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Azerbaijan: Amnesty Criticizes UN Convention Against Torture Violations

A UN panel is to review Azerbaijan's record on implementing the UN Convention against Torture during hearings in Geneva later this month (Nov. 8-19). Amnesty International has issued a report ahead of the hearings saying Azerbaijan has failed to meet the targets it has set itself. Officials in Baku have rejected the claim. RFE/RL London correspondent Ben Partridge files this report.

London, 4 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International says it has received persistent and widespread allegations that police and law enforcement officials in Azerbaijan have subjected prisoners and other citizens to torture and ill-treatment.

In a recent 44-page report, the London-based rights group says the allegations show that Azerbaijan has failed to fully implement its treaty obligations under the UN Convention against Torture.

The convention -- adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1984 -- is an international human rights treaty aimed at protecting all persons against cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment.

The Azerbaijani government became a party to the treaty two years ago. It recently issued a report which sets out the measures it has taken to implement the convention requirements.

But Amnesty International says there is evidence of continuing torture in civil and political cases in both prisons and detention centers. It also cites claims that police and law enforcement officers have abused lawyers, journalists, opposition politicians and demonstrators.

If these allegations are found to be proven, it could have an impact on Azerbaijan's application to join the Council of Europe which sets down human rights criteria as a condition for entry.

The Amnesty International report includes claims that army conscripts have been subjected to brutal "hazing", or systematic bullying -- common in Soviet-era armies -- while their officers have turned a blind eye.

The official report from Azerbaijan's government, and the Amnesty International findings, will both be submitted to this month's Geneva session of the UN Committee against Torture, a 10-member panel of independent experts. Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International's Caucasus researcher, tells RFE/RL the UN panel will make recommendations based on the evidence:

"The committee looks at what the state has done to implement its obligations under this international convention. Our report looks at this in some detail because we think there are major problems in Azerbaijan around this area."

The Amnesty International report says Azerbaijan lacks legal safeguards to protect the rights of those who are taken into detention on criminal or other charges. Moreover, it says police and law enforcement officers often fail to abide by the regulations that do exist. The report notes that Azerbaijan lacks any legal requirement to ensure that a detainee is brought promptly before a judge, and procedures to challenge in court the lawfulness of a detention order. It says these omissions are violations of Azerbaijan's obligations to grant people a fair trial laid down under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Amnesty International report also says "state agents" have obstructed access by lawyers, family members and independent doctors, to those held pending trial. It cites allegations that physical and mental abuse has been common in prisons and detention centers, and is a routine way of extracting confessions and coercing testimony. Amnesty International's Duckworth:

"Many of these instances have been caused by officials trying to extort confessions from prisoners, or to extort other things, as a bribery. There was one [such] case when a prisoner... well, he did die, reportedly of a severe beating. Officials had approached his father and demanded a certain sum in dollars for his son's release. That sort of thing is used as a way of extortion, really."

The Amnesty International report says many victims of torture or ill-treatment do not lodge official complaints, fearing reprisals will make their situation worse. The organization also says judges are often reluctant to order inquiries into cases of abuse, or open criminal procedures against police.

The report says the problems may be caused by lack of funding for professional staff, legal training and facilities. But Amnesty International says it is concerned that the authorities' failure to initiate impartial investigations of ill-treatment or torture, and to bring the alleged perpetrators to trial, creates an impression that torture is "acceptable conduct."

A spokesman for Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry has acknowledged that some mistreatment may taken place. But the spokesman, Ehsan Zahidov, says that in such cases the ministry takes appropriate action. He also says the Amnesty International report is unsubstantiated.

"Maybe some policemen are mistreating citizens. Maybe some citizens in detention are threatened by unlawful treatment. But all such cases are discovered by the Interior Ministry and these policemen face serious consequences. We heard about this report. Accusations about widespread torture are just rumors."

Azerbaijan will not be the only country facing examination of its record on implementing the UN Convention against Torture at hearings in Geneva this month. The records of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will also be examined.

(The Azerbaijani Service assisted with this report.)