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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 86,600 sq km
Population: 9.1 million (2010)
Capital City: Baku (population: 2.0 million)
People: Predominantly Turkic Azeri, Russian (8%), Armenian (6% mostly fled as a result of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh)
Languages: Azeri 89%, Russian 3%, Armenian 2%, other 6%
Religion(s): Muslim 93.4%, Russian Orthodox 2.5%, Armenian Orthodox 2.3%, other 1.8%
Currency: Manat
Major political parties: New Azerbaijan Party (Ruling Party), Azerbaijan Democratic Party, Azerbaijan Popular Front Party , Musavat, Azerbaijan Liberal Party, Umid Party and Azerbaijan National Independence Party.
Government: Republic
Head of State: President Ilham Aliev
Prime Minister/Premier: Artur Rasizade
Foreign Minister: Elmar Mammadyarov
Membership of international groupings/organisations: BSEC, CCC, CE, CIS, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ECO, ESCAP, FAO, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM (observer), OIC, OPCW, OSCE, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer)

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ECONOMY

GDP: US$8.37 bn (2011)
GDP Per capita: US$936.4 (Jan - Feb 2011)
Net Assets of State Oil Fund US$ 22 766.8 mln (Jan 2011)
Inflation: 9.1 (January 2011)
Exchange Rate: £1 = 0.80 Manat (January 2011)>
Azerbaijan's economy had suffered large shocks from the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, which disrupted trade routes and markets, and the drain on resources caused by the Nagorno-Karabakh war effort. However buoyancy in the oil market has eased the pressure. 2006 showed record growth in the economy. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2011 report named Azerbaijan as one of the fastest reforming economy of the world and ranked it 54th out of 181 countries. However, Transparency International ranked the country 134th place out of 178 in total in its Corruption Perceptions Index 2010. The contrast illustrates that while some solid reforms have taken place, more difficult areas such as monopolies and customs are still to be tackled.

In spite of the existence of the Laws and regulations to control the corruption, they are not enforced properly, and corruption remains a serious problem in the country. On 15 March 2005, Azerbaijan became the first oil producing country in the world to publish EITI reports examined by an independent audit firm, and the first country to involve civil society in the implementation of the initiative. The reports represent a significant and public step forward in the implementation of the Initiative in Azerbaijan and worldwide. The full text of the government reports and accompanying accountants’ reports are available on the website on the website of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (http://www.oilfund.az/) and the British Government’s EITI website. Further information and background on EITI is also available on this site. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)

(http://www.eitransparency.org/)

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The present phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K) conflict began in 1988 after the Regional Soviet of Nagorno-Karabakh adopted a resolution on the transfer of N-K to Armenia. The resolution was rejected by the USSR and Soviet troops deployed to N-K to suppress nationalist sentiments. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, N-K declared its independence. Azerbaijani forces then attempted to re-establish control but met fierce resistance. In 1992 N-K forces captured Shusha (a previously Azerbaijan-populated town within N-K) and established a corridor to Armenia through Lachin. In 1993 N-K forces, with help from Armenia, retook northern N-K and occupied the entire south-west corner of Azerbaijan, some 16 % of Azerbaijani territory. This encroachment onto Azerbaijan’s territory led to wide-scale international condemnation, including four UN Security Council Resolutions demanding that 'local Armenian forces' withdraw from the most recently occupied areas outside N-K.

The 1994 spring offensive began in early April with each side accusing the other of renewed attacks and shelling of civilian targets. Fighting was intense along the entire front line, with both sides seeming better prepared militarily than in previous years. However, on 12 May 1994 a cease-fire was brokered in direct talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan and on 27 July 1994 the Armenian and Azerbaijani Defence Ministers and the Commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh Army signed an agreement consolidating it. With the exception of minor violations the cease-fire has held. Armenia, Azerbaijan and the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have all confirmed their readiness to continue it indefinitely until a political agreement is concluded. The number of deaths in the conflict probably exceeded 15,000 with at least 900,000 Azerbaijanis and 300,000 Armenians displaced.

The Issues

The issues in dispute include the future political status of N-K and the nature of any international guarantees of that status. Armenia points to a 1991 referendum (ruled illegal by the Government of Azerbaijan) in which the people of N-K voted for independence. The Armenian Parliament refuses to accept any solution to the conflict which refers to N-K as part of Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan has annulled N-K's former autonomous status.

International Efforts

In 1992 the (then) CSCE established an international peace process, known as the Minsk Group, with the aim of undertaking negotiations with the parties to the conflict, to reach a peaceful political settlement. At its December 1994 Summit in Budapest the OSCE agreed to integrate the mediation efforts of the Russian Federation and the Minsk Group making Russia a co-chair of the Minsk Group (initially with Sweden, then with Finland, and now in a Troika with the US and France). The Summit also agreed in principle to the deployment of a multi-national peacekeeping operation, following the conclusion of a political agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict, and establishing a High Level Planning Group (HLPG) to work on details of an operation. There is as yet no sign of the political agreement being reached although the Troika have presented confidential proposals to the parties for consideration. The Minsk Group now comprises Russia, USA, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Turkey, Belarus, Austria, Norway and Finland. The UK is not a member.

International mediators have failed to make progress on negotiations for a final settlement of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been ruled by ethnic Armenian separatists since the early 1990s. No country or international organization recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-proclaimed independence.

At the OSCE Lisbon Summit, which was held on 2-3 December 1996, the Co-Chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and the OSCE Chairman-in-Office recommended the principles, which should be the basis for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In general, the legal and political constituent for the settlement of the conflict is based on the norms and principles of international law, laid down in UN Security Council resolutions as well as in the appropriate documents and decisions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other international organizations.

Since 2008, the Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation meet regularly.

UK Position

The UK (and our European partners) has argued that any solution should be based on the sovereignty of Azerbaijan with real autonomy for the people of N-K. The international community does not recognise N-K independence. The UK's policy on the N-K dispute is that it will support any mechanism for its resolution which both parties can accept and which has a realistic chance of delivering a lasting political settlement. Although the UK is not a member of the Minsk Group, it strongly supports the Group's work. Sir Brian Fall was appointed as the UK’s Special Representative to the South Caucasus in 2003.

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HISTORY

Political Timeline

1918–1920 Azerbaijan declares independence from Russia.

1922 Forms part of the USSR, within the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.

1936 Becomes a Union Republic in its own right.

Sept 1988 Azerbaijan becomes the first Soviet republic outside the Baltics to declare its national sovereignty.

Jan 1990 Ayaz Mutalibov is appointed First Secretary of the local Communist Party.

Sept 1991 Mutalibov wins presidential elections, unopposed with 80% of the vote.

Oct 1991 Formal independence from the Soviet Union declared.

1992 Demonstrations over NK force the resignations of Mutalibov and Prime Minister, Hassanov.

May 1992 Abulfaz Elchibey elected President with 64% of the vote.

June 1993 Heydar Aliev, acting President. Surat Husseinov, a hero of the NK conflict is appointed Prime Minister.

Oct 1993 Heydar Aliev gains 98.8% of the vote in the Presidential elections.

Oct 1998 President Aliyev re-elected with 76.6% of the vote. The OSCE/Council of Europe conclude that the election process did not comply with international standards.

2000 Municipalities governed by municipal councils were created in Azerbaijan.

Nov 2000 Parliamentary elections are held which are strongly criticised by international organisations and observers.

24 Aug 2002 A referendum on constitutional changes passed with an overwhelming majority.

Oct 2003 After a short term as Prime Minister, Haydar Aliyev's son Ilham becomes the New Azerbaijan Party’s candidate for the Presidential elections, and subsequently wins the Presidential election.

Dec 2003 Heydar Aliyev died.

Dec 2004 Municipal elections held. Opposition parties boycotted the municipal elections.

May 2005 The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline opening ceremony took place in Baku.

November 2005 Parliamentary elections held in Azerbaijan. The ruling New Azerbaijan Party won the elections with 62%. The OSCE/ODIHR observation mission found some improvements from the 2003 elections, but on the whole judged that they did not meet democratic standards.

July 2006 The formal opening ceremony of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhun pipeline was held in Turkey after Caspian oil starts flowing through it.

Oct 2008 In Presidential elections, which were boycotted by the main opposition parties, President Ilham Aliev is re-elected for a second five year term. OSCE/OHDIR Monitoring Mission reported considerable progress, but did not meet all of the country's international commitments because of the lack of competition.

December 2008 the BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other foreign media were barred from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies by the Government of Azerbaijan.

March 2009 A referendum is held on constitutional changes, including the controversial proposal to abolish the two term limit for the Presidency.

June 2009 Changes to the law required religious communities re-register with the State Committee for Work with Religious Structures by the end of 2009. Only registered religious communities would be allowed to continue operating in 2010.

June 2009 Parliament adopted changes to the legislation that sets new limits on the country’s non-governmental organizations, following a fierce international outcry about alleged disregard for civil liberties.

Dec 2009 Municipal elections held. Earlier in the year a number of municipal councils were merged to reduce the total number from 2757 to 1720. International observers described the elections as "symptomatic of the still unsatisfactory situation of local democracy and – more generally – of the weakness of local governments in Azerbaijan".

February 2010. Parliament ratified changes to the law on media which bans filming, photographing and recording someone without their prior permission.

7 November 2010 Parliamentary elections held. No MPs from 'traditional opposition' parties were elected. In Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic 140 candidates competed for 45 seats in the Nakhchivan Parliament, of which one is an opposition MP.

Dec 2010 The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Azerbaijan "expressing concern about the deterioration of media freedom in Azerbaijan, deploring the practice of arresting, prosecuting and convicting opposition journalists on various charges and urging the immediate release of imprisoned journalists."

Dec 2010 President Aliyev pardoned 99 prisoners including a journalist considered to be a political prisoner by some.

Jan 2011 The Chairman and three members of Azerbaijan Islam Party were detained and later the Chairman faced criminal charges.

March 2011 The first small scale protests organised by opposition parties take place in Baku, which are dispersed by the Police, inspired by events in the Middle East.

Longer Historical Perspective

BBC News Country Timeline: Azerbaijan (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1235740.stm)

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

The majority of Azerbaijan's population is Shia Muslim. There are ethnic and cultural links with the large ethnic Azeri population of Iran. Azerbaijan's system of government is secular, and the country has a westward-looking foreign policy.

Turkey

Azerbaijan sees Turkey, whose people and language are closely related, as its natural bridge to the west. Azerbaijan shares a number of affinities with its large regional neighbour from which it draws considerable support. Turkey’s stance on Azerbaijan’s dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh is to maintain a closed border policy with Armenia until it makes concessions over Nagorno-Karabakh. On energy issues, the context of Caspian oil and gas pipeline routes linking Azerbaijan via Georgia and through Turkey represents an important area of close co-operation which moved into another gear with the official opening of the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

Iran

Since Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, ties between Baku and Tehran have not been without their problems. Iran's relations with former President Heydar Aliev were closer than they were with Elchibey, based on links forged during Aliev's rule in Nakhichevan. But these became strained following Iran's exclusion by US companies from the Azerbaijan International Operating Company set up to exploit three Azeri oil fields in the Caspian. The admission of Iran into the international consortium set up in 1996 to explore the Shah Deniz prospect in the Caspian may have helped to improve the relationship. In the past, Heydar Aliev accepted Iranian help in setting up large tented refugee camps in Azerbaijan (Iran was fearful of a huge influx of Azerbaijani refugees, which might add to the sizeable ethnic Azerbaijani minority in northern Iran). Azerbaijan joined the previously moribund Economic Co-operation Organisation in Tehran in February 1992 which Iran sees as a forerunner to an Islamic Common Market. Azerbaijan and Iran signed an agreement in October 1996 for the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Nakhichevan. The then President Khatami’s visit to Baku and Ganja in August 2004 and President Ilham Aliev’s own official visit to Tehran in January 2005 helped to contribute to modest improvements, as did the visit of President Ahmadinejad to Azerbaijan in 2007. However, a number of fundamental differences remain.

Russia

Former President Heydar Aliev sought to increase Azerbaijan's independence from Russia, and declined to accept Russian bases or border guards. A new warming in ties between Baku and Moscow partly stemmed from visits to Baku by President Putin in 2001 and 2006. Good relations with Russia are essential for a settlement to the N-K conflict. Bilateral agreements have been reached between Azerbaijan, Russia and Khazakhstan on delimitation of national territorial waters in the Caspian Sea. President Ilham Aliev has visited Moscow officially several times since October 2003, and has expressed his wish for good bilateral relations on trade and international security.

International Organisations

IIntegration to the Euro-Atlantic political, security and economic institutes is one of Azerbaijan’s main foreign policy priorities. In May 1994 former President Heydar Aliev signed the NATO 'Partnership for Peace' (PfP) Framework Document at a formal meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC). In July 2004 Azerbaijan presented its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) which forms the basis of Azerbaijan’s future co-operation with NATO.

Azerbaijan, together with Armenia, has been a member of the Council of Europe since January 2001. Upon accession both Armenia and Azerbaijan committed themselves to use only peaceful means to find a resolution over N-K. However, Defence spending in both countries, particularly Azerbaijan, has increased significantly since their accession.

A Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) between the EU and Azerbaijan was signed in April 1996 and ratified by the UK in April 1998. The PCA governs political, economic and trade relations between the parties and lay the basis for social, financial, scientific, technological and cultural co-operation between them. The then Presidents of Georgia, Armenia and the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan met EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg in June 1999 to mark the entry into force of the PCAs on 1 July 1999. The first co-operation council meeting between the EU and Azerbaijan took place in October 1999.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) sets ambitious objectives for partnership with countries neighbouring the EU’s borders. These objectives are based on strong commitments to shared values and political, economic and institutional reforms. Partner countries are invited to enter into closer political, economic and cultural relations with the EU, to enhance cross border co-operation and to share responsibility in conflict prevention and resolution. The Union offers the prospect of a stake in its Internal Market and of further economic integration. The speed and intensity of this process will depend on the will and capability of each partner country to engage in this broad agenda. The policy builds upon the existing framework of co-operation.

In June 2004 the ENP was extended to Azerbaijan. The European Commission completed a Country Report on Azerbaijan in March 2005. This is the first step in developing ENP and is a detailed assessment of bilateral relations between the EU and Azerbaijan. It also reflects progress under the Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (PCA) and describes the political, social and economic situation in Azerbaijan. During 2006 the Commission, in close co-operation with the Presidency, Member States, and the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, held exploratory talks with Azerbaijan which resulted in agreement on an Action Plan, which was adopted on 14 November 2006 at the General Affairs and External Relations Council. The Plan covers a timeframe of five years. Its implementation will help fulfil the provisions in the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The Plan is a broad tool for economic and political co-operation, carrying to a further stage the commitments and objectives contained in the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

Azerbaijan's relations with the UK

The UK recognised Azerbaijan on 31 December 1991 and an agreement on diplomatic relations was signed in Baku in March 1992 by Douglas Hogg MP (now Viscount Hailsham MP), the first British Minister to visit independent Azerbaijan.

The British Embassy opened in Baku (as a trade office) in September 1992. The first resident Ambassador to Azerbaijan arrived in September 1993. The Embassy moved to new premises in May 2003.

Cultural Relations with the UK

The British Council manages on behalf of the UK government a Peacekeeping English Language programme for the Azerbaijani armed services in support of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Chevening scholarship programme which enables promising young Azerbaijani professionals to pursue postgraduate education in the UK.
The British Council began operations in Baku in March 1993. The (then) Prime Minister and Heydar Aliev signed an Agreement on Co-operation in the Fields of Education, Science and Culture during Former-President Heydar Aliev's visit to London in February 1994.

The British Council’s objectives are to promote the UK as a partner in reform; strengthen the learning and use of English; demonstrate the UK’s creativity and diversity through arts and culture; and promote British educational excellence in support of professional development. Its programmes are primarily focussed on young Azerbaijanis under the age of 35, and delivered through local and multilateral partnerships.

16-22 May 2005, The concerts “Jazz Summit” sponsored by British Council were held with the participation of Azerbaijani and British performers.

The UK's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Bashmet and Al Jarreau are among the musical greats who performed at the International Gabala Music Festival in the summer 2010.

Recent Visits

Visits to Azerbijan

June 2007 The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons visited Baku.

May 2008 Jim Murphy MP, then Minister for Europe visited Baku.

June 2008 Lord Digby Jones, Minister for Trade and Investment visited Baku to attend the Caspian Oil and Gas Show.

2-3 June 2009 His Royal Highness the Duke of York, the UK’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, visited Azerbaijan. His Royal Highness promoted trade links between the UK and Azerbaijan in all of these meetings.

18-22 July 2009 Alderman Ian Luder, Lord Mayor of the City of London visited Azerbaijan as a part of a regional tour.

15-17 September 2009 Lord Hunt, then British Minister of State for Energy in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, visited Baku.

20-22 October 2010 David Lidington, MP, the British Minister of State for Europe visited Azerbaijan.

Visits to the UK

October 2007 Kamelladin Heydarov, Minister for Emergency Situations made an official visit to London. Albufaz Garayev, Minister for culture, visited London in February 2008.

June 2008 Khalaf Khalafov, Deputy Foreign Minister visited London.

October 2008 Foreign Minister, Elmar Mammadyarov met the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in London.

13-15 July 2009 President Ilham Aliyev paid an official visit to London. The former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown welcomed the President of Azerbaijan to Downing Street on 13 July to discuss regional and Azerbaijani politics, energy, commercial opportunities and areas of mutual interest. During the meeting, Gordon Brown and President Aliyev spoke about bilateral cooperation between the UK and Azerbaijan, including in the commercial and cultural sectors. The two leaders attended the signing ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for exploration of a new gas field, signed by BP and SOCAR ( the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan) During the visit, the Prime Minister and President Aliyev issued a Joint Communique outlining the basis and future direction of the bilateral relationship.

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GEOGRAPHY

Azerbaijan is the largest of the three South Caucasus states, bounded by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and the Caspian Sea. There is also a short border between Turkey and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (pop. 295,000), which is separated from the bulk of Azerbaijan by southern Armenia. Under Russo-Turkish treaty arrangements Nakhichevan's sovereignty cannot be transferred from Azerbaijan.

Location: South-western Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Russia
Geographic co-ordinates: 40 30 N, 47 30 E
Area:
total: 86,600 sq km
land: 86,100 sq km
water: 500 sq km
note: includes the exclave of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and the Nagorno-Karabakh region; the region's autonomy was abolished by Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet on 26 November 1991
Land boundaries:
total: 2,013 km
border countries: Armenia (with Azerbaijan-proper) 566km, Armenia (with Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan exclave) 221km, Georgia 322km, Iran (with Azerbaijan-proper) 432km, Iran (with Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan exclave) 179km, Russia 284km, Turkey 9km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
note: Azerbaijan borders the Caspian Sea (800 km, est.)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: dry, semiarid steppe
Terrain: large, flat Kur-Araz Ovaligi (Kura-Araks Lowland) (much of it below sea level) with Great Caucasus Mountains to the north, Qarabag Yaylasi (Karabakh Upland) in west; Baku lies on Abseron Yasaqligi (Apsheron Peninsula) that juts into Caspian Sea
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Caspian Sea -28m
highest point: Bazarduzu Dagi 4,485m
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, non-ferrous metals, alumina
Land use:
arable land: 18%
permanent crops: 5%
permanent pastures: 25%
forests and woodland: 11%
other: 41% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 10,000 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: droughts; some lowland areas threatened by rising levels of the Caspian Sea.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

UK Development Assistance

The UK funds a consortium of international non-governmental organisations in order to address the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Consortium members work closely with governments, parliaments, international organisations, civil society, media and grassroots organisations to support other international and local efforts that contribute to a peaceful transformation of the Karabakh problem. The Consortium Initiative is funded by HMG’s Conflict Prevention Pool.

The UK also funds projects on a range of issues which are supported under HMG’s Human Rights fund and the Bilateral Programme Budget. Projects target areas which meet the OECD’s definition of Official Development Assistance.

Azerbaijan is an important energy partner for the UK. Baku marks the departure point for the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline project, and together with the offshore Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field and the Shah Deniz gas field and associated South Caucasus Pipeline, these projects represent BP’s largest overseas investment.

There are around 150 British companies active in Azerbaijan, not all of them in the energy sector, e.g. project management and design (MACE, Foster & partners, Atkins, ARUP), luxury goods (Burberry, Bentley), retail (Debenhams, Coast, Accessories, Mothercare, etc).

Investment opportunities for those operating outside of the oil and gas sector are very limited. While much agricultural land and Small to Medium Enterprises have been privatised and trade policy liberated, state control persists. Concerns over pricing controls continue on natural monopolies with arbitrary tax, differential excise duties, and customs administration for both national and imported goods. Heavy regulation persists with quotas, for example on alcoholic beverages and cigarette products.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Azerbaijan has ratified the following human rights instruments:

1992 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Convention on Rights of the Child
1995 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women
1996 International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

In addition to signing these international conventions, over recent years the Government of Azerbaijan has taken some positive steps in the area of human rights including:

Feb 1998 Abolition of the death penalty
Aug 1998 Removal of censorship; Regular amnesties for prisoners
June 2002 Establishment of an Ombudsman's Office; Establishment of a Constitutional Court
Dec 2002 Former President Heydar Aliev signed the Constitutional Law on Regulating the Exercise of Human Rights and Freedoms in the Azerbaijan Republic (the 'Constitutional Law'). The object of the law was to bring into correspondence with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) the exercise of human rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan.All religions are tolerated provided there are no overt campaigns to convert. It is against Azeri law to proselytise.

Despite sp,e positive steps, Azerbaijan's human rights record remains poor. There are number of areas of serious concern:

The Judiciary does not function independently of the executive, laws are applied inconsistently and there is widespread mistrust of the law enforcement structure. . Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Article 19 and other international NGOs issue statements and report regularly on activities in Azerbaijan. While censorship was formally abolished in 1998, the Government still exerts tremendous control over the media. The electronic media continues to be controlled by the State or people close to Government. Examples include the availability and cost of newsprint, and harassment of the distributors of opposition newspapers. Observers report a significant deterioration in freedom of expression in recent years with a new wave of intimidation of journalists. The authorities and serving (or former) government officials continued to bring large numbers of libel cases against journalists and newspapers critical of the Government. The expense of defending these cases threatens the commercial viability of the newspapers. A number of journalists have also been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for libel.

Media freedom in Azerbaijan continues to come under pressure from the authorities. There are a number of journalists in jail on criminal libel charges. The UK and UK partners have expressed concern at these developments.

Despite the adoption of new legislation designed to speed up the registration process, the Ministry of Justice continues to deny registration to many local human rights NGOs, hampering their work. On the positive side, prison conditions, while still poor, are generally acknowledged to have improved since Azerbaijan's accession to the Council of Europe.

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Last Updated: June 2011

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