UN rights expert calls for sweeping accountability for acts of violence against women in Azerbaijan

BAKU (6 December 2013) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo today urged the Azerbaijani authorities to fully implement the country’s current legislation and “to punish not only the perpetrators of violence against woman, but also those who fail in their duty to respond to the violation.”

“State responsibility to act with due diligence to eliminate violence against women, is an obligation under international human rights law, which the Azerbaijani Government has committed to,” Ms. Manjoo said at the end of her first official mission* to Azerbaijan to examine the issue of violence against women in the country.

The human rights expert commended the authorities for their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and the adoption of specific legal measures to achieve equality and non-discrimination, including for women. However, she noted, the issue of limited or the lack of implementation of laws and policies was consistently raised during her mission.

“The vast majority of interviewees acknowledged that violence against women is widespread in Azerbaijan, but the actual extent of the phenomenon is very difficult to assess,” she said, noting the lack of reliable information provided, the underreporting of cases, the focus on mediation and reconciliation in matters involving violations of women’s rights, and poor implementation of laws that would address the issue of accountability, among others.

“I am extremely concerned by the statistics that were shared with me on gender related killings of women,” Ms. Manjoo said. “The killing of a woman is the ultimate act of violence and is a reflection of the lack of protection and prevention measures when other acts of violence are not addressed by state authorities.”

The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the issues of trafficking of women, for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour, and the increasing number of early, forced and unregistered marriages, in particular in the Southern region. According to the State Committee, more than 5000 girls have been victims of early marriages in 2013.

She also warned about an increase in the number of sex-selective abortions in Azerbaijan, which was revealed during her interviews. “Azerbaijan is reported to rank second among countries where this practice is prevalent. This is a reflection of patriarchal notions relating to the value attached to women and girl-children in society,” the independent expert stressed.

Ms. Manjoo also expressed concern about the vulnerable and marginalized situation of internally displaced communities as a consequence of the occupation of 20% Azerbaijani territories, especially women and girls, and the challenges of their current living conditions, as noted by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“The Government of Azerbaijan has made efforts to address access to education, employment, health care, psychological support and housing,” she noted. “Despite such efforts, I witnessed and heard distressing accounts of hardships and the challenges of living in camps, dormitories and ‘hotel’ accommodation.”

The Special Rapporteur has also stressed that the inadequacy of social protection measures is compounded by the issue of widespread corruption, particularly affecting State institutions. It was highlighted as a major obstacle to equal access to social services, including in the education and health sectors; and also as regards access to justice.

The Special Rapporteur expressed her concern at the cumbersome requirements imposed on NGOs, in respect of registration/accreditation processes, and also their reporting obligations to numerous authorities, especially when funded by the State.She also received allegations of government bias in favour of some NGOs to the exclusion of others, and that reprisals are sometimes experienced by the more independent NGOs.

The UN Special Rapporteur called for the adoption of holistic solutions to address the individual empowerment of women, while acknowledging and addressing the social, economic and cultural barriers that are a reality in the lives of women in Azerbaijan. She also encouraged the development of social transformation initiatives that address the causes of inequality and discrimination, which most often lead to violence against women.

During her ten-day visit from 25 November to 5 December, Ms. Manjoo met with Government officials in Baku, Khachmaz, Ganja, Lankaran and Sumgayit. She also met with representatives of civil society and service providers.

Based on the information obtained during the mission, Ms. Manjoo will present a report with her final findings and recommendations to a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council.

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo also holds a part-time position as a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14065&LangID=E

UN Human Rights Country Page – Azerbaijan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/AZIndex.aspx

Check the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CEDAW.aspx

For more information and press inquiries, please contact:
In Baku: Kamran Baghirov (+ 994 124970569 / kamran.baghirov@ohchr.un-az.org), or Bernadette Arditi (+4179 752 0484 / barditi@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Mariannick Koffi (+ 41 22 917 96 53 / mkoffi@ohchr.org), or Gabriela Guzmán (+41 22 917 9412/ gguzman@ohchr.org), or vaw@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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