Azerbaijan ordered to pay workers victimised by human trafficking and forced labour


The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on 7 October handed its long-awaited verdict in favour of 33 Bosnians who sued Azerbaijan more than a decade ago for human trafficking and forced labour.

In the case of Zoletic and others v. Azerbaijan, the court ruled that Azerbaijan failed to comply with its procedural obligation to institute and conduct an effective investigation of the applicants' claims concerning the alleged forced labour and human trafficking. The court ordered Azerbaijan to pay the aggrieved workers compensation for non-pecuniary damage amounting to EUR 5,000.

The ruling said that Azerbaijan was aware that the said workers are potential victims of human trafficking and forced labour. This information was made available to its public officials based on the following: 

  • ASTRA report (based on the testimony of injured workers compiled by ASTRA in cooperation with partner organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia). 
  • The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) 2011 report. 
  • the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) 2014 report. 

There was great media interest in the case. At the centre of this massive organised crime against workers is SerbAz, an offshore company, which reportedly appeared to be owned by the family of a minister in Azerbaijan. It was dubbed as one of the biggest cases of human trafficking for labour exploitation purposes in Europe.

When news first broke out about the case in 2009, a meeting was immediately organised in April 2010 in Sarajevo which was attended by the OSCE, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) the Building and Woodworkers' International (BWI), the ASTRA “Anti Trafficking Action”, trade unions and NGOs based in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, Croatia and Azerbaijan. 

As subsequent meeting was held which was participated by BWI, the Bosnian Trade Union and representatives of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina demanding protection and justice for the affected workers. 

Likewise, the Independent Trade Union of Construction Complex Workers of Azerbaijan (Inshaat-Ish), the Trade Union of Construction and Construction Materials of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SGIGMBIH), the Trade Union Construction, Housing and Communal Services of Republika Srpska (SGSKRS) and BWI signed a cooperation agreement on the protection of migrant workers’ rights in Eastern Europe. 

BWI expressed its satisfaction with the court’s ruling. “We are happy to have contributed to the just resolution of this case, together with our sister trade unions and partner NGOs. Despite the long wait, justice is served to the affected workers. We hope this victory will serve as added inspiration to all of us as we continue to protect migrant workers’ rights,” BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said.