European Court for Human Rights issues judgement in the case of Armenian officer murdered in Budapest
27 May 2020

The European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg has issued a judgement in the case of the murder of an Armenian Army officer who in 2004 was killed whilst attending a NATO training course in Hungary. Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani Army officer who was also attending the course was subsequently convicted of the murder.  In 2012, following a request by the Azerbaijani authorities, the convicted officer was transferred to Azerbaijan, in accordance with the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, to serve the rest of his sentence. However, upon his arrival in Azerbaijan the officer was given a presidential pardon and was released. The case caused a huge outcry in Armenia, both during the time of the murder, as well as following the presidential pardon. A case was initiated by two Armenian citizens in front of the court.

In its judgement published on Tuesday (26 May) the European Court of Human Rights held: by six votes to one, that there had been no substantive violation by Azerbaijan of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights; unanimously, that there had been a procedural violation by Azerbaijan of Article 2 of the Convention; by six votes to one, that there had been no procedural violation by Hungary of Article 2; by six votes to one, that there had been a violation by Azerbaijan of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 2, and unanimously, that neither the Azerbaijani nor Hungarian Governments had failed to comply with Article 38 (obligation to furnish necessary facilities for the examination of the case).

The Court found that although Azerbaijan had clearly endorsed its officer's acts, not only by releasing him but also by promoting him, paying him salary arrears and granting him a flat upon his return, it could not be held responsible under the stringent standards of international law which required a State to "acknowledge" such acts "as its own". Moreover, those acts had been part of a private decision and had been so flagrantly abusive and far removed from the official status of a military officer that the Court could not see how his commanding officers could have foreseen them or how Azerbaijan could be responsible for them just because he was a State agent. However, it found that there had been no justification for the Azerbaijani authorities' failure to enforce the punishment of the officer and to in effect grant him impunity for a serious hate crime. Moreover, the applicants had provided sufficient evidence to show that the officer's pardon and other measures in his favour had been ethnically motivated, namely statements by high-ranking officials expressing their support for his conduct, and in particular the fact that it had been directed against Armenian soldiers, and a specially dedicated page on the President of Azerbaijan's website.

You can read the judgement in full on the website of the European Court for Human Rights here.

There have been comments on the case by both the Armenian and the Azerbaijani foreign ministries.

In its statement, the Armenian Foreign Ministry stated:

"The Republic of Armenia views this ruling of the ECHR as a demand addressed to the authorities of Azerbaijan to restore justice in the dreadful murder of Gurgen Margaryan and end its racist policy towards Armenians. To this end, the Republic of Armenia will make consistent efforts in the relevant international bodies.

The release of convicted murderer Ramil Safarov by the decree of the President of Azerbaijan and his glorification is a disrespect and affront to the standard of civilization and human dignity. Today, when those actions received their legal assessment, we more than ever are determined to prevent hate crimes and protect the security of the Armenian people in the region.

We will continue to work relentlessly to achieve a peaceful and secure region free of hatred."

On its part, the spokesperson of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in comments to the media,

"Armenia's intention to use the European Court as a tool in the smear campaign against Azerbaijan and its attempts to politicize this body and involve it in the propaganda campaign must be rejected.

Regarding the conclusions of the European Court, it can be said that the Court did not in fact satisfy the main intention of Armenia. Thus, the Court's decision does not require the annulment of the pardon decree, which is the main object of the dispute, or the reopening of the case against the person concerned. On the other hand, the claim of material violation of the right to life was rejected."

source: with agencies

photo: The European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg