04 October 2007, Thursday

Cases Part of Mass-killing of at least 51 Civilians in Grozny

(Moscow) The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today has condemned Russia in three cases related to the mass killing of civilians in the Staropromyslovsky district of Grozny, Chechnya, Russian Justice Initiative said. The Russian authorities were held responsible for violation of the right to life in all three cases.

"I am very satisfied with the judgment," said Fatima Goygova, the applicant in one of the cases. "Finally, a court has confirmed what we knew all along, that it was Russian forces that killed my mother and brother."

On 19 January 2000, Russian federal forces launched a massive attack on the Staropromyslovsky district in the northern part of Grozny, Chechnya.

Goygova v. Russia (74240/01): When Maryam Goygova was wounded during the attack, her son, Magomed Goygov, and two other men tried to help Maryam out of Grozny. At a checkpoint, a group of Russian soldiers shot Maryam in the head without warning and took away the three men helping her. On 10 February 2000, Maryam Goygova's daughter discovered the dead bodies of Magomed and the two other men in a garage not far from where Maryam was killed. The bodies had numerous gunshot wounds and Magomed's right ear had been cut off.

Goncharuk v. Russia (58643/00): When the attack started, Elena Goncharuk and five others sought shelter in a cellar. Russian soldiers who had ordered them to leave the cellar started shooting at the six as they came out. Five of them were killed immediately. Elena was only wounded, but lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness, the soldiers had left, evidently believing that she was dead as well.

Makhauri v. Russia (58701/00): When Kheyedi Makhauri on 20 January heard on Russian television that the federal forces were in full control of the settlement where she used to live in the Staropromyslovsky district, she decided to return to Grozny to check upon her house. After having discovered that her house was totally destroyed, Kheyedi and two other women came upon a group of 30-40 Russian federal soldiers who were taking valuables out of houses and stacking them into their armored personell carriers. The soldiers detained them, blindfolded them and took them to a courtyard nearby. In the courtyard, the Russian soldiers started shooting at the women. Two of the women were killed immediately. Kheyedi was only wounded, but lost consciousness. When she woke up because of intense pain in her legs she discovered that they were covered by a mattress, which had been set on fire. Kheyedi managed to crawl out to the street where she eventually received help from people living nearby.

Despite numerous complaints from victims and human rights organizations that immediately documented the mass killing, the Prosecutor's Office of the City of Grozny launched a criminal investigation into the mass-killing only after Anna Politkovskaya published an article about the events in Novaya Gazeta.

Even though the investigation established that the military operation had been conducted by the 205th brigade from Budennovsk, nobody has been held accountable for the mass killing.

With the three judgments today, the ECHR has held Russia responsible in four cases concerning the mass-killing in the Staropromyslovsky district. On 24 February 2005, the ECHR held Russia responsible for the the death of, among others, Rizvan Taymeskhanov and Khamid Khashiyev, the two men that were killed together with Magomed Goygov. (see Khashiyev and Akayeva v. Russia, nos. 57942/00 and 57945/00, 24 February 2005).

In the three unanimous judgments, the ECHR held that:

  • The applicants' right to life had been violated (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights);
  • The Russian authorities had not conducted an effective investigation into the mass-killing (Article 2);
  • The applicants did not have access to an effective remedy before Russian authorities for the violations (Article 13).

In its judgment, the ECHR was particularly critical of the ineffective investigation. "The Court is under the impression that the authorities - whether consciously or otherwise - did not attempt to establish a comprehensive picture of the events," the judges said, listing numerous shortcomings of the official investigation.

"There are now four very strongly worded judgments about the mass-killing in the Staropromyslovsky district," Ole Solvang, Executive Director of Russian Justice Initiative, said. "It is high time that the Russian authorities effectively investigate these atrocities, identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable. Not doing so in the face of all the evidence in these cases would indicate that the Russian authorities tolerate such mass-killing of civilians."

The applicant in Goygova v. Russia has been assisted by Russian Justice Initiative in bringing her application to the ECHR. The applicants in Goncharuk v. Russia and Makhauri v. Russia have been assisted by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre and the Human Rights Centre Memorial.

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

See also:
Judgment: Goygova v. Russia
Judgment: Goncharuk v. Russia
Judgment: Makhauri v. Russia
Judgment: Khashiyev and Akayeva v. Russia
HRW: Civilian Killings in Staropromyslovski District of Grozny

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