Wednesday 7 October 2020

Strasbourg Court issues interim measures against Turkey regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Since 27 September 2020, the long-frozen conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan flared up again and has taken a high death toll.

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights issued an interim measure against Azerbaijan in a case lodged by Armenia. The Court called both parties to the conflict to secure the Convention rights and refrain from any military actions. Since then, however, the conflict has only escalated. Furthermore, reports suggest of the risk of involvement of other States, including Turkey in support of Azerbaijan. Against this background, on 6 October 2020 the ECtHR has issued another interim measure in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, this time against Turkey in a case lodged by Armenia. The Court “now calls on all States directly or indirectly involved in the conflict, including Turkey, to refrain from actions that contribute to breaches of the Convention rights of civilians [sic!], and to respect their obligations under the Convention.” The interim measure suggests that Turkey could be either directly or indirectly involved in the conflict.

In the past years, we have seen an increase of requests for interim measures in inter-State and other frozen conflicts in Europe. The Court has issued numerous interim measures in relation to the conflicts in Ukraine and the Caucasus. The practice suggests that in relation to such conflicts, States have a scarce record of complying with interim measures. Although interim measures are provided only in Rules of the Court, the Strasbourg Court has held that failure to comply with them leads to a breach of the Convention. 

The wider the scope of an interim measure, it seems, and the higher the stakes for states, the less likely that the measures will be complied with. And as a consequence of that same wide scope (here "actions that contribute to breaches of the Convention rights"), it will be also much more contentious at a later stage to assess whether the interim measure has been complied with. Potentially another context in which the Court is dragged into a variety of 'lawfare' between states, rather than being able to stick to its roles of providing individual justice and constitutional-type interpretation of the Convention.

Kushtrim Istrefi and Antoine Buyse