Doc. 12276 4 June 2010 Legal remedies for human rights violations in the North-Caucasus Region

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3.   General points

6. When Rudolf Bindig last visited the Chechen Republic in June 2004, Grozny was still no more than a pile of rubble after intensive bombardment by the Russian army and air force. The situation has totally changed: we saw for ourselves that the entire centre has been rebuilt and no outward signs of the war are visible. The reconstruction of the infrastructure is impressive, if not spectacular if we recall the pictures of devastation seen on television not so long ago. The Russian and Chechen authorities must be congratulated on their successes in this respect and the tremendous efforts they have made.

7. In his 2006 report, Rudolf Bindig warned against the danger of the serious troubles affecting the Chechen Republic spilling over into other areas: "In addition, the climate of impunity is spreading further, beyond the Chechen and Ingush Republics, into other regions in the Northern Caucasus" (paragraph 3). Sadly, he has been proven right and the situation in the three republics we visited has drastically deteriorated. Yet, in April 2009, the Russian government had proudly announced that it was ceasing the counter-terrorist operations pursued in the Chechen Republic for the previous ten years or so and that the local authorities were now assuming the bulk of the responsibilities. The tragic events occurring just a few hours after our visit to the region were confirmation enough of the deterioration of the situation: the odious bomb attacks in the metro, in the very heart of Moscow, on 29 March 2010, and two days later, in Dagestan, taking the lives of 40 and 12 victims respectively. Another bomb attack killed five people while we were still in the region. It is clear, therefore, that the strategy followed by the Russian authorities has not yielded the expected results. On the contrary, the remarkable reconstruction of infrastructures has not been followed by the restoration of justice and the rule of law, as the Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Hammarberg, has also observed.13 Disappearances, torture and murder continue with the utmost impunity. President Medvedev himself acknowledged in November 2009 that the troubles in the Caucasus were Russia's number one domestic problem.14 The failure of the policy pursued in the region is rendered all the more flagrant by the worrying resurgence of Muslim extremism. It is true that outside influences have been, and still are, a factor but it would be simplistic and dangerous to see this outside interference as the main or even sole cause of the current situation. We feel that there has been no real thought as to the reasons why extremism has been able to gain a foothold in Caucasian society. Repression alone, with no objective analysis of the deep-lying causes of disquiet, will never resolve anything and will only serve to create further radicalisation. It has to be said that what is happening today is the result of endemic brutality and a climate of impunity and of lack of justice.

8. As we pointed out during the current affairs debate on 30 September 2009,15 President Medvedev considers that there are three main causes of the ills of the Caucasus: the clan culture, corruption and the inefficiency of the law enforcement agencies. His analysis rings true. An additional factor to note is the cultural tradition which sets considerable store by vengeance and the vow of silence and generates a fairly unclear pattern of conduct that is difficult to eradicate. It fuels a spiral of violence, rendered even more ruinous by the fact that the judicial system is lamentably inefficient and totally lacking in public credibility. On top of this, the region was particularly badly hit by the dissolution of the USSR. Numerous industries closed down, notably in the armaments sector, causing great upheaval and robbing the population of some of its markers. Unemployment has been very high for years, particularly among young people (the rate quoted was around 50%). The authorities in Moscow appear to have acknowledged the problem and substantial investments have been promised (and already partly implemented in the Chechen Republic, with the reconstruction effort). Another factor worth underlining is the fundamentally conflictual relationship between Russians and Caucasians. The traces of a long history of wars, never really elucidated, are clearly apparent. We heard many claims of discrimination against Caucasians elsewhere in the Federation, particularly in prisons and in the army. Caucasians stand accused of running mafia networks16 in many parts of the country. While there are indeed indications that there may well be some truth to those claims, it should be added that Caucasians certainly do not have a monopoly where this kind of activity is concerned.

9. The religious factor also plays a major role, and it would be futile to deny it. In this traditionally moderate Muslim region, fundamentalist influences are increasingly prevalent. While it is true that religious extremists do not form a majority, they do appear to catalyse the discontent and despair of a population exasperated by corruption and impunity and have considerable potential to cause problems. These extremists resort to odious tactics, such as using bombs against the civilian population. The use of female suicide bombers,17 subjugated and manipulated by fanatics who do not have the courage to risk their own skins, is particularly repugnant and cowardly. There is absolutely nothing that could justify horrors of this kind. Even so, one cannot help wondering why such acts are committed in a given society. Not to do so would not only be a refusal to understand but also hamper our capacity to develop effective antidotes.

10. Where the relationship between religious practices and the rights of women is concerned, we heard reports of degrading treatment suffered by women following the introduction of rules directly dictated by the regime run by the current president of the Chechen Republic. Women caught without headscarves in the street have been publicly humiliated on local television. The Chechen courts now apply rules drawn from Sharia law, in contravention of Russian law. As a result, for example, a woman who is widowed may have any children over 12 years of age and her property taken away from her by her deceased husband's family. The prevailing attitudes towards women cannot be justified by putting them down to tradition and culture. This is an intolerable situation, often exacerbated by the behaviour and statements of the local authorities. In late November 2008, upon the discovery of the bodies of six young Chechen women who had been savagely murdered, the Chechen Ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev made the following comments to journalists on the "Kommersant" newspaper, who had asked him for his opinion on these murders: "Unfortunately, we have among us some women who are beginning to forget the code of conduct that should be followed by mountain women. The male members of their family who consider that they have been dishonoured carry out acts of mob justice."18 A few weeks previously, the Chechen President in person stated in an interview given to Komsomolskaya Pravda on 24 September 2008, that "a woman should be considered as property owned by a man. Here, if a woman does not behave correctly, her husband, her father and her brother are responsible. In our tradition, if a woman is unfaithful, she is killed … It can happen that a brother kills his sister or a husband kills his wife. Our boys go to prison for that … as President, I cannot allow people to be killed. So let us make sure that women do not wear shorts."19 Chechen exiles abroad have told us that emissaries of the Chechen President trying to incite them to return home said "that they could no longer consider themselves real men since, in Europe, they were not entitled to punish their wives and daughters as one should". This attitude towards women is intolerable and no supposed custom or religious rule can justify it. Natalya Estemirova, assassinated in July 2009, had been expelled from the Human Rights Council of the city of Grozny in 2008 after stating in a television interview that she would not wear a headscarf in public, since obliging women to do so did not lie within the competence of the President of the Republic. Her voice has been extinguished; the example she set and the truth she courageously expressed remain and must be acted upon by the authorities.

11. In all three Republics, we also met the families of dozens of young people who had disappeared, been abducted, tortured or murdered. These fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters recounted their story and their pain. They did so with extraordinary dignity, without hatred but also without concealing their despair: their sons had been murdered, almost always most horribly, and they had received no reply from the authorities responsible for prosecuting these crimes. This indifference makes them feel as if their sons are being killed over and over again with every day that passes. We will never forget those faces, so noble and so full of sadness and suffering. They were moving in their gratitude to us for going to their home regions and listening to their deeply distressing stories. Through the rapporteur, they have made a heartrending appeal to all the members of the Parliamentary Assembly not to forget them and to give them help. While not wishing to appear in any way impertinent, we would suggest that the representatives of the highest functions of the Federation go themselves and meet their compatriots who feel abandoned by the institutions. It would certainly not be a waste of their time. We believe that it could make them realise – or strengthen their conviction – that repression and money alone will not bring peace to the region. Without a political approach, without restoring a judicial system worthy of the name and without rebuilding confidence in the institutions, there will be no way out of this quagmire. It has been politely suggested that we should not forget the numerous victims among the law enforcement agencies. Certainly the pain felt by the families is the same, and we realise that. Pain and grieving make no distinction between social classes or political convictions, and this is a reproach that some have made to the Memorial NGO. But we see it as an unjust reproach. The state cannot pitch itself on the same level as criminals and terrorists and it cannot and must not deploy the same means. If there are concrete indications implicating members of the law enforcement agencies in acts of torture and murder, it is imperative that this be condemned. This is in the interest of the state and the whole of society, and in this respect Memorial and other NGOs assume a delicate and vital task that is clearly in the public interest. The authorities would truly be wrong to ignore this and they should even take positive measures to publicly encourage and support the efforts of civil society.

12. We believe that a clear and unequivocal reminder should be issued as a matter of urgency by the highest authorities of state regarding the conduct of the law enforcement agencies and prosecution authorities and we are convinced that it would have a positive impact. The statements we heard on the spot during our visit certainly point towards this. One NGO has set up "mobile legal assistance units".20 These units travel around in cars fitted with highly advanced technical equipment for recording evidence and, at the request of families, rush to the scenes of abductions or other alleged crimes. They then write to the competent authorities, in the capacity of the legal representatives of the plaintiffs, to ensure that they have carried out the investigative procedures required by the law and prescribed by the directives of the prosecutor general's office, drawn up in cooperation with the Council of Europe, within the framework of the execution of the Strasbourg Court's judgments. Once assigned a case, they hound the authorities to take action and do their duty: have given witnesses been interviewed? If not, when will they be interviewed? Why have they not been interviewed? Why have the owners of the vehicles described by witnesses not yet been identified? These young law specialists track the investigation step by step and do not hesitate to address their concerns to the highest levels of the hierarchy. The "mobile units" have observed that as soon as investigations risked casting suspicion on security force entities, either the investigation was suddenly curtailed or police officers failed to carry out the investigators' instructions regarding those structures.21 The work of these "mobile units" is admirable, in helping victims exercise their procedural rights to oblige the investigators to carry out their duty; however, with the resources available to them, they can follow up only a small number of cases. The anecdotes recounted by the heads of these units were both amusing and interesting and sometimes very telling: one very high-ranking representative of the Chechen Republic expressly asked the head of this NGO if he was actually working for President Medvedev; on another occasion, a patrol of the FSB (Federal Security Service) was so impressed by the highly professional working methods used by the NGO that it asked the unit's operatives if they were not "one of us". It may be concluded that these episodes are both an illustration of the good work carried out by these volunteers and testimony to how President Medvedev is viewed in the region. It is a compliment and, above all, a call for action.

13. Rudolf Bindig had very clearly criticised the generalised climate of impunity prevailing in the region in the middle of the first decade of this century. As we have already pointed out, sadly, things have not changed a great deal. Of course, the war is over; Grozny now looks back to normal, people's everyday lives are safer than before. But the abductions, acts of torture and murders go on. The spectacular number of European Court of Human Rights judgments concerning the Chechen Republic alone is a striking illustration. We will return to this point in detail below. Some of these judgments relate to cases in which the perpetrators of the crimes were clearly identified and yet nothing was done to render justice. The authorities content themselves with paying the compensation fixed by the Court to the applicant, but nothing, or next to nothing, is done to prosecute the perpetrators and ensure that there are no further acts of this kind. The army's blunders are classified as incidents; disappearances and numerous murders are put down to "bandits", without a proper investigation even being carried out, despite there being concrete indications implicating the security forces.

14. The region is suffering from a democratic deficit, which is not so surprising when one considers that there has never been a real tradition or culture of democracy there. It must be remembered that the presidents of the three republics visited are not elected by the local population but by the local parliaments upon proposal by the Kremlin. The region's peoples have long been squeezed between the barbaric acts of rebels and the indiscriminate brutality of the agents of authority. The press is hardly independent, freedom of opinion is claimed but not guaranteed and there is a widespread fear of expressing criticism of the authorities. This feeling of fear is palpable and only after taking thorough precautions is it possible to ascertain what people really think. It must be borne in mind, though, that the situation does not appear to be identical in all three Republics.

15. The Ingush president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, appeared genuinely concerned for the welfare of his people, who are distinctly more supportive of him than of his predecessor, installed at the time by President Putin and then sacked by President Medvedev. President Yevkurov, a former parachutist general and hero of the Russian Federation,22 has made the scourge of corruption one of his top targets and that does not seem to have pleased everyone: eight months after taking office, he was the victim of a bomb attack which left him seriously injured. After a long stay in hospital, he has returned to his duties and appears determined to pursue his drive for reform. Nevertheless, the situation in the country remains delicately poised and security is precarious. The witness statements on the atrocities committed by the security forces are, alas, numerous and highly detailed. Bringing the law enforcement agencies under control and setting up a judicial system worthy of the name will require enormous efforts. President Yevkurov seems to be aware of the challenge; he twice made the point that he was fully answerable for the actions of all the law enforcement agencies on the territory of his republic. This is a challenge which is starkly apparent in all three republics.

16. The president of Dagestan, Magomed Salam Magomedov, in office only since 10 February 2010, appeared strongly committed to improving the living conditions of his country's inhabitants and combating religious extremism. Dagestan is a remarkable and rather exceptional example of multiculturalism, where a great many ethnic groups and different languages have long cohabited.23 In Derbent, on the shore of the Caspian Sea, we were able to observe for ourselves a reality which is both noteworthy and praiseworthy: in the same street of this charming town (declared a world heritage site by UNESCO), there is a mosque, a synagogue and an orthodox church. The Jewish community seems comfortable and optimistic, despite being in an environment where Muslims are very much in the majority: it has invested heavily in the renovation of its place of worship and the adjoining social centre. These are very strong, positive signs. The contrast between this long and peaceful cohabitation of different cultures and the violence which has besieged the country is disconcerting and is an alarm signal for the authorities and for us all.

17. The Chechen Republic has been devastated by two wars of an unimaginable level of cruelty and atrocity. After so much suffering, the population can but appreciate the relative stabilising influence of President Ramzan Kadyrov, who had previously fiercely fought against the Russian forces and was then installed as the Republic's leader, with very considerable powers, by the president of that time, Mr Putin. We have already emphasised the enormous effort to rebuild the city of Grozny, which has also extended to its outskirts: a great many villages, even distant ones, have been connected to the gas supply network, and the road infrastructure has been considerably improved. The general living conditions of the population have been distinctly improved in this way. At the same time people are still being abducted, tortured and murdered both by the rebels and by the security services. We were told of numerous cases of homes being burnt by law enforcement units as retribution for one of the household members supporting the rebellion, allegedly or in reality. President Kadyrov denied all responsibility of the security services for the atrocities ascribed to them. He even told us that he had adopted an ukaz (decree) stipulating that if law enforcement officers were caught participating in illegal acts while wearing masks, they were to be shot by firing squad on the spot… We doubt that such an "ukaz" really exists and that it could have been accepted by the Federation government; but his claim that one exists provides a fairly accurate illustration of the nature of the regime. As for the ongoing rebellion, the president is categorical: it is interference by a foreign power. When we asked which one, he told us without a moment's hesitation that it was the Americans, with the complicity of Berezovsky, adding that everyone knew that the 9/11 terrorist attacks had been organised by the United States themselves. What is really surprising, and even downright shocking for an outside observer, is the personality cult24 imposed on the country, which is not the case in the other two republics. It is likely that a sizeable proportion of the Chechen population backs the president out of gratitude for the distinct improvements in their material living conditions. Will that support last? Several observers told us that the president's popularity had been waning for several months. It is a fact that a society without justice ultimately has no chance of survival.

4.   The judgments of the European Court of Human Rights25

 4.1.   Key figures

18. Since 2007, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Russia in over 150 cases concerning human rights violations in the North Caucasus, mainly in the Chechen Republic. At the end of 2009, 235 were pending before the Court, and 100 or so of these had already been communicated to the Russian government. New cases are continuing to flood in, around a hundred of them in 2009. They mostly related to events going back to the period 2000-2002. Around 60% of applications relate to forced disappearances. The other complaints concern the destruction of homes, disproportionate use of force causing the death or injury of civilians, illegal detention, acts of torture or inhumane detention conditions (Articles 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and 14 of the Convention and Articles 1 of Protocols No. 1 and No. 7).

 4.2.   Typical nature of the violations found

19. The Strasbourg Court's first judgments, handed down in 2005, concerned the disproportionate use of force during the military campaign of 1999-2000 (cases of Isayeva, Yusupova and Bazayeva v. Russia and Isayeva v. Russia26) and the forced disappearances of applicants following their arrest by federal forces (cases of Bazorkina, Imakayeva, Alikhadzhiyeva27). In several cases, the Court held that members of the law enforcement agencies had been responsible for extrajudicial executions (cases of Khashiyev and Akayeva, Estamirov, Luluyev, Musayev and others28). In the Chitayev case,29 the Court found that the Russian authorities had been responsible for acts of torture into which no investigations took place following the victim's complaint.

20. In a large number of cases, the Court has held that the Russian State's responsibility for the violations complained of by the applicants was proven. It has systematically asked the Government to provide copies of the criminal investigation files, but cooperation on the part of the authorities has been most unsatisfactory. The Court has found, therefore, in a growing number of cases (such as Imakayeva, Bitiyeva30) that Russia was (at the same time) in breach of its duty to furnish all necessary facilities for the examination of individual applications (Article 38, paragraph 1). In cases where the authorities do not offer a substantial response to the detailed allegations of the applicants, the Court is increasingly inclined to use presumptions of fact, particularly in situations where the authorities are in sole possession of evidence with which to clarify the situation (such as detention and release registers, autopsy reports, etc).

21. In a great many cases where the Court considers that it does not have sufficient evidence to establish that a murder or an act of torture was committed by an agent of the state and consequently finds that Articles 2 or 3 were not violated in substantive terms, it frequently rules that there were "procedural" violations of those articles for failing to fulfil the obligation to carry out an official, effective and efficient investigation.

22. In cases of forced disappearances, the Court has also classified the lack of an effective investigation and the refusal to give a substantial response to requests from family members as constituting inhuman treatment of the family members themselves in violation of Article 3 of the Convention.31

23. The lack of an effective investigation with, as its corollary, the de facto impunity of the perpetrators of grave human rights violations is a central point of this report. The Court has used increasingly stern wording to express its indignation at the passive attitude of the authorities. In the case of Baysayeva v. Russia32 the authorities had a video recording of the arrest of the applicant's husband and did not even manage to identify and question the officials appearing on it. In the case of Isigova and others v. Russia,33 the Court considered that, as the identities of the detachments and their commanders involved in the abduction of the applicants' relatives were established by the investigation at national level, the failure to bring charges may only be attributed to the negligence of the prosecuting authorities in handling the investigation and their reluctance to pursue it. The Court found it appalling that even after the commander of the detachment that had apprehended Apti Isigov and Zelimkhan Umkhanov had been identified, the investigation was repeatedly suspended on the grounds of the failure to identify the alleged perpetrator or to ensure the suspect's participation in the proceedings. In the case of Khatsiyeva and others v. Russia,34 the Court considered that "the investigation soon appeared to have become protracted and plagued with inexplicable shortcomings and delays in taking the most trivial steps. In particular, it did not appear that any ballistic tests were ever performed. Moreover, no autopsy or any further medical forensic examination of the corpses was ever carried out, apart from the initial medical examination on 6 August 2000. It did not appear that at the early stage of the investigation any meaningful efforts were made to establish the identity of those who had given the order to attack or those who had carried out the order. The identity of those ordering the attack did not appear to have been established at all. In particular, the decision of 15 December 2001 did not indicate whether the identity of the official concerned had been established or make any assessment of the order to attack. No further attempts to analyse the order were ever made. … Finally, between August 2000 and April 2003 the investigation was adjourned and reopened at least five times. Its ineffectiveness and the investigators' failure to take practical measures aimed at resolving the crime and to comply with prosecutors' orders were even acknowledged by senior prosecutors. The Court also noted numerous transfers of the investigation file from one investigating authority to another without any reasonable explanations being given.35 In the case of Aziyevy v. Russia,36 the Court sharply criticised the investigation, in which there had been a patent lack of progress for more than seven years. The investigators did not even identify and question the soldiers posted nearby, or check whether any special operations had taken place at the time of the disappearances, or carry out questioning of any witnesses. The authorities' response to the applicants' well-substantiated complaints prompted the Court to presume that the soldiers' conduct had at least the authorities' tacit assent, giving grounds for the Court to have serious doubts as to the objective nature of the investigation.37

24. The Court has made countless comments and observations of this nature and we could fill many more pages of this report with them. We can but share the Court's manifest irritation over investigations which are ineffective and yet relate to the most serious kinds of human rights violations and infringements of Russian legislation itself. To claim that the Court's decisions are driven by political considerations, as some people have done, is simply absurd if not ridiculous, as is plain to see for anyone taking the trouble to read these judgments.

25. In preparation for our fact-finding visit, we sent the competent Russian authorities a list of questions we wished to raise with the representatives of the prosecutor general's office in Moscow and in the three republics concerned (the Chechen Republic, Ingushetia and Dagestan). In particular, we asked for an update of the list received in autumn 2008 of criminal convictions of members of law enforcement agencies for crimes committed against civilians. This official list of convictions of police officers and soldiers actually constitutes a kind of confession, and proof, of their near-total impunity. Knowing that hundreds of people have been killed, abducted and tortured in the region over the years,38 the list of convictions makes for surrealist reading: it almost exclusively lists violations of the road traffic regulations, petty theft, drunk and disorderly conduct, etc. In the rare cases listed where someone has been killed, the perpetrator's acts are described as accidental or a failure to correctly handle their service weapon. Consequently, the sentences handed down were mostly fines or very short and/or suspended prison terms.39

26. Prior to the visit, we also submitted a list of thirty or so individual cases selected in relation to the status of the victims – journalists, well-known human rights activists or emblematic political figures – cases in which there subsisted tangible and convergent indications implicating members of the law enforcement agencies.40 With one exception, none of those cases – some of them already dating back several years – has been elucidated to date. The exception mentioned concerns the attempted assassination of the President of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in June 2009. We were told that the "liquidation" of the Islamist leader Alexandr Tikhomirov (alias Said Buryatskiy), said to have claimed responsibility for the attack, had resolved the case. We would take the liberty of expressing some doubts as to whether this affair has really been cleared up. If the suspect had not been "liquidated"41 with such haste, it might have transpired that the President had other enemies who were not necessarily Islamic fundamentalists, bearing in mind his stand against corruption. There are doubts of this kind surrounding other affairs too. One cannot help thinking of the hostage-takers in the North-East theatre. We recall that all the terrorists were finished off with a bullet in the head, despite the fact that they were lying on the floor, unconscious after inhaling the gas used during the law enforcement agencies' intervention to free the hostages. These were assassinations or extrajudicial executions (which are the same thing) and a valuable opportunity was lost to obtain important information on the criminal organisation that had ordered the terrorist operation. The replies we received concerning the list of cases submitted to the authorities are disappointing.42 Beyond the extremely formal nature of these replies there remains very little substance. The investigative acts described mostly go no further than merely sending letters to different public authorities, and the findings all too often come down to the observation that "unidentified individuals wearing uniforms and masks entered the victim's home and took them away to an unknown destination", without further details. It is true that for some cases their replies are more detailed and list the names of the witnesses interviewed, the number of documents analysed, the vehicle number plates noted and so on. The fact that the investigations have gone into such detail is undoubtedly an improvement, especially if we compare them with the information supplied to the previous rapporteur, Mr Paschal Mooney, in reply to his introductory memorandum of 9 March 2007.43 But this more detailed information still needs to be followed by tangible results. That, sadly, is far from the case.

 4.3.   Reprisals against applicants

27. Since 2002, the Court has had to deal with complaints of harassment and intimidation of applicants. In two cases, the applicants "disappeared" (cases of Imakayeva, Magomadov44), and in one case the applicant and her entire family were massacred in their home (Bitiyeva case45). Those cases were the subject of the report by our colleague Christos Pourgourides (Cyprus, EPP/CD) on "Member states’ duty to cooperate with the European Court of Human Rights”,46 which also implies the obligation to protect applicants, their families and their lawyers when they receive threats. A more recent affair concerned the assassination, on 19 January 2009 in Vienna, of Umar S. Israilov, who had publicly accused Ramzan Kadyrov of personally participating in acts of torture in a secret prison located in Tsentoroy, the Chechen President's native village.47 In fact, Mr Israilov's application to the Court, lodged in 2006, was nearly struck out owing to a failure to reply to a communication from the Court which his lawyer had mislaid. Although the Court has not often found a violation of the exercise of the right of individual petition (Article 34) in such cases, for lack of sufficient evidence, it has nevertheless decided to treat them as a priority, pursuant to Rule 41 of its Rules of Court. In the light of Mr Pourgourides' report, the Assembly has backed the Court in this approach and even encouraged it to open up and go further, along the lines of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which had faced similar challenges, particularly in cases concerning the death squads in a number of Latin American countries; the Court might go so far as to order physical protection measures, on the basis of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court and Article 34 of the Convention. In the experience of the human rights protection organisations which represent the vast majority of applicants in cases concerning the North Caucasus before the Court,48 the best way of protecting applicants is to notify the Russian authorities of each application of this type as quickly as possible; according to the NGOs, in most cases the authorities assume their responsibilities and do their utmost to provide the necessary protection.

 4.4.   Implementation of the Court's judgments

28. The Court's judgments – contrary to what is sometimes reported in the press – do not "punish" the states found to have violated the Convention or indeed the officials who actually committed the acts in question. The Court limits itself to finding any violations of the Convention and, where applicable, to establishing compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage suffered by the applicants. These are often symbolic amounts, rising to several tens of thousands of euros for the family of someone who has disappeared or been killed, even if that person had a large dependent family. In our opinion, the Court could go further when determining compensation for pecuniary losses, particularly in cases involving the disappearance of victims with major family responsibilities. When we met the victims' relatives, in all three republics, no one actually mentioned the financial aspect. Their sense of despair was above all due to the disappearance of a loved one, the passive attitude of the authorities and the shameless impunity enjoyed by certain circles close to the seat of power.

29. The implementation of the Court's judgments is not confined to the payment of symbolic compensation to the victim or their beneficiaries. In the cases where the Court found a breach of Article 2 or 3 of the Convention, in the form of a proven lack of an effective investigation, it is demanded, as an "individual measure", that an effective investigation of the case be carried out with the aim, where possible, of putting a stop to the violation found. The principle is in no way contested by the Russian authorities, which have set up special investigation units tasked as a priority with cases which have been the subject of a Court judgment and are assigned to particularly well qualified and experienced investigators. We met representatives of these units, who assured us that they were pulling out all the stops to resolve these cases. It has to be said, however, that tangible results are still not forthcoming. We were told that, of 150 cases in which the Court found procedural failings, only two had been resolved in the meantime: in one case, the main suspect had since died and, in the other, the suspect was on the run and a search warrant had been issued for him.

30. In September 2009 Human Rights Watch presented a detailed analysis of investigation measures taken by the authorities following Court judgments finding that there had been no effective investigation.49 At the joint initiative of Mr Pourgourides, rapporteur for the implementation of judgments of the Court,50 and myself, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights held a hearing, on 11 September 2009, with the participation of the Russian Federation's representative to the Court and Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr Matyushkin, Professor Philip Leach and Mrs Gannushkina, representative of Memorial, replacing Mrs Estemirova, head of the Memorial office in the Chechen Republic, who had been murdered the day after confirming her attendance at the meeting. The victims actively participate in the process of the execution of judgments supervised by the Committee of Ministers, through NGOs which previously assisted them during the proceedings before the Court, proposing concrete measures for remedying the violation found.51

31. In an information document of 11 September 2008, the Committee of Ministers presented the general measures taken to date in respect of the execution of the Court's judgments concerning events in the Chechen Republic.52 Information in this area would gain in transparency if the reports produced by the CPT after its visits to the region were made public; however, the publication of those reports requires the consent of the Russian authorities, which have not yet granted it. The CPT has made eleven visits to the region, the last one in April 2009. It has adopted three "public statements" concerning the situation in places of detention in the Chechen Republic.53 It should be pointed out that the public statement is an instrument which is rarely used (five times in the twenty years of existence of the CPT) and is reserved for situations characterised by a manifest lack of cooperation on the part of the authorities.54 As far as we know, the Committee of Ministers has never put these statements on its agenda and, consequently, has not stated its views on them. Why not?

32. While it is true that the Court's judgments do have a powerful symbolic value, we have seen that their execution is often problematic. In some of these judgments concerning the North Caucasus, those responsible for the violations are clearly identified in the facts of the case. Yet there is no tangible follow-up. Here are two examples:

1)  Khalid Khatsiyev and Kazbek Akiyev were killed on 6 August 2000, when a Russian military helicopter opened fire, without apparent reason, on a group of men who were cutting grass near the village of Arshty in Ingushetia, near the Chechen border. In its judgment in 2008, the Court saw no plausible justification for the use of firearms in the circumstances and, accordingly, ruled that Russia had violated the victims' right to life.55 The military prosecutor's office established the identity of the pilots only after a year-long investigation but did not identify the superiors who ordered the attack. The Court strongly criticised the lack of an effective investigation. Within the framework of the execution of this judgment, the military prosecutor's office re-opened the investigation, only to suspend it one month later, on the day when the victims' families received the letter notifying them of the reopening of the procedure. They are still waiting for justice to be done.56

2)  In the Bazorkina case,57 Russian television showed video footage on 2 February 2000 of the federal forces arresting a young man, Khadzi-Murat Yandiyev, whose mother, Fatima Bazorkina, instantly recognised him. General Baranov is seen and clearly heard to say to the soldiers: "Go on, go on, take him away, finish him off, shoot him, damn it". The Russian soldiers are then seen to take Yandiyev away; he has never been seen since. Despite the Court judgment, finding a violation of Article 2 and strongly condemning the lack of an effective investigation, the Russian authorities have refused to open an investigation concerning General Baranov. In a letter of 24 March 2008 sent to Mrs Bazorkina's representatives, the military prosecutor's office stated, with no further explanation, that in the course of the "preliminary" investigation into Yandiyev's disappearance "all the violations of the European Convention pointed out in the Court's judgment have been rectified." In another letter dated 3 April 2009 (in reply to Mrs Bazorkina's request on 20 February 2009 to open a criminal investigation concerning General Baranov's actions) the military prosecutor's office replied that "no evidence has been established during the investigation of potential involvement of Major-General A.I. Baranov in the abduction and killing of Kh-M.A. Yandiyev. In this connection, the request to launch a criminal investigation [in relation to Baranov] has been denied."58

33. These two cases are clear illustrations of how difficult it is to put an end to impunity in the North Caucasus region. To further prove the point we can cite the reply given to the relatives of the Aziyev brothers,59 who had asked the Chechen Ministry of the Interior for the names of the soldiers assigned to a given checkpoint on the night of their abduction: their request was refused by order of the Ministry of the Interior of 25 August 2007 prohibiting access to the personal data of operatives taking part in counter-terrorist or "special" operations.60 This stipulation has the effect of preventing the identification of law enforcement agency staff who may be involved in criminal acts. There is an extensive network of checkpoints, as we could see for ourselves on the spot. When a person's body is found far from the place where they were abducted, the perpetrators must have passed through or close to checkpoints. This immunity granted to the staff manning checkpoints can only nurture suspicion. It should be remembered that Natalya Estemirova was abducted in the Chechen Republic and her body was found in Ingushetia. Her assassins must have felt very sure of themselves to travel around with an abducted person or a dead body.

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