10th Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights relating to Chechnya
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today condemned Russia for the disappearance and killing of a young man from Chechnya, the organization representing relatives of the victim, Russian Justice Initiative, said.
In the case Akhmadova and Sadulayeva v. Russia, the ECHR considered the illegal detention, disappearance and killing of Shamil Akhmadov, a father of five small children, who was detained during a large-scale mopping-up operation in the town of Argun, Chechnya, on 12 March 2001. More than a year after the detention, local residents discovered Akhmadov's body, badly mutilated, in a field outside of Argun.
Akhmadov was one of more than 150 detained that day. While most of the detainees were released within days, eleven of them, including Akhmadov, “disappeared.” The bodies of seven of the disappeared were discovered in two mass-graves in Chechnya, one of which was located on the edge of the main Russian military base in Chechnya, at Khankala. The Court concluded that these events were related and that Russian State authorities must be held responsible for Akhmadov's death.
“I am very satisfied with the judgment,” said Tamusa Akhmadova, Shamil Akhmadov's mother and one of the applicants in the case.
Immediately after the detention, Akhmadov's wife, Larisa Sadulayeva, and mother, Tamusa Akhmadova, started searching for him together with relatives of the other disappeared. They wrote numerous letters to law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies and provided detailed testimonies to investigators. Although officials opened a criminal investigation into the disappearances, the investigation has produced no tangible results.
In its unanimous judgment, the Court made a number of important findings:
The detention of Akhmadov had been unlawful as Russian troops disregarded domestic legal procedures (Article 5 of the European Convention for Human Rights);
Russia must be held responsible for Akhmadov's death (Article 2);
The investigation into the disappearance and killing of Akhmadov has been inadequate on numerous accounts (Article 2);
The suffering of Akhmadov's wife and mother as a result of Akhmadov's death and the failure of the Russian government to take adequate steps to investigate the killing 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 paid particular attention to the inadequacy of the investigation in its judgment, noting that the investigation was plagued by inexplicable delays and could only be described as dysfunctional. For example, the investigation collected documents relating to the mop-up operation only three and a half years after the disappearance and it does not appear that the investigators questioned any of the servicemen involved in the operation. The investigation was adjourned and reopened at least six times and it was transferred from one prosecutor's office to another on at least five occasions for no apparent reason. According to the Court, the conduct of the prosecutor's office “creates a strong presumption of at least acquiescence in the situation.”
“This is a damning verdict on the effectiveness of investigations into human rights violations in Chechnya,” said Ole Solvang, executive director of Russian Justice Initiative. “Unfortunately, investigations into current abuses show similar shortcomings.”
Human rights organizations estimate that between three and five thousand people have disappeared in Chechnya since 1999. Although there are strong indications that state representatives are responsible in the majority of such cases, only one state representative has been convicted for a disappearance to date.
The Court awarded Akhmadov's wife and mother EUR 20.000 each in respect of moral damages and EUR 15.000 jointly in respect of material damage.
This is the tenth judgment by the European Court of Human Rights regarding grave human rights abuses in Chechnya. In nine of those cases the Court held Russia responsible for a violation of the right to life. In the other case Russia was condemned for torture.
For more information:
In Moscow, Russia: Ole Solvang, +7 905 527 5978
In Nazran, Russia: Arsen Sakalov, +7 906 486 0753
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SRJI: Cases from the North Caucasus pending before the European Court of Human Rights