ECHR Fines Russia Over Murdering of Four Chechen Women
On March 27, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) notified two judgement cases which is related to Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The cases are about the murder of four Chechen women.
Here is the press release:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
ECHR 125 (2012)
Four women killed in Chechnya and their deaths not investigated effectively
In today’s Chamber judgments in the case Inderbiyeva v. Russia (application no. 56765/08) and Kadirova and Others v. Russia (no. 5432/07), which are not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
Violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the four killed women in both cases;
Violation of Article 2 of the Convention concerning the inadequate investigations into the death and disappearance of the women in both cases;
Violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) concerning the mental suffering of the applicants, all close relatives of the disappeared women, in the Kadirova and Others v. Russia case;
Violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) concerning the unacknowledged detention of Aset Yakhyayeva and Milana Betilgiriyeva in the Kadirova and Others v. Russia case; and,
Violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 2 in both cases.
The cases concerned the alleged killings and lack of effective investigation into the death of four civilian women during security operations by Russian servicemen in the Chechen Republic in 2000.
Inderbiyeva v. Russia
The applicant, Deshi Shirvaniyevna Inderbiyeva, is a Russian national who was born in 1968 and lives in Grozny (Russia). In 1999 she moved to a refugee camp in Ingushetia due to heavy hostilities between the Russian forces and Chechen fighters. According to her, two of her sisters, Shema and Shamani Inderbiyeva, born respectively in 1963 and 1966, who had stayed behind in Grozny to look after the family property, were killed by Russian servicemen in January 2000.
Ms Inderbiyeva notably submitted that two neighbours had witnessed servicemen throwing an explosive device into the basement where her two sisters were hiding, having pulled their mother out just beforehand. Ms Inderbiyeva discovered her sisters’ charred remains in the basement – and her mother in shock and incoherent – when going back to Grozny to
visit in February 2000.
The Russian Government did not challenge the facts as presented by the applicant.
An investigation was started in May 2000 by the Grozny Town Prosecutor’s Office following a newspaper publication concerning the mass murder of civilians in January 2000.
According to Ms Inderbiyeva, she was neither kept informed of the investigation’s progress, nor given victim status in the criminal case. She complained in April 2008 to the Grozny district court about the ineffectiveness of the investigation, to no avail.
The Russian Government submitted that a number of investigative steps had been taken since the start of the investigation, including questioning of witnesses, examination of the crime scene and forensic examination of the bodies. The investigation had been suspended six times for failure to establish the perpetrators of the murders. However, it was still in progress and the authorities were taking all possible steps to have the crime resolved.
The Government provided the Court with the criminal case file, however, a number of documents were missing without explanation.
Kadirova and Others v. Russia
The applicants, Maryam Kadirova, Zultmat Betilgiriyeva, Khasan Kadyrov, Zelimkhan Kadyrov, and Yakha Yakhyayeva, are Russian nationals who live in Grozny and the villages of Dachu-Borzoy and Duba-Yurt, all in the Chechen Republic.
According to them, their relatives, Aset Yakhyayeva, born in 1956, and Milana Betilgiriyeva, born in 1980, were abducted on 7 November 2001 by armed uniformed men who broke into the house where the two of them were staying with relatives, all of whom women, in the village of Serzhen-Yurt in the Chechen Republic. The intruders ordered the women to lie quietly all through the night, which they did. The following morning the applicants discovered that Asset Yakhyayeva and Milana Betilgiriyeva were missing; they have not had any news of them since.
That same morning, the applicants started looking for their relatives and reported their abduction to the prosecutor who opened an investigation into the events. The investigation was subsequently repeatedly suspended and resumed for failure to establish the perpetrators. Despite the Court’s specific requests, the Government refused to produce the entire copy of the criminal file submitting that they had enclosed “the basic documents” from it, parts of which the Court found to be illegible.
The Government submitted that a number of investigative steps had been taken, including interviewing of witnesses and inspection of the crime scene, and that the investigation was still pending.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
The applicant in the first case alleged that her two sisters must have been killed by Russian servicemen as the area at that time had been under the full control of the Russian forces.
Similarly, the applicants in the second case alleged that their two relatives must have been abducted by Russian servicemen as the Government had acknowledged that a large-scale security operation had been carried out in Serzhen-Yurt on that day and the village had been sealed-off for that purpose. They assumed the two women had been later killed as there had been no news of them since.
All the applicants also alleged that the ensuing investigations into their relatives’ killings had been inadequate. They relied in particular on Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy). The applicants in the second case also relied on Article 5 (right to liberty and security).
The applications were lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 10 July 2008 and on 21 January 2007 respectively.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven, composed as follows:
Nina Vajić (Croatia), President,
Anatoly Kovler (Russia),
Peer Lorenzen (Denmark),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austria),
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan),
Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece),
Erik Møse (Norway), Judges,
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
Decision of the Court
Article 2 (right to life)
Inderbiyeva v. Russia
It had not been disputed by the parties that Ms Inderbiyeva’s sisters had been killed. The Government had not challenged the facts as submitted by Ms Inderbiyeva. It appeared that the only version of the events pursued by the investigation had been the one that she had suggested. Therefore, in the absence of a convincing explanation for the events provided by the Government, the Court concluded that the Russian authorities were responsible for the death of Ms Inderbiyeva’s sisters.
There had, therefore, been a violation of Article 2.
Kadirova and Others v. Russia
The applicants had presented a coherent and convincing picture of their relatives’ abduction by a group of armed and camouflaged men during a security operation conducted by the federal forces. Their account of the events had been confirmed by numerous witness statements. The Government had acknowledged that at the relevant time the military forces had conducted a large-scale security operation in Serzhen-Yurt, involving a significant number of servicemen and using armoured military vehicles and shelling of the village.
The fact that the applicants’ relatives had been abducted from a sealed-off area during a large-scale special operation by armed and camouflaged men who spoke unaccented Russian and who proceeded to check the victims’ identity documents with a view to bringing them to the local military commander’s office, strongly supported the applicants’ allegation that the abductors had been servicemen. In the absence of any explanation by the Government as to what had happened, the Court found that the two women had been arrested by servicemen during a security operation. In the context of the conflict in the Chechen Republic, the absence of the two women, or of any news about them for more than 10 years, led it to establish that they had to be presumed dead following their unacknowledged detention by State servicemen.
There had, therefore, been a violation of Article 2.
In both cases the Court found further violations of Article 2 on account of the authorities’ failure to conduct effective criminal investigations into the disappearance of the applicants’ relatives.
In particular, even the most basic procedural steps in the investigation had been taken with a significant delay – more than three years in both cases. If they were to produce any meaningful results, those steps should have been taken immediately.
Furthermore, in the Kadirova and Others case, a number of other essential steps had never been taken. For example, the investigators had not attempted to identify the military units which had participated in the special security operation, or to interview the servicemen involved. The Court stressed that the delays and omissions not only demonstrated the authorities’ failure to act of their own motion, but were also a breach of their obligation to exercise exemplary diligence and promptness in dealing with such serious complaints.
Finally, the Court noted that the investigation in both cases had been repeatedly suspended and resumed and undermined by lengthy periods of inactivity on the part of the prosecutor’s office.
Article 3 (applicants’ mental suffering)
The Court did not doubt that the tragic death of Ms Inderbiyeva’s sisters had caused her profound suffering. However, unlike the continuous nature of the psychological suffering of applicants whose relatives had disappeared, the killing of Ms Inderbiyeva’s sisters had been instantaneous. Therefore, Ms Inderbiyeva’s related complaint was rejected.
As regards the Kadirova and Others case, the Court found that all the applicants were close relatives of the disappeared women and, despite their repeated inquires to find out what had happened to the women, they had had no news of them for over 10 years. The authorities had mostly denied State responsibility or had simply informed them that the investigation had been ongoing. The Court concluded that there had therefore been a violation of Article 3.
Article 5 (unacknowledged detention)
The applicants’ relatives in the Kadirova and Others case had been arrested on 7 November 2001 and had not been seen since. Their detention had been unacknowledged, not logged in any custodial records and there existed no official trace of their subsequent whereabouts or fate. That had been a most serious failing, incompatible with the very purpose of Article 5. The Court concluded that the applicants’ relatives had been held in unacknowledged detention without any of the safeguards contained in Article 5. That represented a particularly grave violation of the right to liberty and security.
In both cases, the criminal investigation into the disappearance and killing of the applicants’ relatives had been ineffective, and the effectiveness of any other remedy that might have existed had consequently been undermined. The State had therefore failed in its obligation under Article 13 of the Convention. As a result, there had been a violation of
Article 13 in conjunction with Article 2 in both cases.
Article 41 (just satisfaction)
The Court held that:
In the case of Inderbiyeva, Russia was to pay Ms Inderbiyeva 100,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,000 for costs and expenses; and that,
In the case of Kadirova and Others, Russia was to pay the applicants EUR 120,000 jointly in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,500 for costs and expenses.