizations were vulnerable to closure as a result of charges that they
were engaged in illegal activities. These restrictions made it difficult,
but usually not impossible, for groups to function.
Several religious groups reported that they were still not registered
despite repeated applications; however, they continued to function.
Unregistered churches included the Greater Grace Baptist Church, the Baptist
community in Neftchala, and Protestant churches in Sumgayit.
On January 16, authorities ordered the Juma Mosque congregation in Baku to
vacate its premises because of Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu’s and the community’s
political activities. The law prohibits a religious organization from
directly involving itself in political activities, and Ibrahimoglu was a
human rights activist with DEVAMM and head of the Baku Chapter of the
International Religious Liberty Association. The Juma Mosque congregation,
which registered with the MOJ in 1993, has refused to reregister with SCWRA
amid concerns that the new process might allow the Government to interfere
with its practices. On March 1, the Sabayil District court ordered the
mosque to be turned over to the Icheri Sheher Historical and Architectural
National Reserve. The mosque belongs to city of Baku. On March 11, the
community appealed the eviction. In April, the Court of Appeals upheld the
Sabayil District Court Decision. On June 30, MOJ officials and police began
the court-ordered eviction of the Juma Mosque community from its premises.
The Caucasus Muslim Board, which approves Muslim religious groups, appointed
a new religious leader to replace Ibrahimoglu. The mosque remained open for
worship with the new Imam leading prayers. On July 8, authorities closed the
building for renovation. The following day, approximately 30 members of the
Juma Mosque community started afternoon prayers on the steps of the mosque.
Police used excessive force in arresting five worshippers. On July 30,
police detained 26 members of the Juma Mosque community, including
Ibrahimoglu, who had gathered at a private home for funeral rites. They were
all released several hours later. On August 11, the Supreme Court upheld the
decision to evict the Juma Mosque community from the historic mosque.
In April, following a flawed trial, a court convicted Ibrahimoglu of
participating in post-election demonstrations in October 2003 and sentenced
him to a 5-year suspended sentence; Ibrahimoglu had already spent 4 months
in pretrial detention (see Section 1.d.). Since his conviction, Ibrahimoglu
has not been allowed to travel outside the country, including to several
OSCE meetings as an official NGO participant because the law prohibits
citizens convicted of criminal offenses and with suspended sentences from
traveling abroad.
Some local authorities at times discriminated against members of minority
religions and harassed nontraditional religious groups. In many instances,
abuses by authorities reflected the popular prejudice against conversion to
Christianity and other nontraditional religions (see Section 5).
Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported that authorities regularly
interfered with their ability to rent public halls for religious assemblies
and, on occasion, fined or detained and beat individuals for meeting in
private homes.
The Government remained concerned about “foreign,” primarily Iranian and
Wahhabi Muslim, missionary activity. There were reports that the Government
closed Muslim groups and organizations with alleged ties to terrorists. In
April and September 2003, the Court for Grave Crimes sentenced six Muslim
clerics in Ganja to between 3 and 7½ years’ imprisonment for allegedly
preparing a forcible seizure of power.
The law prohibits religious proselytizing by foreigners, and this was
strictly enforced. Authorities deported several Iranian and other foreign
clerics operating independently of the organized Muslim community for
alleged violations of the law. Although there were no legal restrictions on
large religious gatherings, authorities interfered with attempts by the
Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Pentecostal “Cathedral of Praise” to rent halls
for religious assemblies.
Some local officials continued to discourage Muslim women from wearing
headscarves in schools. The International Religious Liberty Association
reported that women were still prohibited from wearing them for
identification and passport photos, which complicated voter registration. In
December, a group of women appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to
protest the ban.
Some religious groups, including the Union of Baptists, the Adventist
Church, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that some government ministries
continued to restrict and delay the importation of certain religious
literature. However, at the same time, the SCWRA facilitated the import of
some religious materials.
Cases of prejudice and discrimination against Jews in the country were very
limited, and in the few instances of anti-Semitic activity, the Government
was quick to respond. Jewish community leaders consistently remarked on the
positive relationship they have with the Government and leaders of other
religious communities. In April, however, a rabbi in Baku received a
threatening letter prior to the start of Passover. Authorities responded
quickly and took security precautions to ensure that the festival proceeded
without incident. In July, a new Jewish Community Center was opened in Baku
with high-level government participation. Authorities also reserved one wing
of a Baku school for secular and religious classes for 200 Jewish students.
During the year, several newspapers and television broadcasts depicted
nontraditional religious groups as a threat to the country’s identity. Some
of these highly critical reports extended to humanitarian organizations in
the country that had links with foreign religious organizations. Such
hostility was also directed toward foreign Iranian and Wahhabi Muslim
missionary activity, which was viewed as a threat to stability and peace and
an attempt to politicize Islam. Pro-government media targeted some Muslim
communities that the Government claimed were involved in illegal activities.
In those parts of the country controlled by Armenians, all ethnic
Azerbaijanis have fled, and mosques not already destroyed did not function.
Animosity toward ethnic Armenians elsewhere in the country forced most
Armenians to emigrate, and all Armenian churches, many of which were damaged
in riots that took place more than a decade ago, remained closed. As a
consequence, the estimated 20,000 ethnic Armenians who remained in the
country were unable to attend services at their traditional places of
The Constitution provides the right to alternative military service;
however, members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to have difficulties
exercising this right since there is no legal mechanism to implement this
provision. At year’s end, the case of Mahir Baguirov, a Jehovah’s Witness
called into military service in 2000 and again during the year, remained
pending with the Supreme Court.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious Freedom
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and
The Constitution provides for these rights; however, at times, the
Government limited freedom of movement. IDPs were required to register their
place of residence with authorities and could live only in approved areas.
This so-called “propiska,” a carryover from Soviet times, was imposed mainly
on persons forced from homes after the Armenian occupation of western parts
of the country. The Government asserted that registration was needed to keep
track of IDPs to provide them with assistance.
Residents of border areas in both the country and Iran traveled across the
border without visas. There were no exit visa requirements. The law required
men of draft-age to register with military officials before traveling
abroad; some travel restrictions were placed on military personnel with
access to national security information. Citizens charged with criminal
offenses were not permitted to travel abroad. Officials regularly extracted
bribes from individuals who applied for passports.
There were approximately 800,000 refugees and IDPs in the country. The vast
majority fled their homes between 1988 and 1993 as a result of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to the State Statistics Committee,
approximately 200,000 were refugees and 572,000 were IDPs. There were
credible reports that Armenians from outside of the country, including
ethnic Armenian immigrants from the Middle East had settled in parts of
Nagorno-Karabakh and possibly other Azerbaijani territories occupied by
Armenian forces. The Government appealed to the U.N. and the COE regarding
those reports, and an OSCE Fact-Finding Commission was established to
investigate the matter.
The Constitution prohibits forced exile, and the Government did not use it
in practice.
There were no prohibitions against the return of citizens who left the
country. However, the government agency responsible for reintegrating
citizens who were refused asylum in other countries lacked the capacity to
accommodate these individuals upon their return.
Approximately 20,000 Armenians, almost all of mixed parentage or in mixed
marriages, continued to live in the country. This total does not include
Armenians living in the occupied territories. According to unofficial
estimates, between 200 and 250 ethnic Armenians of mixed marriages leave the
country each year. While official government policy allowed ethnic Armenians
to travel, low-level officials often extracted bribes or harassed Armenians
who applied for passports. According to the International Organization for
Migration (IOM), 43 Armenians of mixed descent reported to an Azerbaijani
NGO that they had problems with officials in the passport and registration
department when applying for identification cards; applicants who applied
with Azerbaijani surnames encountered no problems except for having to pay
The Armenian Government continued to prevent the hundreds of thousands of
Azerbaijanis forced out of their homes in the occupied territories from
returning; however, the Armenian Government did permit the return of some
ethnic Armenians.
In July, the President issued a decree to improve living conditions and to
increase employment for refugees and IDPs. Under the state-run program, all
IDPs are expected to be resettled from camps to newly constructed housing.
According to the Government, it directed $3.14 million (15.7 billion manat)
from the State Oil Fund to build housing and to improve socio-economic
conditions of refugees and IDPs. At year’s end, the Government began
construction of 5 new settlements in Agdam and 1 in Agjabedi for 3,600
During the year, the Government received $34 million (170 billion manat) in
assistance from international and domestic humanitarian organizations for
refugees and IDPs. According to the Government, it also allocated $18
million (88 billion manat) from the country’s oil fund to improve living
conditions for IDPs and refugees. In August, the IDP and Refugee Committee’s
estimated expenditures were $60.8 million (297.7 billion manat).
According to the IOM, approximately 40,000 IDPs continued to live in camps,
60,000 in underground dugout shelters, and 20,000 in railway cars; however,
the Government took steps to relocate 40,000 IDPs out of railway cars and
camps to special settlements. Still, the majority of IDPs lived at
below-subsistence levels, without adequate food, shelter, education,
sanitation, and medical care. At the same time, approximately 40,000 IDPs
lived in settlements provided by the EU, while another 40,000 lived in
housing provided by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The
remainder were scattered among unfinished buildings, hostels, public health
facilities, and the homes of relatives.
The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status in accordance
with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its
1967 Protocol, and the Government has established a system for providing
protection for refugees. In practice, the Government provided some
protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where
they faced persecution, and granted refugee status during the year.
The Government cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian
organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. These organizations
reported full and unrestricted access to the refugee population. Unlike in
previous years, all asylum applications were now sent directly to the
Refugee Status Determination Department (RSD) of the State Committee for
Refugees instead of through the UNHCR. By year’s end, a total of 177
residual cases of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq (161 Afghans and
16 Iraqis) were handed over to the RSD. The UNHCR in Baku continued to
provide assistance to asylum seekers while monitoring the RSD’s processing
of asylum cases and providing referrals to legal assistance for those whose
claims were rejected.
At year’s end, the RSD had received 235 applications for refugee status for
432 individuals. Of that number, 117 applications came from the UNHCR; the
remaining were new applications. The RSD granted refugee status to 18
persons during the year.
By year’s end, the UNHCR registered 10,764 asylum seekers or refugees,
including the 8,669 Chechens who fled from Russia and 581 Afghans. However,
according to re-registration figures, there were only 161 long-term Afghan
residents in the country. A small number of new refugees and asylum seekers
from Iran, Iraq, and other countries also registered during the year.
Under the non-visa regime with Russia, Russian citizens can enter, exit, and
move through the country without a visa, but they were expected to register
with the Baku Police Department within 3 days of their arrival. However, in
practice the majority of asylum seekers from the Russian Federation did not
register and remained in the country illegally. During the year, the UNHCR
received no information regarding expulsions or deportation of asylum
seekers from Russia.
Arbitrary harassment, detention, and arrests of undocumented Chechens
continued to be a problem; however, the UNHCR noted fewer cases than in the
previous year. The laws on residence, registration, and the status of
refugees and IDPs did not apply to Chechens, who were required to register
with the police and not entitled to residence permits. Chechens may receive
a 3-month visa. Chechen children were allowed to attend public schools. As
of September, approximately 700 Chechen children out of an estimated 3,000
attended public schools. Access to medical services improved for Chechen
refugees; however, access to specialized medical assistance remained
During the year, the UNHCR reported that police arrested seven Chechens: Six
on suspicion of criminal activity and one for not having a residence permit.
Chechens accused of criminal offenses and wanted by Russian authorities were
extradited to Russia.
The RSD did not accept applications for refugee status from Chechens.
Instead, the UNHCR carried out all functions to provide Chechens with
required assistance and protection to remain in the country legally.
Pursuant to UNHCR guidelines and to the Government’s policy, most refugees
from Russia that originate from Chechnya were considered persons of concern.
Only Chechens who registered with the UNHCR were provided letters of
concern, which protected them from forced repatriation to their homeland.
These letters were not travel documents and were valid for a limited time.
According to IOM, the Government continued to deport illegal Iranian
immigrants, many of whom were economic migrants who continued to return to
the country even after they were deported.
Section 3
Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to
Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government
peacefully; however, the Government continued to restrict this right by
interfering in local elections. The Constitution provides for an independent
legislature; however, in practice, Parliament’s independence was minimal,
and it exercised little legislative initiative independent of the executive
The October 2003 presidential election, which formally brought Ilham Aliyev
to power, failed to meet international standards for democratic elections
due to a number of serious irregularities. These included the lack of a
level playing field in the pre-election campaign, police violence in the
pre- and post-election periods, and partisan election commissions.
Serious irregularities noted by observers included disenfranchisement of
voters because of inaccurate voter lists, intimidation of voters and
election commission members, ballot box stuffing, and irregularities in vote
counting and tabulation. The Government accredited approximately 2,000
domestic election observers but banned domestic NGOs that receive foreign
assistance from observing the election.
However, there were some improvements in the October 2003 election,
including application of parts of the Unified Election Code (UEC), which the
President signed into law in May 2003 and is scheduled to take full effect
in 2005. The Government also promptly posted election results on the
Internet; however, the observed irregularities and insufficient transparency
in vote counting and tabulation led to serious doubts about the accuracy of
the 77 percent of the vote officially recorded for Ilham Aliyev. In the days
prior to the announcement of preliminary results from the October 2003
presidential elections, the CEC denied OSCE/ODIHR observers access to its
documents and activities, resulting in a lack of transparency during the
final vote count (see Section 4). By year’s end, the Government still had
not investigated the irregularities.
In December, nation-wide municipal elections were marred by widespread fraud
and serious irregularities. These included ballot-box stuffing, forging
voters’ signatures, multiple voting, voting without proper identification,
and intimidation of election officials and voters by local government
authorities appointed by the presidential administration. There were also
technical problems. For example, in some districts, up to 110 candidates
competed for 19 municipal seats, which presented precinct commission members
with the difficult task of accurately counting all votes, and many
commissions failed to do so.
Most prominent opposition political parties boycotted the election due to an
uneven playing field; however, many opposition candidates registered as
independents. In a positive step to acknowledge the gravity of the
irregularities, the Central Election Commission (CEC) for the first time
forwarded 95 complaints of election fraud to the Prosecutor General’s office
for criminal investigation. The law stipulates up to 1 year in prison for
election-related fraud.
The October parliamentary by-elections were also marked by serious
irregularities such as ballot-box stuffing, fraudulent voter lists, and
falsification of figures on precinct protocols. Some voters received ballots
without providing valid identification or by showing invalid documents, and
election observers witnessed poll workers forging signatures on voter
registration lists. Unauthorized persons, including representatives of local
governments, were present in many precincts during the vote counting and in
some cases directed the counting.
Two amendments passed in the 2002 referendum continued to be controversial.
One eliminated the proportional representation system required for 25 of the
125 seats in Parliament; the second replaced the Chairman of the Parliament
with the Prime Minister in the line of succession to the presidency, a
change that makes it easier for the President to designate his successor. In
August 2003, then President Heydar Aliyev named his son, Ilham, Prime
Minister, which allowed him to assume unofficially the responsibilities of
acting president because of his father’s ill health, and to run as the
incumbent in the October 2003 election.
During the year, authorities harassed and evicted opposition political
parties from their offices. Limitations on opposition activities were
particularly acute in certain remote regions, including Nakchivan where
opposition activities were severely limited. The Government also applied
organized pressure against opposition party members to limit their business
activities and dismiss opposition-linked persons from state-funded jobs.
Throughout the summer, local authorities around the country interfered with
a study on religious freedom conducted by the FAR Center, a Baku-based
research organization. The interference allegedly occurred because the
director of the center had close political ties to the opposition Musavat
In 2003, HRW documented more than 100 job dismissals around the country of
either opposition members or their relatives. Many of those who were
dismissed said their employers warned them before the election and
explicitly told them afterwards that they were dismissed because of their
opposition activity or the activity of their relatives. There were also
credible reports that some election commission members who refused to sign
falsified vote tallies were also dismissed.
At least 20 of the 42 registered political parties were considered
opposition parties (see Section 2.b.). Unregistered political parties
continued to function; however, authorities prevented them, as well as
registered opposition parties, from conducting outdoor gatherings (see
Section 2.b.). Registered parties were able to hold indoor meetings. Members
of unregistered political parties may run for president but must be
sponsored by a registered party or by an independent “voters’ initiative
group.” Members of unregistered parties also may run for Parliament,
although none was represented in the Parliament. Opposition members occupied
5 seats in the 125-member Parliament.
The 2003 UEC includes provisions for a new CEC, District Election
Commissions, and Precinct Election Commissions that will come into force
based on the results of parliamentary elections in 2005. The UEC, which
combines four existing election laws and referenda, was drafted in
consultation with international election advisers, including IFES, the COE,
and OSCE/ODIHR. However, the UEC permits establishment of election
commissions structured in favor of the ruling party, and did not change
provisions contained in other legislation that prohibit domestic NGOs that
receive foreign funding from observing elections.
The laws penalizes corruption by outlawing bribery; however, there was
widespread public perception of corruption throughout all facets of society,
including the civil service, government ministries, and the highest levels
of government. The law on bribery carries a sentence of 2 to 7 years for
receiving a bribe, and up to 5 years for offering a bribe. Presentation of a
bribe to an official is punishable by 3 to 8 years’ imprisonment. According
to the General Prosecutor’s office, 120 criminal cases related to corruption
were opened during the year, with 10 specifically on bribery charges;
however, these cases had little or no impact overall on the prevalence of
bribery and corruption in the country.
In March, the President enacted a new law on corruption by decree, which is
scheduled to take effect in January 2005. It requires public officials to
report annual income, sources of income, property owned, and financial
liabilities. It also prohibits nepotism and limits giving gifts and direct
or indirect financial benefits to public officials or third parties.
The law provides for public access to government information by individuals
and organizations; however, it does not specify procedures for obtaining
government information.
Although government ministries have separate procedures on how to request
information, they routinely denied requests, claiming not to possess the
information. Individuals have the right to appeal the denials in court;
however, the courts generally upheld the decisions of the ministries.
There were no legal restrictions on the participation of women in politics;
however, traditional social norms limited women’s political roles, and they
were underrepresented in elective offices. The practice of “family voting,”
whereby men voted on behalf of their wives and other female family members,
continued. There were 14 women in the 125-seat Parliament. Several women
held senior government positions, including Deputy Chair of Parliament,
Chairperson of the Supreme Court, and Deputy Chair of the CEC.
Lezghins, Talysh, and Avars continued to serve in Parliament and Government.
Section 4
Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental
Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Many domestic and international human rights groups generally operated
without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings
on human rights cases. Although the Government maintained ties with some
human rights NGOs and responded to their inquiries, on occasion, the
Government criticized and intimidated some human rights NGOs and activists,
and the MOJ routinely denied or failed to register some human rights NGOs
(see Section 2.b.).
Several NGOs reported that the Government and police at times refused to
protect them from so-called “provocateurs” who harassed and attacked NGO
activists and vandalized their property. The NGOs accused authorities of
inciting the harassment and attacks in some cases. For example, in June
authorities in the exclave of Nakchivan allegedly beat and detained Avaz
Hasanov, coordinator for an international working group on prisoners,
hostages, and lost persons in Karabakh, after he returned from
Nagorno-Karabakh. Also in June, the Ministry of Taxes and MOJ in Nakchivan
threatened to close the NGO Resource Center because it was not registered.
The Resource Center had applied for registration but was denied. However, in
October, Nakchivan authorities approved the Resource Center’s registration,
making it the first registered NGO in the exclave. In May, Mahammad Rzayev,
a lawyer working for the resource center who also worked part-time as a
regional correspondent for opposition newspaper Azadliq, was kidnapped and
beaten by police.
In September, in Baku, provocateurs disrupted a major, high-level NGO
conference on coordinating NGO activity for December municipal elections by
shutting off the power and removing tables and chairs. The same NGO also had
problems holding similar conferences throughout the regions in the weeks
leading up to the municipal elections. In November, Akifa Aliyeva,
coordinator of the Ganja branch of the Azerbaijan Helsinki Citizens’
Assembly (HCA) was presented on television as an enemy of the state after
her interview on a peace-building project between Azerbaijanis and Armenians
was edited to purposely distort her remarks. Individuals subsequently
protested at the HCA offices in Baku and in Ganja.
In early 2003, Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute of Peace and
Democracy, and Eldar Zeynalov, Chairman of the Human Rights Center of
Azerbaijan, were harassed for their work on Nagorno-Karabakh. In September
2003, the Committee for the Protection of Women’s Rights reported that
security officials at the Nakchivan airport refused to assist a group of
human rights activists who were assaulted with eggs and tomatoes.
In April, the President issued a decree to implement the law on registering
NGOs; however, the registration law remained cumbersome, and some provisions
related to the liquidation of NGOs were vague. For example, amendments
passed in 2003 complicated requirements to register grants from foreign
entities and subjected the funds to a social security tax of 27 percent on
employee salaries. However, grants from a few countries, which had bilateral
agreements with the Government, were subject to a 2 percent tax on employee
salaries. NGOs remained exempt from value added tax (VAT).
In December, the President issued another decree to establish a central
registration point and eliminate artificial impediments to registration and
other technical improvements. By year’s end, no information was available on
whether this decree eased the registration process. During the year, 168
NGOs were registered.
In September 2003, the MOJ revoked the registration of a Muslim NGO,
Islam-Ittihad, on charges of spreading religious propaganda and attempting
to establish a religious regime. The NGO focused on preventing alcoholism,
narcotics abuse, and helping orphans and children with thalassemia. The
Islam-Ittihad directors, Azer Ramizoglu and Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, who were both
outspoken religious freedom activists, appealed the decision (see Section
2.c.). In July, the Supreme Court upheld the MOJ decision.
Foreign diplomats, the ICRC, and COE delegations all had access to prisons
to meet with prisoners (see Section 1.c.). The Government met with COE
rapporteurs who visited the country to monitor political conditions, and
allowed OSCE/ODIHR and other international observers to monitor the October
2003 election. However, in the days prior to the announcement of preliminary
results from the October 2003 presidential elections, the CEC denied
OSCE/ODIHR observers access to its documents and activities, resulting in a
lack of transparency during the final vote count (see Section 3).
In 2002, Parliament established the office of an Ombudswoman for human
rights. Citizens may appeal violations committed by the state or by
individuals. The Ombudswoman may refuse to accept cases of abuse that
occurred more than 1 year ago, anonymous complaints, and cases that are
being handled by the judiciary. During the year, the Ombudswoman traveled
around the country to hear human rights complaints and cooperated with
foreign diplomats working on human rights activities. However, according to
local human rights NGOs and activists, the Ombudswoman’s work was
ineffective. In December, the Ombudswoman presented her annual report to
Parliament, which was not made public by year’s end.
The Parliament and MOJ also had human rights offices that heard complaints
and followed up with investigations and recommendations to relevant
government bodies. Officials of the human rights office with the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs met with the diplomatic community to discuss issues of
concern to the international community.
Section 5
Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The Constitution provides for equal rights without respect to gender, race,
national origin, language, social status, or political affiliation; however,
in practice the Government did not always respect some of these provisions.
Violence against women, including domestic violence, continued to be a
problem. In rural areas, women had no effective recourse against assaults by
their husbands or others; there are no laws on spousal abuse or rape. Rape
is illegal and carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. The Government
stated that 25 rapes and attempted rapes had been reported during the year.
Most rape victims reportedly knew their assailants but did not report
incidents out of fear and shame.
There were no government-sponsored programs for victims of domestic violence
or rape. In Baku a women’s crisis center operated by the Institute for Peace
and Democracy provided free medical, psychological, and legal assistance for
women. Since 2001, the center has provided services to more than 4,200
women, including 1,700 during the year. An additional 4,700 women have
called the center’s hotline. During the year, the Institute also completed
work with Internews on a television series on women’s rights,
anti-trafficking, and gender issues, which was broadcast on regional
channels and in Baku.
Prostitution is not a crime; it is an administrative offense punishable by a
fine of up to $100 (500,000 manat). Pimps and brothel-owners may be
sentenced to prison for up to 6 years. The legal age of consent was 16.
Prostitution was a serious problem, particularly in Baku.
Women nominally enjoy the same legal rights as men; however, societal
discrimination and trafficking in women for sexual exploitation were
problems (see Section 5, Trafficking).
Traditional social norms and poor economic conditions continued to restrict
women’s roles in the economy, and there were reports that women had
difficulty exercising their legal rights due to gender discrimination. For
example, women were underrepresented in high-level jobs, including top
business positions. The law prohibits pregnant women and women with children
under the age of 3 from working at night; pregnant women and women with
children under 18 months of age cannot work more than 36 hours per week.
There were approximately 50 registered NGOs that focused on problems
affecting women. One of the most active, the Society for the Defense of
Women’s Rights, provided speech and communication training for women in
politics, and urged political party leaders to appoint women to high-ranking
The law requires the Government to protect the rights of children with
regard to education and health care; however, difficult economic
circumstances limited the Government’s ability to fulfill its commitments.
Public education was compulsory, free, and universal until the age of 17.
According to the Ministry of Education, 100 percent of school-age children
attended school during the year; however, UNICEF reported that the figure
was approximately 88 percent. The Government provided a minimum standard of
health care for children, but the overall quality of medical care was very
The law prescribes severe penalties for crimes against children, and
children were generally treated with respect, regardless of gender; however,
there were some reports of abuse of children, including trafficking (see
Section 5, Trafficking).
A large number of refugee and IDP children lived in substandard conditions
in camps and public buildings (see Section 2.d.). In some cases, children
were unable to attend school. In impoverished rural areas, large families
sometimes placed a higher priority on the education of male children and
kept girls to work in the home. Some poor families forced their children to
beg (see Section 6.d.).
A coalition of more than 30 local and international NGOs worked with the
Government, the local community, and international organizations such as
UNICEF and the World Bank, to raise awareness of children’s needs and to
build capacity to meet those needs. During the year, the coalition worked
with the World Bank to redistribute the social benefit package for children
and families in need, and began work on the alternative report to the
Government’s spring submission on the status of its obligations under the
U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
>>From June through December, the coalition taught street children about
healthy lifestyle choices, brought in an occupational therapist to assess
conditions for children with disabilities in orphanages, and completed a
public awareness campaign on the rights of children with disabilities. The
coalition also met routinely with government officials for talks on the
rights of children.
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons, although
existing provisions of the law are used to prosecute trafficking cases, and
there were reports that men, women, and children were primarily trafficked
from the country for sexual exploitation and forced labor. Corruption in
some government agencies facilitated trafficking.
While trafficking is not a criminal offense, traffickers may be prosecuted
under laws prohibiting rape, forced prostitution and labor, and forgery of
travel documents. Most trafficking-related crimes prosecuted during the year
carried maximum penalties between 3 and 6 years’ imprisonment, except for
rape and sexual violence, which both carry maximum 15-year prison sentences.
There also are criminal penalties for enslaving, raping, and forcing
children into prostitution. During the year, the Government convicted 10
individuals on trafficking-related crimes. It also arrested 48 individuals
and opened 32 trafficking-related criminal cases.
Numerous government officials and ministries were involved in efforts to
combat trafficking in persons; however, problems remained with providing
formal assistance for victims, corruption, and adopting anti-trafficking
laws. In May, the President signed a decree that ordered all government
bodies to implement a new national action plan to combat trafficking in
persons. The decree named a Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs as the
national coordinator for anti-trafficking efforts. Since then, the
Government created a special anti-trafficking police unit and began drafting
legislation and Criminal Code amendments to specifically criminalize
trafficking in persons.
The MIA improved its capacity to track potential traffickers and victims
transiting through the country’s international airport. The Government
regularly collaborated with neighboring countries on anti-trafficking
The country was primarily a country of origin and transit for trafficked
women, men, and children for sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Azerbaijani, Russian, and Central Asian women and girls were trafficked from
or through the country to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, and
Pakistan for work in the sex industry. In addition, 162 Azerbaijani
trafficking victims were identified in other countries, including 63 in
Pakistan, 45 in the UAE, 40 in Turkey, and 14 in India.
Women and girls were trafficked internally from rural areas to the capital
for sexual exploitation. Men were trafficked to Turkey and Russia for forced
labor and boys were trafficked internally for begging. Iranians, Iraqis,
Afghans, and migrants from South Asia were smuggled through the country to
Europe– particularly Germany, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands–and
possibly the United States where they at times had their passports
confiscated and were subjected to forced labor. Traffickers generally
targeted women.
Traffickers were either foreigners or ethnic Azerbaijanis who acted in loose
concert with international networks. They approached victims directly and
indirectly through friends and relatives. Traffickers also used deceptive
newspaper advertisements that offered false work abroad.
Traffickers also used fraudulent marriage proposals from men posing as
Iranian businessmen to lure women into prostitution in neighboring Iran.
Traffickers approached some families who willingly married their daughters
to wealthy Iranians without concern for the actual outcome.
There was no evidence of government complicity in facilitating trafficking
in persons; however, NGOs suspected that low-level government workers and
police officers accepted bribes from traffickers to overlook their
activities. During the year, the Government dismissed the chief of a
regional passport registration office and two inspectors for issuing illegal
citizenship identification cards to several individuals.
There were no government-sponsored anti-trafficking public education
campaigns, and no standardized mechanism to return trafficked women to the
country; however, during the year Azerbaijani consular officials began to
work on an ad hoc basis with international organizations to repatriate
trafficking victims to the country.
The Government reported that by year’s end it had sent 150 trafficking
victims (141 Azerbaijanis, 6 Uzbeks, 2 Russians, and 1 Georgian) to a
special healthcare center.
According to IOM, some Azerbaijanis and third country nationals who were
either victims of trafficking or engaged in prostitution were deported to
the country, primarily from Turkey and the UAE. However, the Government had
no program to assist them.
Several NGOs, like the Institute for Peace and Democracy and Clean World,
and bodies such as the State Committee for Women’s Issues, worked on
anti-trafficking activities and programs to prevent prostitution. The IOM
and OSCE provided training for domestic NGOs on how to operate emergency
hotlines, conduct awareness campaigns, and secure housing for trafficking
Persons with Disabilities
There was social discrimination against persons with disabilities in
employment; however, there were no credible reports of discrimination in
education or access to health care.
The law gives priority to persons with disabilities to obtain housing,
pension supplements, and discounts for public transportation; however, the
Government did not have the means to fulfill these commitments. There are no
special provisions in the law mandating access to public or other buildings
for persons with disabilities, and improving access was not a government
Depending on the severity of the mental illness, some individuals were
denied the right to vote.
The Ministries of Health and Labor and Social Welfare were responsible for
protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Care in facilities for
the mentally ill and persons with disabilities varied. Some provided
adequate care but others lacked qualified caregivers, equipment, and
supplies to maintain sanitary conditions, and provisions to provide a proper
diet. There were no credible reports of cruel treatment of patients in
government-run mental health facilities. The Ministry of Health continued a
program to renovate state mental health facilities in recognition of the
need to provide better care for persons with mental disabilities.
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
Numerous indigenous ethnic groups lived in the country, and the Constitution
provides them with the right to maintain their culture and language, and the
Government generally respected these rights; however, there were some
For example, some groups complained that authorities restricted their
ability to teach or print materials in their native languages.
Farsi-speaking Tallish in the south of the country, Caucasian Lezghins in
the north, displaced Meskhetian Turks from Central Asia, and displaced Kurds
from the Armenian-occupied Lachin region reported incidents of
discrimination, restrictions on the ability to teach in their native
languages, and harassment by local authorities.
Some Armenians and persons of mixed Armenian-Azerbaijani descent said they
were denied work, medical care, and education and could not register their
residences due to their ethnicity. The approximately 20,000 citizens of
Armenian descent also complained of discrimination in employment, schooling,
housing, and other areas. They said they experienced discrimination and
harassment at work and that local authorities refused to pay their pensions.
Most Armenians concealed their ethnicity, legally changed the ethnic
designation in their passports, or tried to leave the country. However, some
persons of mixed Armenian-Azerbaijani descent held government jobs. Public
figures in mixed marriages or of mixed-Armenian and Azerbaijani parentage
were at times openly criticized by colleagues in newspapers and on
television and radio.
There was one senior government official responsible for ethnic minority
policy; however, preventing discrimination was not a government priority.
In the area occupied by ethnic Armenian forces, approximately 600,000 ethnic
Azerbaijanis were forced to flee their homes during the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict (see Section 2.d.). The authorities who controlled the occupied
areas effectively banned ethnic Azerbaijanis from all spheres of civil,
political, and economic life.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
The Government did not officially condone discrimination based on sexual
orientation; however, there was societal prejudice against homosexuals,
especially with regard to housing.
Section 6
Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, including the right to
form labor unions; however, there were some restrictions on this right in
Uniformed military and police were prohibited from participating in trade
unions, although civilians working in the Interior and Defense Ministries
were allowed to do so. The law also prohibits managerial staff from joining
a trade union; however, in practice, managers in state industries often had
union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. During the year, the
Government refused to register a trade union in the transportation sector
because the Government alleged that it had engaged in criminal activity.
The law prohibits unions from engaging in political activity; however, some
government-aligned unions ignored this prohibition. Individual members of
trade unions were not restricted from political activity. Trade unions were
allowed to draft legislation on labor, social, and economic matters, but
most did not take part in such activity.
Many of the state-owned enterprises that dominate the formal economy
withheld union dues from workers’ pay but did not deliver the dues to the
unions. As a result, unions did not have resources to carry out their
activities effectively.
The overwhelming majority of labor unions continued to operate as they did
under the Soviet system, and remained tightly linked to the Government;
exceptions were independent journalists’ unions.
The Azerbaijani Trade Union Confederation (ATUC) had approximately 1.5
million members, including 26 labor federations in various industrial
sectors. Although registered independently, some workers considered the ATUC
a “yellow union” because of its close alignment with the Government.
The Union of Oil and Gas Industry Workers continued to operate without a
vote by rank and file workers, and membership remained mandatory for the
State Oil Company’s (SOCAR) 60,000 workers, whose union dues (1 percent of
each worker’s salary) were automatically deducted from their paychecks.
There were no reports of government anti-union discrimination; however,
labor disputes were primarily handled by local courts, which were widely
considered corrupt. There were reports of anti-union discrimination by
foreign companies operating in Baku. Most foreign oil companies did not
allow union membership; however, in July free trade unions were established
in one foreign company and one joint venture involving a foreign company.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law allows trade unions to conduct their activities without government
interference; however, in practice, most trade unions were not independent.
The law also provides for collective bargaining agreements to set wages in
state enterprises, and trade unions actively negotiated with employers,
particularly in the formal sector. However, unions could not effectively
participate in negotiating wage levels because government-appointed boards
ran major state-owned firms and set wages according to a unified tariff
schedule. In addition, the Ministry of Labor reported that the government
continued to have limited success in addressing worker-related issues with
foreign companies.
The law provides most workers with the right to strike. Categories of
workers prohibited from striking include high-ranking executive and
legislative officials, law enforcement officers and court employees, health,
electric power, water supply, telephone, fire fighters, and railway and air
traffic control workers. Striking workers who disrupt public transportation
can be sentenced up to 3 years’ imprisonment.
The law prohibits retribution against strikers such as, dismissal or
replacement. In July, police twice prevented workers from striking at Baku
Tram Park.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution allows forced or compulsory labor only under states of
emergency and martial law, or in court decisions affecting condemned
persons; although there were no reports of slavery or prison labor imposed
by government authorities, there were reports of forced or compulsory labor,
including trafficking in persons (see Section 5, Trafficking).
The law also permits compulsory labor in connection with the military or
extreme situations based on legislative authorization and under governmental
Two departments in the General Prosecutor’s Office were responsible for
enforcing the prohibition on forced or compulsory labor.
There were continued reports that some military officers used conscripts as
unpaid laborers on construction projects.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for
The law provides for the protection of children from economic exploitation
and from work that is dangerous to their health, and there were few
complaints of abuses of child labor laws.
The minimum age for employment depended on the type of work. In most
instances, the law permits children to begin work at age 15; however, with
the consent of their parents, 14-year-olds may work in family businesses or
at after-school jobs during the day that pose no hazard to their health.
Children under 16 may not work more than 24 hours per week; children between
16 and 18 may not work more than 36 hours per week. The law prohibits
employing persons younger than 18 in jobs with difficult and hazardous work
conditions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security was responsible for
enforcing child labor laws.
During the year, the Government ratified the ILO Convention 182 on the worst
forms of child labor. The country also joined the European Charter Article
on Protecting Child and Youth Rights.
There were reports that some parents forced their children to beg.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In December, a presidential decree raised the minimum monthly wage from $20
(100,000 manat) to $25 (125,000 manat). The move followed an increase in
July that raised the minimum from $12 (60,000 manat) to $20 (100,000 manat).
The $25 minimum wage was slightly above the official poverty level of $24
(120,000 manat) set by the Government. However, it was not sufficient to
provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.
Most workers earned more than the minimum wage, with the average monthly
wage reaching $93 (467,300 manat) during the first 8 months of the year.
Many citizens also relied on extended families or on remittances from
relatives working in Russia for support. The combination of these funds and
other strategies allowed most urban dwellers to attain a subsistence income
The law provides for a 40-hour work week; the maximum daily work shift is 12
hours. Workers in hazardous occupations may not work more than 36 hours per
week. The law requires lunch and rest periods, which are determined by labor
contracts and collective agreements. The Government attempted to enforce the
contracts and agreements; however, the Ministry of Labor reported little
success in the informal sector, where most individuals were employed,
because of poor cooperation from private companies.
The law set health and safety standards, but they were widely ignored;
government inspections of working conditions were weak and ineffective. The
ATUC also monitored compliance with labor and trade regulations, including
safety and health conditions. Between 1997 and year’s end, the ATUC reported
that it inspected 2,000 enterprises and organizations and found 28,432 legal
and technical violations. The ATUC said that virtually all of the violations
were addressed, and no official complaints were registered.
Workers could not leave jobs that endangered their health and safety without
fear of losing their jobs. According to the Oil Workers Rights Defense
Council (ORDC), an NGO dedicated to protecting worker rights in the oil
sector, six State Oil Company workers were lost at sea due to workplace
accidents during the year. Another three oil workers died in other
industry-related accidents. Workplace accidents were also a problem in other
sectors of the economy. The law provides equal rights to foreign and
domestic workers, though local human rights groups, including ORDC,
maintained that disparities existed, particularly in foreign oil companies.