ECHR: Russia failed to investigate ill-treatment of Chechen civilian
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has fined Russia at 18,5 thousand Euro for Russia’s failure to investigate about the ill-treatment and abduction of a Chechen man.
Here is the press release:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
ECHR 023 (2013)
Insufficient investigation of young man’s alleged abduction and ill-treatment by the [pro-Russian] State officials in Chechnya
In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Suleymanov v. Russia (application no. 32501/11), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of the authorities’ failure to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances of Tamerlan Suleymanov’s ill-treatment and no violation of Article 3 in respect of that treatment;
no violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security).
The case concerned the alleged ill-treatment and abduction of a young man by the [pro-Russian] State officials in Chechnya.
The applicant, Doka Suleymanov, is a Russian national who was born in 1940 and lives in Grozny. He alleges that his son, Tamerlan Suleymanov, born in 1982, was ill-treated and abducted by the [pro-Russian] State officials on 9 May 2011, after having been detained two days previously for a few hours by officers from the department of the interior, who pressured him into confessing to the preparation of a terrorist act.
According to Doka Suleymanov’s submissions, on 9 May 2011, a group of armed men in uniforms arrived in two civilian cars at the garage where Tamerlan Suleymanov was working. After he had identified himself, the men beat him with rifle butts until he was unconscious, then put him in one of the cars and drove away. The incident took place in the presence of witnesses, a few metres from a police station. According to Doka Suleymanov, a group of police officers witnessed the incident but did not intervene.
Immediately informed about the incident, Doka Suleymanov complained to the district department in Grozny on the same day. During the following days, he complained to a number of authorities, including the district department of the interior and the Chechnya Federal Security Service (FSB), that his son had been unlawfully arrested and detained.
He alleged that the perpetrators of the beating had been the same officers who had illtreated his son two days previous to the events of 9 May. He also alleged that he had information from a trusted source that his son had been detained on the premises of the Kurchaloy district department of the interior in the village of Yalkhoy-Mokhk.
Between 10 May and mid-October 2011, the investigators took a number of steps, including an examination of the crime scene and the questioning of key witnesses, in particular Tamerlan Suleymanov’s colleagues, who confirmed that he had been beaten by armed men in uniforms and had been taken away. In late July and early August 2011 – following a request from the European Court of Human Rights to the Russian Government to provide the investigators access to the premises of the department of the interior where Tamerlan Suleymanov had allegedly been held – the investigators questioned five officers of the Kurchaloy district department of the interior, who stated that he had not been detained there. Doka Suleymanov has not had any reliable news of his son since 9 May 2011.
In their submissions before the Court, the Russian Government did not dispute the facts as presented by Doka Suleymanov. They submitted that the authorities had obtained information about Tamerlan Suleymanov’s membership of an illegal armed group. They further maintained that there was nothing to indicate that he had been unlawfully detained or ill-treated by State officials, and stated that the investigation of the abduction was still in progress.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
Relying in particular on Articles 3, 5 and 13 (right to an effective remedy), Doka Suleymanov complained that his son had been ill-treated by State officials, that the authorities had failed to properly investigate his complaints in this respect, and that his son had been unlawfully detained following his abduction.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 25 May 2011.
On 29 July 2011, the President of the Chamber to which the case had been allocated indicated to the Russian Government, under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court (interim measures), that it had to provide the investigators examining the allegations of unlawful detention and ill-treatment with access to the premises of the Kurchaloy district department of the interior (see above).
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, 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”),
Julia Laffranque (Estonia),
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
Decision of the Court
Article 3 (treatment)
Since no assessment of evidence had been carried out by the Russian courts, the Court had to assess the facts as presented by the parties. It noted that the witness statements by Tamerlan Suleymanov’s colleagues and relatives confirmed the allegation that he had been beaten. The Court therefore found that it had been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he had been subjected to ill-treatment. However, the material before the Court did not constitute sufficient evidence to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the men who had beaten Tamerlan Suleymanov were State officials. The descriptions of the men had been general. Beyond the fact that they had worn uniforms and masks, no insignias or special vehicles had been noticed by the witnesses. Moreover, no curfew had been in force at the time and no restrictions had been imposed on driving around in civilian vehicles. Accordingly, there had been no violation of Article 3 on account of Tamerlan Suleymanov’s alleged ill-treatment.
Article 3 (investigation)
The Court observed that, within a period of about a year after the events, the authorities had taken a significant number of steps to investigate the alleged ill treatment of Tamerlan Suleymanov, unlike in many other cases concerning alleged ill-treatment by State officials in Chechnya.
However, in Tamerlan Suleymanov’s case, there had been inexplicable delays in taking key investigative measures. In particular, despite Doka Suleymanov’s specific allegation that the State officials who had beaten his son on 9 May 2011 had been the same police officers who had detained and pressured him two days earlier, those officers had only been questioned more than one month after the events. The police officers from the nearby police station who had allegedly witnessed the events had not been questioned at all. Video footage from a nearby shop had only been requested three months after the opening of the investigation, by which time the footage had already been destroyed. The place of Tamerlan Suleymanov’s alleged detention had only been examined after the Court’s request under Rule 39 of its Rules of Court to provide the investigators with access to those premises. Moreover, the officers who had been questioned about his alleged detention there were the very same individuals suspected of being responsible for unlawfully detaining him. The Court therefore concluded that the investigation could not be considered to have been diligent, thorough and effective.
The Court further dismissed an objection by the Russian Government that the national remedies had not been exhausted, as Doka Suleymanov could have sought judicial review of the investigators’ decisions. Having regard to the significant delays in taking key investigative measures, it was doubtful if such an appeal would have been able to redress the defects of the investigation.
There had accordingly been a violation of Article 3 on account of the authorities’ failure to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances of Tamerlan Suleymanov’s ill-treatment.
The complaint under Article 5 related to the same issues as those examined under Article 3. Having regard to its finding that it could not be established beyond reasonable doubt that Tamerlan Suleymanov had been ill-treated by State officials and that he was subsequently placed in unacknowledged detention under their control, the Court found that there had been no violation of Article 5.
The Court considered it unnecessary to examine separately the complaint under Article 13, as it concerned the same issues as those examined under Article 3 (investigation).
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The Court held that Russia was to pay Doka Suleymanov 12,500 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 6,000 in respect of costs and expenses.