Five years ago, police in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, forcibly evicted Nuriya Khalikova from her apartment in the city center, and detained her for several hours without legal grounds. While she was in custody, city authorities illegally demolished her apartment, which stood in the way of the government’s urban redevelopment program. The government eventually gave Khalikova an alternative apartment, but provided inadequate compensation. Khalikova was unable to obtain an effective remedy in Azerbaijan for these infringements on her rights.

This past October, the European Court of Human Rights found that Azerbaijan had violated Khalikova’s property rights, liberty, and privacy, and ordered the government to pay her EUR 62,500 for costs and damages.

Azerbaijani authorities have begun the forcible eviction of residents to demolish the last standing building in the neighborhood of the capital, Baku, where the 2012 Eurovision song contest is to be held. The government should order an investigation into the legality of the municipal authorities’ actions and compensate the evicted residents adequately, in line with national and international human rights law.

In reaching this decision, the Court cited Human Rights Watch’s 2012 report on a pattern of forcible evictions in Baku.

We found that since 2008 Azerbaijani authorities illegally expropriated and demolished hundreds of properties like Khalikova’s, located primarily in middle-class neighborhoods of Baku, to make way for parks, roads, a shopping center, and luxury residential buildings. Our research revealed how municipal authorities forcibly evicted residents and demolished homes without adequate notice, often without warning or in the middle of night, and destroyed or damaged personal possessions. In some cases, to compel residents to leave, the authorities cut off services, including electricity and water, and dismantled apartment buildings piece by piece as the residents continued to live there. The government refused to provide homeowners fair compensation for the values of their properties. Many of them were in highly-desirable locations.

Khalikova recounted her story, saying: “I went out in the morning to buy bread. When I came back I saw that police surrounded my building. Police broke down my door, and workmen entered the apartment and started moving out my furniture and belongings.”

When she tried to stop the eviction, police detained her. They released her nine hours later. By then most of her apartment had been destroyed and many of her possessions lost.

The European Court’s decision is important, and fortifies the considerable body of judgments pointing to a broad pattern of Azerbaijan committing property rights abuses in its urban development campaigns.

Using momentum from this advance, Human Rights Watch will focus on addressing the Azerbaijan government’s escalated repression against critics. We will continue to press the government to abide by all of its human rights commitments, including to provide redress to victims of forcible eviction. Amid continued deterioration in an already poor rights record, that step will help guarantee that justice for Nuriya Khalikova can be a victory for many more in Azerbaijan.