Strasbourg once again finds Russia guilty of violating the right to life over an enforced disappearance in Chechnya
On 16 July the European Court of Human Rights unanimously condemned Russia for the enforced disappearance of a young Chechen in January 2003.
On 11 January 2003 Arbi Karimov was taken away from his home in the village of Proletarskoye, Chechnya, by a group of Russian military servicemen. The military prosecutors office initially informed the Red Cross that Arbi was killed while resisting arrest but it later retracted that information. There has been no news of Arbi since.
The Court held unanimously that there had been:
· two violations of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, on account of the Government not having provided a plausible explanation for the disappearance of Arbi Karimov and of not having carried out an effective investigation;
· a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), on account of the psychological suffering of the applicants as a result of the disappearance of Arbi Karimov;
· a violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security), on account of the unacknowledged detention of Arbi Karimov;
· a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for home) and a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No 1 (protection of property), on account of the unlawful search of the house of the applicants (relatives of Arbi Karimov) and seizure of their property;
· a violation of Article 13 (right of an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 2, on account of the impossibility for the applicants to obtain the identification and punishment of those responsible; and,
· a violation of Article 13 (right of an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 8 and Article 1 of Protocol No 1, on account of the lack of effective remedies in that respect.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court awarded Arbi Karimov’s wife 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damages and EUR 35,000 to all applicants jointly in respect of non-pecuniary damage as well as EUR 5,500 for costs and expenses. (The judgment is available only in English.)
1. Principal facts
The applicants are four Russian nationals who live in the Grozny district (Chechen Republic). They are the relatives of Arbi Karimov. At the material time they lived in Proletarskoye, Grozny district, (Chechen Republic). The settlement was under the full control of Russian federal forces and the area was under a curfew. Russian military checkpoints were located on the roads leading to and from the settlement.
According to the applicants, at about 2 a.m. on the night of 11 January 2003, several military vehicles stopped outside their house while one of them drove through the gates and a group of about twenty armed masked men in helmets broke down the entrance door and rushed into the house. The intruders, who spoke Russian without an accent, dispersed the family members into different rooms, pointing guns at them, and ordered them to lie face down. The masked men handcuffed Arbi Karimov and took him into one of the military vehicles. Then they searched the house and took a number of property items and personal documents. The applicants’ belongings were loaded into the military vehicles. The scene was witnessed by a number of the applicants’ neighbours.
In the morning of 11 January 2003 the applicants started their search for Arbi Karimov and complained about his abduction to a number of local authorities. On two other occasions, in January and December 2003, groups of armed military men arrived at their house at 4 and 6 a.m. respectively in order to conduct identity checks. The applicants also complained, both in person and in writing, to various official bodies, including military commanders’ offices and prosecutors’ offices at different level, describing in detail the circumstances of the abduction and asking for help in establishing Arbi’s whereabouts.
The Government did not challenge most of the facts as presented by the applicants.
An investigation was opened into the circumstances complained of and was suspended and resumed on several occasions; it has so far failed to establish the identity of the perpetrators. In June 2005, the mother of Arbi complained to a number of State authorities of the failure to carry out an effective investigation into the abduction of her son; it does not appear that she received any response from the authorities.
Despite specific requests by the Court the Government did not disclose any documents of the case referring to the incompatibility of such a measure with domestic legislation given that the investigation was in progress.
3. Summary of the judgment2
Relying on Articles 2, 3, 5, 8, Article 1 of Protocol No 1, and 13, the applicants alleged that, after being detained unlawfully, their relative was killed and the domestic authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation into his killing; that his disappearance caused them psychological suffering; of the search carried out at their house and the seizure of their property; and, finally, that they had no effective domestic remedies in respect of the above violations of the Convention.
Decision of the Court
Article 2 (disappearance)
The Court noted that the applicants’ allegations had been supported by witness statements and by the investigation. It further found that the fact that a large group of armed men in uniform, equipped with military vehicles, had been able to move freely through military roadblocks during curfew hours had strongly supported the applicants’ allegation that those had been State servicemen. Having drawn inferences from the Government’s failure to submit the documents which were in their exclusive possession or to provide a plausible explanation for the events in question, the Court considered that Arbi Karimov had been abducted on 11 January 2003 at his house in Grozni district by State servicemen during an unacknowledged security operation. In his absence or of any news about him for several years, and given the failure of the Government to justify his abduction, the Court concluded that the Government had been responsible for his death, in violation of Article 2 in respect of him.
Article 2 (investigation)
The Court noted that the abduction of Arbi Karimov had been investigated. However, despite the investigation having been opened relatively promptly, three days after the events, a number of essential investigative steps had not been taken. Further, the authorities had failed to ensure that the investigation received the required level of public scrutiny and there had been lengthy periods of inactivity. Accordingly, the authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation, in violation of Article 2.
Article 3 (psychological suffering)
The Court noted that the applicants, close relatives of the disappeared person, had witnessed Arbi’s abduction following which they had had no news of him for more than five years. Given that there had been no plausible explanation about what had happened after his detention, the Court concluded that there had been a violation of Article 3 as a result of the applicants’ psychological suffering.
Article 5 (unlawful detention)
Given that Arbi Karimov had been held in unacknowledged detention without any of the safeguards contained in Article 5, this had constituted a particularly grave violation of the right to liberty and security as enshrined in Article 5.
Article 8 and Article 1 of Protocol No 1 (respect for home and property)
The Court noted that although information about the search and seizure of the applicants’ property had been brought to the attention of the authorities promptly, no steps had been taken to examine it. Given that the Court had already found that the persons who entered the applicants’ home had belonged to the State military or security forces, the Court concluded that the property had been also seized by representatives of the State. In addition, the search having been carried out without proper authorisation or safeguards, and the Government having failed to demonstrate its lawfulness or proportionality, there had been a violation of Article 8 and of Article 1 of Protocol No 1.
Article 13 in conjunction with Article 2
The Court held that, given that the criminal investigation into Arbi Karimov’s disappearance had been ineffective, the effectiveness of any other remedy that may have existed, including civil remedies suggested by the Government, had been undermined, in violation of Article 13 of the Convention.
Article 13 in conjunction with Article 8 and with Article 1 of Protocol No 1
The Court considered that in a situation where the authorities had denied involvement in the alleged intrusion into the applicants’ house and the taking of the family belongings, and where the domestic investigation had failed to examine the matter, the applicants had not had any effective domestic remedies in respect of the alleged violations of their rights, in violation of Article 8 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.