Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

Proposed Constitutional Amendments Pose a Risk for Human Rights in Azerbaijan

20 July 2016

by Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre

Azerbaijan to extent the presidential term to 7 years with the referendum

Azerbaijan is expected to increase the President's term from 5 to 7 years in referendum proposed by the president Ilham Aliyev who has been in power since 2003 after replacing his father. Surprising proposal, which comes during the time of summer recess of the parliament, and without any public debate. President submitted list of amendments with changes to 29 articles of the Constitutional Court for their opinion and is expected to hold a referendum this autumn.  

Azerbaijan has undergone the Constitutional referendum in 2009, which was criticized by domestic and international observers, and lifted term limits for the president allowing Aliyev to stay in power indefinitely.

Freedoms and human rights to be further restricted

Proposed amendments will also restrict freedoms and human rights in Azerbaijan, which has the poorest human rights record among the Council of Europe countries. The sentence "abuse of rights is prohibited" is proposed to be added to the Constitution allowing the government to restrict human rights of citizens by calling it abuse.

According to amendments, freedom of assembly can be limited if it violates "public order or public moral" leaving it very open to various interpretations. Access to information will be also restricted with prohibition of obtaining information about private life of third party with the consent of the third party. Many believe this will be used to limit the freedom of expression.

Referendum could also remove the guarantees for property rights in the country with very fragile property rights already. New amendments stipulates social obligations for private property and the state can limit the property rights for "social justice and efficient use of land" purposes.

Azerbaijani citizens could also be deprived of their citizenship, which is unconstitutional at the moment, if the amendments to be adopted. This will be in direct violation of the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.                                                                         

Consolidation of power in executive branch at expense of legislature

Proposed amendments will strengthen the executive branch of power and will further weaken the parliament. President proposes to create the post of the First Vice-President and Vice-Presidents, who will have wide powers. Both posts to be appointed by the president alone, unlike the parliamentary approval requirement for the Prime Minister. Amendments will also allow the President to dissolve the parliament if they do not approve his appointments for more than twice during one year. President will also able to call for presidential elections out of schedule.

All this will increase the powers of the president and the executive branch which dominates the Azerbaijani politics. Lifting of age limits for the President and the Cabinet, along with the members of the parliament led civil society and opposition to speculate that 19 year old son of the current president may join the politics and to replace his father in the future in a similar scenario of 2003.

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