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ECHR Condemns Russia for Serious Violations of Human Rights

, by Michela Costa

So far, the first half of 2007 hasn’t been too much of a pleasant time for the Russian Federation…at least for what concerns its relations with the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR). Since January 2007, the country has been sentenced already eight times for serious violations of the European Convention, including murder, torture, unlawful detention and disappearance. Not very surprisingly, a broad majority of cases refers to crimes occurred in the separatist region of Chechnya.

Russia held responsible for torture and murder

The long list of rulings has started on the 18th of January with the judgment for the case Chitayev and Chiteyev v. Russia. The applicants were two Russian nationals, arrested in 2000 under suspicion to be connected with the Chechens rebels and brutally tortured in order to obtain false confessions. The ECHR has unanimously ruled Russia to be responsible, among other things, of violating Article 3 of the European Convention (prohibition of torture), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 38 § 1 (a) (obligation to cooperate with the Court).

Similar conclusions have been reached at the beginnings of April, when a second judgement has followed concerning a case of disappearance (Baysayeva v. Russia, 5 April 2007). The applicant’s husband was arrested at a checkpoint in March 2000 by Russian soldiers, and she has not seen him since. She presumes him to be death, and during the investigation she received threats and warnings to stop searching for her husband’s body. The Court has condemned Russia for violation of the right to life, the right of liberty and security and for lack of cooperation with the Court.

Furthermore, with the recent ruling of Musayev and others v. Russia (26 July 2007) the ECHR has declared the Russian responsibility for the massacre of Novye Aldy. The incident of Novye Aldy, occurred during the last Chechen war, has been denounced by several human rights NGOs (such as Human Rights Watch and Memorial Human Rights Centre) as an example of deliberate crimes against civilians by the Russian Special Forces. The country has been held responsible for the unlawful killing of 11 civilians in February 2000, and for the failure in conducting an effective investigation on the facts.

Failure to protect applicants and to investigate disappearances

In the case Magomadov and Magomadov v. Russia (12 July 2007) not only an applicant’s relative, but the applicant himself, Yakub Magomadov, “disappeared” in mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately, it was not the first time that the Russian authorities failed to protect the personal security of an individual applying to the Court: in 2003 Zura Sharaniyevna Bitiyeva, a political activist who in 2000 had applied to the ECHR for a case of unlawful detention and ill treatment, was killed at her house together with her husband, their son and her brother. Her daughter, the applicant X, is now in asylum in Germany (case Bitiyeva and X v. Russia, 21 June 2007). Only in some instances the bodies of the disappeared persons where retrieved, showing signs of a violent death.

The ECHR has declared Russian responsibility for the massacre of Novye Aldy.

An interesting element from the ECHR’s case law is the acknowledgment of the high level of distress and anguish suffered by the relatives of a disappeared person. This condition is enhanced by the inefficiency and negligence of the State’s authorities: a very common pattern is the total lack of cooperation by the Russian prosecutors and police when it comes to investigations. The result is that the victim’s family can spend several years without having any idea about the fate of their relative, while the authorities often deny the State’s responsibility or simply generically declare that an investigation is still ongoing. In the Court’s opinion, this treatment can be considered as inhuman and degrading, and it’s punishable under article 3 of the Convention (Prohibition of Torture).

Political pressure on the Russian and Chechen governments?

Altogether, the rulings represent a strong, encouraging signal of the role that the ECHR can play in order to avoid impunity for the crimes committed in the Chechen territory. Russia has been ordered to provide just satisfaction to the applicants, by paying for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Furthermore, there is a hope that the publicity following the sentences will contribute to raise the level of international awareness on the massive violations ongoing in the region.

It is unclear whether the ECHR’s judgments can represent a mean to exert a truly political pressure on the Russian and Chechen Government in order to stop the violations. According to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, in the first months of 2007 a sharp drop in disappearances in Chechnya can be recorded (read the article here). Of course this result could be temporary, and should in no way obscure the dangers of the dictatorship regime established in the region.

However, it might also indicate an increasing awareness from the side of State authorities about the consequences that massive human rights violations can involve, in terms of image of the country and relations with the international community.

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Links for further reading:

- European Court for Human Rights: http://www.echr.coe.int/ECHR/EN/Hea...

- Chitayev and Chiteyev v. Russia: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/v...
- Baysayeva v. Russia: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int////tkp19...

- Musayev and others v. Russia: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int////tkp19...

- Magomadov and Magomadov v. Russia: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int////tkp19...

- Bitiyeva and X v. Russia: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int////tkp19...

- Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/rus...

- Memorial Human Rights Centre: http://www.memo.ru/eng/memhrc/texts...

Image: Chechnya by cwfredriksson, source: Flickr

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