AZERBAIJAN: Tier 2
Azerbaijan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Azerbaijani men and boys have been subjected to forced labor in Turkey, Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Azerbaijan. Women and children from Azerbaijan have been subjected to sex trafficking within the country and in Turkey, Russia, and the UAE. Azerbaijan is a destination country for sex and labor trafficking victims from China, Russia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Some migrant workers from Turkey and other countries in Europe and South and Central Asia are subjected to forced labor in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was used as a transit country for victims of sex and labor trafficking from Central Asia to the UAE, Turkey, and Iran in previous years. Within the country, some children, particularly those of Romani descent, are subjected to forced begging and forced labor as roadside vendors and at tea houses and wedding facilities. Filipina victims subjected to domestic servitude in Azerbaijan is an emerging problem. In 2014, one police officer was implicated in a trafficking case.
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 increased the number of trafficking investigations and convictions, enacted a new national action plan, and introduced new legislation to provide reintegration assistance to vulnerable populations, especially children released from correctional facilities, orphanages, and state-run boarding schools. During the reporting period the government identified three foreign labor trafficking victims, but did not identify any Azerbaijanis subjected to trafficking within the country. The government failed to provide adequate and consistent financial support to NGO partners that provide rehabilitation and reintegration services to victims. Pervasive corruption limited the effectiveness of anti-trafficking regulations and mechanisms.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AZERBAIJAN:
Vigorously investigate and prosecute government officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking, and sentence convicted offenders with dissuasive penalties; strengthen efforts to identify foreign and domestic victims of labor trafficking by law enforcement within the country by creating standard operating procedures; increase law enforcement efforts against traffickers, including individuals or companies that subject migrant workers to forced labor, and increase the number of convicted offenders sentenced to time in prison; improve communication among government agencies, including about victim referrals and potential cases; formalize the role of NGOs and other stakeholders in the National Referral Mechanism; increase funding to victim service providers and expand the network of providers outside Baku; provide safe accommodation for victims who choose not to cooperate with law enforcement; provide sensitivity training to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and the judiciary, including on how to work with trafficking victims who have experienced psychological trauma; strengthen the capacity of the State Migration Service to identify and refer foreign trafficking victims; and target public awareness campaigns to foreign migrant workers, describing indicators of human trafficking and avenues to seek help.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. 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, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government reported investigating 23 sex or labor trafficking cases in 2014, a slight increase from four labor trafficking investigations and 17 sex trafficking investigations in 2013. The total number of prosecutions was unavailable. The government convicted 26 traffickers in 2014, compared with five in 2013; three cases were still pending at the end of the reporting period. Twenty-one traffickers were sentenced to prison: seven received a three to six-year sentence, and 14 received eight- to nine-year sentences. The government acknowledged difficulties in investigating and prosecuting child labor violations due to conflicting bureaucratic mandates and the lack of mechanisms for effective interagency cooperation.
Widespread corruption in Azerbaijan hindered anti-trafficking efforts. Civil society groups continued to report 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. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) identified one criminal case in which a former police officer abused his authority by confiscating the identity documents of a foreign national, limiting his freedom, and subjecting him to forced labor. The officer was dismissed from his law enforcement position, and a criminal case was initiated. Local police were accused in a previous reporting period of accepting bribes from brothels, some of which had sex trafficking victims, to overlook illegal activities. In 2013, the government investigated one case of forced labor of a Filipina domestic worker in the home of a politically connected businesswoman, who was found guilty in May 2014 under the trafficking and forced labor statute and sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison. However, the court replaced the jail term with a suspended sentence of one year. Civil society contacts claimed the trafficking victim was deported from Azerbaijan in January 2015.
The government made some progress to protect and assist victims, although funding for NGOs was insufficient. The MIA Anti-Trafficking Department (ATD) fully renovated the MIA-run shelter in Baku to improve conditions in the shelter, which could accommodate 50 people; however, the shelter was heavily guarded and kept victims within the shelter at all times. Experts reported the shelters lacked specialized care for victims. In 2014, the government certified 50 women and one girl as sex trafficking victims and three men as labor trafficking victims, compared with 40 sex trafficking victims and 16 labor trafficking victims in 2013. Of the 54 victims certified, 35 women and three men were referred to the MIA-run shelter, where they received legal, medical, and psychological support. The government provided 53 victims with a one-time allowance of 400 manat ($380), 24 victims with jobs, and 35 victims with vocational training. Of the 54 victims, 36 were directed to NGOs, and 51 were directed to the state-run Victim Assistance Center (VAC) for additional social services. Two NGOs provided shelter and care for 48 potential and recognized victims without government funding. According to authorities, provision of these services was not contingent upon a victim’s agreement to participate in a law enforcement investigation. The ATD reported allocating 314,330 manat ($298,500) to victim assistance in 2014; however, the government did not provide any funding for victim assistance to the NGO partners that provided shelter and other services for victims. These institutions continue to be significantly underfunded, considering the frequency with which they are asked to provide vital housing, medical, employment, and legal assistance to victims.
The government identified three foreign national victims of trafficking. All three foreign victims received services from the ATD. Although the ATD has a list of indicators for identifying victims, it is unclear how the list is distributed or when it is referenced in the course of an inspection. Experts reported identification procedures were insufficient and expressed concern the government only acknowledged cases involving violent coercion and confiscation of passports to be forced labor. Experts widely reported flaws in the referral process, including the government’s failure to officially acknowledge or provide services for victims identified by NGOs. Standard procedures instruct authorities to refer foreign victims to the State Migration Service, as opposed to domestic victims who are referred to the MIA; experts expressed concern the State Migration Service did not consistently identify foreign victims.
The government continued progress in prevention efforts. The ATD took the lead in drafting the National Action Plan (2014-2018), which was enacted in July 2014, in consultation with international organizations, NGOs, the public, and others. The plan stipulated that shelters be established for youth recently released from correctional facilities—a population vulnerable to trafficking—and that representatives of specified ministries and other government bodies attend anti-trafficking training. It also provided for increased protection of witnesses and included plans to expand shelter and victims’ assistance facilities outside of Baku. Multiple civil society representatives praised the explicit implementation timeline and aligned their own work plans to the new national action plan, but some criticized a lack of evaluation metrics in the plan. The plan did not propose an independent evaluation of anti-trafficking efforts, despite GRETA’s suggestions.
Most government-supported awareness campaigns targeted Azerbaijani citizens as potential trafficking victims, with an emphasis on international travel and migration. This focus may have perpetuated the government’s tendency to inadequately address internal trafficking and Azerbaijan as a destination or potential transit country. The ATD conducted 65 awareness-raising activities in 60 cities and districts, distributed anti-trafficking posters and video clips, and maintained a hotline. The government did not report any new measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The new national action plan requires training diplomats to protect the rights and interests of Azerbaijani citizens who are discovered as victims abroad, but the training did not address the prevention of diplomats themselves from engaging in trafficking. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.