Is the European Court of Human Rights capable of changing legal systems? Judgment in Aliyev v Azerbaijan.

By Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou (University of Liverpool)

In spring 2014, shocking news came from Azerbaijan. Leading human rights defenders including Mr Intigam Aliyev were arrested and charged with various financial crimes. It was clear that these charges were just a cover-up for the silencing of vocal critics of the government and for the destruction of an effective human rights defence in the country. It is not surprising that those arrested and charged brought their cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or Court). In September 2018, more than two years after Mr Aliyev was in fact released, the Court has delivered its judgment in his case. There are plenty of reasons to praise this judgment; the Court unanimously found plenty of violations of the Convention including violations of Articles 3, 5, 8 and 18. Under Article 18, the Court found that the true purpose of the arrest was not punishment for the crimes committed by the applicant but retaliation for being a human rights defender. As it is often the case, this judgment came slightly too late because the applicant has already been released from prison but it helpfully reinforces a line of judgments showing that Azerbaijani authorities use criminal law to silence its opponents. This blogpost will however focus on a more problematic aspect of this judgment, namely the Court’s attempts to improve the legal system in Azerbaijan by defining general measures that must be implemented to effectuate this judgment. Continue reading