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Azerbaijan: UN Group Criticizes Police Brutality

A UN human rights committee has criticized Azerbaijan for not doing enough to prevent the torture of people held in police custody. RFE/RL's Roland Eggleston reports from Geneva, where the United Nations is conducting a routine review of several countries' compliance with an international convention against torture.

Geneva, 18 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The UN says Azerbaijan has not done enough to investigate reports of ill treatment of people in police custody and in prisons. The committee advised Azerbaijan to be more active in prosecuting those responsible.

The rebuke came in a report yesterday in Geneva by the UN Committee Against Torture. It came after a week-long review of Azerbaijan's efforts to fulfill its commitments under the international convention against torture.

UN committees reviewing compliance with international conventions consider the governments' own assessments of their compliance, as well as reports from non governmental organizations. All signatories to international conventions are monitored in rotation. The current session of the Committee Against Torture is considering Malta, Austria, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Finland, and Peru.

During the review of Azerbaijan, the committee discussed a report prepared by the Azeri government and heard a statement from Azerbaijan's deputy prosecutor-general (Fikret Mamedov). The committee also took into account a critical report prepared by the human rights organization Amnesty International. This included specific allegations of cases of torture by law enforcement officials.

The chairman of the UN committee, Peter Burns, said that Azerbaijan was not on trial and should not feel it has been condemned by the assessment. He said the committee is merely making recommendations.

Burns said the report comments on positive aspects of Azerbaijan's human rights policy, especially efforts to establish a legal framework to protect rights. He said Azerbaijan has made serious efforts to train and educate law enforcement personnel against resorting to torture.

The committee also welcomed Azerbaijan's efforts to ensure such basic measures as a prisoner's right of access to legal counsel from the moment of arrest. And it made a point of noting the efforts to improve conditions in prisons.

But the UN committee said it is concerned about several issues. Among them is what the assessment calls "the numerous and continuing allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment committed by law enforcement personnel." Many of these allegations were reported by international human rights organizations.

The committee said Azerbaijan should do more to guarantee the independence of judges and the legal profession as a whole. It noted judges are appointed for a fixed period of time, which might be renewed or not. The experts suggested that such a system opens the way for judges to come under pressure to please authorities. Throughout the hearing, the UN committee stressed the importance of independent judges in ensuring the rule of law is honored and that detained people are permitted their full rights.

The committee also said it is disappointed that Azerbaijan's criminal code does not explicitly make torture a criminal offense, as required by the international convention on torture.

The Azeri deputy prosecutor-general answered this criticism earlier in the week by pointing out that individual acts that constitute "torture" are included in the criminal code. These include beatings, unlawful imprisonment, and the infliction of bodily harm.

Our correspondent says that after the hearing was over, several Azeri officials told the committee that the UN report is useful because it points to areas that should be improved.