05 April 2007, Thursday

Court recognizes unacknowledged detention in Chechnya as life-threatening

(Moscow) The European Court of Human Rights today condemned Russia for the disappearance and death of a 61-year old Chechen man, Russian Justice Initiative said. In a strongly worded judgment, the Court also condemned the practice of disappearances in Chechnya and lamented the acquiescence in the situation on the part of the authorities.

In the case Baysayeva v. Russia, the European Court considered the detention and subsequent disappearance of Shakhid Baysayev who was detained during a mop-up operation conducted by Russian police force units (OMON) in the village of Podgornoye in Chechnya in March 2000. The OMON units had just suffered significant casualties from a friendly fire incident and were searching for rebels allegedly responsible for the incident. Baysayev was detained together with about 50 other people and has not been seen since.

«I am very satisfied with the judgment,» said Asmart Baysayeva, the wife of Shakhid Baysayev. «I hope that the Russian authorities will now find my husband and bring to justice those who detained him.»

In its judgment the Court pointed to the existence of unique video footage of the detention as an important piece of evidence. Russian soldiers filmed the detention themselves and later sold the videotape to Asmart for 1,000 USD.

After the detention of her husband, Asmart immediately complained to the authorities. Despite her continued efforts and the existence of the video footage of the detention, however, the Russian authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation. The Court notes that the investigation was plagued by «inexplicable delays in performing the most essential tasks,» and it finds it «astonishing» that the persons depicted in the video has still not been identified by the investigation. Information about the possible burial place of Asmart's husband has not been properly investigated either. 

In its unanimous judgment, the Court made a number of important findings:

  • The detention of Baysayev had been unlawful as Russian troops disregarded domestic legal procedures (Article 5 of the European Convention for Human Rights);
  • Baysayev must be presumed dead considering circumstances of his detention and the fact that he has been missing for more than six years. The Court held that the Russian government is responsible for his death (Article 2);
  • The investigation into the disappearance of Baysayev has been inadequate on numerous accounts (Article 2);
  • The suffering of Baysayev's wife as a result of her husband’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 refusal of the Russian authorities to submit the documents of criminal investigation file constitutes a failure to assist the Court in its investigation (Article 38).

The Court ruled that there was not enough evidence to find that Baysayev himself had been subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The panel of seven judges, which included the Russian judge, ordered Russia to pay Asmart Baysayeva 50,000 Euro in compensation for moral damages. The government is also obliged to take steps to properly investigate Baysayev’s disappearance. Once the judgment has attained legal force, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will monitor its implementation.

In its judgment, the Court expresses great concern about the phenomenon of «disappearances» in Chechnya and notes that it has already examined a number of Chechen disappearance cases (see Bazorkina v. Russia, Imakayeva v. Russia, and Luluyev and Others v. Russia). The Court held that, when a person is detained by unidentified servicemen without any subsequent acknowledgment of detention, this can be regarded as life-threatening. Furthermore, the Court noted that the authorities' reaction to the disappearance, «gives a strong presumption of at least acquiescence in the situation.»

«The significance of this finding goes well beyond this individual case,» said Ole Solvang, Executive Director of Russian Justice Initiative. «It means that the Court recognizes the graveness of the situation in Chechnya and will take this into account in its future decisions.»

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. In 2005, Human Rights Watch stated that the widespread and systematic use of enforced disappearance amounted to a crime against humanity.

Russian Justice Initiative, a legal aid organization providing legal assistance to victims of grave human rights abuse in the North Caucasus, represented Asmart Baysayeva before the European Court of Human Rights.

For more information, please contact:

In Moscow, Russia: Ole Solvang, +7 905 527 5978
In Nazran, Russia: Arsen Sakalov, +7 906 486 0753

See also:
ECHR Judgment
HRW Report: “The ‘Dirty War’ in Chechnya: Forced Disappearances, Torture, and Summary Executions

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