Azerbaijan Envisions Juvenile Justice System

27/09/2011 - Azerbaijan's government is making plans to introduce juvenile justice standards into its legal system, a recommendation made previously by the UN.

The country of Azerbaijan is planning to introduce juvenile justice provisions into its legal system.

According to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Legal Policy and State Building, Ali Huseynli, the decision is still under discussion. Mr. Huseynli is also a member of Azerbaijan’s Judicial-Legal Council.

While no special legal measures to protect juvenile offenders are in place yet, Mr. Huseynli has noted that "practice shows that we have no problems with children protection."

While the country does intend to turn these plans into reality, the effort is expected to take up significant resources and training. As such, it won't be happening in the very near future.

Azerbaijan's decision was also announced earlier this month by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) as a topic of discussion in the autumn session of the country's parliament. At the time, it was reported that the law was not immediately accepted because it was necessary to amend existing laws that would be affected beforehand. As such, a delay in adopting the bill was anticipated.

An evaluation by UNICEF conducted in 2009 showed that Azerbaijan's juvenile justice system did not conform with international standards. A major concern that surfaced was the inadequate capacity to provide legal aid to child victims, witnesses or offenders free of charge.

In response to the need for special children's programming, UNICEF – in cooperation with the Ombudsman, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe office in Baku and the NGO Alliance for Children's Rights – founded the Children’s Rights Legal Clinic in 2007. The main purpose of this project is to provide free legal aid, counselling, support and representation for vulnerable children.

As of 2009, the clinic had participated in at least 10 juvenile justice cases, which were tried in the favour of the children concerned. The clinic cooperates with families, police officers, child workers, local schools and law students to build capacity and protect children. Police inspectors from the catchment area in three different regions now inform the clinic whenever they've arrested a child.

However, a 2011 working paper by the European Commission on last year's developments stated that "there was no progress at all with regard to the establishment of a system of specialised juvenile justice.”

There are a number of UN documents dealing with juvenile justice, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which is a binding international legal instrument. Other, non-binding, documents include the 1990 UN Guidelines on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency and the 1985 UN Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice. These standards are commonly referred to as the Riyadh Guidelines and the Beijing Rules, respectively.

In its 1997 evaluation by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Azerbaijan's feedback included concern that the administration of juvenile justice not being in alignment with these laws. Particular concerns were expressed about children's rights in "corrective labour institutions," the lack of an oversight system to monitor detention facilities and the lack of alternatives to detention. Then, its 2006 review, the Committee noted that some of these earlier issues had been only partly or insufficiently addressed.

In a positive development, commitments have been made since 2006. In its latest report to the Committee, which was penned this year, Azerbaijan reports itself to be taking steps to bring laws into accordance with the Beijing Rules, Riyadh Guidelines and the CRC. In 2008, it established a Working Group on Juvenile Justice with key ministry and judicial offices participating. The country's Annual Plan of Action aims to create child-friendly environments in courts as well as to prepare recommendations on the development of a juvenile justice system, including knowledge building. Based on the Committee's recommendations, UNICEF Azerbaijan developed a project on “The Juvenile Justice System Reform Program," to be implemented within three years.