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Strategic Human Rights Litigation in the Southern Caucasus

Project facts

  • Funder: Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, TMF and Foreign Commonwealth Office
  • Partner(s): Article 42 (Georgia), Armenian Institute of Development, Legal Education Society (Azerbaijan), InterRights,  Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
  • Project period: January 2006 – December 2010
  • For information mail to: office@nhc.nl

The countries of the Southern Caucasus have very different political situations, but all suffer from a weak protection of human rights. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as members of the Council of Europe, have signed the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as other conventions which promote human dignity through the rule of law, and are bound by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). If done properly, appealing to the ECHR can be a viable way for human rights organisations to challenge government practises. Strategic cases at the ECHR can have effects far beyond the individual case and affect national legal practice.

This project involved developing the capacity of local human rights organisations and human rights lawyers to proceed effectively in human rights cases before the ECHR, with the aim of improving national legal practice with regards to the protection of human rights in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The approach involved support for a local organization in each of the countries of the Southern Caucasus, as well as some joint activities to exchange contacts and best practises on a regional level. The partner organizations involved were Article 42 in Georgia, the Armenian Institute of Development in Armenia and the Legal Education Society in Azerbaijan.  INTERIGHTS (Londen) proveded the leagal expertises throughout the project. Activities included trainings, coaching visits, study visits and internship programs, building lawyers networks as well as the translation and publishing of manuals and litigation at the ECHR.

Nearly forty cases have been submitted to the ECHR in total. An Armenian lawyer noted that everyone now using the Strasbourg system in Armenia had learned it from NHC project activities. In three of the four cases heard so far, the judgement included a general measure to amend existing national legislation. These are among the most important results of the project. In two cases versus Azerbaijan it was ruled that article two, the right to life, and article three, the right to freedom, had been violated by the government of Azerbaijan. Another case on property rights had been closed with a friendly settlement. One case in Armenia was concluded successfully at the Constitutional Court in Armenia.

As a result of the project, the participating human rights lawyers and organizations have been able to improve their skills and knowledge and have increased cooperation. All three partners built professional websites, which contain information on relevant materials about the European Court of Human Rights on decisions, judgements and related. It is often difficult to find information about ECHR cases in those countries, and so the organisations fill a real need by publishing the cases and rulings on their websites.

Some local partners noted that in the course of the project, national courts and prosecutors had started using international human rights standards in their argumentation. It can be said that the legal community and political decision makers in the three countries are now more aware of human rights standards and the implications of strategic legal action. Regional networks of qualified ECHR lawyers now consist of around 120, 200 and 35 members in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, respectively. They supply a steady flow of cases from different areas of the countries, and share results and experiences.