Russia Lost Before ECHR Once Again
On November 8, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) notified a judgement case which is related to Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The case is about the abduction and killing of a young Chechen man who was abducted by Russian soldiers in 2003.
Here is the press release:
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
ECHR 232 (2011)
A young man abducted and disappeared in Chechnya
In today’s Chamber judgment in the case Sambiyeva v. Russia (application no. 20205/07), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
A violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the disappearance of Said-Emin Sambiyev;
A violation of Article 2 concerning the inadequate investigation into his disappearance;
A violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) concerning the mental suffering of the young man’s mother;
A violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) concerning the unacknowledged detention of Said-Emin Sambiyev; and,
A violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 2.
The case concerned the applicant’s allegations that her son had been abducted and killed by Russian servicemen during an unacknowledged security operation in Chechnya and that the domestic authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation into her complaints.
The applicant, Gizhan Sambiyeva, is a Russian national who was born in 1954 and lives in Grozny (Russia). She is the mother of Said-Emin Sambiyev, who was born in 1978 and has not been seen since August 2003. At the time of the events, Ms Sambiyeva lived in Tevzan; she currently lives in Grozny, Chechnya.
In 2003, Said-Emin Sambiyev worked for the Security Service of the Chechen President. On 13 August 2003, he and a colleague of his were in a taxi going from the village of Ulus-Kert to the village of Makkhety. Their vehicle was stopped in the village of Tevzan, in the Vedeno district, at a checkpoint manned by servicemen of military unit no. 28337-A. They were detained at the checkpoint by the servicemen and taken to the 45th Airborne Forces Regiment in the village of Khatuni, in the Vedeno district of Chechnya. Their abduction was witnessed by a person whose car was also stopped at that checkpoint and who was told by the servicemen that the two young men would be taken for an identity check to the 45th regiment’s base, in the military base in Khatuni.
On 25 August 2003, Said-Emin’s colleague, with whom he travelled on 13 August, was released from detention in Khatuni. According to him, both he and Said-Emin had been detained in separate pits in the ground which had been filled with water. Said-Emin had been beaten up and could barely speak at the time when he had seen him, shortly before his release. The abductors had told him that Said-Emin would be released on the following day.
The Russian Government did not challenge the facts as presented by the applicant. They accepted that Said-Emin had been travelling together with someone else in a car from Ulus-Kert in the Shatoi district to Makhkety in the Vedeno district on 13 August 2003 and that they had been stopped by military servicemen in armoured vehicles. After that, the two men had been taken to the military unit stationed in Khatuni. Eleven days later, Said- Emin’s companion had been released while Said-Emin’s fate had remained unclear.
Said-Emin’s mother applied in person and in writing to various authorities asking for help in finding her son. While an investigation was opened into her son’s disappearance on the same day when she complained to the prosecution about it, the file had been mostly forwarded from one law-enforcement office to another without success. The investigation had also been suspended and restarted numerous times, and she had received almost no information about its progress.
The Government submitted that following the opening of the investigation, they had questioned many witnesses, including Said-Emin’s mother, his colleague with whom he had been travelling on the day of his abduction and his director at the Security Service of the Chechen President. The investigation had been suspended several times for failure to identify the perpetrators, yet it had been resumed after each suspension and the applicant had been informed accordingly. The investigation was still on-going; it had established that no special operations had been carried out on the day of Said-Emin’s disappearance and that law-enforcement authorities had never arrested him on any charges.
Despite specific requests by the Court, the Government did not disclose most of the contents of the investigation file in the criminal case into Said-Emin’s abduction referring to the incompatibility of such a step with domestic criminal procedure legislation.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
Relying on Articles 2, 3, 5, and 13, the applicant complained that her son had been abducted and killed by Russian servicemen, that no effective investigation had been carried out into her related complaints, that she had suffered as a result of Said-Emin’s disappearance, that he had been detained unlawfully and that she had not had an effective remedy in respect of her complaints.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 20 April 2007. Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven, composed as follows:
Nina Vajić (Croatia), President,
Anatoly Kovler (Russia),
Peer Lorenzen (Denmark),
Elisabeth Steiner (Austria),
Khanlar Hajiyev (Azerbaijan),
Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece),
Erik Møse (Norway), Judges,
and also Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar.
Decision of the Court
Right to life (Article 2)
The Court observed that despite its requests for copies of documents related to the investigative steps taken in connection with Said-Emin’s disappearance, the Russian Government had produced only some of the documents from the case file.
The applicant’s allegations had been supported by the witness statements collected by the investigation which had accepted the factual assumptions presented by Said-Emin’s mother. The authorities had concluded that military servicemen had detained him and taken him to the military unit in Khatuni. The fact that they could not find any evidence showing that State agents had abducted Said-Amin did not absolve them from the responsibility to provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation of how the events in question had occurred.
The Court examined the documents submitted by the parties and, drawing inferences from the Government’s failure to submit the remaining documents which were in its exclusive possession, or to provide another plausible explanation for the events in question, the Court concluded that Said-Emin Sambiyev had been arrested on 13 August 2003 by State servicemen, following which he had disappeared. Given that there had been no reliable news from Said-Emin since the day of his abduction, the Court concluded that he had to be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention by State servicemen.
Consequently, in the absence of any justification for his disappearance and death, the Court held that the Russian Government had been responsible for Said-Emin’s presumed death, in violation of Article 2.
Investigation (Article 2)
The Court noted that the abduction of Said-Emin had been investigated. However, most of the documents related to the investigation had not been disclosed to the Court. In addition, a number of essential investigative steps had not been taken at all and Ms Sambiyeva had not been kept properly informed of the investigation’s progress.
The investigation had been suspended at least six times and there had been lengthy periods of inactivity which had led to unnecessary protraction. Due to the time which had elapsed since the events complained of, certain investigative measures which should have been carried out could no longer be usefully conducted. Ms Sambiyeva, who had not had access to the case file and had not been properly informed of the progress of the investigation, could not effectively challenge the acts or omissions of the investigative authorities before a court.
Consequently, the authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation into the circumstances surrounding Said-Emin’s disappearance, in violation of Article. 2.
Prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3)
The Court noted that Ms Sambiyeva was the mother of the disappeared man. For more than six years she had not had news from him. Despite her attempts, she had never received any plausible explanation or information about what had happened to her son.
The replies she had received had mostly denied State responsibility for her son’s arrest or simply informed her that the investigation had been ongoing.
There had, therefore, been a violation of Article 3 in respect of Ms Sambiyeva.
Deprivation of liberty (Article 5)
The Court held that as Ms Sambiyeva’s son had been held in unacknowledged detention without any of the safeguards contained in Article 5, that represented a particularly grave violation of the right to liberty and security.
Effective remedy (Article 13)
The criminal investigations into the disappearance and death of Ms Sambiyeva’s son had been ineffective, and the effectiveness of any other remedy that might have existed had consequently been undermined. Russia had therefore failed in its obligation under Article 13 and there had, therefore, been a violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 2.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The Court held that Russia was to pay Ms Sambiyeva euros (EUR) 12,000 in respect of pecuniary damage, EUR 50,000 in respect of non pecuniary damage and EUR 4,815 for costs and expenses.