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Azerbaijan: Presidential Elections 2003

Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, October 13, 2003

Restrictions on Monitoring Efforts

The government of Azerbaijan severely restricts the activities of NGOs in general, and Azerbaijani authorities commonly exploit onerous registration procedures are to prevent registration of NGOs. The NGO law specifically limits the right of local NGOs to monitor elections, prohibiting any NGO that receives foreign funding from serving as election monitors.44 In effect, this clause prohibits the entire local NGO community from participating in monitoring elections, as almost every NGO in Azerbaijan receives some of its funding from the international community. Well-trained election monitoring NGOs, such as For the Sake of Civil Society, are thus formally prohibited from officially monitoring the elections.

Local NGOs have been able to mitigate the impact of this restriction by registering their members as individual monitors, a right granted under the Election Code. For the Sake of Civil Society has been able to register more than 1,500 local monitors by relying on the individual registration process, about half of the 3,000 monitors they had hoped to mobilize. Election commissions in some regions arbitrarily refuse to allow these individuals to monitor elections. For example, For the Sake of Civil Society managed to register 92 of their 102 observers in Ganja district by October 2, but only 25 of their 500 observers for Baku.45

The Azerbaijani government's failure to freely allow domestic NGOs to monitor elections is of particular concern because of the widespread voting irregularities that have occurred in every previous election in Azerbaijan. Effective monitoring by local NGOs provides one of the most reliable safeguards against massive fraud.

Human rights activists and voter educators have also been targeted for attack and violent interference with their work that appears to have been organized by the local authorities.46 On September 25, 2003, a group of women's human rights activists-including Novella Jafaroglu, chair of the Association for the Protection of Women's Rights; Saadat Benaniarly, head of the Azerbaijan chapter of the International Society for Human Rights; and Sadagat Pashaeva, a staff member of the Association for the Protection of Women's Rights-traveled to the enclave of Nakhchivan to open the first independent newspaper in the region, Bizim Nakchivan ("Our Nakchivan") and to arrange for the visit of a group of six Serbian election educators who had come to the region to educate young voters on a project sponsored by the Open Society Institute.47

Hours before the arrival of the Serbian delegation, on September 27, Jafaroglu, Benaniarly, Pashaeva and Melhat Nassibova, the director of the Nakhchivan human rights resource center, arrived at the center to find a group of about fifty women in front of the building. As the four got out of their vehicle, one of the women outside shouted at them, "Are you the ones who brought the Americans and the Europeans here? We need only Iran, because Iran feeds us." The crowd of women then attacked the activists, beating them and pelting them with tomatoes. The four then ran into the resource center and called the police, who appeared only an hour later. When police and security officials finally arrived, they advised the four that they leave Nakhchivan, saying they could not guarantee their security. The activists explained that they were expecting their Serbian guests and could not leave.48

The next morning Jafaroglu, Benaniarly, and Pashaeva went to Nakhchivan airport, where they were again attacked. They were about to board their plane when a woman approached them and said, "Yes, leave, and never come back again!" She then began to beat the women. A crowd of others who had been lingering nearby soon joined in the beating. Saadat Benaniarly, one of the activists, told Human Rights Watch: "Novella was on the floor, and they were kicking her and throwing eggs and tomatoes at us, all of the contents of their bags. A woman was beating me, and I was holding on to a steel pipe, trying not to fall. Another woman came and started beating my head into the pipe. Sadaget [Pashaeva] had her head banged into the floor."49 The women were beaten for about fifteen minutes.

During the incident, government security personnel at the airport disappeared and did nothing to attempt to stop the beatings. Pointing to the unwillingness of the local authorities and the airport security personnel to come to their assistance, the women believe that the attacks were organized by the Nakhchivan local administration. The women filed a complaint with security officials in Baku.

Also on September 28, the team of Serbian election educators was prevented from carrying out three scheduled workshops aimed at educating young voters. Police came to the training at the Nakhchivan resource center and ordered the participants to leave. They ordered a second team of Serbian election educators on the road to Ordubat to turn around. Security officials then told the observers that they would not be allowed to conduct their workshops or stay in Nakhchivan, ordered them to leave the enclave, took them to the airport, and put them on a flight to Baku.50

44 The Law on NGOs and Public Foundations, Article 2.4

45 Human Rights Watch interview with Eldar Ishmailov, Baku, October 2, 2003.

46 Earlier this year, several Baku-based Azerbaijani human rights defenders endured mob attacks, physical harassment and intimidation that appeared to have been instigated by the authorities.

47 Human Rights Watch interview with Novella Jafaroglu, Baku, October 1, 2003; Human Rights Watch interview with Saadat Benaniarly, Baku, October 1, 2003.

48 Human Rights Watch interview with Saadat Benaniarly, Baku, October 1, 2003.

49 Ibid.

50 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Galuran Mehtiva, October 1, 2003. International aid workers have also been summarily expelled from Nakhchivan. In June 2003, Nakhchivan authorities expelled a Swiss development worker and his Azerbaijani counterpart who had come to investigate the tourism potential of the region, after the two were met at the airport by Melahat Nassibova, the head of the women's resource center. Human Rights Watch interview with Shahla Ismailova, Baku, October 1, 2003.

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October 13, 2003