Secretary of State Antony Blinken is concerned about the disbarment of Azerbaijani human rights defender Shahla Humbatova, a 2020 International Women of Courage, or IWOC, honoree. Ms. Humbatova is a prominent lawyer who has defended politically sensitive cases, including those of human rights activists, journalists, and members of the LGBTQI+ community who have run afoul of the Azerbaijani government.
The Collegium of Advocates, as the Azerbaijani bar association is called, disbarred Ms. Humbatova on March 5, 2021 purportedly for failing to pay membership dues. But as the State Department’s latest report on human rights conditions in Azerbaijan noted, when the Collegium initiated disbarment proceedings against Ms. Humbatova in 2019, the reasons ”were widely considered to be political.”
In addition, the State Department reported that – according to representatives of the legal community and NGOs - a 2018 law, which made membership in the bar association necessary for lawyers, further “empowered the government-dominated bar association to prevent human rights lawyers from representing individuals in politically motivated cases by limiting the number who are bar members in good standing.”
Shahla Humbatova was disbarred on the eve of International Woman’s Day, one year after she received the Secretary of State’s International Womeon of Courage Award. The IWOC award is presented annually to women from around the world who have demonstrated courage, strength, and leadership in the fight for peace, justice, human rights, and gender equality.
In a written statement, Secretary of State Blinken said, [“Ms. Humbatova’s] work, and the work of other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, should be celebrated, not punished, and we call on those responsible to expedite her reinstatement to the Azerbaijani bar.”
He declared, “The United States is committed to a world in which human rights are respected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable. We encourage all steps toward systemic reforms in Azerbaijan, especially those regarding the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms – areas that will benefit the Azerbaijani people and create opportunities to deepen our cooperation."