17 January 2008, Thursday

Judgment in first case from Ingushetia

The European Court of Human Rights today condemned Russia for the killing of two civilians in the vicinity of the village of Arshty, Ingushetia, in August 2000, Russian Justice Initiative said. The judgment is the first concerning grave human rights violations in Ingushetia.

"We are very grateful for this judgment," said Nasip Khatsiyev, the brother of one of the killed. "The authorities should now find the perpetrators and hold them accountable."

On 6 August 2000, about a hundred people divided into small groups were working in the fields in the hills surrounding the village of Arshty in Ingushetia, a neighboring republic to Chechnya.

Around noon that day, two military helicopters appeared and started circling low above the fields. When one of the helicopters launched a non-guided missile that exploded close to the workers, they ran to their cars and drove down the hill. The helicopters disappeared. As the men were driving home for lunch shortly after, however, the helicopters reappeared and attacked the car with automatic gunfire. Khalid Khatsiyev and Kazbek Akiyev were both killed in the attack.

In its submissions to the Court, the Russian government did not dispute the killings, but argued that the men were armed and that they had attempted to drive away from the helicopters despite several warning shots. Documents provided by the government indicate that the pilots radioed their superiors for instructions who then ordered them to destroy the car. The government also argued that the victims were themselves responsible because they had failed to abide by safety instructions allegedly distributed by the Russian government.

An investigation into the killings was closed on the ground that the order to use lethal force had been justified in the circumstances of the case.  

In its unanimous judgment, the Court found that:

  • Khatsiyev and Akiyev were killed by the Russian authorities and that the government had failed to prove that the use of lethal force had been necessary. The Russian government is therefore responsible for their deaths (violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights);
  • The Russian authorities failed to properly investigate the killings (Article 2);
  • The applicants did not have access to an effective remedy for the above violations (Article 13).

The Court dismissed the government's arguments pointing out that the authorities never found any weapons on the scene of the incident and that there is no indication that the people in the car posed any danger to the helicopter pilots. The Court also pointed out that the authorities had never provided the residents of Arshty with any instructions on how to act in such situations and questioned whether the authorities could deprive civilians of their lives "because of their own negligence" even if this had been the case.

The Court was particularly critical of the investigation because, among other shortcomings, the identity of the superiors who gave the order to destroy the car "does not appear to have been established at all." The Court pointed out that the case was closed without making any assessment of this order.

"This judgment highlights the authorities' stubborn and persistent refusal to investigate, much less prosecute, commanding officers when they give illegal orders," Ole Solvang, Executive Director of Russian Justice Initiative said. "Until the authorities start investigating and prosecuting for such violations, Russian forces will continue to commit abuses."

In June 2007, a Russian court sentenced four soldiers in the so-called Ulman case to prison sentences for carrying out an order to kill several civilians at a checkpoint in Chechnya in 2002. The Russian authorities have not brought any charges against the officer who gave the order.

The case Khatsiyeva and Others v. Russia (5108/02) was lodged by seven relatives of the two killed men, assisted by Russian Justice Initiative. The Court awarded the relatives EUR 100.000 in moral compensation.

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