LONDON–In November 1999 the United Nations Committee against Torture in Geneva will examine Azerbaijan’s Initial Report about the measures the country has taken to implement the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel–Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention against Torture).
On the eve of this review Amnesty International issued a report expressing its concern that Azerbaijan has failed to implement fully its treaty obligations–as allegations that people are being subjected to torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials are persistent and widespread.
These allegations issue from a range of Azerbaijan’s places of detention–in both political and criminal cases–but have not only related to detainees – law enforcement officials are also reported to have abused lawyers– journalists–opposition politicians and demonstrators. And in the army–conscripts are said to have been subjected to brutal hazing while officers turn a blind eye.
A lack of safeguards and procedures from the beginning of detention–and a failure to abide by regulations that do exist– leave people at risk of violations of their fundamental right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment. There is no requirement at present for a detained person to be brought promptly before a judge–nor are there any procedures whereby a person can challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention or their continued detention– violations of Azerbaijan’s fair trial obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
State agents have also obstructed access by lawyers–family members–and independent doctors to those held pending trial.
There have been persistent allegations that physical and mental abuse has not only flourished in those conditions–but also become a routine tool for obtaining confessions and coercing testimony–or for intimidation and extortion.
In many cases the victims of torture and ill-treatment–isolated and feeling vulnerable–do not lodge official complaints at the time–afraid that they will make their situation worse–fearing reprisals–or simply having no faith that officials will launch prompt and impartial investigations. Often they fear even to request a doctor to record or treat injuries–and investigators can refuse requests by detainees and their lawyers to arrange a forensic medical examination.
Deprived of this avenue of proving allegations of torture or ill-treatment many victims wait to speak out at a public trial–but then find judges reluctant to order comprehensive inquiries into their allegations–or to exclude as evidence testimony said to have been obtained under duress.
Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the authorities? failure to meet their obligations to initiate impartial and thorough allegations of ill-treatment and torture–and the failure to bring alleged perpetrators to justice in the course of full and fair proceedings–creates both an impression that torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials is acceptable conduct–and also allows law enforcement officials to engage in such conduct and violate people’s human rights with impunity.