The European Court has found that Russia violated the right to family and private life of 50 residents of the city of Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, by denying them any participation in funeral rites for their deceased relatives who had been killed in the course of a terrorist attack, Russian Justice Initiative and its partner organization “Astreya” reported today.
The 50 applicants in the case of Sabanchiyeva and others v Russia are the relatives of 55 men who took part in a terrorist attack on the city of Nalchik on 13 October 2005 and were killed by security forces. Following their deaths, the applicants petitioned the authorities, separately and collectively, to return the bodies to the applicants’ families for burial. In 2002, shortly after the Dubrovka Theater hostage crisis, new legislation was introduced stipulating that the bodies of terrorists killed during the interception of a terrorist attack would not be returned to their families and that their place of burial would not be disclosed. Relying on the provisions of this legislation, the authorities refused, in May 2006, to return the bodies to the applicants. In 2007, several of the applicants applied to the Russian Constitutional Court, which upheld the legislation as constitutional, finding it justifiable in light of the protection of public safety and in the interest of reducing the likelihood of further unrest following a terrorist incident.
The applicants had no information about the fate of the bodies of their relatives until the Government acknowledged, in its Memorandum to the Court in September 2007, that it had cremated the bodies in June 2006, following the decision not to return the bodies to the applicants.
The applicants had alleged before the Court that the refusal to return the bodies for burial violated their rights to family life and to freedom of religion, and also that the conditions in which the bodies had been held immediately following the attack, and in which the applicants had to identify them, constituted inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court upheld the applicant’s claims under the right to family life and found moreover that the applicants had no effective domestic remedy at their disposal to challenge the authorities’ refusal to return the bodies.
Specifically, the Court found that while special measures may have been justified in the context of ensuring public safety following a terrorist attack, the decision to deny the applicants any opportunity to pay their last respects to the deceased was too severe, and ignored the particular circumstances of each applicant, which should have been assessed individually. Thus the approach pursued by the authorities, in the Court’s view, had “a punitive effect on the applicants by switching the burden of unfavourable consequences in respect of the deceased persons’ activities from those persons onto their relatives or family members.” The Court also found that the existing legislation did not provide the applicants with sufficient procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, depriving them of an effective remedy at national level to address their complaints.
The applicants were represented on the domestic level by Nalchik-based attorney Larisa Dorogova and before the European Court by Russian Justice Initiative.
For more information:
In Nalchik, Anastasia Kushleyko, Legal Director, “Astreya”: +7 962 932 7878;
In Moscow, Vanessa Kogan, Director, “Astreya”: +7 495 915 0869; +7 925.