Ibragimov and Others v. Russia
The ECHR case of Ibragimov and others v. Russia (application no. 34561/03).
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Press release issued by the Registrar
IBRAGIMOV AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA
The Court held unanimously that there had been:
· a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of Rizvan Ibragimov;
· a violation of Article 2 in respect of the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the disappearance of Rizvan Ibragimov;
· a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of the applicants;
· a violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) in respect of Rizvan Ibragimov;
· a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court awarded, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, 25,000 euros (EUR) to Umtazh Ibragimov and Tamara Ibragimova jointly, and EUR 2,500 to each of the other applicants. The Court awarded the applicants EUR 5,650 for costs and expenses (The judgment is available only in English.)
1. Principal facts
The applicants are six Russian nationals, Umtazh Ibragimov, Tamara Ibragimova, Zulikhan Ibragimova, Yakha Ibragimova, Magomed Ibragimov and Ayznat Ibragimova, who were born in 1938, 1953, 1974, 1985, 1987, and 1988 respectively and, at the relevant time, lived in Urus-Martan (Chechnya). They are the parents, sisters and brother of Rizvan Ibragimov, born in 1977.
At about 2 a.m. on the night of 28 to 29 December 2002 a group of five men in camouflage uniforms forcibly entered the Ibragimovs’ home in Urus-Martan where the first two applicants’ son, Rizvan Ibragimov, was staying. Three of them were wearing balaclava masks. They did not produce identity papers and gave no explanations.
Rizvan Ibragimov was taken outside by the uniformed personnel who threatened to shoot the first applicant when he tried to follow them. Other armed men in camouflage uniforms were standing in the courtyard and waiting outside the gate.
The first applicant followed the servicemen at a distance and saw them taking his son in the direction of a street where two armoured personnel carriers (“APCs”) and an Ural vehicle were parked, 600-700 metres from the applicants’ house.
Eye-witness written statements confirmed that around forty armed men in camouflage uniforms who had arrived in two APCs and one Ural vehicle were seen bringing back a man who looked like Rizvan Ibragimov. The vehicles then drove away towards the centre of Urus-Martan.
The Government’s version of events as established by the Prosecutor General’s Office was that at about 2.20 a.m. on 29 December 2002 unidentified persons armed with machine guns and wearing camouflage uniforms and masks had entered the Ibragimovs’ house and kidnapped Rizvan Ibragimov, and that the latter’s whereabouts had not been discovered.
Since 29 December 2002 the applicants, primarily the first applicant, have been searching for Rizvan Ibragimov. They applied to various official bodies both in person and in writing, trying to find out his whereabouts and what had happened to him, arguing that he must have been detained by representatives of State agencies, because the armed men had arrived in a large group during curfew hours and had worn uniforms similar to those used by the Russian troops.
In January 2003 the district prosecutor’s office opened a criminal investigation file into the abduction of Rizvan Ibragimov by unknown armed persons. After numerous suspensions of the investigation and various complaints and representations made by the first applicant in particular, in September 2006 the district prosecutor’s office informed the applicants that all the necessary measures had been taken to solve the crime and that the investigation had been suspended in August 2006.
Despite specific requests by the Court the Government failed to disclose the main contents of the criminal file, providing only procedural details. The Government stated that the investigation was in progress and that disclosure of the documents would be in violation of Article 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, since the file contained information of a military nature and personal data concerning witnesses or other participants in criminal proceedings.
The first applicant also brought proceedings challenging the failure on the part of the district prosecutor’s office to carry out the investigation and requested that the investigative measures be carried out and that he be allowed access to the investigation file.
This complaint was dismissed by the Urus-Martan Town Court. As for the alleged lack of access to the case file, the town court found that the right to have access to the materials of a criminal case file did not arise before the completion of the investigation. The Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic upheld the town court’s judgment on 3 November 2004.
2. Procedure and composition of the Court
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 22 September 2003.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Christos Rozakis (Greek), President,
Anatoly Kovler (Russian),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austrian),
Dean Spielmann (Luxemburger),
Sverre Erik Jebens (Norwegian),
Giorgio Malinverni (Swiss),
George Nicolaou (Cypriot), judges,
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
They relied on Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), 5 (right to liberty and security), 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and 13 (right to an effective remedy).
Decision of the Court
Evaluation of the facts
Drawing inferences from the Government’s failure to submit documents which were in their sole possession or to provide another plausible explanation for the events in question, the Court considered that Rizvan Ibragimov had been apprehended on the night of 28 to 29 December 2002 at his home by State servicemen during an unacknowledged security operation.
There had been no reliable news of Rizvan Ibragimov since 29 December 2002. His name had not been found in any official detention facility’s records. The Government had not submitted any explanation as to what happened to him after the abduction.
In the context of the conflict in the Chechen Republic, when a person was detained by unidentified servicemen without any subsequent acknowledgment of the detention, this could be regarded as life-threatening. The absence of Rizvan Ibragimov or of any news of him for several years supported this assumption. Rizvan Ibragimov had therefore to be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention by State servicemen.
Concerning the alleged violation of the right to life of Rizvan Ibragimov
The Court had already found it established that the applicants’ relative had to be presumed dead following his unacknowledged arrest by State servicemen and that his death could be attributed to the State. In the absence of any justification in respect of the use of lethal force by State agents, the Court found that there had been a violation of Article 2 in this respect.
Concerning the alleged inadequacy of the investigation of the kidnapping
The Government had failed to disclose most of the documents from the investigation file. The Court therefore had to assess the effectiveness of the investigation on the basis of the few documents submitted by the parties and the information about its progress presented by the Government.
In fact the effectiveness of the investigation had been undermined in its early stages by the authorities’ failure to take necessary and urgent investigative measures. The investigation was repeatedly suspended and resumed, but it appeared that no significant investigative measures had been taken to identify the perpetrators.
The authorities had therefore failed to carry out an effective criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Rizvan Ibragimov, in further violation of Article 2.
The applicants were the parents and siblings of the missing person. For more than three years and ten months they had had no news of Rizvan Ibragimov. During this period they had applied to various official bodies with enquiries about their relative, both in writing and in person. Despite their requests, the applicants had never received any plausible explanation or information as to what became of Rizvan Ibragimov following his kidnapping. The responses received by the applicants mostly denied that the State was responsible for his abduction or simply informed them that an investigation was ongoing.
In the light of these circumstances the Court found that the applicants had suffered, and continued to suffer, distress and anguish as a result of the disappearance of their relative and their inability to find out what happened to him. The manner in which their complaints had been dealt with by the authorities had to be considered to constitute inhuman treatment contrary to Article 3.
The Court found that Rizvan Ibragimov had been held in unacknowledged detention without any of the safeguards contained in Article 5. This constituted a particularly grave violation of the right to liberty and security enshrined in Article 5 of the Convention.
Since the criminal investigation into the disappearance of Rizvan Ibragimov had been ineffective, the effectiveness of any other remedy that might have existed had been undermined and the State had consequently failed in its obligation under Article 13 of the Convention. There had therefore been a violation of that Article in conjunction with Article 2.
No separate issues arose under Article 13 in respect of the alleged violations of Articles 3, 5 and 8.
The Court held unanimously that no separate issue arose under Article 8 as regards the right to respect for the applicants’ family life.