The following information reports U.S. Government priorities and activities of the U.S. mission in Azerbaijan to promote democracy and human rights. For background on Azerbaijan's human rights conditions, please see the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the International Religious Freedom Reports at www.state.gov.
Part 1: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
In 2010 and beyond, the U.S. faces an uphill effort to promote Azerbaijan's democratic transition. The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy focuses on promoting five key sectors of democratic development: democratic political processes; the rule of law, including an independent judiciary and the fight against corruption; respect for media freedom; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and an engaged, empowered, and educated citizenry.
In order to foster the development of these five sectors, the United States continues to support the development of key democratic institutions of government and civil society, with a focus on improving transparency and accountability. Programs to assist nongovernmental organizations, political parties, and the media continue to increase their capacity to advocate for public interests and serve as a check on state authority. U.S. programs support the development of an independent judiciary, fair trials, and an adversarial justice system, as well as strengthen the legislature and build capacity to combat corruption, money laundering, terror financing, and trafficking in persons. Finally, the U.S. Government continues to provide small grants to promote civil society and democratic development, and to support people-to-people ties through educational, professional, and cultural exchanges.
Part 2: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
Bilateral engagement forms a core part of the U.S. strategy to achieve these objectives. U.S. officials at all levels regularly meet with government officials, representatives of political parties, a range of human rights and democracy activists, media representatives, and religious leaders. High-level U.S. officials visiting the country reinforce the U.S. promotion of democracy and human rights. Promoting democracy and protecting human rights remain the primary objectives of U.S. public diplomacy programming activities, and U.S. officials regularly focus on democracy and human rights in public remarks. In addition, the United States utilizes small grants and a variety of other programs to foster greater understanding of democracy and human rights. The United States places particular emphasis on gender and youth issues in all programs.
Many U.S. diplomatic and programmatic efforts attempt to promote democratic political processes. In 2010 these efforts focus on aiding Azerbaijan to hold November parliamentary elections that meet international standards, including respect for political pluralism and fundamental freedoms. The United States reinforces its advocacy with government officials through assistance aimed at strengthening the ability of political parties to develop platforms and strategies that are responsive to citizen concerns, supporting domestic and international observation efforts, and stimulating public interest in and understanding of election-related issues. The United States also continues to support the development of a transparent and accountable parliament. To facilitate the development of a responsive legislature, the United States works with parliament to open constituency offices, trains members of parliament to respond to constituency requests and issues, provides greater citizen access to official and draft legislation, and promotes civil society interaction with the legislature. In advance of the March 2009 constitutional referendum on the elimination of presidential term limits, the United States highlighted the importance of conditions for an unfettered and open debate and a free and fair vote.
To promote an independent judiciary, the United States supplements its diplomatic efforts with assistance in training new judges about their role as neutral arbiters in adversarial court proceedings, strategies for effectively handling complex criminal cases, and European Convention on Human Rights standards. In addition to promoting judicial independence, the United States funds programs to increase the professionalism and skills of prosecutors, the defense bar, young lawyers, and female lawyers. U.S. programs emphasize development of adversarial processes consistent with international norms, including balancing the interests of the state with the rights of detainees and defendants. The United States continues to work with law schools on curriculum development and new teaching methodologies. The United States provides technical assistance that supports civil society's anticorruption efforts, enhances the capacity of government agencies and officials to fight and prevent corruption, and advances legislative reforms consistent with the country's international obligations to prevent, investigate, and prosecute corruption.
U.S. officials at all levels regularly engage the government on the importance of media freedom, including the need to decriminalize defamation. Senior U.S. officials raise concerns regarding the unjust imprisonment of journalists. In cases of government action to restrict freedom of expression, including the government's decision to remove Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and BBC from FM radio as of January 1, 2009, and the imprisonment of two youth activists and bloggers, senior U.S. officials continue to raise their concerns with the government, and the United States has issued public statements regarding these events. Senior U.S. officials urge the government to investigate and bring to justice individuals--whether members of the security forces or others--responsible for physical attacks on journalists, including those responsible for the unsolved 2005 murder of prominent independent journalist Elmar Huseynov. U.S. assistance continues to support the professionalization of media. For example, the United States provided technical assistance to strengthen the business management, broadcasting operations, and program development of independent outlets, and supported free Internet access and training to the public. U.S. assistance also funded training for journalists on mixing new technologies with traditional media approaches by promoting the development of news/information Web sites and Web blogging. Through long-term academic exchanges, U.S. programs supported the educational development of journalists. In other programs, the United States continues to support initiatives to increase the independence of the media and to improve advocacy on behalf of media rights and freedom of information. The United States seeks to assist reformers in effectively monitoring government harassment and interference in this area.
The United States promotes respect for the rule of law and human rights diplomatically and programmatically. U.S. officials often monitor high-profile court proceedings. For example, in 2009-2010, U.S. officials monitored the court case of two prominent youth activists/bloggers physically attacked in a restaurant and later convicted and imprisoned for hooliganism. U.S. officials urge their counterparts to respect the right of freedom of assembly and to authorize peaceful demonstrations. To emphasize the importance of this freedom, U.S. officials monitor police conduct at political rallies. When attempts to hold such rallies are prevented, the United States voices its concerns to all levels of the government regarding the right of citizens to organize and demonstrate peacefully. The United States also promotes freedom of association and encourages respect for religious freedom, including the right to practice religion without interference or restriction. U.S. officials stress the importance of respecting religious freedom in meetings with government officials and highlight the presence of religious tolerance and Islam in America. To address human rights abuses by law enforcement officers, U.S. officials urge the government to ensure that police comply with international human rights standards and to hold police officials accountable for torture, abuse, or misconduct. To combat human trafficking, the United States supports training on anti-trafficking in persons legislation and victim identification strategies. U.S. officials also promote anti-trafficking measures and preventive mechanisms in meetings with government officials. U.S. officials regularly coordinate anti-trafficking efforts with the international community.
The United States supports the development of civil society diplomatically and programmatically. U.S. officials engage in dialogue with NGOs supporting democratic reform. The United States provides technical assistance, grants, and exchange programs to: support the activities of local NGOs; encourage dialogue between the government and civil society; educate the government and public about democratic practices; and improve local government accountability to citizens. The United States provides small grants to local NGOs that promote human rights, a free and professional media, democratic governance and the rule of law, free and fair elections, community activism, and civic responsibility.