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Russia: Prosecute Rights Violations in North Caucasus

European Court Has Issued 104 Rulings Against Moscow Over Killings, Other Attacks

(Moscow) - The number of European Court of Human Rights judgments holding Russia responsible for serious violations of human rights in Chechnya has surpassed 100, but the government has failed to take appropriate steps to remedy them, Human Rights Watch, the Memorial Human Rights Center, and Russian Justice Initiative said today. 

The judgments condemn Russia for its refusal to investigate violations properly and failure to hold perpetrators accountable, including for such grave violations as extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture. At a round of human rights consultations between the European Union and the Russian Federation on May 26, 2009, both sides agreed that "judgments of the European Court of Human Rights shall be implemented fully and in a timely manner." 

"Over and over again, the court has told Russia that it needs to investigate and prosecute the acts of violence in Chechnya," said Allison Gill, Moscow office director at Human Rights Watch. "It is fine that Russia is saying it will act, but now it needs to keep its promise. That is the only way to end the killings and other violence."

Since its first Chechnya judgments in February 2005, the European Court has held Russia responsible for the deaths of more than 200 people, mainly through  killings and disappearances carried out by Russian forces in Chechnya. The court handed down its 100th judgment on Chechnya on May 14, 2009, and the most recent three judgments on May 28, 2009.

As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia is obligated to carry out the court's judgments, including paying damages awarded by the court, and adopting what are called individual measures of redress, which involve conducting proper criminal investigations ending with the trial and conviction of the perpetrators.

Two-thirds of the Chechnya judgments concern enforced disappearances, and the remaining ones, for the most part, extrajudicial killings, indiscriminate bombings, torture, and destruction of property. To date, Russia has not held a single individual accountable for the violations found in these rulings.

At least 300 more cases concerning human rights violations in Chechnya and other republics in the North Caucasus are pending before the European Court.

"Russia has been found to violate the right to life in more cases than each of the other 46 Council of Europe member states combined since the court started functioning in 1959," said Roemer Lemaitre, legal and program director of Russian Justice Initiative. "The right to life will have little meaning in Chechnya until perpetrators are punished."

In 102 of the 104 Chechnya judgments, the European Court held that Russia failed to conduct an effective investigation into the violations, even though in most of the cases there was overwhelming evidence that state agents were responsible. Investigations are routinely suspended allegedly because of the "impossibility of identifying the perpetrators."

The European Court's criticism of Russia has been particularly sharp in cases where the identity of the perpetrators is known but there has been no effective investigation leading to prosecution, and when case material clearly demonstrates the Russian authorities' reluctance to investigate high-ranking officers. For example, in its Bazorkina v. Russia judgment, the court acknowledged that Colonel-General Alexander Baranov gave the order to execute a prisoner, Khadzhi-Murat Yandiyev. The scene, in February 2000, was filmed by a CNN correspondent. Subsequently, Yandiyev disappeared. The Russian government has thus far not taken any steps to investigate Baranov for his role in this crime.

Also, in a February 2005 ruling, the European Court found Lieutenant-General Vladimir Shamanov responsible for a military operation in the village of Katyr-Yurt in February 2000 that involved the "massive use of indiscriminate weapons," and that led to the loss of civilian lives. Russian authorities opened an investigation into the operation, but found no evidence of crime.

In only one Chechnya case did the court not find a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. In this case a Russian court sentenced a soldier who had killed a young Chechen to 10 years in prison. Although the soldier's trial started only after the relatives of the victim applied to the European Court, the European Court subsequently held that the relatives of the victims had received redress at the domestic level.

As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia is also obligated to adopt general measures, including reforming law and practice, to prevent future violations. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which supervises the implementation of general measures, has identified four major areas of focus in the Chechnya cases: improving the legal and regulatory framework governing the work of the security forces; raising awareness and providing training for members of the security forces; improving domestic remedies in cases of abuse; and improving Russia's general cooperation with the court. 

"The Russian government has done the easy part by paying compensation to the victims," said Oleg Orlov, chairperson of the Memorial Human Rights Center. "But it has not implemented the core of the judgments in a meaningful way."

At its meeting on June 2 to 5 in Strasbourg, France, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will review Russia's compliance with the court's judgments, including the Chechnya rulings.

Russia has been cited by European leaders for failing to ratify Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights. Protocol 14 would streamline cases for the overburdened court and enhance the Committee of Ministers' role in supervising the implementation of judgments. Russia is the only Council of Europe member state that has not ratified the measure. 

"One of the reasons the court is so overburdened is the large number of cases filed against Russia," said Orlov. "And yet it is Russia that is impeding efforts to reform the court. This needs to change."

Human Rights Watch, the Memorial Human Rights Center, and the Russian Justice Initiative called on the Russian government to:

  • Ratify Protocol 14;
  • Re-open investigations in those cases where the European Court has determined that prior investigations were inadequate and conduct them in a manner that ensures they are meaningful and effective, resulting in those responsible for violations being brought to justice;
  • Undertake a thorough review and revision of domestic legislation and regulations regarding the use of force by military or security forces to ensure their compliance with human rights law;
  • Carry out an in-depth inquiry into the conduct of investigations of abuses committed by military servicemen, police, and intelligence officials and other forces in Chechnya to establish why these investigations are so ineffective.

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