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last updated Mar 04, 2014

Key Facts


86,600 sq km

Total Population

8,832,000 (UN 2009)

Prison Rate

407 (per 100,000 of national population)

Capital Punishment

abolished, ICCPR-OP2 ratified


ratified, individual Complaints procedure accepted




The Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman)

Background Information

The Republic of Azerbaijan has a majority Turkish and Muslim population1, and gained independence in 1991 during a period of violence and turmoil in the region as the Soviet Union collapsed. Conflict was particularly fierce in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh bordering Armenia, which declared its intention to secede in the late 1980s2, prompting a war. Although a ceasefire was signed in 1994, there are continuing tensions over the Armenian occupation and refugee issues.

Azerbaijan has often been accused of serious corruption and vote-rigging.3 Power is largely concentrated in the hands of the president, currently Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father and was elected in 2003 in an election widely criticised for voter intimidation, violence and media bias.4 The latest election in 2008, which was boycotted by the main opposition parties, was considered to be an improvement but OSCE observers concluded that it still fell short of fully democratic standards.5 Recent amendments to the constitution included the removal of the limit on the number of terms that a president can serve. In theory, this paves the way for Aliyev to remain in office indefinitely.6

Azerbaijan suffered serious economic dislocation as the Soviet Union collapsed, but its large oil and gas reserves have brought foreign investment. Since 1994, millions have been invested by Western companies into developing Azerbaijan’s reserves, but the economy has not benefited as much as it might have done7, and environmental groups have protested about extensive damage. Inflation is extremely high, and the economy is disproportionately reliant on energy exports. Over the last year, GDP growth has slowed due to the much weaker external economic environment, and, in particular, much lower oil prices.8

Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001, and a member of the EU`s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2004. However, human rights remain a major stumbling block to further integration. The war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in up to 800,000 refugees and internally displaced persons9 around ten percent of the population10, many of whom continue to suffer from a lack of access to education, health services, a livelihood and adequate housing.11 In addition, UN and NGO sources have reported restrictions of the freedom of speech and press and serious harassment, including violence, intimidation and lengthy prison sentences, of opposition politicians and journalists particularly after the presedential elections. The judiciary remains underdeveloped and has little independence, and judicial and police corruption is widespread. Transparency International ranked Azerbaijan 143 out of 182 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index 2011.

Situation of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Legal Framework

Azerbaijan is State party to the ICCPR and the CAT, as well as the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR prohibiting the death penalty, and the Optional Protocol to the CAT (OPCAT), which mandates a National Preventive Mechanism against torture. Azerbaijan also recognises the competence of the Committee against Torture to receive submissions from individuals under Article 22 of the CAT. In 2002, Azerbaijan acceded to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, allowing the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to visit the relevant State institutions and detention facilities without interference. However, some significant reservations were made concerning the continuing application of the death penalty in times of war and the application of extrajudicial disciplinary penalties for the armed forces. In addition, Azerbaijan declared that it could not guarantee the application of the provisions of the OPCAT in the territories occupied by the Republic of Armenia “until these territories are liberated from occupation”.

The Constitution of Azerbaijan prohibits torture and other forms of ill-treatment (article 46(3)). The Criminal Code foresees an explicit prohibition of torture in article 133, punished by imprisonment from five till ten years (para 3). Article 113 of the Criminal Code (“Torture”) mandates that the infliction of physical pain or mental suffering on persons who have been detained or otherwise deprived of liberty shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of 7 to 10 years. However, in 2003 the Committee against Torture voiced its concerns that the definition of torture in this new Criminal Code did not fully comply with article 1 of the CAT because it “omits references to the purposes of torture outlined in the Convention, restricts acts of torture to systematic blows or other violent acts, and does not provide for criminal liability of officials who have given tacit consent to torture.” The Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) prohibits torture and ill-treatment during criminal prosecution (article 15.2) Furthermore, article 125(2) CCP provides that evidence obtained in violation of a defendant’s rights is not permitted, and evidence obtained in violation of the above-mentioned provisions may be used only in proving violations and the culpability of persons who committed them (article 125(4)). The right of victims to get compensation and the corresponding procedure are regulated according to Chapter 20 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP).

Practice of Torture and Ill-Treatment

In its Concluding Observations to Azerbijan’s 2003 State Report the CAT Committee expressed its concern about “the substantial gap between the legislative framework and its practical implementation”.It has found numerous allegations of torture, the apparent failure to provide prompt redresssal, and the lack of independence of the judiciary. Many of these were echoed in the 2009 Concluding Observations as well, with additional concern regarding non-refoulment, monitoring of places of detention, domestic violence and freedom of the press.

Although improvements have undoubtedly been made, there have been persistent accusations of torture by authorities in Azerbaijan in recent years and the use of torture against suspects is frequently carried out.12 The deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Vilayet Eyvazov, himself admitted at a press conference in October 2008 that police sometimes use torture when interrogating suspects in pre-trial detention.13

Journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists are most visibly at risk of harassment, torture and detention in Azerbaijan, and there have been numerous allegations of beatings and arbitrary imprisonment. In July 2008, President Ilham Aliyev declared that no police officer would face criminal prosecution for allegedly beating journalists during the 2005 parliamentary elections. According to Amnesty International, human rights activists condemned the comment as contributing to a climate of impunity for the use of force by police against journalists.14 In addition to journalists, opposition parties and politicians are also at greater risk of harassment, torture and imprisonment, especially during election periods. Recently, an allegation of the arrest, torture and detention of a deputy chairman of an opposition party was transmitted to the UN special procedures.15 The Special Rapporteur on Torture has also received allegations of torture during detention, including specific allegations of the torture of children.16 Torture is not only practised in political cases, but also in criminal cases to secure confessions; Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have highlighted the case of three teenage boys who were convicted in 2007 of murder based upon their confessions, without investigation into their allegations that these confessions were obtained through torture.17 The sentence was upheld by the Baku Court of Appeals in July 2009.18

Despite reforms, the judiciary is still not fully independent nor above corruption. It is alleged that in many cases judges have refused to deal with visible evidence of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and do not order investigations. In addition, NGOs have found that the courts continue to rely on confessions that may have been obtained by torture or ill-treatment, and it has not been possible to obtain information on any case where a person has been awarded compensation as a result of ill-treatment.19 The 2003 CCPT report found detention facilities are also considered to be significantly below international standards20, and detention in such sub-standard facilities has at times amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment.21 The 2009 CPT report reiterated it’s earlier concerns about the conditions of detention facilities and stressed that a new “prison-building programme should be part and parcel of an overall strategy for creating a humane penitentiary system”. It also mentioned severe beatings of prisoners with truncheons, in Gobustan prison, and expressed concerns over the lack of space and sanitation facilities at the Central Penitentiary Hospital. Health care staffing of prisons was also an issue of concern to the 2009 CPT report.

1CIA World Factbook
2EIU Country Profile
3BBC Country Profile
6EIU Country Profile
7BBC Country Profile
8EIU Country Profile
9BBC Country Profile
11Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin. Mission to Azerbaijan, 2008; http://www.un-az.org/doc/kalin_report.pdf
12UNSRT Follow-Up Report 2006 (E/CN.4/2006/6/Add.2)
15UPR (2009) Compilation of UN Information (A/HRC/WG.6/4/AZE/2)
19UNSRT Follow-Up Report 2006 (E/CN.4/2006/6/Add.2)
20Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, Individual UPR submission - Azerbaijan, September 2008
21CPT Report 2004 (CPT/Inf (2004) 36)

Sources: BBC Country Profile, Economist Intelligence Unit, Transparency International, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Universal Periodic Review, UNSRT Follow-Up Report 2008 (A/HRC/7/3/Add.2), CAT State Report 2009 (CAT/C/AZE/3), CAT Concluding Observations 2009 (CAT/C/AZE/CO/3), ICCPR State Report 2007 (CCPR/C/AZE/3)