The ECHR ruled on eight cases represented by Russian Justice Initiative in 2016. The Court ordered total compensation payments of €1,519,500,00 to 61 applicants, of which €198,000,00 was for material damages, and € 1,321,500 for moral damages. The cases concern the forced disappearances of 23 people in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, which took place over 2002-2012. Russian Justice Initiative remains the leading organisation for the number of applications from the North Caucasus sent to the ECHR.
In 2016, the Government proposed for the first time settling the case Atashevy v. Russia, represented by Russian Justice Initiative, through a mediation agreement. The Russian Government recognised the stated violations of the Convention in this case and agreed to the demands for fair compensation for the fact that the applicants received wounds through the fault of police officers. A positive decision was also obtained regarding the attempt to keep the case of Shavayev v. Russia from reaching the court.
Overall statistics on cases sent by Russian Justice Initiative to the ECHR over 2002-2016 are as follows: 187 cases in which the ECHR ruled in favour of applicants represented by Russian Justice Initiative, 90 cases communicated by the ECHR to the Russian Government, 90 applications sent by Russian Justice Initiative to the ECHR and awaiting communication, and 14 applications rejected.
Russian Justice Initiative broadened its outreach in 2016, working on cases not only in the North Caucasus, but also in Stavropol and Krasnodar territories, and in Moscow, Ulyanovsk, and Pskov. Twenty-eight applications were sent to the ECHR in 2016. “Most of them were applications regarding use of torture during the preliminary investigation stage and, consequently, the guilty verdicts handed down on the basis of evidence obtained under torture”, said Legal Director of Russian Justice Initiative Olga Gnezdilova. “Other applications concerned violation of women’s rights, the right to medical assistance, and the right to private life and freedom of expression”.
Over the years since its creation, Russian Justice Initiative has sent 362 applications to the ECHR, of which 175 are currently awaiting examination. Most of these applications have been communicated. In 2016 alone, Russian Justice Initiative prepared and sent comments on 52 Russian Government memoranda on communicated cases. Cases for which Russian Justice Initiative was able to obtain priority communication, such as the case of Leyla Muruzheva, are a particular focus of work. In this case, only five months passed from the moment the application was sent to the ECHR and the moment the ECHR communicated it to the Russian Government.
With the International Criminal Court conducting a preliminary investigation into the situation in Georgia, lawyers with Russian Justice Initiative continued provided information on crimes against South Ossetia residents, committed during the armed conflict in August 2008. In particular, a request was sent to widen the time frame for investigation of crimes committed during this conflict.
For many applicants who turned to Russian Justice Initiative, having the ECHR examine their case means that they are protected at the national level from further violations of their human rights. Such was the situation in the case of Elita Magomadova from Chechnya. Russian Justice Initiative’s statistics show that, at the same time, our lawyers succeed in restoring applicants’ rights at the national level, without having to turn to the ECHR.
“Last year, we succeeded in getting many cases settled at the national level, and this meant that the victims did not have to turn to the international courts and spend years waiting for compensation and restoral of their rights”, said Olga Gnezdilova. “Compensation awarded at the national level for failure to provide medical assistance ranged from 800,000 to 1.1 million roubles. We also succeeding in reversing two Federal Migration Service decisions banning foreigners from Russian Territory with regard to two cases from Nalchik and Sochi”.
Applications sent to the ECHR in 2016 concerned the following violations: Right to life, right to effective legal defence, right to freedom and personal inviolability, right to respect for private and family life, and right to a fair trial. There were also applications concerning violations of the ban on degrading and cruel treatment, torture, and the right to freedom of expression.
Systematic work continued throughout the year on enforcement of ECHR decisions. Russian Justice Initiative’s lawyers working on the case of Israilova v. Russia obtained forensic expert report results identifying the remains of the applicant’s missing son. Russian Justice Initiative also went to court against the head of the Kabardino-Balkaria regional government over his refusal to disclose information on the burial site of the relatives of the applicants in the case of Sabanchiyeva and others v. Russia, even though an ECHR decision obliging him to do so had already taken effect.
Russian Justice Initiative began developing an educational project in 2016, holding several training seminars for law students and practising lawyers on ECHR legal practice and other international mechanisms for protecting rights in Grozny, Ulyanovsk, Bishkek and Nalchik.
Yulia Antonova, senior lawyer with Russian Justice Initiative, said that the educational project’s main goal is to raise lawyers’ professional level. “We see a need to give lawyers the most up-to-date legal knowledge and skills and teach them how to apply them in practice”, she said. “We are working to expand our organisation’s professional contacts and connections in the legal community in order to bolster our human rights work on concrete cases in the field”.
Russian Justice Initiative decided to broaden the number of regions where it is active primarily in order to develop its work on protecting women’s rights, and now takes reports of violations of the Convention in this area from any Russian region.
Russian Justice Initiative received 1,000 applications from the North Caucasus, Stavropol and Krasnodar territories, and Astrakhan, Volgograd, Irkutsk, Moscow and Rostov regions, including via the online service, and the organisation’s lawyers gave more than 800 legal consultations.