Russia – Россия
At present we are litigation addressing a number of themes in Russia, including: gross abuses in the North Caucasus, civil society repression, women’s rights, protest, LGBT rights and conflict or interstate tensions.
Gross Abuses in the North Caucasus
Over 13 years since we started litigating flagrant human rights violations in the North Caucasus, disappearances and torture remain an endemic issue for the region, while historic cases still have not been investigated by the authorities.
Beslan School Siege
Over 400 victims of the 2004 Beslan School Siege and their families found justice in April 2017 as the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there were serious failings in the Russian authorities’ response, which contributed to the casualties amongst the hostages. In its long-awaited judgment, the European Court established four separate violations of the right to life:
- the authorities failed to take preventative security measures given that there was prior knowledge that an attack was planned in the area at an educational institution;
- the investigation into the siege failed to establish whether the force used by the State was justified;
- there were serious shortcomings in the planning and control of the security operation; and
- the security forces used disproportionately powerful and indiscriminate weapons (including tank cannon, grenade launchers and flame-throwers), resulting in hundreds of fatalities and injuries.
|BBC’s Sarah Rainsford talks to victims of the Beslan School Siege and EHRAC Litigation Director Jessica Gavron|
The applicants in this case were awarded a total of €2,933,000.
Disappearances and murders
Zarema Gaysanova, a humanitarian worker for the Danish Refugee Council in Grozny, was abducted in 2009 following a highly-publicised security operation on her street, at which the President of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, was present. She has not been seen since. In May 2016, the Court, presuming Zarema to be dead, held that the Russian authorities had failed to protect her life, to take prompt and effective measures to protect her in the moments after her disappearance, and to effectively investigate her disappearance. The Court also found that Zarema’s mother was herself a victim of a violation of the prohibition of
torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, as she had suffered, and continues to suffer, distress and anguish on account of her daughter’s disappearance and presumed death, as well as the authorities’ indifference to the investigation.
“It does not appear […] that the authorities demonstrated an urgent and appropriate reaction with the aim of saving Ms. Gaysanova’s life.”
European Court of Human Rights in Gaysanova v Russia
The Court ruled in February 2016 in the case of Apti Dalakov, a 20-year-old Ingushetian man, who was chased, hit by a car and shot multiple times by the Ingushetia Federal Security Service (FSB) in 2007. Although a number of witnesses reported that Mr Dalakov had not offered any resistance to the officers, and that he had been unarmed, the officers of the Ingushetia FSB claimed that he had been “‘liquidated’ […] because he had offered armed resistance”. The Court found that the Russian State failed to prevent his death, concluding that “the actions of the authorities in respect of the planning, control and execution of the operation were not sufficient to safeguard the life of Mr Apti Dalakov.”
In 2013, Omar Valibagandov was shot in his leg whilst detained by officers from the FSB in Dagestan, and sustained other physical injuries. He was taken to hospital and discharged into the custody of police officers. He has not been seen since and is presumed dead. EHRAC and Memorial applied to the Court in October 2016, alleging that Russia violated Mr Valibagandov’s right to life and the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, and that the State failed to investigate his disappearance and ill-treatment. The case is pending communication to the Government.
Advocating for change
In partnership with the Open Society Justice Initiative and the European Implementation Network, we briefed the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and UK diplomats throughout 2016 on the progress of the Khashiyev and Akayeva group of cases, which address egregious abuses in Chechnya between 1999 and 2006. With over 247 judgments from the Court establishing Russian responsibility for aerial bombardment, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture, our regular briefings are crucial for maintaining pressure on the Russian Government to provide redress for victims and their families.
Vilifying rights defenders
Political and legislative pressures in Russia pose a direct threat to civil society. In Russia, the 2012 ‘Law on Foreign Agents’ resulted in the designation of Memorial HRC, and almost 150 other organisations, as ‘foreign agents’, a label detrimental to their public image and obstructive to their activities. We are challenging this label before the European Court, and submitted a series of updates in 2016 regarding the Law’s effect on NGOs. An organisation perceived to be involved in ‘political activity’ and receiving funding from abroad can be labelled as a ‘foreign agent’. Our group of cases was sent to the Russian Government by the Court in March 2017.
Human rights defenders in the region continue to be at risk on account of their activities. In the case of human rights defender – and our colleague at Memorial HRC – Natalia Estemirova, murdered in 2009, we commissioned an expert report from a British former senior police investigator to support our argument that the crime had not been effectively investigated. We also argue the Russian authorities are responsible for her death and her murder was related to her high-profile involvement in investigating kidnappings, torture and killings in the North Caucasus. Oleg Orlov, Memorial’s Chair and Founder, was accused of defamation for speaking out against Natalia’s murder in 2009; in July we challenged this oppressive measure, which is aimed at silencing critical voices, before the European Court.
Bolotnaya Square, Moscow
At the start of the year, the Court ruled in the first of our cases concerning the 2012 Bolotnaya Square demonstration against parliamentary and presidential election results. Evgeny Frumkin was arrested, detained and convicted for failing to obey a police order, while peacefully taking part in the protest. In a particularly strongly-worded judgment, reflecting its wide-reaching implications, the Court noted that Russia is obliged to protect freedom of assembly, and that the sanctions imposed on the applicant and many other demonstrators had a chilling effect on open political debate in Russia. We are taking a series of other protest-related cases, including one challenging the arrest and conviction of protesters outside a Moscow court during the 2014 verdict on the prosecution of the original Bolotnaya Square demonstrators.
“The Court rejected the narrative put forward by the State that restrictive measures were necessary to keep the peace, and robustly upheld the right to freedom of assembly at a time when it is under threat in Russia.”
Jessica Gavron, EHRAC Legal Director, speaking after the Frumkin judgment
Slavery in a Moscow suburb
Together with Memorial, we lodged an application on behalf of four young women trafficked from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Moscow, where they were kept in servitude and forced to work unpaid in a grocer’s shop for up to ten years. They were routinely physically and sexually abused. We argue that the women were subjected to torture, forced labour, discrimination (on the basis of gender, ethnicity and socio-economic position), and that the State failed to protect them, or to investigate or remedy the situation. If successful, this case will substantially develop the Court’s case law on the interaction between violence against women and slavery and forced labour. We are also taking a case arguing Russia’s failure to investigate claims that a young woman from Dagestan had been repeatedly forced to perform sexual acts by eleven men since she was just fifteen years old.
Respect for LGBT Rights
In Russia our cases challenge a range of issues affecting the LGBTI community, including police treatment of LGBTI protestors and registration of LGBTI organisations. We collaborated in 2016 with the International Commission of Jurists and ILGA-Europe to intervene in a case regarding the refusal of the Russian authorities to register two organisations, including the Movement for Marriage Equality, on the basis that homosexuality was immoral.
Conflict and interstate tensions
Georgians collectively expelled from Russia
Following a serious breakdown in diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia in 2006, Georgian nationals residing in Russia were subjected to identity checks, arrested, detained and expelled. In December 2016, we won two cases on behalf of 12 individuals arrested and detained in appalling conditions prior to their deportation. In one case, the applicant’s husband, Tengiz Togonidze, died on arrival at a Moscow airport. The Court found that the investigation into his death was inefficient and ineffective. The Court also found that the authorities’ failure to provide Mr. Togonidze with appropriate medical treatment, the general conditions of his detention, and the unventilated transportation to the airport were “particularly inhuman and degrading”.
Memorial was EHRAC’s first partner organisation, and is one of the leading human rights NGOs in the Russian Federation. It was established in 1991 and has 58 branches across the Russian Federation. EHRAC has worked with lawyers in their strategic litigation department since 2003, bringing cases to the European Court on a wide range of human rights abuse, from disappearances in the North Caucasus, to violence against women, to protests, to civil society repression. The Centre also focuses on politically motivated persecution in the former Soviet Union, discrimination on ethnic grounds and analysing the situation of refugees and forced migrants.