Domestic investigation

On 22 February 2000 Yakha Estamirova appealed to the Prosecutor General to initiate criminal proceedings into the killing of five members of her family and the looting and destruction of their property on 5 February 2000 by Russian troops during a “mopping-up” operation in Grozny.  No proper investigation took place.

On 4 April 2000 Ruslan Estamirov and his mother Yakha Estamirova travelled to Grozny to seek permission to exhume the bodies and bury them in Prigorodnoye cemetery. At first they were denied on the grounds that the cemetery could be mined.  Subsequently city officials granted them permission and ordered the investigators and the police to attend the exhumation. The deaths were certified the same day at the Malgobek Town Court in Ingushetia, at Ruslan’s request.

On 8 April 2000 the applicants visited the Oktyabrskiy temporary district office of the interior (VOVD) in Grozny and produced the written permission they had received for the exhumation. Several policemen accompanied them to the site, one of them with a camera.

Once the bodies had been exhumed, pictures were taken with only the cloths removed from the faces of the corpses. No pathologist was present, and no forensic examination took place. The bodies were brought to Prigorodnoye cemetery and buried. An investigator from the Oktyabrskiy VOVD issued a certificate confirming that the bodies had been examined and that evidence of a violent death had been established.

After the exhumation the police wanted to leave, but Ruslan objected and requested that they examine the premises for relevant evidence: the tire tracks in front of the house from an armoured personnel carrier (APC), empty beer bottles, a pair of shoes in the courtyard. The policemen sketched the site and collected other evidence such as cartridges and bullets.

The massacre that occurred in Novye Aldy soon became known to the authorities due to NGO and media reports. The Russian authorities initiated criminal proceedings under Article 105.2 of the Criminal Code (for murder of one or more individuals) as late as 14 April 2000, over two months after the events occurred.  

The investigation into the deaths of the applicants' relatives was adjourned and reopened several times. The investigation carried out by the Grozny City Prosecutor's Office produced no tangible results. It appears that it relied on the version of events initially submitted by the applicants, alleging that the killings had been committed by a Russian military detachment. The investigation did not identify the detachment that bore responsibility and no one was charged with the crimes. It does not appear that the investigation connected the murder of the applicants' family members with the investigation of the killings in the Novye Aldy settlement of 5 February 2000. 

Military prosecutors concluded that "no federal servicemen took part in the operation".  On 21 April 2000 the office of the Military Prosecutor for the North Caucasus military circuit stated that the “mopping-up” in Aldy was conducted by servicemen of OMON forces of the Ministry of Interior from St. Petersburg and Ryazan, over which the military prosecutor did not have jurisdiction. The case file was forwarded to the Grozny City Prosecutor for appropriate action.

It was only in August 2000—half a year after the events occurred—that the Oktyabrskiy district civil registration office issued death certificates for the applicants' relatives, recording the date of death as 5 February 2000.

In August 2000 Ruslan and Yakha Estamirov filed a civil claim against the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Finance with the Supreme Court of Russia to request compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage. They alleged that five members of their family had been murdered on 5 February 2000 in their house in Grozny during a so-called “mopping-up” operation. Their house and car had been set on fire and their property looted. They maintained that the acts must have been committed by federal servicemen since by that date Grozny had already fallen to Russian forces. They also asserted that there were no courts in Chechnya, and that many of the relevant documents had burnt along with the house. It appears that on 31 August 2000 the Supreme Court refused to consider the claim on jurisdictional grounds and the applicants were advised to apply to a competent district court.

The applicants’ inquiries regarding the status of investigation, measures taken to identify and prosecute the culprits, and requests for copies of the relevant orders were either not answered at all, or as occurred on one occasion, answered by a letter that mistakenly indicated that the applicant's relatives had been murdered in April 2000.

No meaningful investigative steps were taken before the European Court notified the government on 18 June 2003 that an application had been lodged in the case. The criminal investigation into the killings failed to secure physical evidence at the scene of the crime or to conduct full forensic medical examinations of the bodies, and had neglected to question witnesses.

Procedure at the European Court of Human Rights

Realizing the impossibility to achieve redress through the Russian judicial system, seven members of Estamirov family, represented by British barrister Gareth Peirce, lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights on 04 August 2000. The organization Stichting Russian Justice Initiative has since assisted Peirce in the case.

The application alleged that  five members of the Estamirov family were killed by federal forces and that no effective investigation had been carried out into the circumstances of the killings, in violation of both the substantial and procedural obligations of the State under Articles 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The applicants also complained under Article 13 that no domestic remedy was available to them, in violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

The European Court decided to grant the case priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court.

The Court communicated the case to the Government on 18 June 2003. In this correspondence, the Court requested that the government provide a copy of the investigation file to allow the Court to assess the quality of the investigation. The Russian Government submitted the copy of investigation file on June 2003, but ever since has refused to provide updates of the investigation file, claiming that it was necessary to protect information, related to the conduct of military operations as well as the personal information of the victims.

In a decision of 19 May 2005, the European Court of Human Rights declared the application admissible.

The applicants and the Government each filed further written observations under Rule 59 § 1 of the Court.

The European Court delivered its judgment in the case on 12 October 2006.


For further information see:

Judgment in the case of Estamirov and Others v Russia.

Analysis of the judgment (currently being drafted by the SRJI legal staff, please follow the link to the summary provided by the Court’s Registry).