European Court to deliver high-profile judgment as Azerbaijan hosts European Games
On Tuesday 16 June, the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will deliver a judgment in Sargsyan v Azerbaijan, a case of exceptional significance for over a million people, both Armenian and Azerbaijani, who have been internally displaced or become refugees as a result of the 27-year conflict in and around the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The judgment will be delivered as Azerbaijan hosts the first European Games (12-28 June), and amidst intense international scrutiny of the country’s hostile human rights environment, which has seen the detention of over 100 human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and bloggers.
Also on 16 June, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (Chaloka Beyani) is due to present his annual report in Geneva to the United Nations Human Rights Council, during which it is expected that he will comment on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The case before the European Court concerns the Sargsyan family, who, following heavy bombing by Azerbaijani forces in their village, Gulistan, in 1992, were forced to flee their home and land. They have never been able to return. After the death of Minas Sargsyan, the original applicant, in 2009, and that of his widow, Lena, in 2014, their two children have been pursuing the application on their behalf. The case is brought by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University in London, and Legal Guide, an Armenian NGO.
Minas Sargsyan had lived in Gulistan village (in the Shahumyan region of Azerbaijan) throughout his life. In 1992, he and his family fled to Armenia as refugees. He applied to the European Court in 2006 to seek redress for his family’s enforced displacement, complaining that their inability to return to the village (or to be compensated for the loss of their land and property) breaches both their property rights (Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights), and their right to respect for their family life and home (Article 8). In addition, they argue that their inability to visit their relatives’ graves in the village breaches Article 8. The Sargsyan family also say that there are no effective remedies available to ethnic Armenians who were forced to leave their homes in Azerbaijan (Article 13). Finally, their case includes a complaint of ethnic discrimination (Article 14).
In 1994 the parties to the conflict signed a cease-fire agreement, which still holds, but it remains a ‘frozen conflict’: negotiations for a political settlement (under the auspices of the OSCE – co-chaired by France, Russia and the US) are still in process.
The human cost of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict highlights the importance of this case and that of Chiragov and others v Armenia, a parallel case brought by Azerbaijani refugees.
Judgments in both Sargsyan v Azerbaijan and Chiragov v Armenia will be delivered at a public hearing at 4pm (in Strasbourg) on Tuesday 16 June.
The grand chamber of the European Court held a first hearing in the case on 15 September 2010. The case was declared admissible on 14 December 2011. A second grand chamber hearing was held on 5 February 2014.