Violence Against Women in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan
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last updated August 2014

Population of women:  4,753,000/9,421,000

Life expectancy of women (at birth): 74

School life expectancy for women: 12
Women's adult literacy: 100%
Unemployment of women: 6.4%
Women engaged in economic activity: 62%

 

Source: UN Statistics Division, Social Indicators[i] 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Azerbaijan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. The following year, the country escalated its conflict with Armenia over the majority Armenian Nagorno Karabakh territory.[ii] This war lasted from 1992 until a cease-fire in 1994, resulting in widespread human rights abuses and creating thousands of refugees.[iii] The 2012 U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices states that Azerbaijan has registered approximately 600,336 internally displaced persons.[iv]  As of June 2014, tensions over the territory have not been resolved and a peace process sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), known as the “Minsk Process,” has failed to negotiate a lasting solution.[v] According to some reports, the conflict and its aftermath have diverted the attention of the Azerbaijani government and international community away from gender equality and initiatives to combat violence against women.[vi]

 

Azerbaijan adopted its most recent constitution in 1995 and has amended it several times, most recently in 2009 when the country abolished presidential term limits.[vii] The government consists of a President elected to five-year terms, a single chamber National Assembly (Milli Mejlis), and a judiciary headed by a Supreme Court and Constitutional Court.[viii] 

 

The United Nations (“UN”) Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, visited Azerbaijan for the first time from November 25 to December 5, 2013.[x] The Special Rapporteur noted in her preliminary report that, ”violence against women is widespread in Azerbaijan, but the actual extent of the phenomenon is very difficult to assess” due to a shortage of reliable information and underreporting of cases.[xi] Specifically, she stated that, “[t]he lack of accountability is a crucial aspect in the effective elimination of violence against women, but in most discussions, it was clear that impunity seems to be the norm, for crimes committed against women.”[xii]

 

 GENDER EQUALITY

Article 25 of Azerbaijan’s Constitution, adopted on November 12, 1995, provides for full equality between men and women.[xiii] Article 34 provides for the equal status of men and women within marriage.[xiv] Article 12 incorporates all international treaties ratified by Azerbaijan into domestic legislation, and provides that the terms of such treaties will take precedence over domestic law where there is conflict.[xv] This would include UN Conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”), acceded to by Azerbaijan on July 10, 1995.[xvi] 

 

In 2006, Azerbaijan enacted the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On Guarantees of Gender Equality” (“Gender Equality Law”), which prohibits gender discrimination in employment, education, economic and social relations, advertisements, and politics.[xvii] Article 2 defines gender discrimination as, “sexual harassment, any distinction, exclusion or privilage [sic] curtailing or denying to exercise rights on the grounds of gender.”[xviii] The law provides for equal pay between men and women, and prohibits discriminatory hiring practices except where such discrimination is allowed by the Labour Code of Azerbaijan (see below).[xix] The law grants victims of discrimination the right to recover monetary damages.[xx]

 

Additionally, in November 2011, Azerbaijan raised the legal marriage age for women to 18 and prohibited early and forced marriages in its criminal code.[xxi] However, Azerbaijan has not repealed the provision in its Gender Equality Law that treats unequal marriage ages for men and women as an acceptable form of discrimination.[xxii]

 

Overall, women struggle to achieve equal status with men in Azerbaijani society. Traditional attitudes toward the role of women and lower levels of economic progress particularly in rural areas contribute to structural gender inequalities and violence against women.[xxiii]  Women are poorly represented at all levels of political and public life in Azerbaijan, including in the government and judiciary.[xxiv]

 

In response to criticism from the Council of Europe that Azerbaijan lacked specific national machinery or institutions to promote gender equality, a State Committee on Women's Issues was established on January 14, 1998, by decree of the President.[xxv] In 2006, again by decree of the President, the State Committee on Women’s Issues was annulled and the State Committee on Family, Women and Children’s Affairs (“the State Committee”) was set up to replace it.[xxvi] The State Committee is tasked with implementing the Gender Equality Law and with fulfilling Azerbaijan’s obligations under CEDAW Convention”).[xxvii] The government of Azerbaijan reported to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW Committee”) in 2013 that new regulations would ensure the State Committee was “a strong and focused body within the executive branch of the Government.”[xxviii] The CEDAW Committee responded in its July 2014 List of Issues by asking Azerbaijan to explain in detail how the new regulations will foster inter-governmental coordination and improved efforts to achieve gender equality.[xxix]

 

The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in 2013 commended Azerbaijan for creating the State Committee and for enacting gender equality laws, but she said poor implementation and enforcement of these and other laws to protect and promote the rights of women greatly limited their effectiveness.[xxx] She cited widespread institutional corruption as a barrier to combating entrenched discrimination, particularly in the provision of social services such as pensions, health care and education.[xxxi] 

 

The U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Azerbaijan found that women are not adequately represented in the upper echelons of the work force, including senior positions in the business world.[xxxii] Local NGOs have reported that women’s salaries are approximately 70 percent of men’s average salaries.[xxxiii] Additionally, the Labour Code restricts the amount, time and places that pregnant women and women with young children may work, limiting women’s opportunities in certain lucrative industries, such as the oil and gas sectors.[xxxiv] Azerbaijani law also prohibits women from working in any capacity in underground mining and other labour intensive occupations.[xxxv] The European Committee of Social Rights in 2012 recommended that Azerbaijan repeal such legislation as contrary to Article 20 of the European Social Charter.[xxxvi]

 

The State Committee, with the support of US Agency for International Development (USAID), has held various conferences on gender equality, including a two-day Women’s Leadership Conference in Baku in November 2012 involving NGOs, the Government of Azerbaijan and the Parliament of Azerbaijan.[xxxvii] The conference resulted in the submission of 22 recommendations to the Government.[xxxviii] Recommendations included the initiation of municipal level monitoring of implementation of the CEDAW Convention, a special government program to support and promote women’s entrepreneurship, and intensive training programs for public employees on gender equality.[xxxix]  Among other actions, the government of Azerbaijan has also ratified ILO Convention No. 156 concerning equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women workers, and initiated training of the judiciary and the legal profession and other public authorities on CEDAW and the Gender Equality Law.[xl]

 

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

 

Azerbaijan adopted the Law “On Combatting Domestic Violence” on June 22, 2010.[xli]  Domestic violence is broadly defined to include physical, psychological, economic, and sexual violence that inflicts “physical and moral damage.”[xlii] The law also encompasses violence committed by a wide spectrum of persons, including any member of the victim’s family living in the same home, any close relative, or current or former co-habiting partner or spouse.[xliii]  The law creates a mechanism for the investigation of domestic violence complaints, creates a procedure for the issuance of restraining orders and contains provisions relating to the establishment of social protection centres for victims of domestic violence, called Family Support Centres.[xliv]

 

The State Committee has developed a National Strategy for Combating Domestic Violence that “focuses on the development of effective preventive measures for combating domestic violence, making perpetrators of violence accountable for their behaviour and ensuring comprehensive protection of victims of violence, as well as eradicating stereotypes that support tolerant attitude to cases of domestic violence.”[xlv]

 

However, the new measures have had a limited impact on preventing domestic violence or assisting victims, due to a lack of clear guidelines on implementation or any protocols for monitoring and evaluating the application of the new laws. [xlvi] The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women criticized the government’s and the law’s focus on “family unity” and mediating disputes in domestic violence cases, rather than on protecting women and their children from violence and abuse.[xlvii] Access to justice for all Azerbaijani women is limited, but particularly for women victims of domestic violence in rural areas due to geographic isolation and traditional cultures.[xlviii]  Despite trainings on violence against women, judges routinely fail to properly apply or reference either the Gender Equality or domestic violence laws.[xlix] Divorces are difficult to obtain for women in violent situations, and judges rarely issue protective orders.[l] 

 

The State Committee in Azerbaijan in collaboration with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union, and various UN agencies, has launched a series of initiatives, meetings, trainings, roundtables and lectures to address some of these concerns and improve implementation of the law on domestic violence.[li]  For example, the State Committee held a three-day programme in February 2013 for employees of regional offices of the State Committee, to train them on improving services provided to victims of domestic violence.[lii] However, the UN Special Rapporteur found that these and other initiatives were not effective in improving the government and police responses to violence against women because they did not create a broad “framework for action,” or address root causes of violence such as structural and institutional discrimination against women.[liii]

 

In general, the scope of domestic violence in Azerbaijan has been difficult to gauge as few women report abuse due to social and cultural norms that treat domestic violence as a private matter best resolved within the family.[liv]  Additionally, the government has provided few statistics on the occurrence of violence against women, such as reported instances of domestic violence, or criminal statistics on arrests, prosecutions and convictions for domestic violence.[lv] One Azerbaijan Demographic Health Survey (“DHS”) was conducted in 2006 by the State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and funded by USAID.[lvi]  It covered several topics including domestic violence.[lvii]  However, the survey data was limited to women who experienced violence at the hands of their current or most recent husband; therefore rates of violence were likely underestimated.[lviii]  One of the more revealing survey statistics showed that of the women who reported violence in the survey, nearly 60% did not seek any help. [lix] 

 

The State Committee commissioned a more recent survey in 2008 on the prevalence, causes and consequences of violence against women in Azerbaijan, in collaboration with UNFPA, but the survey data is not available to the public.[lx] The CEDAW Committee in July 2014 asked Azerbaijan to release this survey data and provide more information on efforts to combat violence against women.[lxi] The Azerbaijani health care system also does not collate statistics relating to medical interventions necessitated by domestic or intimate partner violence,[lxii] nor does the State maintain data on women killed by family or intimate partners.[lxiii]

 

Shelter and Support Services

 

Shelter and other support services for women survivors of domestic violence are extremely limited, with only one functional shelter in the country.[lxiv] The government’s Family Support Centres, authorized by the domestic violence law, reportedly cannot provide the shelter, housing or other critical services such as psychological counselling and health care that women victims of violence require.[lxv]  

 

There is a national helpline operated by the Clean World Social Union Aid to Women, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is free of charge.[lxvi] It handles calls related to domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking.[lxvii] However, it receives no public funding.[lxviii] There is one women’s shelter in Azerbaijan with eight shelter places available.[lxix] The shelter opened in 2003 and is run by an NGO that accepts women survivors of domestic violence and their children.[lxx] Survivors can stay at the shalter from one week to six months depending on their individual situation.[lxxi] The shelter is predominately funded by foreign donations and does not receive any state funding.[lxxii] In addition to accommodation, the shelter provides women with psychological counselling, legal advice and referrals to medical services.[lxxiii] However, according to numerous sources, this shelter mainly handles cases of women victims of trafficking, and it is unable to meet the growing demand for protection services by women victims of other forms of violence.[lxxiv]

 

Spousal rape

 

According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Human Rights Report, there are no specific criminal laws prohibiting spousal rape.[lxxv] This crime may in theory be prosecuted under the general rape statute in the criminal code, if a woman files a complaint.[lxxvi] However, victims are not encouraged to report spousal rape or abuse because marital violence is traditionally considered a private affair that would bring “dishonour” to the family.[lxxvii]   

 

 

SEXUAL ASSAULT 

 

The Criminal Code contains provisions prohibiting forcible rape (Article 149) and sexual violence (Article 108).[lxxviii] Rape under Article 149 is defined as sexual intercourse committed by force or threats of force, or abusing the helpless situation of the victim, and is punishable by four to eight years imprisonment.[lxxix] Gang rape, incest, multiple rapes, “cruel” rape (e.g. with threats to kill the victim), or rape that results in the transmission of disease is punishable by five to ten years in prison.[lxxx] Rape resulting in the death of the victim, transmission of HIV/AIDS, or committed on a child under 14 is punishable by eight to fifteen years in prison.[lxxxi]

 

Sexual violence under Article 108 is defined as rape, compulsion to prostitution, compulsory sterilization, or “other actions connected to sexual violence,” and is punishable by ten to fifteen years in prison or life imprisonment.[lxxxii] In 2001, Azerbaijan added Article 108.1, prohibiting compulsory pregnancy with the intent to change the “ethnic structure” of a population.[lxxxiii] Sexual relations with minors under the age of 16 (statutory rape) are prohibited and punishable by restriction of freedom or imprisonment up to 3 years.[lxxxiv]

 

The CEDAW Committee has requested that Azerbaijan amend its criminal definitions of sexual assault, so that criminal liability is based on the victim’s lack of consent rather than on the perpetrator’s use of force.[lxxxv] 

 

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

 

The Azerbaijan Criminal Code does not specifically criminalize sexual harassment, although Article 151 does prohibit behaviour that compels a person to participate in sexual activity by taking advantage of his or her dependence on the perpetrator.[lxxxvi] Additionally, the Azerbaijan Gender Equality Law includes sexual harassment as a form of prohibited discrimination, and defines sexual harassment in Article 2 as “immoral behaviour, humiliating and abusing a person of the opposite gender, comprising of physical acts (touching, hand touching), offensive remarks, gestures, threats, disgracing advances or offers in employment or service relations.”[lxxxvii] The Law also requires employers to take “necessary measures” to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.[lxxxviii]

 

However, sexual harassment remains a significant problem in Azerbaijan, as most women are not aware of their rights under the law and responsible authorities do not enforce prohibitions on sexual harassment.[lxxxix] As of 2012, only two complaints were currently registered with any official organisations.[xc] According to a survey by the Azerbaijan Sociological Association conducted in 2001 of 2,013 women, only 37 percent said they had never been sexually harassed; 13 percent admitted that they experienced open harassment; and 42 percent, “hidden” harassment.[xci] Employers (35%) and co-workers (26%) topped the list of perpetrators.[xcii] The Azerbaijan Human Development Report 2007 found that common social attitudes towards women who face sexual harassment on the job are that the women should leave their jobs.[xciii] Such attitudes create significant barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace.

 

TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN 

 

Trafficking in women is a serious problem in Azerbailjan due to economic hardship and military conflict. Azerbaijan is a country of origin for women and children trafficked for sex to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Russia and Iran.[xciv] Azerbaijan is also a transit country for victims from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Moldova.[xcv] The government of Azerbaijan does not consider the internal trafficking of women for sexual exploitation to be an area of concern, and it has officially recognized just seven such victims between 2012 and 2013.[xcvi] The U.S. Department of State 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report (“TIP Report”) designates Azerbaijan as a Tier 2 country, meaning Azerbaijan does not fully comply with minimum standards for the prevention of human trafficking, but is taking steps to ensure compliance.[xcvii]

 

Azerbaijan ratified the Optional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol) on October 30, 2003.[xcviii] In May 2004, the President of Azerbaijan issued an official decree ordering all government bodies to implement Azerbaijan's National Action Plan (NAP) on Prevention of Trafficking.[xcix] The 2004 NAP for the first time stipulated recognition of victims of human trafficking as “aggrieved persons” and instructed adoption of normative acts ensuring their safety and rights.[c] The President of Azerbaijan issued a Decree on February 6, 2009 to continue the 2004 NAP for the years 2009-2013.[ci] The government finalized an updated NAP (2014-2018) in 2013 that will focus more heavily on trafficking for labour; victim and witness protection; and will incorporate recommendations from international observers, NGOs and others.[cii] The President approved the new plan on July 25, 2014.[ciii] 

 

On June 28, 2005, the Milli Mejlis unanimously adopted the law "On the Fight Against Human Trafficking," the country’s first explicit anti-trafficking law.[civ] The law provides a comprehensive definition of trafficking in persons, and establishes the general institutional framework for combating trafficking, preventing trafficking, and providing rehabilitative services and protection to victims of trafficking.[cv] The law officially recognized a National Coordinator on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (currently the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) as responsible for coordinating the country’s anti-trafficking NAPs.[cvi] Article 1.0.2, “human exploitation,” states that a victim’s consent to trafficking is not relevant in determining whether the victim was trafficked according to Article 1.0.1,  human trafficking.”[cvii] The Azerbaijani Cabinet of Ministers has also issued several decisions between 2005 and 2013, establishing rules and regulations for the implementation of laws related to trafficking and trafficking victims, including a National Referral Mechanism, identification of victims and victim compensation and assistance.[cviii]

 

Article 144-1 of the Criminal Code, adopted in 2005, punishes human trafficking with prison sentences of five to ten years.[cix] Prison sentences increase if certain aggravating factors are present, such as causing the death of the victim, abusing official authority, stealing organs or if the victim is a minor.[cx] The consent of the victim to exploitation, or the victim’s “life style or immoral behaviour” will not mitigate punishment for the perpetrator of trafficking, according to an explanatory “Note” to Article 144-1.[cxi]

 

However, the definition of human trafficking in Article 144-1 failed to encompass all forms of trafficking in persons, in compliance with international agreements such as the Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking in Human Beings, ratified by Azerbaijan on June 23, 2010, or with the domestic law “On the Fight Against Human Trafficking.”[cxii] Article 144-1 also did not clearly prohibit domestic or internal trafficking of Azerbaijani women as it required transport across international borders as an element of the offense.[cxiii] In April-May 2013, Azerbaijan amended Article 144-1 to comprehensively define trafficking in human beings as:

 

the recruitment, obtaining, keeping, harbouring, transportation, giving or receipt of a person by means of threat or use of force, intimidation or other means of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power [influence] or a position of vulnerability, or by giving or receiving payments or benefits, privileges or concessions to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.[cxiv]

 

The 2013 amendments also added transport of trafficked persons across international borders as an aggravating factor under Article 144-1 and removed it from the definition of the offense of trafficking.[cxv] Exploitation in the 2013 amendments includes: “forced labour (services), sexual exploitation, slavery or practices similar to slavery and dependence resulting from such practices, illegal removal of human organs and tissues, illegal biomedical experiment/research on a person, use of a woman as surrogate mother, involvement in illegal as well as in criminal activity.”[cxvi] Despite this broad definition of “exploitation,” other criminal laws remain in effect that prohibit the same or similar activities, such as Article 144-2 (forced labour), leading to some confusion among law enforcement and prosecutors.[cxvii]

 

The 2013 amendments also include a new criminal offence prohibiting the falsification of documents in relation to human trafficking, which offense was not necessary to meet Azerbaijan’s international obligations.[cxviii] Some commentators argue that this provision will allow traffickers to avoid the more serious punishments imposed for the crime of human trafficking itself.[cxix]  

 

The Ministry of Internal Affairs established the Department for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (Anti-Trafficking