A group of Azerbaijani human rights organizations has launched a ten month public advocacy campaign during the run up to the Eurovision 2012 song contest, which will be held on May 22 in Baku. The campaign will cover not only Azerbaijan but also other Council of Europe member states.
Domestic and international NGOs working in the field of human rights and democratization are invited to join the campaign.
As the winners of the Eurovision 2011 song contest (May 14 2011, Dusseldorf, Germany), Azerbaijan will host Eurovision 2012. This international event provides a valuable platform for raising awareness of the challenges Azerbaijan is currently facing in the sphere of human rights and in European integration, and offers new opportunities for their resolution. As well as being a cultural event, this victory also has public and political importance for Azerbaijani society. Azerbaijan should serve not only as the physical host of the song contest but also as a genuine participating member of the European family, which entails the respect of democratic values.
“Sing for democracy” uses Eurovision as platform to advocate for the protection of human rights and democratic values in Azerbaijan, followed by targeted lobbying for the implementation of specific democratic reforms.
Why is the campaign necessary?
Despite Azerbaijan’s accession to the Council of Europe, the past ten years have not seen the deep-rooted public-political reforms and guarantees of human rights and democratic values that are necessary for integration with the European community. Although Azerbaijan is a member of both the OSCE and the Council of Europe, all recent elections have been marred by legal violations. Journalists, political parties and civic groups are prevented from functioning freely. Freedom of expression, freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and property rights are under threat. The existence of political prisoners, the fact that people who exercise their freedom of peaceful assembly find themselves arrested under various fabricated charges, and the serious restrictions on freedom of expression and political pluralism raise questions about Azerbaijan’s place in the European community.
The primary aim of this campaign is to encourage political authorities, including the president and national parliament, to make demonstrated efforts towards providing political-economic freedoms and eliminating political persecution.
The specific campaign objectives are to:
- Use the Eurovision song contest and the international attention it will bring as a platform to campaign for democratic reforms;
- Raise awareness among the local and international community of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, and the need to ensure democratic reforms
1. Political prisoners: People who are considered by domestic and international human rights organizations to be political prisoners (eg. youth activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and other prisoners of concience), as well as those whose right to a fair trial has been violated, should either be released from prison, or the relevant court decisions should be revisited.
2. Broadcasting transparency: Contrary to its status, Azerbaijan’s Public TV (Ictimai) - a member of the European Broadcasting Council and organizer of Eurovision 2012 in Azerbaijan - is failing to create the necessary conditions for political pluralism. The channel does not provide full coverage of local news; nor does it broadcast objective/independent information on government activity. Political discrimination in this area must be eliminated; political parties; and civil associations with alternative opinions should be provided with airtime, and the activity of Public TV must be improved.
3. Media and political freedoms: Restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which are the main guarantees for political participation, must be lifted in Azerbaijan. Persecution and detention of the people who exercise these rights must cease.
4. Property rights: According to the research by human rights organizations, during 2009-2010, twenty thousand people were illegally evicted by the executive authorities in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku. Private homes have been demolished as part of a ‘beautification’ process in anticipation of Eurovision. Threats to private property must be reduced and property rights must be better protected.
5. Judicial: Pressures on independent lawyers and human rights defenders should be stopped. Cases of abuse and/or torture in prisons must be investigated and those responsible brought to justice. The capacities of the Ombudsman Apparatus must be properly exercised.
6. Visa liberalization: Visa regulations for the citizens of the member-states of the Council of Europe traveling to Azerbaijan should be simplified and impediments on issuing visas should be removed.