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Unconstitutional future of Azerbaijan

The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has proposed a number of amendments to the country’s constitution. The proposed changes are inspired by the situation and events in Turkey. The people of Azerbaijan are to vote on the future of their supreme law in the national referendum scheduled for 26 September 2016. However, there are concerns that the referendum may be rigged in the fashion resembling fraudulent parliamentary and presidential elections in Azerbaijan.

The proposed constitutional amendments may raise objections due to international human rights standards. For these reasons, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has asked Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, to submit the draft legislative reform to the Venice Commission, which is to review its compliance with standards of international law.

The HFHR is particularly concerned with the new article 2, which provides that any abuses of rights are forbidden. “There is a rule, enshrined in all national constitutions and instruments of international law, that human rights are to be generally respected. Exceptions to this rule are admissible only in legally defined and proportional circumstances”, explains Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, a member of the HFHR’s legal team. An “abuse of rights” is a broad and ambiguous term, which may be used to justify excessive restrictions on fundamental freedoms, which are already barely respected in Azerbaijan. In a similar way, general and imprecise restrictions are imposed on the right of ownership, which is especially troubling given the mass expropriations in Baku.

“The real danger lies with additional powers of the president, who now will be able to organise additional presidential elections. This may be used as a propaganda tool whose purpose is to provide legitimisation for the controversial steps of the president and show the world that the nation needs Aliyev. Considering the present situation, no fair elections can be expected”, the lawyer adds.

The HFHR also noted that the president would obtain additional powers concerning the vice-president’s appointment, with the latter authorised to perform duties of the head of state on an interim basis. This may lead to the situation in which a successor to Mr Aliyev is appointed by the incumbent president, and – in the term – to reinforcing the oppressive regime in Azerbaijan.

The Foundation’s letter to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe is available here.

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