North Caucasus Menaced by Killings of Rights Defenders, Other Violence


Russia: Complying With European Court Key to Halting Abuse

“The families who brought these cases deserve justice for brutal acts against their loved ones. Every crime that goes unpunished sends a clear signal to others that they can get away with equally horrific abuses.”

Jane Buchanan, senior researcher on Russia for Human Rights Watch

Russia has ignored a series of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights on Chechnya, fueling unchecked violence in the North Caucasus, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Following the recent murders of human rights defenders there, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly will decide on September 28, 2009 whether to schedule a debate to focus on the dangerous conditions for human rights defenders in the North Caucasus.

The 38-page report, "‘Who Will Tell Me What Happened to My Son?’: Russia’s Implementation of European Court of Human Rights Judgments on Chechnya," examines Russia’s response to European Court judgments on cases from Chechnya. In almost all of the 115 rulings, the court concluded that Russia was responsible for extrajudicial executions, torture, and enforced disappearances, and that it had failed to investigate these crimes. In the 33 cases researched by Human Rights Watch, Russia has still not brought a single perpetrator to justice, even in cases in which those who participated in or commanded the operations that led to violations are named in the European Court judgments.

"The families who brought these cases deserve justice for brutal acts against their loved ones," said Jane Buchanan, senior researcher on Russia for Human Rights Watch and an author of the report. "Every crime that goes unpunished sends a clear signal to others that they can get away with equally horrific abuses."

In recent months, there has been a pattern of violence and threats against human rights defenders in Chechnya. On July 15, 2009, the leading human rights voice in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was kidnapped and murdered. Less than a month later, on August 10, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov, activists from the local humanitarian organization Save the Generation, were abducted from their office in Grozny and found murdered the next day. Local law enforcement authorities have been implicated in the killings, but there have been no arrests.

Several staff members of Memorial, the leading Russian human rights organization and the group for which Estemirova worked as a researcher, have been threatened, intimidated, and harassed in recent weeks by security services, including suspicious visits to their homes. A court in Moscow on September 25 began hearing a civil defamation suit brought by the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, against Memorial’s director, Oleg Orlov, who stated in July that Kadyrov was responsible for Estemirova’s murder.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Europe’s premier human rights monitoring body, holds its autumn session this week in Strasbourg, France. It is scheduled to vote today on whether to hold a so-called "current affairs debate" on threats against human rights defenders in the North Caucasus.

One of the cases described in the Human Rights Watch report concerned Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev. While watching an evening-news broadcast on February 2, 2000, his mother, Fatima Bazorkina saw footage of federal forces detaining him. The video showed a Russian Army colonel-general, Alexander Baranov, yelling at soldiers, saying, "Come on, come on, come on, do it, take him away, finish him off, shoot him, damn it..." Russian servicemen are then seen leading Yandiyev away. He has not been seen since and his body was never found.

In 2006, the European Court determined that the Russian government had illegally detained and killed Yandiyev and had failed to conduct a proper investigation into his disappearance. To this day, Bazorkina has received no information from Russian investigative authorities about her son’s fate.

As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia has an obligation following a European Court judgment to pay the monetary compensation and legal fees awarded by the court - which it has done. But it also is required to take steps in each individual case to remedy the violations, as well as adopt policy and legal changes to prevent similar violations.

The European Court judgments on Chechnya, issued between 2005 and 2009, relate to violations during Russia’s military and intelligence operations in Chechnya from 1999 to 2004. In almost all cases, the court determined that Russia had routinely failed to conduct effective investigations into crimes committed by its servicemen. One of the key steps for Russia to rectify the violations in such cases is to conclude investigations and bring perpetrators to justice. However, Human Rights Watch found that Russia has not effectively pursued these investigations even after the judgments were handed down.

In a troubling new trend, in several cases Russian investigative authorities have flatly contested the court’s findings of state responsibility for human rights violations in Chechnya, even in cases in which those officials participating in the operations that led to violations or their superiors are known and named in court judgments.

"It is profoundly disappointing for victims and their families when Russia blatantly ignores the core of the judgments and its obligations to the Council of Europe," said Buchanan. "Full implementation of European Court judgments not only provides real justice to the victims and their relatives, but has enormous potential to produce lasting improvements in the human rights situation in Chechnya and Russia."

Human Rights Watch called on the Russian authorities to bring ongoing investigations in these cases to meaningful conclusions, including prosecuting perpetrators, as well as to cooperate with future judgments. Human Rights Watch also urged Council of Europe member states to make implementation of European Court judgments a priority issue in their bilateral and multilateral dialogues with Russia.

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