ECHR: Russian Authorities Failed to Effectively Investigate Abduction
On March 15th, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) notified the judgement case of Tsechoyev v. Russia which is related to Ingushetia. The case was about the abduction of an Ingush civilian, his death and uneffective investigation of Russian authorities.
Here is the press release:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Russian authorities failed to effectively investigate abduction and killing of detainee
In today’s Chamber judgment in the case Tsechoyev v. Russia (application no. 39358/05), which is not final1, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
A violation of Article 2 (right to life: obligation to conduct an effective investigation) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned the killing of the applicant’s brother after being abducted from a pre-trial detention centre in Kabardino-Balkaria (Russia) by unknown men in police uniforms.
The applicant, Ruslan Tsechoyev, is a Russian national who was born in 1965 and lives in Sagopshi in the Malgobek district of Ingushetia (Russia).
His brother, Suleyman Tsechoyev, was arrested in the family’s house in Sagopshi on 23 October 1998 on charges of aiding and abetting the kidnapping of Mr K., the relative of a top executive of the oil company Lukoil. According to Ruslan Tsechoyev’s submissions, his brother told him during their meetings that he had been pressured to confess to his involvement in the said abduction of Mr K. and that he had been subjected to beatings.
In the morning of 23 August 1999, a group of four men wearing police uniforms arrived at the detention centre in Nalchik, identifying themselves as officers of the Malgobek district police department and presenting a number of documents authorising Suleyman Tsechoyev’s transfer back to the detention centre in Ingushetia, where he had previously been held. With the agreement of the Nalchik detention centre’s staff, they took Suleyman Tsechoyev away. The next day, his body was found with gunshot wounds to the head.
An investigation into his murder was instituted. A number of important investigative steps were taken immediately, including a ballistic examination of the site of the crime and an autopsy of the body. In September 1999, Ruslan Tsechoyev and his sister were questioned and were granted victim status in the proceedings. Ruslan Tsechoyev named several people who could have been responsible for his brother’s abduction and death, including the former deputy district prosecutor of Malgobek, Mr Ye., who had been in charge of the investigation of the kidnapping of Mr K. and had authorised Suleyman Tsechoyev’s detention in relation to that crime.
The investigators also questioned the staff at the detention centre in Nalchik and the acting prosecutor of the Malgobek district, who told the investigators that he had ordered Suleyman Tsechoyev’s transfer back to Ingushetia on 5 August 1999, but for unknown reasons that order had not been complied with. The investigation established that the documents which had enabled Suleyman Tsechoyev to be kidnapped had been forged and that the people indicated in the documents had not worked at the Malgobek district police department.
In December 1999, a criminal investigation was opened against the former deputy district prosecutor of Malgobek, Mr Ye. He was charged with aiding the murder and kidnapping of Suleyman Tsechoyev, but the charges were subsequently dropped for lack of evidence. In particular, it was established that at the time of the murder he had left the prosecutor’s service and had been in Moscow.
Efforts to identify the men who had taken Suleyman Tsechoyev were unsuccessful. The investigation into his murder was suspended for failure to identify the suspects and reopened on a number of occasions. Ruslan Tsechoyev repeatedly wrote to the Prosecutor General complaining of the ineffectiveness of the investigation.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
Relying, in particular, on Articles 2 (right to life) and 13 (right to an effective remedy), Ruslan Tsechoyev alleged that his brother was killed by State officers, that the authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation of the matter, and that he did not have effective remedies in respect of those alleged violations.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 7 November 2005.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven, composed as follows:
Christos Rozakis (Greece), President,
Nina Vajić (Croatia),
Dean Spielmann (Luxembourg),
Anatoly Kovler (Russia),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austria),
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan),
Sverre Erik Jebens (Norway), Judges,
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
Decision of the Court
Article 2 (right to life: obligation to protect)
The Court observed that the parties disagreed as to whether the four men who had abducted Suleyman Tsechoyev were representatives of the State. The domestic investigation had so far produced no conclusive results on the matter besides having established that the men were not officers of the Malgobek police department, as they had claimed. The Court found that the evidence submitted by the parties was not sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the men who had killed Suleyman Tsechoyev were indeed State agents.
In order to establish whether the State had fulfilled its positive obligation to protect Suleyman Tsechoyev’s life, the Court further had to consider whether the authorities could have foreseen that, by handing him over to the men who had presented themselves as police officers, his life would be at real and immediate risk. The men had presented the relevant documents and the staff of the Nalchik detention centre had followed the routine procedure. While the subsequent investigation had established that the papers were forged, at the time of the transfer the Nalchik detention centre staff had not noticed anything suspicious.
The Court underlined that a situation, where a person who is detained on criminal charges and thus entirely under the authorities’ control could become the victim of a carefully masterminded murder, should be of serious concern to the relevant State bodies and should call for efficient investigative measures aimed at solving the crime. However, the Court did not find that the chain of events leading to Suleyman Tsechoyev’s death could have been foreseeable to the Nalchik detention centre’s officers when they transferred him into the custody of the supposed police officers. Therefore, no obligation to take operational measures to prevent a risk to life had arisen and there had accordingly been no violation of the positive obligation to protect Suleyman Tsechoyev’s right to life under
Article 2. (right to life: obligation to conduct an effective investigation)
As regards the investigation into Suleyman Tsechoyev’s death, the Court noted that not all documents from the investigation file had been disclosed by the Government. Drawing inferences from that conduct, the Court assumed that the materials made available had been selected so as to demonstrate to the maximum extent possible the effectiveness of the investigation in question. The merits of the complaint had therefore to be assessed on the basis of the existing elements in the file.
The Court observed that the criminal investigation had been instituted immediately after the discovery of the body, with a number of important steps taken to establish the circumstances of the events including the questioning of Suleyman Tsechoyev’s family. The fact that the investigation in respect of the former deputy district prosecutor of Malgobek and other people named by Ruslan Tsechoyev who could have been responsible for his brother’s death ended without concrete result was not indicative of any failings as such.
However, the Court found it difficult to ignore the fact that the investigation had failed to elucidate the possible complicity of the law-enforcement staff of the Malgobek district in Suleyman Tsechoyev’s abduction. Having heard the testimony of the Malgobek district prosecutor that he had authorised Mr Tsechoyev’s transfer back to the detention centre in Ingushetia several weeks prior to the abduction, but that for unclear reasons it had not taken place, the investigators had not taken any steps to clarify who had been aware of that decision, whether the corresponding documents had been issued at the Malgobek prosecutor’s office and whether those documents could have been used to forge the papers presented at the Nalchik pre-trial detention centre on the day of the abduction. That led the Court to conclude that the investigation had ultimately been ineffective in that it had failed to follow an obvious line of inquiry to an extent which undermined its ability to establish the circumstances of the case and the person or persons responsible.
The authorities had thus failed to carry out a thorough, objective and impartial analysis of all relevant elements. There had accordingly been a violation of of Article 2 concerning the investigation.
In view of that finding, the Court did not consider it necessary to separately examine the complaint under Article 13.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held that Russia was to pay Ruslan Tsechoyev 15,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 2,500 in respect of costs and expenses.