Russian state agents failed to provide plausible explanation for killing of 24-year-old Ingush factory worker

24 March 2020

The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) today ruled that Russian state agents were responsible for the arbitrary execution of a young man in Ingushetia in December 2009. The perpetrators, three Federal Security Service (“FSB”) agents, had attempted to argue that Beslan Tsoroyev, 24, had been killed in an alleged shoot-out, but the Court established that this version of events “did not reflect the true circumstances of the incident.” The Russian authorities subsequently failed to adequately investigate the circumstances surrounding Beslan’s death. The Court found violations of the substantive and procedural aspects of the right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

Khasan Tsoroyev (PHOTO: Memorial HRC)

“I am grateful for the work of my legal representatives in my case. I was not hopeful that such a judgment could be adopted after a long and painful domestic procedure. I think today’s judgment is fair, and I am very happy about it. I hope those who committed this crime will be finally dismissed from their duties and punished according to the law. I hope that this judgment and other decisions of international bodies will put an end to the killings and disappearances in Russia, especially in the North Caucasus.”

Khasan Tsoroyev.

EHRAC, together with Memorial Human Rights Centre, represented Beslan’s father Khasan Tsoroyev.

What happened to Beslan Tsoroyev?

Khasan Tsoroyev and his wife buried their son on the same day that he was killed.

At around 7.15am on 7 December 2009, the Tsoroyev family home had been encircled by FSB agents. Beslan and his parents were ordered out of the house. There they were met by around 200 hundred armed men. The entire neighbourhood had been placed on lockdown.

The Tsoroyev family were first asked to present their identity papers and were then searched against a courtyard wall. Beslan’s parents were then taken to a minivan where they were questioned by two FSB officers. They saw another agent remove two large boxes, a package, and two stretchers from the back of the minivan. A neighbour later recalled seeing FSB officers place Beslan Tsoroyev in black handcuffs and leading him back into the family home.

At around 9am, the FSB agents left the Tsoroyev home. Khasan Tsoroyev discovered his son’s lifeless body in a bedroom in the house. An AK-47 machine gun was found next to him. Beslan had been shot three times in the head.

The FSB later claimed that Beslan Tsoroyev had pulled the machine gun out from under a sofa and had fired several shots at the agents. The officers involved said that they had killed him in self-defence. Russia’s investigative authorities accepted the version of events submitted by the FSB and refused to initiate a criminal investigation into the killing of Beslan, despite the desperate pleas of his father.

What did the Court find?

The ECtHR found that the Russian authorities had violated the substantive and procedural aspects of the right to life (Art. 2). Beslan Tsoroyev was killed by shots to the head while he was alone with the FSB officers. The domestic authorities in Russia failed to provide a proper response to the serious allegations of the inappropriate use of lethal force by the implicated State agents. In failing in its duty to carry out an effective investigation, the Court noted, “the State fostered the State agents’ sense of impunity.”

The Court summarily dismantled the version of events submitted by the Russian authorities. No evidence was found of an exchange of gunfire as the FSB officers had argued—no traces of gunshot wounds to Beslan’s body, no bullet casings in the room, no damage to the walls of the bedroom or other objects in it. Vital evidence had also been missed. The AK-47 machine gun was never forensically examined, and investigators failed to take gunshot reside swabs from Beslan’s hands.

Russia was ordered to pay the applicant non-pecuniary damages of €80,000.