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New judgment of the European Court of Human Rights: Zoletic and Others v. Azerbaijan

The case of Zoletic and Others v. Azerbaijan (application No. 20116/12) concerns 33 Bosnia and Herzegovina nationals who were recruited in 2009 and taken to work in Azerbaijan as temporary foreign construction workers by representatives of the company Serbaz Design and Construction LLC. The Court found that the totality of the applicants’ arguments and submissions made both before the domestic courts in their civil claim and before the Court (concerning excessively long work shifts, lack of proper nutrition and medical care, physical and other forms of punishments, retention of documents and restriction of movement) constituted an “arguable claim” that the applicants had been subjected to human trafficking and forced labour. The Court stated that even though the applicants’ claims concerning the alleged forced labour and human trafficking had been sufficiently and repeatedly drawn to the attention of the relevant domestic authorities in various ways, no effective investigation had taken place and, therefore, Azerbaijan had failed to comply with its procedural obligation under Article 4, paragraph 2, of the Convention. Each applicant was awarded compensation for non-pecuniary damage in the amount of 5,000 euros.

In its decision, the Court referred to the findings of GRETA’s 2014 report on Azerbaijan, in particular to the fact that law‑enforcement officials in Azerbaijan had a tendency to see potential cases of human trafficking for labour exploitation as mere labour disputes between the worker and the employer, and that there seemed to be a confusion between cases of human trafficking for labour exploitation and disputes concerning salaries and other aspects of working conditions.


The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings entered into force on 1 February 2008, following its 10th ratification. While building on existing international instruments, the Convention goes beyond the minimum standards agreed upon in them and strengthens the protection afforded to victims.

The Convention has a comprehensive scope of application, encompassing all forms of trafficking (whether national or transnational, linked or not linked to organised crime) and taking in all persons who are victims of trafficking (women, men or children). The forms of exploitation covered by the Convention are, at a minimum, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude and the removal of organs.

The main added value of the Convention is its human rights perspective and focus on victim protection. Its Preamble defines trafficking in human beings as a violation of human rights and an offence to the dignity and integrity of the human being.


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