Our work in Azerbaijan began in 2010, and has mainly focussed on litigation in connection with repressions on civil society, attacks on journalists, and abuses relating to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The repercussions of the 2014 crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan have been felt severely by our colleagues and peers. We have prioritised mentoring domestic lawyers litigating cases on behalf of human rights defenders (HRDs) arrested and convicted on politically-motivated charges. Meanwhile, to safeguard the ability of human rights lawyers to effectively litigate at the domestic and international level, we are representing some of the lawyers intensively engaged in this work in their own European Court cases challenging their disbarment and harassment by the authorities.
The relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains tense, especially close to the border. Therefore EHRAC continues to follow the situation in both countries in order to safeguard citizens’ rights on both sides of the border.
Examples of cases against Azerbaijan
Challenging the detention of human rights defenders
The repercussions of the 2014 crackdown on civil society have been felt severely by our colleagues and peers in Azerbaijan. In the last year, we have concentrated on supporting lawyers in litigating cases on behalf of HRDs, including Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, and Leyla and Arif Yunus. These HRDs were convicted on spurious charges, such as tax evasion and conducting illegal entrepreneurship, and given lengthy prison sentences. We and our partners aim to challenge the legality of the arrests, detention and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, which we allege were politically motivated, and seek to hold the Azerbaijani Government to account. The European Court has delivered judgments in Rasul Jafarov’s and Leyla and Arif Yunus’ cases, finding unprecedented violations of their human rights.
Supporting human rights lawyers
The shrinking space for civil society has meant that there are very few lawyers who are willing and able to litigate the cases of HRDs at the European Court, for fear of repercussions. There remain only a handful of criminal lawyers who dare to represent political prisoners at the domestic level, and those who do are targeted for their involvement in such cases. To safeguard the ability of human rights lawyers to effectively litigate at the domestic and international level, we are representing some of the lawyers intensively engaged in this work in their own European Court cases. We also arrange meetings between these lawyers and diplomats in the UK and Strasbourg to raise awareness of the obstacles they encounter in their work.
Inadvertent border crossings from Armenia
The relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia remains fraught, especially close to the border, which is unmarked in many places. In 2014, Mamikon Khojoyan inadvertently crossed the border into Azerbaijan when collecting grapes. He was allegedly held by the authorities and tortured for over a month; he died two months after he was returned home frightened, injured and with traces of mind-altering drugs in his bloodstream. With Foundation Against the Violation of Law, EHRAC represents Mr Khojoyan’s three children in litigating the case before the European Court, arguing that their father’s detention and ill-treatment led to his death. Inadvertent border crossings between Azerbaijan and Armenia are not uncommon and the European Court’s swift communication of the case, in November 2015, is testament to the gravity of the situation.
Prior to the 2014 crackdown on civil society, EHRAC had been jointly litigating cases with the Legal Education Society and the Democracy and Human Rights Public Union. We now support individual lawyers in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan at the European Court
- Azerbaijan ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 2002.
- Of the 19 judgments handed down against Azerbaijan in 2015, the most commonly found violations were: the right to liberty and security, right to free elections, and lack of effective investigation.
- As of the 1 July 2016, there are 1621 applications pending against Azerbaijan.