ECHR blasts Russia for non-investigation of disappearances in Chechnya
MOSCOW, December 18 - RAPSI. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held Tuesday that Russia has systemically violated fundamental rights in connection with disappearances that have occurred in the Northern Caucuses since 1999.
The case at hand, Aslakhanova and Others v. Russia, specifically involved the cases of eight men who disappeared from Chechnya between March 2002 and July 2004. All of these disappearances occurred after the men were arrested by groups of armed, masked men. In many cases, these groups were wearing camouflage and/or driving military vehicles.
While criminal investigations were launched for each case, none of these produced results in terms of either locating the victims or identifying their captors.
Russia did not dispute the facts of each case, but argued that it could not be firmly established either that the captors had been acting on behalf of the state, or that the victims were in fact dead.
Having concluded that the claimants presented a prima facie case that state actors had been behind the victims’ abductions, the burden of proof shifted to the state to convince the court otherwise. Ultimately, however, the burden was not satisfied; no compelling alternative explanation was advanced.
The court further held that the victims could be presumed dead, based on the fact that they had not been heard from in years, and in light of the violent nature of their detention.
The court thus held that Russia violated the rights of its citizens to life (Article 2), liberty and security (Article 5), and effective remedy (Article 13), as well as the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3).
The right to life was violated in connection with the disappearances themselves, as well as with the state’s failure to adequately investigate their relatives’ claims.
The prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment was violated on the same bases, and on the additional basis that claimant Akhmed Shidayev had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment after having been captured alongside three of the victims. Obviously, the claimant was released, whereas the victims he was abducted with were never heard from again.
The right to liberty and security was violated in connection with the disappearances themselves as well as with Shidayev’s abduction.
The right to effective remedy was violated with regard to the state’s failure to adequately investigate the charges arising under the violations of the Article 2 and 3 violations.
Noting that it had dealt with 120 similar cases connected with disappearances that have occurred in the region since 1999, the ECHR asserted that at its core, this problem is based on the state’s failure to investigate these crimes.
The ECHR thus supported the recommendation that Russia should establish a body charged with solving disappearances in the Northern Caucuses, and should have unfettered access toward that end. Furthermore, the court encouraged the allocation of funds for forensic work and mass-exhumations of suspected burial grounds. The court further underlined the need for reforms to improve the effectiveness of investigative efforts.
Finally, the court held that Russia should pay tens of thousands of Euros to each set of claimants in damages.
When asked about the judgment Tuesday, Duma lawmaker Dmitry Vyatkin told RIA Novosti that it all boils down to double standards. On the one hand, European countries accuse Russia of violating human rights in a region where it is waging a successful war on terrorism; on the other, they harbor terrorists who commit crimes that violate fundamental human rights. He added that European countries have tended to refuse Russia’s extradition requests for people accused of murder, kidnapping, terrorism, and other such crimes. As an example Vyatkin reminded of Chechen separatist envoy Akhed Zakayev who is hiding in the UK which rejected for a number of times his extradition to Russia.