European Court condemns Russia for disappearances and murder in two landmark rulings

PRAGUE, 9 November, Caucasus Times – Father and son disappeared and presumed dead; Woman disappeared and found in largest Chechen mass grave; Government rebuked for failure to cooperate with Court

In two separate judgments today, the European Court of Human Rights held Russia responsible for the disappearance of a father and son and for the disappearance and subsequent murder of a woman whose body was found in the largest mass grave in Chechnya, Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, a legal aid organization representing the families, said today.

In its judgment in the case Imakayeva v. Russia, the Court for the first time in a case from Chechnya held that the authorities had violated the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the European Convention for Human Rights). The Imakayeva case is also the first case from Chechnya in which the Court has found that the authorities have violated their obligation to cooperate with the Court by not submitting requested documents (Article 38).

“These two cases not only demonstrate the unimaginable violations that have taken place in Chechnya. They also demonstrate the extent of the Russian authorities’ indifference to these violations and to what length they are willing to go to protect their own servicemen,” said Jan ter Laak, chairman of the board of Stichting Russian Justice Initiative. “The Russian government’s commitment to human rights and the European Convention will now be apparent by the way they respond to these judgments.”

Disappearance and presumed death of father and son Imakayev

In the case Imakayeva v. Russia, the European Court unanimously held Russia responsible for the detention, disappearance and presumed death of Said-Khuseyn Imakayev and his father, Said-Magomed, who was detained four months after he lodged an application with the Court regarding his son’s disappearance. The Court also rebuked the Russian authorities for failing to submit documents that the Court requested.

“I am satisfied with the Court’s judgment,” said Marzet Imakayeva, Said-Khuseyn’s mother and applicant in the case. “My only wish has always been to find out what happened to my husband and son and if they are dead, to bury them properly. I hope that this judgment from the Court will make the authorities finally tell me what happened to Said-Khuseyn and Said-Magomed.”

Said-Khuseyn Imakayev was detained at a roadblock between the villages of Starye and Novye Atagi in Chechnya on 17 December 2000. Several eyewitnesses testified that they saw how uniformed men threw Said-Khuseyn into a military vehicle and drove away. Said-Khusein has not been seen since.

Early in the morning on 2 June 2002, four months after Said-Magomed and Marzet Imakayev had filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, approximately 20 armed military servicemen arrived on six armoured personnel carriers (APC) at the Imakayev house, confiscated documents and took away Said-Magomed, telling Marzet that he would be taken to the local district centre. Said-Magomed has not been seen since.

Immediately after the detention and disappearance of their son, Marzet and Said-Magomed submitted numerous complaints to prosecutor’s offices and other government institutions on various levels. They also visited detention centres and prisons in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus. When her husband was detained and disappeared, Marzet continued this quest on her own. The Russian government initially denied that they had detained the father and the son. In 2004, however, they admitted that they had detained the father, but claimed that he had been released the same day.

Because of her efforts to find her husband and son, Marzet was subjected to several threatening interrogations and in the end decided to seek refuge in the USA out of concern for her and her family’s security.

In its judgment, the Court made a number of important findings:
Said-Khuseyn Imakayev Said-Khuseyn and Said-Magomed Imakayev had been unlawfully detained by Russian security forces (Article 5);
Said-Khuseyn and Said-Magomed must be presumed dead and the Russian authorities are responsible for their deaths (Article 2);
The investigation into the unlawful detention and disappearance has been inadequate on numerous accounts. The Court specifically noted the lack of attempt to identify the APCs and the detachment involved in the detentions (Article 2);
The disappearances of Marzet’s son and husband and the failure of the Russian government to take adequate steps to clarify their fate constitutes inhuman treatment (article 3);
The lack of authorization and safeguards in connection with the search constituted a violation of the right to respect for private and family life. The authorities’ general reference to special powers under the Suppression of Terrorism Act was deemed to be insufficient (Article 8).

The Court stated that it was struck by the lack of accountability or any acceptance of direct responsibility by the officials involved in the events.

In addition, the Court rebuked the Russian authorities for not cooperating with the Court by not submitting documents that the Court requested (Article 38). The Russian authorities consistently deny requests from the Court for documents in cases related to Chechnya, claiming that they contain state secrets.

Disappearance and murder of Nura Luluyeva

In the case Luluyev and Others v. Russia, the Court unanimously held Russia responsible for the detention and murder of Nura Luluyeva whose body was found among 51 bodies in the largest mass grave discovered in Chechnya. The mass grave was located less than one kilometer from the main military base 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).

In its judgment, the Court made a number of important findings:
Luluyeva had been unlawfully detained by the Russian security forces (Article 2);
The investigation was inadequate on a number of accounts and among other things “plagued with delays in taking even the most trivial steps” (Article 2);
The disappearance and death of Luluyeva and the failure of the Russian government to take adequate steps to investigate the case constitutes inhuman treatment (Article 3).
Luluyeva was held in unacknowledged detention, which constituted a particularly grave violation of the right to liberty and security (Article 5);

The Court held that the description of the body did not permit the Court to conclude that Luluyeva had been ill-treated prior to her death (Article 3).

In its judgment, the Court also notes that the investigations into the deaths of other people whose bodies were discovered in the mass grave have been 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.

Caucasus Times

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