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Azerbaijan’s ‘selective ignoring’ of European Court compensation rulings

26 March 2019
A protest on 19 January in Baku calling for freedom for ‘political prisoners’. (Fargana Novruzova)

Despite the European Court of Human Rights awarding compensation to dozens of activists and opposition figures in Azerbaijan, many say the government is not paying up.

According to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), 190 appeals from Azerbaijan were filed with the Court from January–July 2018, 28 of which received decisions.

Asabali Mustafayev, head of local rights group the Democracy and Human Rights Resource Centre, told OC Media that there are currently about 20 people in Azerbaijan awaiting compensation from the Azerbaijani government.

‘While I was working as a lawyer, decisions were taken on 140 cases that I conducted. In these cases, not only was compensation not paid, but other executive actions prescribed by the court decision were not implemented,’ Mustafayev said.

According to Mustafayev, the payment of compensation has become ‘politicised’ since 2016. He says that specifically, compensation is being delayed for people actively engaged in politics.

‘Suffer as much as possible’

Tofig Yagublu, a member of the opposition Musavat Party, told OC Media that he has been waiting almost two years for compensation from the Azerbaijani government. Yagublu appealed to the Court in 2013 and in 2015, they ruled he had been unlawfully imprisoned, awarding him 24,000 ($27,000) in compensation.

He is confident that the government has a biased attitude regarding paying compensation on political cases.

‘They want people with political will to suffer as much as possible. Although the decision of the ECHR is binding, they do not attach any importance to this’, Yagublu says.

Azerbaijani journalist Leyla Mustafayeva, whose husband, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, was imprisoned in 2017, told OC Media that the government not only fails to comply with the decisions of the ECHR but also ignores resolutions by the Council of Europe.

‘Azerbaijan is a part of the Council of Europe. The hearings related to Azerbaijan in the council mainly concern political prisoners and human rights. The government constantly denies the outcomes of these discussions, however, calling the decisions biased, and therefore does not implement them’, Mustafayeva says.

In July 2017, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution demanding Mukhtarli’s immediate release, but so far he has yet to be freed.

‘Pay interest rather than fulfil the decisions’

While resolutions of the Council of Europe are advisory in nature, the decisions of the ECHR are legally binding.

Rasul Jafarov, head of local rights group the Human Rights Club, told OC Media that Azerbaijan deliberately does not comply with the decisions of the ECHR regarding political cases.

‘The government of Azerbaijan has a budget to execute the decisions of the European Court, and I do not think that the delay in the payment of compensation is due to financial issues’, Jafarov said.

In March 2016, the court awarded Jafarov €25,000 ($28,000) for illegally detaining him. He said that for three years, the government has been paying him compensation in small increments over time and that he has so far only received €11,000 ($12,000).

‘The government is afraid to improve the financial situation of people with political will, because they could further strengthen their political activities and increase their self-confidence. This is a shameful and disrespectful attitude against the European court’, Jafarov concluded.

Lawyer Yalchin Imanov told OC Media that according to the law, the government must fulfil the requirements of the ECHR, including the payment of compensation, within three months.

Imanov said that three months after a decision by the ECHR, a complaint can be lodged with the Grand Chamber. If the government of Azerbaijan does not appeal against the decision during this period, the original decision remains in force. According to Imanov, after this, compensation should be paid and other internal measures should be applied.

‘For each missed day, a statutory interest rate must be added to the amount according to the law. However, the government agrees to pay the interest rather than fulfilling the decisions’, Imanov said.

The European Parliament’s ‘provocation’

In a discussion in the European Parliament on 17 January on ‘human rights breaches in Azerbaijan and Sudan’ several MEPs spoke out against the Azerbaijani government.

Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes said in her speech that the human rights situation in Azerbaijan was shameful and stressed the importance of releasing political prisoners.

After the discussions, a resolution demanding ‘an end to Azerbaijan’s harsh general crackdown on dissent and the immediate and unconditional release from jail of all political prisoners’ was adopted by an overwhelming majority of MEPs.

The resolution also called for Azerbaijan to ‘fully respect and enforce the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights’.

However, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Samad Seyidov, told BBC Azerbaijan that the European Parliament had defended double standards in discussing the human rights situation in Azerbaijan.

‘Unfortunately, there is still a group inside the European Parliament which, when relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union begin to acquire a constructive and benevolent character, tries to prevent this and change the agenda. This is a provocation, and those who resort to such a provocation, will not be able to get the desired answer, they will not be given such an opportunity’, Seyidov told the BBC.

Seyidov added that the Azerbaijani Parliament and the European Parliament continue to cooperate and that relations between the government of Azerbaijan and the European Union are at a high point.

Azar Gasimli, a member of the ruling council of the opposition Republican Alternative Party (ReAL), told OC Media that this situation undoubtedly affects relations between Europe and Azerbaijan.

‘Of course, there is an indifferent attitude towards the decisions on political cases at the European Court of Human Rights. The government does this in relation to people whom it considers dangerous to itself. This, of course, affects the relations between Europe and Azerbaijan’, said Gasimli.

According to him, because of this situation, the Eastern cooperation programme will not be able to fully achieve its goal.

‘As a result, the position of Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe and the European Union will significantly weaken, maybe even up to sanctions. However, it is expected that Azerbaijan understands this perfectly, and the government will execute several important decisions of the European Court in order to avoid sanctions and serious problems’, Gasimli concluded.

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