ECHR Raps Russia Over Missing Chechens
On June 7, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Russia over the disappearance of three Chechen men presumed dead in three different cases.
Here is the press-release:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
ECHR 037 (2011)
Disappearance of three young men during unacknowledged security operations in Chechnya
In today’s Chamber judgments in the cases Gerasiyev and Others v. Russia (application no. 28566/07), Kosumova and Others v. Russia (no. 27441/07) and Vitayeva and Others v. Russia (no. 27459/07) which are not final1, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that in all three cases there had been a:
Violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the disappearance of the applicants’ close relatives;
Violation of Article 2 of the Convention concerning the inadequate investigation into their disappearance;
Violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) concerning the mental suffering of 11 of the applicants;
Violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security); and
Violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 2.
These cases concerned the applicants’ allegations that their relatives had been abducted and killed by Russian servicemen during unacknowledged security operations carried out in the Chechen Republic in February 2000, November 2002 and March 2004, and that the domestic authorities had failed to conduct an effective investigation into the events surrounding these disappearances.
Gerasiyev and Others
The applicants in this case are four Russian nationals who live in the village of Gekhi (Chechen Republic) and are the parents, brother and sister of Valid Gerasiyev, born in 1977. They have had no news of Valid since February 2000 when he went to the neighbouring village of Shaami-Yurt to collect firewood for the family’s home. According to the applicants, Valid was hit by shellfire on 3 February 2000 while in a forest outside Shaami-Yurt. Subsequently, he took shelter in the basement of a house in the village, where residents bandaged his arm to stop the bleeding. During a “sweep” of the village on 5 February 2000, occupants of the basement were ordered out and their identities checked. Valid’s bandage drew attention. He was asked how he had received the wound but was unable to explain because he did not speak Russian. He was then put in a KAVZ bus and driven away.
Kosumova and Others
The applicants in this case are six Russian nationals who live in Mesker-Yurt (Chechen Republic) and are the parents, brother, sister, wife and son of Abdul Kosumov, born in 1982. Abdul was abducted in the early morning hours of 21 November 2002 when armed men in camouflage uniforms, who had been driving around Mesker-Yurt in armoured personnel carriers, broke into the family home, pulled a mask over his head and took him outside. They raided the house as well as the neighbouring dwelling of Abdul’s brother. Some of the abductors then departed with Abdul while others stayed to prevent the family from coming outside. The abduction was witnessed by several local residents. Abdul has not been seen since.
Vitayeva and Others
The applicants in this case are three Russian nationals who live in Grozny (Chechen Republic) and are the wife, mother and son of Magomed-Emi Kudayev, born in 1982. Magomed was a fourth-year student at the Grozny Oil Institute at the time of his abduction from his family’s home in Grozny on 27 March 2004. A group of approximately ten armed, masked men came to the house late at night and ordered him to get dressed and to follow them. He was subsequently taken by the men, who drove away in two vehicles with tinted windows. As late as 2005 the applicants received unofficial confirmation from sources in the Ministry of the Interior that Magomed had been detained at the base of a Russian battalion in Vedeno, Chechnya.
Decision of the Court
Article 2 (right to life)
The Court considered that the applicants in all three cases had presented a clear, coherent and consistent account of their relatives’ abduction.
In the case of Gerasiyev and Others only sparse materials were made available to the Court from the Government’s criminal investigation, but these supported the applicants’ allegations both that Russian authorities had been conducting a security operation in Shaami-Yurt at the time of Valid’s abduction and that the servicemen involved in that operation had taken him.
In the cases of Kosumova and Others and Vitayeva and Others the events of the abductions were corroborated by several witness statements as well as by the domestic investigation. The fact that a group of armed men in uniform in military or paramilitary vehicles had been able to move freely through the applicants’ villages and through military checkpoints during curfew hours strongly supported the conclusion that the men had been Russian servicemen conducting a security operation. Indeed, in Vitayeva and Others applicants received information substantiating Magomed’s detention at the Vedeno base from people who were working or had worked in the Russian battalion located there.
In all three cases, the Court concluded from the circumstances surrounding the abductions that the applicants’ relatives had to be presumed dead following their unacknowledged detention by Russian servicemen. It drew further inferences from the Government’s failure to submit documents in its exclusive possession, despite specific requests from the Court, or to provide any other plausible explanation for the disappearances. The Court therefore concluded that there had been a violation of Article 2 in regard to each of the abducted men.
In all three cases the Court found further violations of Article 2 on account of the authorities’ failure to conduct effective criminal investigations into the disappearance of the applicant’s relatives. In Gerasiyev and Others the authorities had waited over five years to interview the residents of Shaami-Yurt, who were able to provide details concerning Valid’s abduction and the parallel security operation that took place in the village. In Kosumova and Others the investigation had been launched only 23 days after the abduction. The Court stressed that with respect to abductions in life-threatening circumstances a delay of several days was by itself liable to undermine the effectiveness of any investigation. In Vitayeva and Others not only had there been a delay of 16 days between the abduction and the launch of the Government’s investigation, but also repeated suspensions of the investigation, followed by lengthy periods of inactivity on the part of prosecutor’s office.
Despite the limited information available to the Court – the Government having failed to submit comprehensive files of the investigations – it was nonetheless apparent that numerous essential steps had not been taken. In Kosumova and Others, for example, the authorities did not examine the crime scene, nor did they identify and question any of the servicemen stationed in the area who might have been involved. The Court noted in all three cases that investigations had been in progress for several years but had produced no tangible results.
Article 3 (applicants’ mental suffering)
The Court found that all the applicants except the sons of Abdul Kosumov and Magomed-Emi Kudayev had suffered and continued to suffer distress and anguish as a result of the disappearances and their inability, despite their repeated inquires, to find out what had happened to their relatives. The manner in which those applicants’ complaints had been dealt with by the authorities had to be considered to constitute inhuman treatment, in violation of Article 3. However, the Court held that there had been no violation of Article 3 as concerned Abdul Kosumov’s and Magomed-Emi Kudayev’s sons, only one and two at the time of their fathers’ disappearance, as the Court made a distinction between the distress of being raised without a father and the mental anguish experienced by the other older applicants on account of their relatives’ disappearance and the authorities’ attitude to it.
Article 5 (unacknowledged detention)
The Court held that in all three cases the applicants’ relatives 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 investigation 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.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held that in the case of:
Gerasiyev and Others, Russia was to pay in respect of pecuniary damage 3,000 euros (EUR) to Valid Gerasiyev’s father and EUR 4,000 to his mother; and, in respect of nonpecuniary damage, EUR 50,000 to his parents, jointly, as well as EUR 5,000 each to his brother and sister. EUR 3,500 was awarded for costs and expenses.
Kosumova and Others, Russia was to pay in respect of pecuniary damage EUR 25,000, jointly, to Abdul Kosumov’s wife and son; and, in respect of non-pecuniary damage EUR 60,000, jointly, to all six applicants (his parents, brother, sister, wife and son). EUR 4,500 was awarded for costs and expenses.
Vitayeva and Others v. Russia, Russia was to pay in respect of pecuniary damage EUR 20,000, jointly, to Magomed-Emi Kudayev’s wife and son; and, in respect of nonpecuniary damage EUR 60,000, jointly, to his wife, mother and son. EUR 4,500 was awarded for costs and expenses.