Toby Collis, Lawyer at the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC)
Infringement proceedings are a relatively new measure designed to deal with a state’s failure to implement a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR, the Court). Introduced by Protocol No. 14 in 2010, and contained in Article 46(4) of the Convention, the measure is triggered only after serving formal notice on the state concerned, and (which more difficult to achieve) securing a two-thirds majority of votes of the Committee of Ministers (CM). After this, the case is referred to the Court to determine whether the state has, in fact, failed to abide by the judgment. If such a failure is found, leading to a violation of Article 46(1) of the Convention, the case is then returned to the CM to consider any further measures that need to be taken. The CM cannot issue fines, but further measures could include adopting ‘strongly worded’ resolutions or decisions, convening meetings, and (in theory but not in practice) the state’s suspension or expulsion from the Council of Europe.
The infringement procedure was viewed by commentators as unlikely to ever be used. Then, along came the case of Azerbaijani opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov, who was imprisoned in circumstances the Court found had been designed to silence or punish him, and who remained imprisoned despite the CM repeatedly calling for his release. Perhaps because of this outrageousness, and perhaps because the stars aligned making it politically possible to gain the required number of votes in the CM, this case was the first and so far only example of infringement proceedings to be launched.
Now that a number of years have passed since these infringement proceedings were initiated, the purpose of this blog is to assess their impact–both on the situation of Ilgar Mammadov, and on that of several Azerbaijani politicians, human rights defenders and civil society activists who, like Mammadov, won a case in Strasbourg and are waiting for their judgments to be fully implemented. In cases such as these, where a number of judgments raise common issues, the CM will group them together and examine them jointly. The CM has therefore been supervising the execution of all these cases under the Mammadov (now Mammadli) group. We will see that the narrow terms of the infringement procedure—relating only to Mammadov and not the other applicants in the group, and not applying to general measures—led to a missed opportunity to generate meaningful impact.