Bringing Russia to judgment

Russia must be brought back to court to account for gross human rights violations in Chechnya

Philip Leach
Philip Leach

At a Council of Europe conference held in Brighton in April the 47 member states rightly identified the effective national implementation of human rights standards as their paramount goal. This appears to be a big challenge for a number of states, including Russia, where egregious human rights violations in Chechnya continue tobe the subject of multiple judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at London Metropolitan University, and the Russian non-governmental organisation Memorial have recently launched an application to bring infringement proceedings against the Russian Federation for failing to investigate the bombing by the Russian armed forces of the village of Katyr-Yurt, in Chechnya, in February 2000. This is a new mechanism that enables the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to bring a case back to the ECHR where a state has failed to comply with a judgment.

Two judgments at the ECHR, Isayeva v Russia (2005) and Abuyeva and Ors v Russia (2010), have found Russia responsible for the bombing of Katyr-Yurt, whichresulted in the death of many villagers.

In Abuyeva violations of the right to life, the failure to investigate and the lack of domestic remedies mirrored those found in Isayeva five years earlier. This led the court to take the step of finding that Russia had manifestly disregarded the specific findings of a binding judgment.

Research just published by EHRAC and Memorial establishes that there have been more than 200 ECHR judgments against Russia concerning human rights violations in the north Caucasus region, the vast majority of which involve multiple violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, including disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture.

The inadequacy of official investigations has also featured in many of these cases on a scale that points to a systemic and continuing problem. Despite supervision bythe Committee of Ministers since 2006, no real progress towards securing effective investigations has been made.

This issue is particularly urgent as, according to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, prosecution for a crime can only take place up to 10 or 15 years afterthe offence. As many of these crimes took place between 2000 and 2003 it is critical that investigations take place immediately.

Given the high number of cases, the grave nature of the violations, the lack of accountability and the potential time constraints, the initiation of infringement proceedings is the next logical step in bringing those responsible to account and ensuring the Russian Federation carries out a full and effective investigation intothese violations.

The Chechen cases will be considered again by states’ representatives in Strasbourg in September.

These cases – and the response of the Russian Federation to them – have created a culture of impunity that is damaging both to the authority of the court and the protection of the convention system. It is time for European states to take a stand.