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Homeowners evicted and their houses demolished in Azerbaijan - report

Human Rights Watch says that homeowners have been forcibly evicted and their houses demolished in the area where the arena for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest is being built.

A demolished house in the area behind Heidar Aliyev Hall in central Baku.
A demolished house in the area behind Heidar Aliyev Hall in central Baku.
Image: 2011 IRFS via Human Rights Watch

FAMILIES ARE BEING forcibly removed from their homes in Azerbaijan, which are then demolished, Human Rights Watch has claimed.

It said in a new report, ‘They Took Everything from Me’: Forced Evictions, Unlawful Expropriations, and House Demolitions in Azerbaijan’s Capital’, that the government of Azerbaijan has forcibly evicted homeowners and demolished their homes for urban development projects in Baku, the capital.

The report said that dozens of families have been evicted from the area where the arena for the May 2012 Eurovision Song Contest is being built.

HRW said that authorities are illegally expropriating properties and forcibly evicting dozens of families in four Baku neighbourhoods - at times without warning or in the middle of the night.

It said that the authorities subsequently demolished homes – sometimes with residents’ possessions inside.

The homeowners have been refused compensation from the government, said HRW.

The evictions have been carried out for a variety of projects, including construction of parks, roads, luxury housing, a parking garage, and a shopping center.

Jane Buchanan, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, said:

Eurovision gives the government an opportunity to showcase Baku to thousands of visitors and millions of television viewers. But instead, Azerbaijan’s government is showcasing its disregard for human rights by forcing people from their homes steps away from the contest site. With heightened visibility there will be more scrutiny, so it’s in the government’s interest to change its course.

HRW said that in at least three cases police detained residents in police stations while workers demolished the buildings.

In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the authorities have demolished homes in violation of court injunctions or while court cases challenging the intended demolitions were pending.

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In many cases, including in the National Flag Square area, the government has cut services or begun dismantling apartment buildings in which some residents remained.

When the authorities cut electricity and water in one building in the National Flag Square area in January 2012, residents resorted to melting snow for water.

Buchanan said that what the authorities are doing in Baku “violates national and international law: they are evicting homeowners on a dramatic scale, in some cases for completely non-essential purposes.”

In the course of its research, Human Rights Watch contacted the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which oversees the Eurovision Song Contest. It said the EBU cited the “apolitical” nature of the contest and the government’s argument that the construction is not tied to the event.

Human Rights Watch said that EBU affiliate members should urge the EBU, including the Eurovision Reference Group, to press authorities to resolve, fairly and transparently, all complaints related to the expropriation and evictions in Baku.

It also called on Azerbaijan’s international partners to urge the government to stop its campaign and ensure that any future actions respect national and international law.

Read: Azerbaijan accused of splashing $9 million to buy boxing gold at 2012 Olympics>

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