European Court rules that violence against Chechens breached European Convention on Human Rights

4 July 2014

European Court: Violence against Chechens breached European Convention on Human Rights – failure to investigate episode of ‘mob violence’ – strangulation with rope by police found to be torture – inadequacies in investigation amounted to racial discrimination

In two cases against Russia on 3 July 2014, Amadayev v Russia and Antayev & Others v Russia, the European Court found that Russia violated the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in respect of nine people of Chechen origin, and ordered Russia to pay €145,000 in compensation. Eight applicants were found to be the victims of racial discrimination. The applicants in both cases were represented by lawyers at the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, based at Middlesex University in London, and the Russian NGO Memorial, based in Moscow.

Amadayev v Russia

On 18 May 2002, Zhanar-Ali Amadayev, who lives in Chastoozerye, in the Kurgan Region of Russia, was attacked in front of his house by a group of about 15 men. They shot him in both knees with an airgun and beat him with baseball bats, which broke his arm. Although an investigation into the attack was opened immediately, and some steps were taken to try and identify the perpetrators, it was suspended by August 2002 without having identified those responsible and since August 2011, no further investigative steps had been taken.

Antayev & Others v Russia

The applicants in Antayev & Others v Russia are two families, the Antayev’s and the Vashayev’s, ten Russian nationals living in the Vargashinskiy District, also in the Kurgan Region. Eight of the ten applicants complained that on 24 March 2006 they were beaten and injured by the police during searches carried out at their homes following a fight in which two members of their families were involved. They also claimed that during the searches, the police shouted racist verbal abuse at them such as “You should go back to Chechnya”. One of the applicants was taken to theVargashinskiy District Department of the Interior, where he complained of having been beaten in his groin with rifle butts, that he had a rope pulled around his neck, and was told he “would not be able to beget more Chechens”. A criminal investigation was opened a month after the searches, but was suspended and reopened several times and is currently still pending, without having identified the police officers responsible for the attacks.

The decisions

Mr Amadayev argued that Article 3 ECHR was violated in his case (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 13 ECHR (right to an effective remedy). He alleged that the Russian authorities not only failed to prevent the attack, although they had been warned about the possibility of ethnic violence, but also failed to investigate it effectively. The Court found that “the relevant authorities have not done all that could have been reasonably expected of them to investigate the incident, to establish the identity of those responsible and to bring them to justice.” and therefore found a violation of the State’s positive obligation under Article 3 of the Convention, but ruled it was not necessary to examine his complaint under Article 13. Mr Amadayev was also awarded €20,000 in damages.

“I am happy with this judgment of the Court. The most important thing for me is not the financial compensation. I still suffer from the physical consequences of the harm inflicted on me and this cannot be compensated with money. The most important thing for me is that justice exists and that the violation of my rights has been established”.

Zhanar-Ali Amadayev

In Antayev, eight of the applicants alleged that the ill-treatment they suffered at the hands of the police violated Article 3 and that the investigation into their allegations was ineffective. The other two applicants complained that they suffered as witnesses to the ill-treatment of their relatives. The Court found violations of Article 3 in respect of eight applicants: the ill-treatment of seven of them had had “the aim to intimidate, humiliate and debase them” and should be classified as inhuman and degrading. The treatment of the eighth applicant, who had a rope tightened around his neck until he lost consciousness, “combined with the feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority which the impugned treatment produced in him, must have caused him suffering of sufficient severity to be categorised as torture.” The Court found it especially disturbing that this treatment seems to have had a racial element to it”.

Another violation of Article 3 was found as the investigation was not considered effective: “The prosecution authority merely accepted the officers’ explanations that they had not ill-treated the applicants, without offering any other version of the events.” The claims of the other two applicants, who witnessed the ill-treatment, were found not to have reached the “threshold of severity” required to find a violation of Article 3.

The Court also found a violation of the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14) taken together with Article 3 (in relation to eight applicants). It held that the investigation had ignored possible racial motives behind the crime, even though racist verbal abuse was “well-documented”. It further concluded that the applicants’ ethnic origin was the sole, or at least the decisive, reason for the involvement of the Regional Department for Combating Organised Crime (RUBOP) and the special police service in the searches at their homes. This treatment “constituted discrimination based on ethnicity, which is a form of racial discrimination.

The Court awarded €15,000 each to seven of the applicants and €20,000 to the applicant who suffered torture at the hands of the police.

“I am satisfied that the responsibility of the authorities for the ill-treatment and the discrimination has been recognised. The discrimination in the Kurgan region was so strong that we have since moved to the Rostov region, where we live now”.

Dzhamula Antayev