Russia Fined by ECHR
On February 28, 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 disappearance and murder of two Chechen men.
Here is the press release:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
ECHR 083 (2012)
Russia failed to account for abduction and killing of two young men in Chechnya
In today’s Chamber judgments in the cases Edilova v. Russia (application no. 14662/07) and Khamzatov and Others v. Russia (application no. 31682/07), which are not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a:
Violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the disappearance of Abdula Edilov and the killing of Movsar Khamzatov;
Violation of Article 2 of the Convention concerning the inadequate investigations into those events;
Violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) concerning the mental suffering of Abdula Edilov’s mother;
Violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) concerning the unacknowledged detention of Abdula Edilov; and,
Violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 2 in both cases.
Both cases concerned the alleged killings of civilians by Russian servicemen in the Chechen Republic.
The applicant in the first case is Nura Edilova, a Russian national, who was born in 1954 and lives in the village of Goyty, the Chechen Republic. She alleges that her son, Abdula Edilov, born in 1976, was abducted from the family home on 26 August 2001 by a group of masked, armed men in camouflage uniforms. Three neighbours witnessed Ms Edilova’s son being led out of the house and into a military vehicle. Ms Edilova, at the local market at the time, has not seen her son since.
The applicants in the second case are six Russian nationals who are the parents, brothers, wife and son of Movsar Khamzatov, born in 1972. His parents live in the village of Starye Atagi and his other relatives in Grozny, the Chechen Republic. They allege that Movsar, visiting relatives in Starye Atagi, was killed when Russian troops stationed nearby opened fire with submachine guns as well as anti-aircraft guns on the vehicle in which he was a passenger. The driver was also killed. The Government admit that the applicants’ relative was killed by Russian servicemen but submit that the car in which he was travelling, during curfew in an area where troops were carrying out a counterterrorist operation, had its headlights off and refused to stop when warning shots were fired. They further allege that troops decided to use force only when the occupants of the car opened fire on them.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
Nura Edilova complained that her son had been abducted by Russian servicemen and presumably later killed by them. The applicants in the second case complained that the Russian troops had used excessive force against of Movsar Khamzatov and that it had not been possible that he had opened fire on the troops, as the vehicle was subsequently inspected and no weapons or ammunition were found. Nor had the village been aware of any curfew at the time. All the applicants also alleged that the ensuing investigations into their relatives’ killings had been inadequate. They relied in particular on Articles 2 and 13. Ms Edilova also relied on Articles 3 and 5.
The application in the first case was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 13 February 2007 and the application in the second case was lodged on 18 June 2007.
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),
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), in the first case, Julia Laffranque (Estonia), in the first case,
Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece), in the second case,
Erik Møse (Norway), in the second case, Judges,
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
Decision of the Court
Disappearance and killing
In the case of Edilova, the Government conceded that Abdula Edilov had been abducted in the circumstances described by his mother, but denied that State agents had been involved in the kidnapping. However, the Court found that the fact that a large group of armed men in camouflage uniforms, speaking unaccented Russian, had been able to pass freely through the checkpoint of the federal forces after having apprehended him in broad daylight – as had been confirmed by a significant number of witnesses – strongly corroborated Ms Edilova’s allegation that those men had been State agents.
The Court underlined that in the context of the conflict in the Chechen Republic, when a person was detained by unidentified State agents without any subsequent acknowledgment of the detention, that could be regarded as life-threatening. The absence of Abdula Edilov or of any news of him for more than ten years supported this assumption. The Court accordingly found that he had to be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention by State agents. As the authorities had not given a valid justification for the use of lethal force, his death was attributable to the Government.
In the case of Khamzatov and others, the Government had acknowledged that Movsar Khamzatov had been killed as a result of a shooting by the federal servicemen. It was therefore for the State to account for his death and to demonstrate in particular that the force used by the servicemen could be said to have been absolutely necessary. However, the servicemen did not appear to have pursued the aim of effecting a lawful arrest for the purpose of Article 2, as they had left the scene immediately after the shooting without taking any steps to report the incident to the authorities. Furthermore, no arms or evidence of their use by the passengers of the car in which Movsar Khamzatov travelled had been found.
The Government had failed to demonstrate that an appropriate legal framework concerning the use of lethal force by the military servicemen had been in place and if so, whether it had contained clear safeguards to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life.
Moreover, no evidence available to the Court supported the Government’s contention that the car had moved around during curfew hours and that the servicemen had had to resort to lethal force because the passengers had refused to react to their signals to stop and had offered armed resistance. The Government had thus failed to demonstrate that the use of lethal force against Movsar Khamzatov had been absolutely necessary.
In both cases, the Court therefore concluded that there had 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 and killing, respectively, of the applicant’s relatives.
The Government had not provided the Court with complete copies of the relevant case files, respectively. The Court accordingly had to assess the effectiveness of the investigation on the basis of the limited materials.
In the case of Edilova, the investigation into Abdula Edilov’s disappearance had been opened more than three months after the events. Moreover, key eye witnesses had not been interviewed until more than two years after the abduction, and a number of crucial investigative steps had not been taken at all. For example, the investigators had not attempted to identify and interview the servicemen of the checkpoint which the abductors had passed with Abdula Edilov or to verify the checkpoint logbooks with a view to obtaining information on the vehicle used by them. There had been no explanation for those delays and omissions, which undermined the effectiveness of the investigation.
Finally, the investigation had been adjourned and resumed on numerous occasions; it had been pending for many years without tangible results.
In the case of Khamzatov and others, the investigation had been opened promptly, on the day following Movsar Khamzatov’s death. However, the servicemen involved in the shooting had been interviewed only six days after the opening of the investigation. Other military personnel had only been interviewed more than five years after the events, with the result that some key witnesses had been unable to recollect most of the circumstances of the fatal shooting. A large number of servicemen present at the scene had not been interviewed at all. Furthermore, a number of crucial investigative steps had not been taken. For example, there had been no expert examination of the car in which Movsar Khamzatov had travelled, which could have established the trajectories of the shots fired at it. Those omissions and delays had made it impossible to establish the circumstances of Movsar Khamzatov’s death.
The Court found that there had been a violation of Article 3 in respect of the mental suffering Ms Edilova had endured. Despite having attempted to find out what became of her son following his detention she had never received any plausible explanation or information from the authorities.
The Court further held that Abdula Edilov had been held in unacknowledged detention without any of the safeguards contained in Article 5, which represented a particularly grave violation of the right to liberty and security.
The criminal investigations 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.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held, in the first case, that Russia was to pay Ms Edilova 3,000 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage, EUR 60,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,500 in respect of costs and expenses. It held, in the second case, that Russia was to pay the parents of Movsar Khamzatov EUR 20,000 jointly, EUR 30,000 jointly to his wife and son, and EUR 5,000 each to his brothers in respect of non-pecuniary damage, and EUR 6,500 to the applicants jointly in respect of costs and expenses.