European Court: Azerbaijan and Hungary answerable over case of pardoning and early release of convicted murderer

Published: 27 Jan 2016

The Governments of Azerbaijan and Hungary have been asked by the European Court of Human Rights to respond formally to a case brought by the relatives of Armenian army officer Gurgen Margaryan, who was murdered by Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov in Budapest in 2004. Mr Margaryan’s relatives are represented by European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (based in Middlesex University), Legal Guide (Armenian NGO) and Nazeli Vardanyan.

Both men were attending a NATO-sponsored English-language course in Budapest. On 19 February 2004 Safarov murdered Mr Margaryan by decapitating him with an axe. In April 2006 Safarov was found guilty of murder by the Budapest City Court, and was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the possibility of conditional release after 30 years. The court found that Safarov had intended to kill two Armenian participants at the course on the anniversary of the beginning of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. After the Court of Appeal upheld this judgment in February 2007, Safarov began serving his sentence in a Hungarian prison.

In August 2012 the Hungarian Minister of Justice approved Safarov’s transfer to Azerbaijan with a view to his serving his sentence there (under the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners 1983). However, a few hours after Safarov was transferred on 31 August 2012, he was granted a pardon by the Azerbaijani President and set free. He was also promoted to major, awarded eight years’ salary arrears and offered a flat.

In a report published in December 2012, the Hungarian Ombudsman criticised the Hungarian Government for approving the transfer before any assurances about the treatment of Safarov had been received from the Azerbaijani authorities.

The victim’s family argue that Gurgen Margaryan’s right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights) has been violated by Azerbaijan – both because of his murder, and also because Ramil Safarov’s pardon has prevented the full enforcement of his sentence. They also argue that Mr Margaryan was the victim of an ethnically-motivated hate crime, which was later endorsed by Safarov’s pardon and release (in breach of Article 14 together with Article 2 of the Convention). In addition, they argue that Hungary has breached Article 2 of the Convention because it allowed Safarov to be transferred to Azerbaijan, without having obtained assurances that he would be required to complete his prison sentence in Azerbaijan.

The case is also brought by Hayk Makuchyan, an Armenian military officer whom Ramil Safarov was convicted of intending to murder during the same incident in Budapest.

Both governments are required to lodge their responses with the Strasbourg Court by May. The Court has also invited the Armenian Government to submit its comments, given Mr Margaryan’s nationality.

Context

On 26 January 2016 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted not to adopt a resolution on “Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan”, based on a report by the British former member of the Assembly, Robert Walter. The draft resolution (which called on Armenia to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the Minsk process) was rejected by 70 votes against, 66 in favour and 45 abstentions.

On 16 June 2015, the Grand Chamber of the European Court found that both Armenia and Azerbaijan had violated the European Convention rights of civilian victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as they have been prevented from returning to their homes and land which they lost in the early 1990s. The Court has required the Governments to set up property restitution mechanisms for the victims of the conflict. The cases are discussed by Philip Leach in his blog here. The implementation of the judgments will be considered by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in June 2016.

In December 2015, Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, opened an official inquiry into Azerbaijan’s implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights (under Article 52 of the Convention).