15 November 2007, Thursday

The European Court of Human Rights today condemned Russia for disappearances, extra-judicial execution and illegal occupation and damage of property in three cases from Chechnya, Russian Justice Initiative said today.

"I never in my life expected such a good judgment," said Khamila Isayeva, the applicant in the case Khamila Isayeva v. Russia. "I don't have words."

Khamila's husband, Sultan Isayev, was detained by Russian military forces during a special ("mop-up") operation in the village of Alkhan-Kala on 29 April 2001. Several people witnessed that the military forces placed Sultan in an armoured personnel carrier (APC) and drove him away. Khamila has no news of her husband since then.

The Russian authorities opened a criminal investigation into the disappearance, but it has failed to produce any results.

In its unanimous judgment, the Court found:

  • that the Russian authorities illegally detained Sultan Isayev (violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights);
  • that Sultan Isayev must be presumed dead given the circumstances of his detention and the time elapsed since his detention and that therefore the Russian authorities are responsible for death of Sultan Isayev (violation of Article 2);
  • that the Russian authorities failed to properly investigate the illegal detention and the disappearance when it was brought to their attention (violation of Article 2);
  • that the Russian authorities's indifference towards Khamila constitutes inhuman treatment (violation of Article 3);
  • and that Khamila did not have access to an effective remedy for the violations (violation of Article 13).

The Court is particularly critical of the ineffectiveness of the investigation, noting that the investigation was "plagued by inexplicable failures to perform the most essential tasks." The Court also noted that, apparently, witnesses were not questioned at all, no servicemen directly involved in the special operation were questioned and that no real effort was made by the authorities to identify the units that had participated in the operation.

The Russian government admitted that a special operation had taken place on the day in question, but contended in the proceedings that there were no evidence that Sultan Isayev had been detained by Russian servicemen. The special operation was at the time lauded in Russian media as a successful operation.

In the second judgment concerning Chechnya today, Kukayev v. Russia, the Court held that the Russian authorities are responsible for the illegal detention, disappearance and subsequent death of Aslanbek Kukayev, a Chechen police officer who was detained by Russian military forces on 26 November 2000.

As in Khamila Isayeva v. Russia, the Court is particularly critical of the ineffectiveness of the investigation and noted that it was "perplexed by the fact that [...] the investigation into his murder was not formally opened  until 22 December 2005." Kukayev's body was found on 22 April 2001.

In both Khamila Isayev v. Russia and Kukayev v. Russia, the Court also held that the Russian government had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by not cooperating with the Court (Article 38). Despite several requests, the Russian authorities refused in both cases to provide the Court with a copy of the investigation file.

"The government consistently withholds important documents from the Court in cases from Chechnya, which makes the Court's job more difficult," said Ole Solvang, Executive Director of Russian Justice Initiative, the organization that assisted Khamila Isayeva in bringing her case to the European Court of Human Rights. "We are satisfied that the Court now increases the pressure on the government to provide these documents."

In Khamidov v. Russia the Court held that the Russian authorities had violated Khantaby Khamidov's right to private life (Article 8) and right to property (Article 1, Protocol 1) when a police unit occupied and damaged his property. In addition, the Court held that Khamidov's right to a fair trial was violated when he attempted to seek redress for the illegal occupation and damage of his property (Article 6).

Khamila Isayev was assisted by the organization Russian Justice Initiative in bringing her case to the European Court of Human Rights. The applicants in the cases Kukayev v. Russia and Khamidov v. Russia were assisted by the Human Rights Centre "Memorial" and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre.

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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