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Azerbaijan Should Halt Illegal House Demolitions, Forced Evictions: Human Rights Watch

The Azerbaijani authorities should immediately halt illegal expropriations, forcible evictions, and home demolitions in the capital, Baku, in the name of “beautification,” Human Rights Watch said yesterday. The government should compensate people already forced out of their homes, Human Rights Watch said.

In a letter sent to President Ilham Aliyev and the Baku City Executive Authority, the mayor’s office, on Jun. 10, Human Rights Watch called on the president to intervene to suspend the Baku mayor’s effort to expropriate and demolish hundreds of private homes and businesses in the city center. The two-year demolition campaign has cost hundreds — and possibly thousands — of homeowners and residents their homes and resulted in widespread violations of private property rights, Human Rights Watch said.

“With its so-called ‘beautification’ project, the Azerbaijani government isn’t just destroying homes in Baku, it’s destroying people’s lives,” said Jane Buchanan, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Azerbaijani authorities need to put an immediate halt to forced expropriations, evictions, and demolitions in Baku.”

The Baku mayor’s office began the expropriation campaign in 2009 to build a “garden-park complex” among other construction projects, as part of a “reconstruction” program.

An incident occurred on Jun. 13 after the owners and tenants of a building slated for demolition painted a message on the exterior walls: “This is private property and the destruction of this house violates the Constitution, and the European Convention on Human Rights.” The police demanded that they stop writing on the walls and dispersed only after several representatives of diplomatic missions came to the aid of the tenants.

The building, at 38-1 and 2 Shamsi Badalbeili Street, is owned by Leyla Yunus, a leading human rights defender in Azerbaijan, and her husband, Arif. Among the groups with offices there are Yunus’ Institute for Peace and Democracy, the Azerbaijani Campaign to Ban Landmines, a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines coalition, and the only women’s crisis center in Baku.

In numerous cases in various sections of the city center, residents said that the authorities have begun to tear down apartment buildings while property owners who refused to agree to the government’s compensation or resettlement offers remained in their apartments. In some of these cases, court cases challenging the demolitions and expropriations were pending.

“The authorities are showing an astonishing disregard for the safety and well-being of home owners and their families or for basic human dignity by destroying buildings where people are living and destroying or ruining their personal property,” Buchanan said. “The authorities’ recklessness appears to be an extreme attempt at coercing people to relent to meager compensation offers and move out.”

The Baku authorities designated a private individual, Rufan Kiazimov, as the sole person authorized to purchase many of the properties, forcing homeowners to conclude a real estate transaction with him. The government has transferred funds to Kiazimov from the national oil company, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), to finance these transactions.

Photo: A recently demolished home on Shamsi Badalbeili Street in central Baku, where additional private properties are slated for demolition as part of an official “beautification” project. © 2011 Human Rights Watch