European Court: Two men ‘presumed dead’ following detention by Russian State agents

31 October 2013

The European Court of Human Rights ruled today that Russian State agents unlawfully detained Bulat Chilayev and Aslan Israilov in Chechnya in 2006 and after no news of them since, they should be presumed dead in violation of the right to life of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case, which was joined with 3 other similar applications (Tovbulatova & Others v Russia), was brought by their close relatives and they were represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, based at Middlesex University, and the Russian NGO Memorial. The applicants were awarded 60,000 EUR each in damages.

In April 2006, Bulat Chilayev, who worked for the NGO ‘Civic Assistance’ and Aslan Israilov, who was in Chechnya visiting his grandfather, were on their way from Sernovodsk to Grozny in Bulat’s car when two cars containing six or eight men wearing camouflage uniforms stopped them. They punched the two men, beat them with rifle butts, tied their hands and put Aslan in the boot and Bulat in the back seat of his own car, and drove off towards Grozny. This was witnessed by a passer-by who called Bulat’s relatives to inform them.

The applicants have had no news of their sons since the day they disappeared. The applicants enlisted the support of the ‘Civic Assistance’ and Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the NGO and member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights, who made numerous appeals to officials, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Prosecutor General and the head of the Chechen Government, asking them to investigate the abduction. The crime apparently had ‘drawn the special attention of the authorities’ but they were told it was difficult because the perpetrators had used false registration plates.

The criminal investigation was opened just over a week after the abductions but was suspended in April 2009 for failure to identify the perpetrators.

The Russian Government argued that there was no evidence the abductors had been State agents, and that the applicants could have claimed damages in the civil courts. However the European Court ruled that given the evidence presented, the number of other disappearance cases and the context of the conflict, it was clear that the State had control over the disappeared persons. It therefore found violations of the right to life and that the investigation had been ineffective. The detention of the applicants’ sons also violated the right to liberty and security, and the distress this caused to the applicants violated the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. Lastly the Court found that the applicants had had no effective domestic remedy to challenge the abductions.

Prof. Philip Leach, director of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, commented:

“The Russian security forces have again been found responsible for the abduction and ‘disappearance’ of two young men in Chechnya. They have never been seen since, or their bodies recovered, resulting in the Court finding that they are ‘presumed dead’. It is shocking that after many, many such cases, the Russian authorities are still unwilling to carry out proper investigations, so the perpetrators operate with complete impunity. European governments can, and must, act to change this appalling state of affairs.”