TODAY.AZ / Politics

HRW: "Bush must press for human rights reform in Azerbaijan"

26 April 2006 [14:47] - TODAY.AZ
U.S. President George W. Bush must press for concrete progress in Azerbaijan's poor human rights record when he hosts Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev at the White House on Friday, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent last week to President Bush.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has arrived in Washington for talks with President George W. Bush and other top U.S. administration officials. It is Aliyev's first trans-Atlantic visit since his election in 2003.

Human Rights Watch called on President Bush to urge the Azerbaijani leader to end harassment of the political opposition and implement the recommendations of the 2006 OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Report and the Council of Europe in order to establish the groundwork for legitimate future elections, the Reuters news agency reported.

"Azerbaijan has a poor human rights record, yet it is an important U.S. ally," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "This is a key moment for President Bush to take a principled stand on human rights and to clarify the administration's expectations."

Azerbaijan has a long history of unfair and corrupt elections and of using politically-motivated arrests to silence critics and opposition politicians. International observers unanimously deemed the November 2005 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan to be neither free nor fair. Observers documented harassment of opposition supporters, intimidation of observers, tampering with election results and ballot-box stuffing.

In the run-up to the parliamentary elections, the government arrested dozens of politicians, political activists and their supporters on allegations of attempting to stage coups-d'etat. In August and September 2005, the government arrested several senior members of the opposition youth movement, Yeni Fikir (New Thinking), including its leader, Ruslan Bashirli, and his deputies, Said Nuri and Ramin Tagiev. Their trial began on March 31. For more than two weeks the trial was closed to the media and independent monitors, but on April 20 the judge in the case allowed the trial to proceed in public.

Torture remains a widespread and largely overlooked problem in Azerbaijan. A glaring case recently documented by Human Rights Watch involves the torture in custody of three teenage boys detained on murder charges. In March 2005, police officials and officials from the local prosecutor's office subjected all three boys to severe beatings and other serious abuse amounting to torture, including suffocation, denial of food, water and sleep, threats of additional and more severe violence, threats of rape, and threats against the boys' family members. The boys are currently awaiting trial and remain detained in extremely poor conditions that violate international standards.

On the occasion of President Aliyev's visit to Washington, the Azerbaijani embassy invited Human Rights Watch and several other U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations to participate in a meeting with President Aliyev on Wednesday, April 26, to discuss human rights and the rule of law in Azerbaijan.

"While this is a welcome step by the Azerbaijani government to engage NGOs, this meeting should in no way preclude President Bush from making human rights a focus of his meeting with President Aliyev," said Cartner. "We also hope that going forward President Aliyev will also actively engage with independent NGOs in Azerbaijan."

In its letter Human Rights Watch urged President Bush to encourage Aliyev to ensure that all defendants, including those accused of political crimes, receive full access to lawyers and fair and open trials. Human Rights Watch also called on President Bush to emphasize that torture of detainees in all circumstances is illegal and immoral, and impedes the state's ability to guarantee stability and the rule of law.


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