PRAGUE, 9 November, Caucasus Times – The European Court of Human Rights will rule on the first case regarding the disappearance and murder of a woman in Chechnya on 9 November 2006, Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, a legal aid organization representing the family, said today. The body was found together with fifty other dead bodies in a mass grave close to the military headquarters at Khankala in Chechnya.
On 3 June 2000 a group of military servicemen appeared at the market where 40-year-old mother of four Nura Luluyeva worked and detained her along with several other people including two of her cousins. Eyewitnesses to the detention report that the military servicemen arrived on armoured personnel carriers (APC), which are only used by federal forces.
Luluyeva’s body and the bodies of her cousins were found among fifty-one dead bodies in a mass grave in Chechnya in February 2001. The mass grave was located in the village of Dachny, which is less than a kilometre from the main military base at Khankala in Chechnya. Most of the bodies were in civilian clothing, some were blindfolded, and many had their hands or feet bound. Several of the people whose bodies were discovered were last seen alive in custody of Russian federal forces. The discovery and content of the mass grave was documented by Human Rights Watch in their report Burying the Evidence (see below).
The Russian authorities launched an investigation into Luluyeva’s death. In spite of specific evidence such as the hull number of the APC used to abduct Luluyeva, however, the investigation has not produced any results. In its admissibility decision, the Court notes that the investigation “was adjourned and reopened seven or eight times. The investigation carried out by the Grozny Town Prosecutor’s Office produced no tangible results. The investigation did not identify the persons or the detachment which was responsible for abduction and murder, and no one was charged with the crimes.”
Investigations into the deaths of other people whose bodies were discovered in the mass grave have been equally ineffective. In its report, Human Rights Watch heavily criticized the Russian authorities for the failure to identify the majority of the bodies, the failure to record and preserve important evidence and inadequate autopsies. No one has been held accountable for these 51 murders. Stichting Russian Justice Initiative is representing the families of three other people whose bodies were also found in the mass grave.
In the absence of an effective investigation, Luluyeva’s relatives, assisted by the British barrister Gareth Peirce and Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, lodged an application with the Court on 24 November 2000. In their application to the Court, Luluyeva’s relatives alleged that she had been unlawfully arrested, tortured and killed by the Russian authorities and that there had been no effective investigation into those events.
The Chechnya Justice Project is a groundbreaking initiative that utilizes domestic and international legal mechanisms to seek redress for human rights abuses committed in Chechnya. The Project provides free legal counsel to victims of human rights violations and their families through its implementing partners the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative (the Netherlands) and Pravovaia Initsiativa (Ingushetia). The Project’s lawyers and researchers investigate incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions and bring these cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
From its earliest days, the second armed conflict in Chechnya (1999-present) has been marked by large-scale grave abuses of human rights, including torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial execution. The Russian government’s persistent lack of will to guarantee the rule of law and investigate human rights abuses, regardless of the suspected perpetrator’s affiliation, has perpetuated a cycle of violence in the region.
The Chechnya Justice Project emerged from a series of small litigation activities begun in 2000 as a response to the problem of impunity in Chechnya. Initially, members and volunteers of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch put victims in contact with experienced European lawyers, who, in turn, prepared applications to the European Court on the victims’ behalf. By mid-2001, as a growing number of victims requested representation, these ad-hoc efforts were no longer sufficient to meet demand.
Thus, in late 2001, a group of human rights activists founded the Stichting Chechnya Justice Initiative in the Netherlands, with an office in Moscow, and a local organization in Ingushetia now known as Pravovaia Initsiativa to jointly implement the Chechnya Justice Project. Since that time, the Project has steadily increased the number of victims it represents. In December 2004, the organization the Stichting Chechnya Justice Initiative was renamed the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.
Today, the Chechnya Justice Project has established itself as one of the leading legal representation and litigation projects in Russia. As grave human rights abuses continue, and the climate of impunity persists, the work of the Project remains wholly relevant and crucial in its contribution to ending violence and opening the way for lasting peace in the North Caucasus.