European Court holds Russia responsible for the disappearance of 14 men in Chechnya, and for the violation of the right to family life of residents in Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria

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SRJI Russian Justice Initiative

Jan 16, 2014, 9:33:05 AM1/16/14
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European Court holds Russia responsible for the disappearance of 14 men in Chechnya, and for the violation of the right to family life of residents in Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The European Court has found that Russia violated the right to life of 14 men who were forcibly disappeared in Chechnya between 2001 and 2005, and in four other judgments found Russia in violation of the right to family and private life of residents of Kabardino-Balkaria and Chechnyaby denying them any participation in funeral rites for their deceased relatives, Russian Justice Initiative and its partner organization “Astreya” reported today.

In its judgment in the case Akhmatov and others v Russia, the Court joined seven applications submitted by 27 family members of 14 men whom they alleged had been abducted in various districts of Chechnya between 2001 and 2005 by military servicemen and subsequently disappeared. The Court found that the detention of all the applicants’ relatives, who were taken from their homes during curfew hours by APCs and other military vehicles, were perpetrated by state servicemen. The Government did not dispute the facts presented by the applicants. The investigations into the disappearances yielded no tangible results, although the Government alleged that they were still pending. The Government also argued that the applicants complaints should be rejected as out of time, but the Court disagreed, finding that the applicants had done all that could be expected of them to assist the authorities.

16 of the applicants in the Akhmatov case were represented by Russian Justice Initiative and Astreya, while the others were represented by a Chechen NGO and Mr Dokka Itslayev, an independent lawyer in Chechnya. The applicants were awarded a total of 928 000 euro in pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages.

The applicants in the cases of Zalov and Khakulova and Arkhestov and others v Russia are the relatives of nine men who were killed by security forces in Kabardino-Balkaria between October 2005 and January 2006, following their participation in a terrorist attack on the city of Nalchik on 13 October 2005.  Like the 50 applicants in the case of Sabanchiyeva and others v Russia, decided by the Court in June 2012, they had petitioned the authorities, separately and collectively, to return the bodies to their families for burial. The authorities refused, relying on provisions of the Interment and Burial Act which stipulates 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.

Following on its Sabanchiyeva judgment, the Court found that 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 Court came to similar conclusions in its judgments in the cases of Abdulayeva v Russia, concerning a man killed during a “mopping-up” operation in the Zumsoy district of Chechnya in January 2005, and in Kushtova and others v Russia, concerning a killing during a special operation in Ekazhevo, Ingushetia in July 2006. The seven applicants in these cases petitioned the authorities to return the bodies of their relatives for burial but were refused on the same grounds, their complaints never being considered on their merits.

The applicants were represented in four cases before the European Court by Russian Justice Initiative, and in the the Zalov and Khalukova and Arkhestov cases, Nalchik-based attorney Larisa Dorogova assisted on the domestic level.

For more information, please contact:

In Moscow, Furkat Tishayev, Legal Director, “Astreya”: +7 (985) 269-9856.

In Moscow, Vanessa Kogan, Director, “Astreya,” +7 (925) 863 5111.

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