(Utrecht) The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Russia in the first torture case from Chechnya to be heard by the Court, Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, a legal aid organization representing the applicants, said today.
In its judgment, the Court held that applicants Adam and Arbi Chitayev had been held in unacknowledged detention, that they had been subjected to torture, and that the Russian authorities had not properly investigated their allegations.
“I am satisfied with the judgment,” said Arbi Chitayev, who currently lives in Germany. “At the same time I am worried that what happened to me could happen to my relatives who still live in Russia.”
On 12 April 2000, the brothers Adam and Arbi Chitayev were detained by Russian military servicemen in their home in the village Achkhoy-Martan in Chechnya, Russia, and taken to the local police-station where they were questioned about the activities of Chechen fighters. They were later taken to the Chernokozovo detention center in north-west Chechnya.
During their detention both at the Achkhoy-Martan police-station and at the Chernokozovo detention center, the brothers were subjected to a range of torture methods: they were handcuffed to a chair and beaten; electric shocks were applied to various parts of their bodies; they were forced to stand for a long time in a stretched position; their arms were twisted; they were beaten with rubber truncheons and with plastic bottles filled with water; they were strangled with adhesive tape, with a cellophane bag and a gas mask; dogs were set on them; parts of their skin were torn away with pliers and more.
The brothers were released on 5 October 2000, after almost six months in detention. The criminal proceedings against both brothers were terminated on 20 January 2001, but were later reopened. No charges have been brought against the brothers.
In its unanimous judgment, the Court made a number of important findings:
The brothers were subjected to torture (violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights);
The Russian authorities have failed in their obligation to effectively investigate the brothers’ allegations (violation of Article 3);
The brothers were held in unacknowledged detention for part of the detention period (violation of Article 5);
During the detention, the brothers suffered from violations of several safeguards guaranteed by the European Convention, such as the right to challenge the lawfulness of the detention, the authorities’ obligation to have the detention sanctioned by a judge, the right to be released pending trial and the right to compensation for illegal detention (Article 5).
The Court did not consider on the merits the brothers’ complaints about poor prison conditions because they had been submitted too late. The Court also did not consider the allegations of invasion of privacy and illegal confiscation of property in connection with searches of their home because these complaints had not been made to the Russian authorities.
The existence of torture in the Chernokozovo detention center has been well documented by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). In July 2001, the CPT made an unusual public statement lamenting the absence of an investigation into the accusations of torture and ill-treatment at Chernokozovo.
“Unfortunately, torture is not a thing of the past in Chechnya. We still receive numerous requests for legal assistance from people who have been tortured,” said Jan ter Laak, chairman of the board of Stichting Russian Justice Initiative. “The Russian and Chechen authorities must now take this problem and this judgment seriously and bring an end to this terrible practice.”
In its concluding observations on the 37th session held in November 2006, the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed its concern about “reliable reports of unofficial places of detention in the North Caucasus and the allegations that those detained in such facilities face torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The initial application to the European Court of Human Rights was filed by the Human Rights Centre Memorial in July 2000. Since mid-2001, Stichting Russian Justice Initiative has provided the brothers with legal assistance.