Human rights defenders from Azerbaijan find respite in the Netherlands

On Tuesday, human rights defenders Arif and Leyla Yunus arrived in the Netherlands after a testing time in Azerbaijan. Welcoming them, foreign minister Bert Koenders said, ‘Now they and their daughter can enjoy a period of respite in the Netherlands after their struggle for human rights.’

Mr Koenders believes the couple deserve the international community’s unconditional support. ‘Leyla and Arif have put their own happiness and safety on the line in their struggle for democracy and human rights. They have fought tirelessly to improve the situation in Azerbaijan. That is truly admirable. In Azerbaijan they would be living a life of extreme uncertainty. So it’s good that they can find respite here after working for years to promote human rights in their country.’

According to the minister, sheltering human rights defenders in need is fully in keeping with Dutch human rights policy. ‘Besides supporting people in their own countries, we use the Shelter City project to offer human rights defenders a safe haven in the Netherlands for a three-month period. And in exceptional cases this period can be extended.’

Like the EU and other countries, the Netherlands pressed hard for the Yunuses release after their arrest in the summer of 2014. Mr Koenders raised the issue with his Azerbaijani counterpart, other members of the Dutch government addressed it during visits and the Netherlands drew attention to the case at EU and UN level.

‘The decision to allow the Yunuses to leave Azerbaijan shows what international pressure can achieve. Together, human rights organisations and the international community can bring about real change,’ the minister said. ‘In cases like these, silent diplomacy definitely gets results.’

Mr Koenders sees the Azerbaijani decision as a positive humanitarian gesture. He hopes that it will signal a systematic change in the country’s human rights situation. ‘We will keep encouraging Azerbaijan to improve,’ he said.