A group of UN experts* has urged Azerbaijan to act after receiving credible reports of human rights abuses against gay and transgender people, including arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment, torture and forced medical examinations in detention.
“We are deeply disturbed by a series of police raids launched since mid-September in the capital, Baku, leading to the arrest and detention of more than 80 people perceived to be gay, transgender or whom the authorities have alleged are involved in sex work,” the experts said.
“International human rights law and the treaty obligations of Azerbaijan are clear – no one should be arrested on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or because they are or are perceived to be a sex worker.
“Azerbaijan should repeal imprecisely worded laws that are used to carry out arbitrary arrests,” the experts added.
According to information received by the experts, some of the detainees allegedly suffered beatings, humiliation, electric shocks and forced shaving, partly to coerce them to incriminate themselves or disclose the names of acquaintances, and some were held incommunicado. These would constitute violations of the obligations of Azerbaijan to prevent and protect people from torture and ill-treatment.
Complaints about their treatment were raised in court hearings, but reportedly failed to prompt any reaction from judges and were not sent to the prosecutor’s office despite requests from the victims’ lawyers, the experts understand.
“We call on the authorities to investigate promptly and thoroughly all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with adequate sanctions,” the experts said.
“We remind Azerbaijan that statements made as a result of torture should never be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against the person accused of torture.”
All those arrested have since been freed, although some served terms of administrative detention after being charged with offences such as hooliganism and resisting a police order.
The authorities have alleged that the arrests were prompted by complaints about disturbances caused by sex work in central Baku, and to prevent a risk to public health from the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. However, the vast majority of those arrested deny being involved in sex work. Furthermore, these arrests are entirely counterproductive - they make it less likely that people will access health services, flying in the face of evidence and good practice, the experts noted.
The experts also highlighted concerns that those arrested were forced to undergo medical examinations and treatment, and information about their health status was divulged to the media.
“Azerbaijan should immediately cease subjecting people to forced or coerced medical tests and exams and disclosing their health records publicly, which violates the absolute prohibition on torture and ill-treatment and the rights to health and privacy of individuals,” said the experts.
“We call on the authorities to protect the rights of everyone without discrimination – including people perceived to be gay or transgender, and those who are or are perceived to be sex workers. Those who have been arbitrarily detained and subjected to abuses should be afforded effective remedy, including reparations.”
“We strongly urge the Azerbaijani authorities to take concrete steps, through education and public policies, to combat deeply entrenched negative social perceptions, misconceptions and prejudice against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, in order to tackle the root causes of violence and discrimination perpetrated against them,” they said.
The experts are in contact with the Azerbaijani authorities and closely monitoring the situation.
*The UN experts: Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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