19 April 2004
NEWS BRIEFSIs Council of Europe Retreating On Political-Prisoner Issue?
During his recent visit to Baku, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer said that almost all of the 716 persons named on the list of political prisoners have been released. This statement is being interpreted differently among Azerbaijani experts, with the pro-government ones seeing it as the government's success, saying that Baku has met its obligations regarding the political prisoners.
According to parliament deputy Aidin Mirzazade, while Azerbaijan was not a member of the European Court of Human Rights, it was possible to draw up such lists. But now, he says, any new list is out of the question. Anybody dissatisfied with the local courts can appeal to the European court.
But parliament deputy Asim Mollazade, a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, suggests that Schwimmer is talking about only the political-prisoner list of 716 people and this does not means that if someone is arrested on political grounds, the Council of Europe will remain indifferent about their fates. Mollazade disagrees that the Council of Europe has softened its attitude toward the Azerbaijani authorities.
Human rights activist Rana Sadeddinova says that they have recently presented the Council of Europe a new list of political detainees with 86 names. And after the number of the "election prisoners" detained is determined, another new list will be submitted to the Council of Europe.
Detained Oppositionists File Suit Against Prosecutor-General
Seven opposition activists, charged with organizing the 15-16 October disturbances in Baku, have filed a suit against Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov. The reason, according to the defense, is the prosecutor-general's refusal to grant the defendants' petitions to him. The detainees demand that the cases against them be annulled and that the law-enforcement officials who abused oppositionists on 15-16 October be brought to trial.
The trail of the seven activists is scheduled for the end of April or the beginning of May. At present the lawyers are studying the evidence, which are full of legal violations, according to lawyer Mubariz Garaev. Moreover, the only victims of the events to testify are police officers.
So far, 118 people have been tried over the postelection riots: 85 have been sentenced to suspended terms and released, while 33 have been sentenced to imprisonment of three to six years.
Is Issue Of Trafficking In Women Exaggerated?
Reports that human trafficking, especially of women, in Azerbaijan has reached precarious levels have been exaggerated, according to parliament deputy Malahat Hasanova. She said that the Azerbaijani government, in association with the U.S. Embassy in Baku, has recently held a meeting to explore the level of trafficking in people in the country. During his speech, U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish expressed his country's readiness to help in any way possible to assist in fighting such cases. After some other meetings of this kind, local NGOs have begun intentionally exaggerating the women-trafficking issue, Hasanova claimed.
Chairman of the parliamentary Social Policy Committee Hadi Rajabli argues that the facts presented to media and international organizations are indeed exaggerated. He says that local NGOs say trafficking is a result of the country's many social problems. But it would be wrong to blame everything on social problems and the government. This may also be a result of people's private approach to issues and choice, Rajabli said.
The U.S. State Department's last "Country Report on Human Rights Practices" said that Azerbaijan is primarily a country of origin and a transit point for trafficked women, men, and children. Azerbaijani, Russian, and Georgian women are most often trafficked from or via the country to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for work in the sex industry. Primarily Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans, and migrants from South Asia are smuggled via the country to Europe and possibly the United States.
Why Do NGOs Protest Against BTC?
Local workers involved in the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) export pipeline suffer discrimination and local legislation and the Labor Code is not taken seriously, according to Mirvari Gahramanli, chairwoman of the Committee of Oil Industry Workers' Rights Protection. She notes that the committee has monitored six districts to discover the BTC's effect on social and economic development of nearby regions, which showed that the local people had been deceived. Gahramanli is doubtful that the BTC will be of positive benefit to the country, saying that its importance is only political, not at all economic.
The BTC is advantageous from neither a political nor economic viewpoint, according to Mais Gulaliev, head of an NGO monitoring oil pipelines in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey.
Gahramanli and Gulaliev are expected to participate in the 19 April annual meeting of the board of governors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), where they intend to draw attention to their complaints. Gulaliev suggested that if the EBRD continues to allocate funds to the BTC's construction, it should set certain condition for the Azerbaijani government.
Former State Oil Company (SOCAR) President Sabit Bagirov considers such statements to be normal. But he said some NGOs at times could have their own interests. In fact, such organizations will always exist, not only during the BTC's construction, but also after it is put into operation. But they will not make any change in the construction schedule of the pipeline, he said.
(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)