Thursday, 25 November 2010
Extra-Judicial Killings In Chechnya
Four violations of Article 2 (right to life: killings) of the European Convention on Human Rights
Four violations of Article 2 (right to life: lack of effective investigation)
A violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in respect of the violations of Article 2
The case concerned the extra-judicial execution of the applicants’ four relatives by the military.
The applicants are four Russian nationals who belong to two families and live in the Chechen Republic (Russia). They are the brother and wives of Adam Israilov, born in 1965, Turpal Israilov, born in 1972, and Aslambek Israilov, born in 1971, and the father of Aslanbek Dzhabrailov, born in 1968, all four of whom were killed in February 2000.
On 7 February 2000, the families together with a number of neighbours took shelter from Russian missile fire in the basement of one of their houses in the village of Gekhi-Chu in Chechnya. According to the applicants’ submissions, a group of military servicemen, who behaved aggressively, subsequently ordered them to come out. The servicemen took aside the applicants’ four relatives, stating that they would check whether they had participated in illegal armed groups.
After checking their passports and examining them to see whether they carried weapons, the servicemen led them to a courtyard. Three of the applicants, who stayed nearby, heard shots fired there. After the soldiers had left the village, one of the applicants found the bodies of the four young men in the courtyard. They all had gunshot wounds and two also had knife wounds in the heart area.
The next day a group of officials from the district prosecutor’s office questioned several witnesses and examined the site of the shooting, but it appears that a criminal investigation into the deaths of the four young men was only opened in July 2000. Certain investigative steps were taken, but the investigation was adjourned in December 2000 for failure to identify the perpetrators, a decision of which the applicants only learned in November 2005. On request of one of them the investigation was resumed.
In July 2006, two of the applicants applied to the district court, complaining that the prosecutor’s office had failed to investigate the murder of the four young men effectively, and asked for access to the case file. The court ordered the prosecutor’s office to resume the investigation, noting in particular that the investigators had failed to identify the military units responsible for the operation and to question the commanders and participants in the operation. It granted the applicants access to the case file, but did not authorise them to make copies of documents, noting that the investigation was not completed. The investigation was on another occasion adjourned and reopened after two of the applicants had complained to the court again. According to the Government, the investigation is still pending.
Despite a specific request by the Court, the Russian Government did not disclose any documents from the criminal investigation file, referring to the incompatibility of such disclosure with the domestic code of criminal procedure.
Decision of the Court
Article 2 (killings)
While the Russian Government did not dispute the factual elements underlying the applicants’ complaints, they stressed that the conclusions as to the identity of the perpetrators should be made by the domestic courts. With regard to the Government’s refusal to disclose any documents from the investigation file, the Court noted that in previous cases it had already found the reference to the domestic code of criminal procedure insufficient to justify the withholding of key information.
Drawing inferences from the Government’s failure to submit those documents or to provide another plausible explanation for the events, the Court found that the applicants’ four relatives had been killed on 7 February 2000 by State servicemen during a security operation. In the absence of any justification for the use of lethal force by State agents, the Court concluded that there had been a violation of Article 2 in respect of the four men.
Article 2 (investigation)
Assessing the effectiveness of the investigation on the basis of the few documents submitted by the parties and the information about its progress presented by the Government, the Court noted a number of serious defects, in particular delays in the opening of the proceedings and the fact that the applicants had not been timely informed of the decision to suspend the investigation.
The most obvious defect had been the absence of any action to identify and question the commanders and servicemen of the military units who had taken part in the security operation and to bring charges against those responsible. These failures had been criticised by the domestic courts. However, it appeared that their orders had been ignored.
The ineffectiveness of the prosecuting authorities could thus only be qualified as acquiescence in the events. Although the applicants had sought judicial review of the investigating authorities’ decisions, no further significant measures had been taken to identify those responsible for the murders. The Court concluded that the authorities had failed to carry out an effective criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the murder of the four men, in violation of Article 2 in its procedural aspect.
The Court further held that since the criminal investigation into the killing had been ineffective and the effectiveness of any other remedy that might have existed had consequently been undermined, Russia had failed in its obligation under Article 13. Consequently there had been a violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 2.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held that Russia was to pay the four applicants each 60,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 2,212 in respect of costs and expenses.