A commission under the Council of Europe [official website] on Wednesday released a preliminary report [text, PDF] finding that proposed changes to the Azerbaijan Constitution are not justified and would hinder the balance of government power [AP report]. The Venice Commission [official website], a constitutional watchdog branch of the Council of Europe, wrote the report and focused their warning on proposed changes to the powers of the president [press release]. Proposed changes include increasing presidential terms from five to seven years, allowing the president to appoint a vice president and permitting the president to set dates for early elections. According to the Venice Commission, these modifications are “unprecedented in comparative perspective and have no justification in the context of Azerbaijan.” The proposals also include many human rights provisions of the Constitution. While some raise concerns due to limiting certain freedoms, the Venice Commission acknowledges that some of the human rights proposals are “generally positive.” A referendum on the modifications will be held Monday.
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan has drawn heavy criticism from the UN and various rights groups the past few years. In April Azerbaijan announced [JURIST report] a “unilateral ceasefire” to the fighting with Armenian forces over the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh. In March Azeri human rights lawyer and advocate Intigam Aliyev [JURIST news archive] was freed from jail [JURIST report] after the US State Department condemned [JURIST report] the imprisonment and called for his release almost a year before. In April 2015 Human Rights Watch reported the conviction [JURIST report] of leading human rights activist Rasul Jafarov and called for his immediate release.