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27.07.2007

Strasbourg finds Russia guilty of killing civilians in Chechnya

   

The European Court of Human Rights on 26 July 2007 has found Russia guilty of mass killing in Chechnya, in the case of Musayev and others v. Russia.  The Russian Human Rights Centre Memorial was representing the interests of the claimants in Strasbourg.

As is almost becoming a Thursday tradition, we pass on the main points of the Court’s ruling, given the very great importance of such a judgment.  The entire press release is available at: http://www.echr.coe.int

CHAMBER JUDGMENT MUSAYEV AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA

The Court held unanimously that there had been:

·  a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the deaths of the applicants’ eleven relatives on 5 February 2000;

·  a violation of Article 2 of the Convention in respect of the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances in which the applicants’ relatives died;

·  a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of the first applicant; and,

·  a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in respect of the alleged violation of Article 2.

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the Court awarded the applicants jointly 143,000 euros (EUR) for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and EUR 14,050 and 4,580 pounds sterling (GBP) (equivalent to 6,814.15 EUR) for costs and expenses.

1. Principal facts

The applicants are five Russian nationals who live in Grozny (Chechnya).

On 5 February 2000 Russian forces conducted an operation in Novye Aldy and Chernorechye in the southern suburbs of Grozny, as a result of which numerous houses were burnt down and civilians killed.

According to the applicants, at least 60 civilians were killed in the course of this operation.

One of the applicants, Yusup Said-Aliyevich Musayev, who had been present in Novye Aldy on the day of the operation, reported the killing of nine persons, seven of whom were members of his family. He was himself threatened and forced at gunpoint to lie on the ground in the snow.

Suleyman Anarbekovich Magomadov and Tamara Saidovna Magomadova had spent the winter of 1999 to 2000 in Ingushetia because of the fighting in Grozny. Salman Magomadov (born in 1940) – Tamara Saidovna Magomadova’s husband and Suleyman Anarbekovich Magomadov’s brother – and Abdula Magomadov (born in 1947) – Suleyman Anarbekovich Magomadov’s other brother – had remained in Grozny to look after the family property.

On 10 February 2000 neighbours discovered the remains of Salman and Abdula Magomadov in the cellar of their burnt-out house. They dug them out from the debris and buried them in the courtyard. The applicants learnt of this while in Ingushetia.

Malika Alviyevna Labazanova and Khasan Magomedovich Abdulmazhidov are married and were present during the events of 5 February. Within the same courtyard in a separate house lived Khasan Magomedovich Abdulmazhidov’s sister and brother – Zina Abdulmezhidova (born in 1940) and Khuseyn Abdulmezhidov (born in 1953) – who were both killed during the events of 5 February. Malika Alviyevna Labazanova was threatened herself and was forced to plead for her life.

Soon after the events Yusup Said-Aliyevich Musayev and other relatives of the victims set up a group called the Aldy Civic Committee, in order to coordinate their efforts in the aftermath of the massacre.

On 5 March 2000 the Grozny Town Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation into the murder of several inhabitants of the Novye Aldy settlement in Grozny by “unidentified men armed with guns”, and into the looting of property.

Between December 2000 and September 2004 various efforts were made by the Aldy Committee or on its behalf to draw the authorities’ attention to the lack of progress in the investigation.

In September 2004 the applicants’ case before the European Court of Human Rights was communicated to the Russian Government and in December 2005 the Court declared it admissible.

Despite the different steps taken in the investigation, the detachments which had been involved in the security operation in Novye Aldy were not identified and no one was charged with any crime. The investigation had been adjourned on several occasions and then resumed. The most recent decision to resume the investigation was issued by the Chechnya Deputy Prosecutor on 7 February 2006.

 

Decision of the Court

Article 2

On the basis of the material in its possession, the Court found it established that the applicants’ relatives had been killed by servicemen and that their deaths could thus be attributed to the State. No explanation had been forthcoming from the Russian Government as to the circumstances of the deaths, nor had any ground of justification been relied on by them in respect of the use of lethal force by their agents. It was thus irrelevant whether the killings had occurred “with the knowledge or on the orders” of the federal authorities. Liability for the applicants’ relatives’ deaths was therefore attributable to the Russian State and there had been a violation of Article 2 in respect of the applicants’ 11 relatives killed on 5 February 2000 

 

The Court accordingly found that the authorities had failed to carry out an effective criminal investigation into the murders of the applicants’ 11 relatives. There had therefore been a further violation of Article 2.

Article 3

According to the Court’s practice the application of Article 3 was usually not extended to the relatives of those who had been killed by the authorities in violation of Article 2 as opposed to the relatives of the victims of enforced disappearances. However, the situation of Yusup Said-Aliyevich Musayev went beyond that of a relative of victims of a violation of Article 2. On 5 February 2000 he had been a witness to the extrajudicial execution of several of his relatives and neighbours. He had been subjected to threats from the perpetrators and forced at gunpoint to lie on the ground, fearing for his own life. The Court had no doubt that the shock he had experienced on that day, coupled with the authorities’ wholly inadequate and inefficient response in the aftermath of the events, had caused the first applicant suffering attaining the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment proscribed by Article 3. Consequently, there had been a violation of Article 3 in respect of Yusup Said-Aliyevich Musayev.

Article 13 read in conjunction with Article 2

In circumstances where the criminal investigation into deaths had been ineffective and the effectiveness of any other remedy that might have existed, including the civil remedies suggested by the Russian Government, had consequently been undermined, the State had failed in its obligation under Article 13. There had therefore been a violation of that provision.

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