European Court of Human Rights finds Russian law enforcement agencies guilty of 13 abductions in Chechnya

posted 7 Mar 2014, 05:50 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Mar 2014, 05:52 ]
28 February 2014

Source: (info)
On 27 February 2014, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down a ruling in the case Dzhabrailov and others v. Russia involving applications brought by 32 Chechen citizens in connection with 13 abductions in various parts of the Republic between 2000 and 2004.

The ECtHR found that the Russian law enforcement agencies were guilty of the abduction and presumed death of the applicants’ relatives, and that Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of torture or inhuman treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and inviolability of person) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms had been infringed.

The ECtHR awarded the applicants compensation of EUR 780 000 for emotional distress, EUR 85 000 for material damage and EUR 23 000 for litigation costs, according to the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

The ECtHR noted once again that the failure to investigate the kidnappings which took place in Chechnya between 1999 and 2006 points to a systemic problem.

"The ECtHR’s rulings, taken in the context of rulings in similar cases, are incontestable evidence of the fact that our country’s authorities are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Oleg Orlov, a member of the Board of the Human Rights Centre “Memorial”. “The conclusion that we can draw from the summation of these cases is that the individual crimes committed by law enforcement officials which feature in the applications brought by citizens of the Northern Caucasus are merely one facet of a state-endorsed system of illegal violence involving kidnappings, torture, illegal prisons and punishment without trial. A system of this kind could not have operated had it not been endorsed by the upper echelons of the Russian hierarchy".

The relatives of two of the abductees – Yakub Dzhabrailov, born in 1981, and Moul Usumov, born in 1960 – were represented by lawyers from the Human Rights Defence Centre “Memorial” and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (London).

The Dzhabrailov family lived in two houses in the town of Argun in the Shalinsky region, Yakub in one and his relatives in the other. The Russian law enforcement agencies carried out a special operation in the town between 13 and 15 December 2001, during which all movements in and out of the town were halted and the military took full control, arriving in armoured vehicles and searching people’s homes. The Dzhabrailov family’s houses were searched by the military twice, on 14 and 15 December, although nothing illegal was found either time. On 14 December they threatened that they would keep on coming back until they found a reason to take Yakub away, and on the following day they took him. Both Yakub’s relatives who later brought applications before the ECtHR and their neighbours witnessed him being taken into custody.

On the same day (15 December), the Dzhabrailov family went to see the town’s administrative authorities. They were told that their relative had been detained and that he would be taken to the military commander’s office, and the officials agreed to pass items on to Yakub from his relatives. On 17 December, however, the Dzhabrailov family were told at the military commander’s office that none of the people detained during the special operation had taken there.

Yakub’s relatives claim to have heard cries of pain coming from the building where the military commander’s office was located. On 18 December one of Yakub’s relatives, together with the other people standing in line at the entrance while waiting to see the public prosecutor, heard a heart-rending cry from the second floor of the military commander’s office, and recognised Yakub’s voice.

A criminal case was opened on 9 January 2002 in connection with the abduction of Dzhabrailov. The investigation was suspended and resumed on several occasions, with the last suspension dating back to 25 December 2011. It has proved impossible to determine the location of Yakub or the other disappeared persons.

The Usumov family live in the village of Kurchaloy. Moul Usumov worked as an official at the Kurchaloy Division of the Administration of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation for the Chechen Republic. At around 3.30 a.m. on 30 June 2001 a group of servicemen in an armoured vehicle arrived at the Usumov family’s home. They wore masks and camouflage uniforms, carried weapons and spoke Russian. The soldiers hit Moul with a rifle butt on the shoulder and told him to spell his name. He did so, and then the servicemen handcuffed him and took him away with them. The applicants followed the servicemen by car, and saw them enter the premises of the State Road Construction Department on the eastern outskirts of Kurchaloy, where the 33rd Regiment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation was stationed at the time. The military commander’s office and the Kurchaloy Division of the Administration of the Federal Security Service were located nearby.

Other Kurchaloy residents followed the Usumov family, and the applicants learned from them that another seven villagers had been detained that morning. Moul’s wife, Malika Usumova, and relatives of the other detainees went to see the head of the Kurchaloy Administration of the Federal Security Service, Viktor Ivanovich (surname not known by the applicants). Viktor Ivanovich told Malika that, “It came as a shock to me to hear that Mr Usumov had been arrested. He’s one of us. Don’t worry, he’ll be released today at 4.” He told the other women that, “You should have cried earlier, not now. Your sons are up to their necks in blood and they will be held liable.” The women waited all day at the gates of the military commander’s office, but none of the detainees were released. On the following day Viktor Ivanovich told Mrs Usumova that her husband could be held in custody for three days, and asked her to bring clothes for him.

On 2 July the head of the Administration of the Federal Security Service told Malika that he could no longer help her as Moul was being dealt with by his superiors, and Malika was not allowed to see him after that.

On 9 July a criminal case was opened by the Argun inter-regional public prosecutor’s office in connection with the conducting of a special operation, the detention of a number of persons and the disappearance of Moul.

Between 15 and 17 July (or 18 July according to some documents), all of the detained apart from Moul were released. The deputy military commander for the Kurchaloy region, Sergey Leontyev, told Mrs Usumova that her husband had been released along with the others. Malika talked to the other detainees, who denied that Moul had been released with them.

On 20 July a criminal case was opened by the military prosecutor’s office of the North Caucasus military command. It was found that Moul and the others had been detained on the grounds of suspected involvement in an illegal armed group. Between 15 and 17 July they had been held at the premises of the first united squadron stationed at military unit no. 12106 in the village of Novogroznensky. The detainees’ suspected involvement in an illegal armed group was disproved, and the investigation found that all of the detainees were taken to the Gudermes district of Chechnya and released between 15 and 17 July.

The names of the persons responsible for the special operation and detentions were established in the course of the investigation. Participants in the special operation were questioned and confirmed that Moul and the others had been detained, but denied any knowledge of what subsequently happened to them. They also gave statements to the effect that Private V. N. Zatsarin had used physical force against Moul and the other detainees. On 8 July 2002 a criminal case against Zatsarin was closed due to his death. Investigations into the actions of two other soldiers came to the conclusion that they had not committed any offences. The case was suspended on 2 March 2009 for lack of corpus delicti in the actions of the persons having conducted the special operation and their superiors. Moul’s whereabouts are still unknown.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds