Azerbaijan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Azerbaijani men and boys are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Russia and in Azerbaijan. Women and children from Azerbaijan are subjected to sex trafficking within the country and in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Sweden. Some migrant workers from Turkey, as well as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Romania, India, and Ukraine are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has been used as a transit country for victims of sex and labor trafficking from Central Asia to the UAE, Turkey, and Iran. Within the country, some children, particularly those of Romani descent, are subjected to forced begging and to forced labor as roadside vendors and at tea houses and wedding facilities. Domestic servitude of Filipina victims in Azerbaijan is an emerging problem. Women from internally displaced persons settlements and street children—children released from correctional facilities, orphanages, and state-run boarding schools who end up homeless—are especially vulnerable to trafficking.
The Government of Azerbaijan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government amended its trafficking laws to better conform to international law and continued to provide protection and reintegration services to trafficking victims. However, the government continued to identify only a limited number of foreign trafficking victims and did not demonstrate a sustained effort to thoroughly investigate companies that allegedly engaged in forced labor of migrant workers. Pervasive corruption also limited the effectiveness of anti-trafficking regulations and mechanisms.
Recommendations for Azerbaijan:
Strengthen efforts to identify foreign victims of labor trafficking by law enforcement and health practitioners within the country by creating standard operating procedures; increase law enforcement efforts against trafficking offenders, including individuals or companies that subject migrant workers to forced labor, and increase the number of convicted offenders who are sentenced to time in prison; improve communication among government agencies, including about victim referrals and potential cases; vigorously investigate and prosecute government officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking; increase funding to victim service providers and expand the network of providers outside Baku; provide sensitivity training to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and the judiciary, including on how to work with trafficking victims who experienced psychological trauma; educate judges on the legal definition of human trafficking; and target public awareness campaigns to foreign migrant workers, describing indicators of human trafficking and avenues to seek help.
The Government of Azerbaijan increased law enforcement efforts by toughening its anti-trafficking laws with new legislation and increasing law enforcement efforts against labor trafficking during the reporting period. Azerbaijan’s 2005 Law on the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and Article 144 of the criminal code prohibit sex trafficking and forced labor, and prescribe penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment, punishments which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In April and May 2013, the government amended Article 144 of the criminal code to bring it in line with international law, by removing cross-border transport as a necessary element of the crime, increasing penalties for forced labor, clarifying that means of force, fraud, or coercion need not be demonstrated to prove the crime of sex trafficking of children, and establishing criminal liability for identity document fraud if committed for the purpose of trafficking in persons.
The government reported four labor trafficking investigations and 17 sex trafficking investigations in 2013, an increase from two labor trafficking investigations and 10 sex trafficking investigations in 2012. In addition, it reported prosecuting two defendants for labor trafficking, including its first case on behalf of a Filipina domestic worker exploited in Azerbaijan, and 15 defendants for sex trafficking crimes in 2013, compared with two prosecutions for labor trafficking crimes and 12 defendants prosecuted for sex trafficking in 2012. The government reported that it convicted five traffickers in 2013, compared with 12 in 2012. The government did not report sentencing information for trafficking cases.
Systemic corruption in Azerbaijan hindered anti-trafficking efforts. Civil society groups continued to report that law enforcement bodies did not adequately investigate accusations of forced labor in the construction sector for fear of recrimination by influential figures, including government officials. Local police were accused in a previous reporting period of accepting bribes from brothels, some of which had sex trafficking victims, to ignore those businesses’ illegal activities. The Government of Azerbaijan investigated one case of forced labor of a Filipina domestic worker in the home of a politically connected businessman, although charges had not been filed as of the close of the reporting period. Despite these allegations, the Government of Azerbaijan did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Government of Azerbaijan made some progress during the reporting period to protect and assist victims of trafficking, although funding for NGOs was insufficient, and the failure to identify foreign labor trafficking victims remained a concern. The Ministry of Internal Affairs’ (MIA) Anti-Trafficking Department (ATD) created a list of indicators for identifying trafficking victims—investigators referred to the list to determine whether there were enough indicators present in a potential case to move forward with a criminal investigation—but did not develop formal standard operating procedures to distribute to government agencies and NGOs. In 2013, the government certified 15 men and one woman as labor trafficking victims and 40 women as sex trafficking victims, compared with 17 male labor trafficking victims and 36 female victims of sex trafficking in 2012. The ATD reported that 19 Azerbaijanis were victims of trafficking in Turkey, 16 in the UAE, 15 in Russia, and one in Iran. One NGO assisted 97 trafficking victims, some of whom were not counted as part of the government total. Of the officially recorded victims, 37 received temporary shelter at a government facility, where they received medical and psychological treatment. Fifty victims, including two sex trafficking victims from Uzbekistan, received a stipend equivalent of approximately $510, and 13 received some form of financial compensation from the Victim’s Assistance Fund. Twenty-two victims received employment assistance, and 21 were sent to vocational schools for training. The Labor Ministry’s Center for Assistance to Victims of Trafficking reported that it provided rehabilitation and reintegration services to 44 victims referred by the MIA and 18 victims referred by NGOs (a total of 62 people) in 2013. Of the victims who sought the Center’s services, 11 victims were provided with jobs, three people were offered training, two people received financial assistance, seven people were provided with shelter, eight people were offered psychological assistance, four people received medical aid, and six people received legal assistance. Provision of these services was not contingent upon a victim’s agreement to participate in a law enforcement investigation, according to authorities. In 2013, the ATD assisted 62 victims of human trafficking, compared with 53 victims assisted in 2012. Of those victims, 43 received temporary shelter at a government-run facility, which adult victims could reportedly enter and leave freely. Eleven of the victims were provided with employment, two received financial aid, eight received psychological support, six received legal consultation, and three attended professional training courses. Questions were raised about the effectiveness of the rehabilitation and reintegration programs as they reportedly lacked funding.
The government reported identifying one case involving the trafficking of a minor for sexual exploitation, two cases involving the recruitment of minors for prostitution, and one case of foreign labor trafficking. The government did not ensure victims of trafficking were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. According to reports, authorities in May 2013 arrested a group of 53 people (45 women and eight men) working in prostitution in a Baku club. Many of the detained were Uzbek minors (aged 16 and 17), which should have automatically merited their designation as human trafficking victims; it is unknown what punishments the girls received or how long they were detained.
The MIA ATD drafted new memoranda of understanding to improve interagency cooperation for the victim referral process, which had hindered victim identification and protection. The government did not report how much funding it devoted to anti-trafficking efforts. In July 2013, the MIA, as the lead anti-trafficking agency, renewed its memorandum of understanding with the NGO Coalition against Human Trafficking through 2018. Under the agreement, the MIA routinely refers victims and potential victims to NGO partners for shelter and other assistance services. The ministry does not, however, provide any funding to the NGO partners that provide shelter and other services. Multiple NGOs reported that they are in danger of closing due to a lack of funding.
In September 2013, the Cabinet of Ministers approved amendments to the anti-trafficking law on the repatriation of foreign victims of trafficking that allowed for the provision (upon the victims’ request) of temporary residence permits to recognized victims for up to one year (Article 2.3). In practice, application has been mixed at best; three foreign victims were granted documents but not permitted to obtain work permits or rent their own housing. According to the legislation on repatriation approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in September 2013, if at the end of the automatic one-year stay of deportation granted to every recognized foreign trafficking victim, the victim decides to actively assist with the criminal investigation/proceedings, that victim may stay in Azerbaijan, without penalty, until the criminal proceedings are complete. In practice, though, victims may feel pressure to leave the country, despite actively cooperating with the investigation. Identified foreign trafficking victims are provided assistance repatriating to their country of origin or, if they would face danger as a result, going to another country.
The Government of Azerbaijan continued progress in its trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. Most of the government-supported awareness campaigns targeted potential trafficking victims. The ATD conducted awareness-raising activities in 44 cities, distributed anti-trafficking posters and video clips, and maintained a hotline. The government’s existing National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking officially expired at the end of 2013 but will remain in effect until the follow-on plan comes into force. The ATD took the lead in drafting the follow-on National Action Plan (2014-2018), in consultation with international organizations, the NGO Coalition, the public, and others. The draft plan stipulates that shelters be established for youth recently released from correctional facilities—because this is a population vulnerable to trafficking—and that government workers attend anti-trafficking training. It also provides for increased protection of witnesses and includes plans to expand shelter and victims’ assistance facilities outside of Baku. The government neither reported any measures taken during the reporting period to reduce the demand for commercial sex and forced labor, nor undertook any measures during the reporting period to specifically address Azerbaijani nationals’ participation in international and domestic child sex tourism.