Court grants request to protect Azerbaijani domestic violence victim from sudden release of ex-husband
CW: domestic violence, including emotional and physical abuse; attempted femicide
The European Court of Human Rights has granted an urgent request for interim measures, ordering Azerbaijan to take steps to protect a woman from the sudden release of her ex-husband. In 2019, the man was charged with the attempted murder of the woman and her mother, with this attack following a long and well-documented campaign of domestic violence. Having been moved from pre-trial detention to a psychiatric hospital, he could be released at any time, and would present a significant risk to the woman’s life. There is also no requirement under Azerbaijani law for the domestic courts tasked with deciding on his release to also conduct an assessment of the risk his would likely still pose to his ex-wife and her family if released.
The Court’s decision to grant interim measures is – to EHRAC’s knowledge – the first time it has done so in in a case involving domestic violence. Welcoming the decision, EHRAC’s Co-Director, Jessica Gavron, said: “Victims of domestic violence must be protected by the authorities. The primary applicant in this case was subjected to harassment, emotional and physical abuse, and death threats, but her pleas for justice were met with silence, indifference and excuses. The result? Her abuser remained free, to threaten and attempt to kill her.
“The Court’s decision to grant interim measures provides some reassurance, but the authorities’ intransigence in this case confirms our serious and ongoing concerns regarding the failure to protect victims of domestic violence in Azerbaijan, and the need to address the systemic, gender-based discrimination which underpins it. With our partners, we will continue to monitor Azerbaijan’s compliance with the Court’s order, and to demand progress on the wider issues highlighted by this case.”
The case – RB and NG v Azerbaijan
Throughout their ten-year marriage, the primary applicant in this case, RB, was subjected to physical and emotional abuse by her husband, FA. This continued after their divorce in 2018. The man also harassed RB’s two children and her mother, NG. In 2019, the man attempted to murder RB and NG.
The authorities repeatedly failed to investigate the woman’s complaints of domestic violence despite officials witnessing harassment, violence and/or threats to kill on at least two occasions. The police downplayed one attack, refused to open a criminal investigation into FA’s death threats on the basis that RB had not suffered ‘harm to health’, and then advised the woman to withdraw this complaint.
In the months that followed, RB submitted numerous further complaints, but received no response. FA’s death threats were eventually considered by an administrative court, but he was let off with a small fine, with the court suggesting that the fact the dispute had occurred between ‘former family members’ was a mitigating factor.
A 30-day protective order was issued in May 2019, but this was neither renewed nor extended.
On 5 August 2019, FA attempted to kill RB and NG outside the District Court, where they were attending a hearing on FA’s visitation rights in respect of the couple’s two children.
The subsequent criminal proceedings against FA, on charges of ‘pre-meditated murder with special cruelty or a dangerous method’ and ‘hooliganism’ were suspended twice as a result of psychiatric assessments. The first such assessment found no evidence of mental illness, and the applicants have questioned the approach to subsequent examinations. Despite this, in October 2022, FA was moved to a psychiatric hospital.
FA has continued to harass RB, by telephone, throughout his pre-trial detention. In the psychiatric hospital, FA is subject to ongoing psychiatric assessments, and RB feared that he could be released into outpatient care without sufficient warning, and without any consideration of the risk he would continue to pose to her and her family.
EHRAC and our partner lawyer Faraz Namazli submitted a Rule 39 request for interim measures alongside our application in the case.
In our request, we argued that there is a real risk that FA would kill RB , if he is released.
We asked the Court to order the Azerbaijani authorities to take a range of measures to ensure that RB’s life, health and personal integrity are fully and effectively protected. These included:
- Providing RB with a schedule of FA’s psychiatric assessments
- Ensuring that any recommendation or decision regarding FA’s release be informed by a detailed assessment of the risk of further domestic violence, and particularly the risk that he will murder RB
- Ensuring that RB’s legal representatives be given written notification within 24 hours of any request to change FA’s treatment
- Taking steps to put in place measures to protect RB in the event of FA’s release from the psychiatric hospital
The Court’s decision on interim measures
The Court’s decision, communicated on 2 October 2023, asked the Government of Azerbaijan to ensure respect for the Convention rights of the applicants, specifically the right to life (Article 2) and the prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3). It also requested that the Government inform both the Court and the applicants of any plans to release FA, including to house arrest, “as soon as such proceedings are instituted and in any event 72 hours before the date set for the release.”
In its communication, the Court noted “that failure of a Contracting State to comply with a measure indicated under Rule 39 may entail a breach of Article 34 of the Convention.”
The Court also noted that it would give priority to consideration of our full application in the case, under Rule 41.
Our application to the Court alleges violations of Azerbaijan’s positive obligations under Article 2 and Article 3. We have asked that both the violations to be considered in conjunction with Article 14 (the prohibition of discrimination), highlighting the systemic, gender-based discrimination that underpins Azerbaijan’s failure to protect women from gender-based violence.
This case is the first Gender Based Violence (GBV) case EHRAC has litigated with Azerbaijani partners, and, to our knowledge, the first domestic violence case against Azerbaijan to be submitted to the ECtHR or any international mechanism.
The EHRAC Guide to Interim Measures at the European Court of Human Rights is available in English, Russian and Ukrainian.