“My message today is – those individuals who defend human rights in Azerbaijan should be seen as heroes, not traitors. They are agents of change, a change for the free and fair Azerbaijani society. I have talked to them and heard their moving stories. They should be embraced, not rejected.” – Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
22nd September 2016 – Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, released his end of mission statement following a visit to Azerbaijan earlier this month, to assess the situation for HRDs.
He raises concerns about violations of the rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly, and about harassment of civil society and human rights defenders, adding to the overwhelming international documentation of the wide-ranging abuses persistently committed by the Government of Azerbaijan.
In concluding, he calls on the Government of Azerbaijan to:
- Ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their work in a conducive legal and administrative framework, taking into account recommendations by international and regional human rights mechanisms.
- Refrain from criminalizing defenders’ peaceful and legitimate activities, and instead support the work of independent civil society, despite possible disagreements.
- Release all human rights defenders in detention, drop criminal charges against NGO leaders and employees, rescind travel bans and unblock their bank accounts in line with the resolutions and recommendations from international and regional mechanisms.
- Review and abolish all administrative and legislative provisions that restrict the rights of defenders, including to freedoms of expression, assembly and association, and ensure that domestic legislation respects basic principles relating to international human rights law and standards.
- Make registrations of associations more simple, non-onerous and expeditious and adopt ‘notification procedure’, and review the current NGO legislation to ensure more simplified and accessible funding to civil society.
- Ensure that restrictions to peaceful assembly do not impair the essence of the right, are prescribed by law, are proportionate and ‘necessary in a democratic society’, and still allow demonstrations to take place within ‘sight and sound’ of its object and target audience.
His recommendations are important; but now it’s time for the international community to act. How many more of these reports will we see before conclusive actions are taken?