First in String of Disappearance Cases to be Decided
(Moscow, 27 July 2006) The European Court of Human Rights ruled today that the Russian government was responsible for the “disappearance” and death of a young man in Chechnya in 2000. It was the first time that the European Court has ruled on a “disappearance” case from Chechnya, said Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.
“This is a landmark judgment with major importance for the hundreds of other Chechen disappearance cases still pending before the Court,” said Ole Solvang, executive director of Russian Justice Initiative, the organization that lodged the case with the Court on behalf of Yandiyev’s mother. “We hope that the Russian authorities will respond with vigorous domestic investigations into this and other enforced disappearances in Chechnya.”
In the case, Bazorkina v. Russia, the Court considered the “disappearance” of Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev, a 25-year-old Chechen, who was detained after he fled Grozny on 1 February 2000 together with a group of fighters. Following his detention, Yandiyev was questioned in the village of Alkhan-Kala by Colonel-General Alexander Baranov, who, at the end of the interrogation, ordered his execution. The interrogation and execution order were filmed by several camera crews, whose footage was filed with the Court. Yandiyev has been missing since.
Despite his mother’s numerous attempts to seek justice through the Russian legal system, the government opened a criminal investigation into the “disappearance” only in July 2001, almost eighteen months after the events. Despite the clear evidence in the case, they suspended the investigation six times in the last six years, stating that it was impossible to identify the perpetrators of the disappearance. Colonel-General Baranov was only questioned for the first time in June 2004. No charges were ever brought before a Russian court.
In its judgment, the Court made a number of findings:
The detention of Yandiyev had been unlawful as Russian troops disregarded domestic legal procedures (article 5 of the European Convention for Human Rights);
Yandiev must be presumed dead considering the execution order that was issued against him and the fact that he has been missing for more than six years. The Court held that Russian government is responsible for his death (article 2);
The investigation into the “disappearance” of Yandiev has been inadequate on numerous accounts (article 2);
The suffering of Yandiev’s mother as a result of her son’s “disappearance” and the failure of the Russian government to take adequate steps to clarify his fate reaches the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment (article 3);
The Court ruled that there was not enough evidence to find that Yandiyev himself had been subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Fatima Bazorkina, Yandiyev’s mother, welcomed the judgment.
“Finally, a court has been willing to properly examine my case,” she said. “I now hope that the Russian authorities will make a serious effort to establish the truth about my son's fate and bring to justice those responsible.”
Then Colonel-General Baranov, the officer who ordered Yandiyev’s execution, has since been promoted and is currently commander of all Russian troops in the North Caucasus. He has also been awarded the Hero of Russia Medal.
The Court has ordered Russia to pay compensation to Yandiyev’s family. The government is also obliged to take steps to properly investigate Yandiyev’s disappearance. Once the judgment has attained legal force, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will monitor its implementation.
“Although the situation in Chechnya continues to be Europe’s most serious human rights crisis, the international community is increasingly unwilling to take Russia to task.” said Diederik Lohman, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and founder of Russian Justice Initiative. “This judgment should be a wake up call to member states of the Council of Europe, including Russia, to finally take effective action against these abuses.”
The Russian human rights group Memorial estimates that between 3,000 and 5000 people have disappeared in Chechnya at the hands of Russian or pro-Moscow Chechen troops since the conflict started in 1999. It has documented 127 new cases of “disappearance” in 2005. In 2005, Human Rights Watch stated that the widespread and systematic use of enforced disappearance amounted to a crime against humanity.
The case of Bazorkina v Russia was initially brought to the European Court on behalf of the applicant by British barrister Gareth Peirce. Following its establishment in 2001, Russian Justice Initiative (then Chechnya Justice Initiative) have jointly represented the applicant.
For more information about the case:
To access the text of the judgment please follow the link: