ECHR Condemns Russia on the Abductions of Two Civilians
On May 24, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has fined Russia in two different cases related with Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Both of the cases were about the abductions of two civilians, but one of the abductees is brother of Ruslan Alikhadzhiyev who was the speaker of the Parliament of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
Here is the press-release:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
ECHR 012 (2011)
Two men abducted in Chechnya, from home at night and from a check point at day-time, and then disappeared
In today’s Chamber judgments in the cases Maayevy v. Russia (application no. 7964/07) and Malika Alikhadzhiyeva v. Russia (application no. 37193/08), which are not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been, in both cases:
A violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in concerning the disappearance of the applicants’ close relatives;
A violation of Article 2 of the Convention concerning the inadequate investigation into their disappearance;
A violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) concerning the applicants’ moral suffering;
A violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security); and
A violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).
The case concerned the applicants’ allegation that their son and husband were abducted and killed by Russian servicemen during unacknowledged security operations, respectively in March 2003 and April 2005, in the Chechen Republic.
The applicants in the first case are the parents of Isa Maayev, born in 1975, and the applicant in the second case is the wife of Ruslanbek Alikhadziyev, born in 1963. All applicants are Russian nationals who live in two different towns in the Chechen Republic.
In the case of Maayevy, the applicants allege that their son was abducted at about 2 a.m. on 10 March 2003, when around 10 men in camouflage uniforms burst into their home in which they lived together with their son. All of the intruders wore masks, were armed with sub-machine guns and spoke unaccented Russian. They pushed Isa’s mother on the floor and stepped onto her back threatening to kill her if she made any noise, while Isa’s father was pulled out of bed and had his hands tied. Isa’s parents were ordered to remain on the floor, while the intruders rushed into their son’s bedroom. It was only after the armed men had left that his parents realised they had taken Isa with them. Two witnesses testified to having found that night Isa’s mother screaming for help and his father tied on the ground, and to having heard noise from departing vehicles which they had followed in vain. There has been no news of Isa Maayev since that night. Immediately after the incident, the applicants, accompanied by two witness, alerted the police to Isa’ abduction. They also complained in writing to various other authorities. An investigation was opened on 20 March 2003. About 20 days later, Isa’s mother was granted victim status, following which a number of witnesses were interviewed. The investigation was suspended and reopened several times. Isa’s parents complained unsuccessfully in court that the investigation had been ineffective. In reaction to another complaint of theirs, the courts grated them access to the case file.
In the case of Malika Alikhadzhieva, Ruslanbek Alikhadzhiyev’s wife alleges that he was detained at a checkpoint of the Russian federal forces near the village of Meskert-Yurt, at about noon on 20 April 2005 and then disappeared. Several witnesses, passing through the same checkpoint at the time, submitted written statements comfirming to have seen either Ruslanbek himself, or his car driven by others. There has been no news of Ruslanbek Alikhadzhiyev since 20 April 2005.
Ruslanbek’s wife submitted that, while she had kept no copies of her complaints, she had alerted local authorities to her husband’s disappearance as early as the night of his disappearance. An investigation was opened only on 12 October 2005. The Russian Government submitted documents about the investigation showing that Ms Alikhadzhiyeva had complained to the ombudsman and the President of the Chechen Republic at the beginning of August 2005, and that the first investigative measures had been taken on 28 August 2005. Ms Alikhadzhiyeva was granted victim status, some witnesses were interviewed and the investigation was suspended and reopened several times. In June 2006, a local town court declared Ruslanbek Alikhadzhiyev a missing person.
The investigations in both cases were still pending. The Government submitted that no evidence had been obtained showing that either Isa Maayev or Ruslanbek Alikhadzhiyev had been abducted by State representatives. Despite specific requests by the Court, the Government did not disclose most of the contents of the two criminal cases, referring to the incompatibility of such an action with Russian legislation.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
The applicants alleged in particular that their close relatives had been abducted by Russian servicemen in Chechnya and then disappeared. They relied on Article 2, 3, 5, and 13.
The applications were lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 15 February 2007 and 1 August 2008, respectively.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven, composed as follows:
Nina Vajić (Croatia), President,
Anatoly Kovler (Russia),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austria),
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), Julia Laffranque (Estonia),
Christos Rozakis (Greece), in the Maayevy case,
Peer Lorenzen (Denmark), in the Maayevy case,
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan), in the Malika Alikhadzhieva case, George Nicolaou (Cyprus), in the Malika Alikhadzhieva case, Judges,
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
Decision of the Court
Article 2 (right to life)
The Russian Government had not disputed most of the facts as presented by the applicants, and had conceded that Isa and Ruslanbek had been abducted in the circumstances described by their relatives. However, the Government denied that the abductors had been servicemen, given that no evidence for that had been obtained during the investigation in either case.
The Court found that the applicants in both cases had made consistent claims about their relatives’ detention. In each case, a group of armed men in camouflage uniforms had been able to pass freely through different check-points. In the Maayevy case that had happened during curfew hours and in the Malika Alikhadzhiyeva case the men had awaited for several hours in an ambush at the check-point. The men had then arrested Isa in a manner similar to that of State agents, and Ruslanbek – in broad daylight and in the presence of a number of servicemen and other witnesses. All the above suggested that the abductors had been State agents who had arrested Isa and Ruslanbek during unacknowledged security operations. Further drawing inferences from the Government’s failure to submit all the requested documents related to the investigations or to provide any other plausible explanation for the disappearance of the two men, the Court found that they had to be presumed dead following their unacknowledged detention by State agents. The Court therefore concluded that there had been a violation of Article 2.
The investigation had only been launched some 10 days after the events in the case of Maayevy and more than five months later in the case of Malika Alikhadzhieva. Such a delay had inevitably affected the investigations into the two kidnapping cases, in which crucial action had to be taken in the first days after the event. Both investigations had also been plagued by inexplicable delays in the taking of essential steps. Other essential investigative steps had never been taken at all. Also, although the disappeared men’s relatives had eventually been granted victim status, they had had limited or no access to the case files. Accordingly, the investigators had failed to ensure that the investigations had received the required level of public scrutiny. Repeatedly suspended and resumed, the investigations were still pending.
The Court therefore found that there had been a further violation of Article 2 on account of the Russian authorities’ failure to carry out an effective criminal investigation into the circumstances in which Isa Maayev and Ruslanbek Alikhadziyev had disappeared.
Article 3 (applicants’ mental suffering)
The applicants, the parents and wife of the two disappeared men, had suffered distress and anguish as a result of the disappearance of their loved ones and their inability – despite their repeated enquiries – to find out what had happened to them. The manner in which the applicants’ complaints had been dealt with by the authorities had to be considered to constitute inhuman treatment, in violation of Article 3.
Article 5 (unacknowledged detention)
The Court held that both Isa Maayev and Ruslanbek Alikhadziyev had been held in unacknowledged detention without any of the safeguards contained in Article 5, which constituted a particularly grave violation of the right to liberty and security.
The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 2 because the criminal investigation into the disappearance of Isa Maayev and Ruslanbek Alikhadziyev had been ineffective and the effectiveness of any other remedy that might have existed had consequently been undermined.
Article 41 (just satisfaction)
In respect of non-pecuniary damage, the Court held that Russia was to pay 60,000 euros (EUR) to Isa Maayev’s parents, jointly, and EUR 60,000 to Ruslanbek Alikhadzhiyev’s wife, and respectively EUR 727 and EUR 1997 for costs and expenses.