European Court orders €2.2 million payout over 36 cases of abduction and disappearance in the North Caucasus at the hands of Russian security forces

9 January 2014

Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of Pitsayeva and Others v Russia, concerning 36 men who were ‘disappeared’ after being taken away by groups of armed men in Chechnya between 2000 and 2006. In each case the European Court found that Russia violated the right to life (Article 2) under the European Convention on Human Rights. Russia was ordered to pay more than 2.2 million Euros in damages and legal costs. The judgment incorporated 20 separate cases, brought by 90 of the victims’ close relatives. Three of the cases were brought by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University, and the Russian NGO Memorial, based in Moscow.

Buvaysar Magomadov was asleep in his sister’s house in the Shali district of Chechnya on the night of 27 October 2002 when around 20 masked armed men entered the house. They told Buvaysar’s father he was being taken away for an identity check. His family traced him to the Shali district military commander’s office, where they were told by the security services (FSB) that he would be questioned and released in three days. However, he has not seen by his family since that night. A criminal investigation was opened a year after his disappearance, only to be suspended for failure to identify the perpetrators. The investigation remains pending today.

Mikhail Borchashvili was taken from his flat in Grozny on 9 March 2006 when masked men in camouflage broke into his home. He was ordered to lie face down on the floor when they checked his passport. He was then dragged outside, put in a car and driven off. His relatives have not seen him since. Although a criminal case was opened soon after, it was suspended and resumed several times, and is still pending today.

Aslan Yusupov was taken from his home in Tangi-Chu on 15 June 2002 by ten armed servicemen. His relatives were told he was being taken for an identity check. Another man was taken on the same day from a neighbouring house. Aslan’s relatives were told, on appealing to the Urus-Martan military commander’s office, that two young men were dragged with sacks over their heads into the office that day. Several days later, the relatives were told that 5 bodies had been found on the road between Urus-Martan and Goyty, however his relatives could not identify Aslan among them. No news has been heard of Aslan since. A criminal investigation was opened in April 2003. It has been suspended and reopened several times, and remains pending today.

As the Russian government provided no explanation for the abductions, the Court concluded that the men can be presumed dead in violation of the right to life of the European Convention (Article 2). Further violations of the right to life were found due to the ineffectiveness of each investigation which the Court described as a ‘systemic issue’ in Russia, given the fact that the same issue has been found in over 120 similar cases before the European Court. Violations of the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to liberty and right to an effective remedy were also found in each case. The Court commented that the applicants “must be considered victims…on account of the distress and anguish which they suffered, and continue to suffer, as a result of their inability to ascertain the fate of their family members and of the manner in which their complaints have been dealt with.” 

Prof. Philip Leach, Director of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, commented on the judgment:

“How will other European governments respond to the Court’s finding of mass abductions perpetrated by the security forces of another European state? Urgent steps must be taken to ensure that each of these tragic cases is investigated. The continuing failure of the Russian authorities to do so perpetuates the insecurity in the region and beyond.”