News 24 november — 14:35

Minister of Justice Fikret Mammadov: Speaking of problems... (Eynulla Fatullayev's cycle of conversations, Part Two)

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I walk through the corridors of the old architectural building that houses the Ministry of Justice. Bright apartments with monumental columns, order, discipline, silence all around, the spirit of first-class bureaucracy emanates from the walls...

Fikret Mammadov clearly personifies the image of an Aliyev official. Severity, clearly and correctly constructed speech, which does not allow an unnecessary, non-protocol word. But at the same time, the minister leaves the impression of a person who is progressive and open to modern challenges.

Even during the oligarchic period F. Mammadov was one of the few in the Aliyev government who remained outside the field of critical voices. No scandals and excitement. The Minister of Justice can be called a model of state decency.

And my questions, built from a critical point of view, come into conflict with the harsh walls of state bureaucracy (in the good sense of the word).

We present to your attention the second part of the conversation with the Minister of Justice of Azerbaijan, Fikret Mammadov in the series 'Eynulla Fatullayev's cycle of conversations.'

The first part of the conversation can be found at this link

Fikret Mammadov

- What area of ​​execution of court decisions is, in your opinion, the most problematic, and why in this area the majority of unresolved problems have accumulated?

- Speaking about the problems, I would like to dwell especially on the cases of the recovery of alimony. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a significant increase in cases of this category, the number of which has reached 100 thousand per year. Taking into account the social significance of the issue, since we are talking about the most vulnerable part of society -- children and women-mothers -- we keep these cases under special control and initiated legislative measures that made it possible to apply more effective mechanisms for their resolution. Over the past year and a half, we have ensured the payment of alimony in the amount of over 130 million manats, but we continue to do everything in our power to ensure the rights of every child. However, sometimes we face objective difficulties, such as the lack of information about the debtor's whereabouts, his stay outside the country or serving a sentence, the inability to work due to disability, etc.

But the outrageous immorality is the deliberate evasion of one's parental duty. In these cases, the full force of the law is applied, and over the past less than two years, about 400 criminal cases were initiated against such careless parents, and during the investigation it was possible to ensure the payment of alimony in the amount of more than 600,000 manats. But I think that in this matter one cannot be limited to coercive measures.

This problem does not lose its relevance throughout the world, even in the most developed Western countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that, along with increasing responsibility for this, measures are being taken to publicly censure such debtors. For example, in the United States, information about people who refuse to pay alimony is published on the Internet, their photographs are printed on parcels, matchboxes, etc., in Latvia there is a kind of 'Shame Board': the data of every malicious defaulter is published on the Internet, in Ukraine a public register of such persons is functioning, etc.

Given the wide audience of readers of the site, I believe that in Azerbaijan, where traditionally family values ​​were of particular importance, people, without expecting any directives, can respond and, showing social activity, shame such careless fathers, as well as call for sympathy from other relatives, before whose eyes, complete indifference to the fate and well-being of defenceless children who are not to blame for the discord in the family is manifested. After all, as the classic of world literature said: 'The happiness of the whole world is not worth one tear on the cheek of an innocent child.'

- Our editorial office often receives complaints about the lack of transparency in the conduct of trading and loans-for-shares auctions, which allows their organisers, represented by private commercial companies, to bypass the law...

- This is really a problem that we and the participants in the enforcement process are faced with from time to time. There have been cases when, due to various violations, the results of auctions were cancelled in court.

I believe that a cardinal turning point will come with the introduction of electronic auctions. We have already prepared a draft of legislative acts on their implementation in practice, which is currently under consideration.

The use of electronic auctions will significantly improve legislative regulation, significantly speed up the auction process itself, solve many organisational issues online, such as, for example, registration, announcements, payment verification, drawing up protocols, etc. and in the future, digitise the entire process, which will save costs and expenses for holding auctions.

The most important thing here is to ensure full transparency, create equal and accessible opportunities for all participants, limit the influence of the human factor and exclude loopholes for subjective interference. This is the only way to achieve efficiency, quality and effectiveness of a transparent auction process.

- Readers often criticise the legal system for excessive bureaucracy, which takes a lot of time and nerves from those who asks for help...

- When it comes to negligence, I would like to mention some of our employees. Unfortunately, among them there are those who do not always fulfil their duties in good faith, allow for red tape and inactivity, and sometimes enter into non-procedural relations with the parties. We make such workers strictly accountable. So, over the past 2-3 years, more than 60 employees have been brought to strict disciplinary liability, including 18 dismissed from office or dismissed from the authorities, materials for 5 persons were transferred to the investigation. Therefore, we pay great attention to both strengthening the responsibility of employees and increasing their professionalism, instilling in them a sense of an extremely attentive attitude to the concerns of citizens.

Of course, there are other shortcomings and problems in the implementation work, including those voiced in your question, but they are removable, and we solve them in a working order, and therefore I do not want to distract the attention of readers.

- What is your assessment of the situation in the penitentiary system of Azerbaijan? What caused the delay in the construction of new penal institutions? This question interests me especially, since I spent four years of my life, through no fault of my own, at these institutions...

Eynulla Fatullayev

- First of all, I would like to note that the issue of modernising and increasing the efficiency of the penitentiary system is relevant practically all over the world, and authoritative specialised international organisations call for the widespread adoption of additional measures to improve prison systems.

Here it would be appropriate to recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill: 'The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.'

To achieve this goal, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the problem, the use of new approaches, taking into account the challenges of our time and political will.

The foundation of penitentiary reforms was laid immediately after the restoration of independence, when this service was transferred from the subordination of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Justice.

During this period, the rights and freedoms of convicts were significantly expanded by law, a special law was adopted on the rights of persons under investigation, who, one might say, were previously deprived of many rights.

In the implementation of penitentiary reforms, great attention is paid to transparency. For over 20 years we have been working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), whose representatives have the right of unhindered access to penitentiary institutions and to meet in private with prisoners. We work productively with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

Along with this, we became the initiators of our own model of public monitoring of penitentiary institutions, for which a special Public Committee was created and has been successfully functioning for 15 years, which includes well-known human rights defenders and representatives of civil society in the country. Our approach is already recognised by many foreign colleagues as a model of 'good' practices.

These regular monitorings help us to uncover deficiencies, promptly respond to them, take measures both to eliminate them and to improve work.

At the same time, one of the important directions of reforms is the creation of modern penitentiary institutions, which began at the beginning of the 2000s. Their peculiarity lies in the application of new approaches to the conditions of serving sentences in the form of imprisonment. In contrast to the legacy of the Soviet system of execution of sentences, when prisoners in large groups were kept in uncomfortable dormitories, in new institutions, for the first time in the republic, the cell-type method was used.

All cells have the necessary conditions for normal living (bathroom, hot water, TV, etc.). Taking into account the daily routine, convicts spend most of the day in the open air, conditions have been created for both work and leisure, including study, sports, watching television, a library, computer training centres, modern medical units, etc.

By the way, I would like to note the high level of medical care provided, especially in the fight against tuberculosis, the risk of spreading which, according to WHO, in the penitentiary system is 100 times higher than in the civil sector. We have been able to achieve these results through our collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Global Fund. Thus, the death rate in prisons from tuberculosis has decreased 200 times over 25 years, and the percentage of recovery is noticeably higher than the WHO standards. Our positive experience has become very much in demand, and in order to disseminate it, a Training Centre has been established in Baku, which has been assigned an international status by WHO. More than one hundred experts from dozens of European countries and other continents, having studied and enriched with our positive experience, began to apply these models.

I would like to inform you that new penitentiary institutions are already functioning in Nakhchivan and Sheki. Preference was given to the construction of these complexes in the regions, which contributes to better reintegration of convicts into society, since they serve their sentences closer to their families, which makes it easier for them to meet and contact.

In addition, in the village of Zabrat in 2009, the Baku Detention Centre was built and commissioned, which is the largest penitentiary institution in the republic, a feature of which is the presence of a separate walking area in each cell.

It should be noted that the design and construction of new penitentiary institutions is carried out taking into account the best international practice, as well as the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and other international organisations. Even the colours of the cells are selected according to the conclusions of psychologists and are painted mainly in light colours.

Along with this, the construction of penitentiary complexes in Lankaran and Ganja, as well as a new prison in the settlement of Umbaki, is ongoing.

It should be noted that the construction of all the listed facilities is being implemented in a planned manner, taking into account the allocated state funds. Of course, the financial crisis left its mark on the construction schedule, but we can firmly say that not a single construction started has been suspended, and work is continuing there.

I would especially like to share with the readers information about two specialised penitentiary institutions under construction -- for convicted women and minors. Construction work in these institutions is at the final stage, and we plan to relocate all convicts of these categories to new institutions at the beginning of next year.

Here I would like to especially emphasise that this became possible thanks to the Order of the President of the country dated February 26, 2021, by which the necessary financial resources were allocated to complete the construction of these institutions. And this is despite the fact that the country is currently actively fighting the pandemic, went through the war, and is rapidly restoring the lands liberated from the Armenian occupation that had been completely destroyed, which, as you understand, requires colossal financial costs.

This speaks of the importance and attention given by the country's leadership to this issue.

I would like to especially note that despite the completion of the construction of the above institutions, we, without waiting for the upcoming imminent 'relocation,' continue to take measures to improve the conditions of detention of convicted women and minors as much as possible, expand their leisure opportunities, provide them with legal and psychological assistance, etc.

We thought that these measures would somehow help raise their morale and facilitate further reintegration into society, but the result exceeded all expectations. The convicted women collectively, two hundred or even three hundred signatures at once, began to turn to the Ministry of Justice with gratitude for taking care of them and, besides, which was unexpected for us, warmly and with sincere wishes congratulated us on yesterday's professional holiday.

The creation of new modern penitentiary institutions, along with ensuring the rights of convicts, also serves to reduce the workload of the prison system itself.

Another way of solving this problem is the use of alternative measures of punishment to imprisonment.

It was for this purpose that a new probation service was created, so-called 'electronic bracelets' began to be used. At the same time, effective execution of both the newly introduced punishment in the form of 'restriction of freedom' and other alternative punishments is ensured. Today, already 4,000 inmates wearing bracelets are under the supervision of an electronic monitoring service that operates around the clock.

At the same time, the institution of parole is effectively used. A special commission on parole has been created, in which representatives of civil society take an active part. Over the past 3 years, more than 5,600 people have been released early, and 1,660 have been transferred to open penitentiary institutions.

At the same time, over the past few years, as part of the global reform to humanise criminal policy, hundreds of changes have been made to criminal legislation, as a result of which a number of crimes have been decriminalised, sanctions have been reduced and new types of punishments, alternative to imprisonment, have been introduced. This reform affected a significant part of the convicts, including almost 2,200 who were completely released from punishment, and 3,500 people's term was reduced.

At the same time, in the country, following the ideas of humanism, the institutions of pardon and amnesty are also actively used. In the last 4 years alone, 1,866 convicts have been pardoned by the President of the country. By the way, at the very beginning of the pandemic, the overwhelming majority of people over 65 who were at risk by age were pardoned.

Also, as you know, in connection with the Victory Day, on the initiative of the head of state, the Milli Majlis adopted the Amnesty Act, which, according to forecasts, will be the widest and will apply to about 17,000 people, and to date, the amnesty has already been applied to 1,500 people serving various types of punishments.

These measures will also help to reduce the prison population -- a term that is used in Europe.

All this does not mean that we do not have problems and shortcomings, they are known to us, they bother us, and consistent measures are being taken to eliminate them.

To be continued...

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