The European Court of Human Rights today held
On 5 February 2000, Khasmagomed Estamirov (born in 1933), Khozhakhmad Estamirov (born in 1963), Toita Estamirova (born in 1971), their son Khasan Estamirov (born in January 1999), and Said-Akhmed Masarov (born in 1950) were killed by Russian federal forces in a suburb of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, during a sweep operation several days after the federal forces had established control over the capital. The bodies were discovered the same day, burnt and with several gunshots, in the backyard of their own house by a relative. Toita Estamirova, eight months pregnant at the time, had several gunshots to her chest and abdomen. Toita’s one-year old child, Khasan, had gunshots to his head and leg.
Investigators at the scene of the crime collected numerous empty cartridges and recorded tracks in the ground made by armed personnel carriers used only by Russian military forces. The investigation established that the sweep operation was conducted by special police force units (OMON) from
In its judgment, the Court concluded that the death of the applicants’ relatives should be attributed to the Russian state (violation of Article 2 of the European Convention for Human Rights). The Court noted that the Russian government had not disputed that the area was controlled by Russian federal forces at the time. The government did also not provide any explanation for its assertion that the deaths of the Estamirov family members were not linked to numerous other deaths in that area on that day. The Court also noted that the investigation into the deaths had not been completed and that the individuals responsible were not identified or indicted. Because of this and other shortcomings the Court found that the Russian state had also violated its obligation to conduct a proper investigation. In addition, the Court found that the applicants did not have access to an effective remedy for the violations (violation of Article 13).
The Court also expressed its dissatisfaction with the Russian government’s refusal to disclose all documents concerning the investigation into the deaths. However, the Court found that it could draw inferences from the Russian government’s refusal to provide a copy of the documents.
“This decision does not, of course, bring back Khuseyn’s parents,” said Ruslan Estamirov, applicant in the case and brother of Khozhakhmad Estamirov, referring to now ten-year old Khuseyn Estamirov who had his grandfather, parents, and brother executed on that day. “Still, finally, it feels like we can start putting this behind us.”
The case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights by several members of the Estamirov family together with the British barrister Gareth Peirce and the organization Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.
“This judgment finally establishes some accountability for the massacre that was committed that day in
Russian federal forces summarily executed at least sixty civilians in the suburbs of
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