Court View: Alazgarov and others v. Azerbaijan

With Court View, MHREC plans on putting the spotlight on landmark human rights cases on a regular basis in order to bring to light particular human rights issues and provide an opportunity for reflection and discussion.

Alazgarov and others v. Azerbaijan (no. 32088/11) is a landmark judgment decided by the European Court of Human Rights on the 10th of November 2022. The case
relates to a breach in the peaceful enjoyment of possession under Article 1 of the First protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights dealing with the right to property. In this case, Azerbaijan failed to comply with domestic law on the expropriation of privately-owned property and unlawfully restricted the applicants’ access to their plots of land without compensation.

In 1998, the applicants were allocated plots of land to be used for agricultural purposes and were recognised as the sole owners of their respective plots by a deed containing the coordinates of the land. In 2008, the Mehdiabed Municipality, a government institution, started carrying out construction work on the applicants’ land without their permission or any prior notice, which led to the applicants filing a claim against the Municipality before the District Court.

Their claims got rejected on the basis that they did not prove how the authority was
restricting their access to their plots. During an appeal, the authority highlighted that the land was needed for military purposes and that there were ongoing measures to allocate the landowners other plots. The land owners still felt their rights were violated and hence after exhausting all national remedies they decided to file a case before the European Court of Human Rights on the basis of unlawful interference with their right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions without legal basis or compensation.

Before the ECtHR, the applicants pointed out that the national courts did not examine the coordinates indicated on their deed and failed to assign an expert to inspect whether the construction work was being carried out on their lands and whether the Municipality was restricting their rights. The Municipality also built a high stone wall around their plots of land, making it hard for them to identify their plots.

The ECtHR exclaimed that the erection of the wall by the state authority “undoubtedly restricted their free access to their land and that such a situation constituted an interference with the applicant’s enjoyment of their possessions”. The Court also noted that no expropriation measure was issued with respect to the plots, therefore the applicants were still the sole owners of the land, however, the public authorities have interfered with their peaceful enjoyment of their possessions without reason, breaching Article 1 Protocol 1 of the ECHR. The court also noted that the national law of Azerbaijan clearly notes that a special procedure must be carried out for expropriation to happen and that compensation must be granted. Moreover, compensation for another land as a replacement can only be given if there is an agreement with the owner. The court granted that there was in fact violation of
the right to property by Azerbaijan.

Maltese Expropriation Laws

Domestic implementation of ECtHR judgments is a critical concept that state signatories must adhere to comply with international standards. The right to property in Malta is secured by Article 1 Protocol 1 of the ECHR and by Article 37 of the Constitution.Under Maltese law, the right to property is limited to instances when the government needs the land to pursue one of its projects. Expropriation, therefore, can only be executed if there is a public interest.

National expropriation laws have been constantly changing over the past decade due to the challenges the court was facing. Our law had many lacunas and the legislator had to ensure that national laws are up to date with the decisions made at the ECtHR level. Moreover, expropriation has been one of the hot topics in national courts since under the latest amendment, compensation is granted if ownership is proved by adequate documentation. This causes problems when the landowner had acquired land through prescription.

It is important to note that the issues of the right to property are not limited to expropriation but also relate to issues of rent, taxation, moveables, and immovables. Moreover, the right to property intertwines with other rights such as Article 6 (The Right to a Fair Trial) and Article 9 (The Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion) of the Convention. All human rights are interrelated and interdependent; and therefore no right is secure if the right to property is jeopardized.

Nicole Grixti

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