European Court rules that the 13 men ‘disappeared’ at the hands of the Russian State must be presumed dead

Published: 27 Feb 2014

Today the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case Dzhabrailov and Others v Russia[1] that the arrest and abduction of 13 men in Chechnya between 2000 and 2004 violated the right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights. Applicants in two of the nine joined applications were represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University, and the Russian NGO Memorial, based in Moscow. The applicants were awarded in total 780,000 EUR in damages.

Yakub Dzhabrailov

The applicants in this case are the father, mother and two sisters of Yakub Dzhabrailov, who disappeared from their family home in Argun, Chechnya, on 15 December 2001. Russian servicemen had been conducting a ‘sweep-up’ operation (zachistka) in the area, and Yakub had been threatened with arrest the day before his disappearance, with servicemen stating that “those whom they took away never returned”. The next day, servicemen arrived at the home at noon. Yakub was taken outside, put in a vehicle and taken away. Other servicemen patrolling the streets witnessed the events but did not interfere. His mother appealed on the same day to the town administration, along with relatives of other men who were also arrested during the operation, and was told that he was taken to a ‘filtering point’ and later that he would be transferred to the military commander’s office. On 18 December, whilst appealing for information at the district military commander’s office, she heard Yakub screaming. He has not been seen since 15 December 2001.

The investigation into the abduction was suspended and resumed on several occasions; the last time in 25 December 2011, ten years after Yakub disappeared. Proceedings are still pending.

Moul Usumov

The applicants are the wife and four children of Mr Moul Usumov. Moul worked for the regional Federal Security Bureau (FSB) in Kurchaloy, Chechnya. On 30 June 2001 a group of armed servicemen arrived in the neighbourhood. Some of them broke into the applicants’ house and ordered them to lie down on the floor. They took money, valuables and Moul’s military service card. One of the servicemen hit him with his rifle butt, demanding that he spell out his name. They then handcuffed him and drove him away with them. On appealing to the head of the FSB, his wife was told “It comes as a shock to me to hear that Mr Moul Usumov has been arrested. He is one of us. Don’t worry, he will be released by 4 p.m.” However, he was not released and has not been seen since.

A criminal case was opened on 9 July 2001 into the abduction. The investigation into the incident was suspended in 2009 for lack of evidence. Criminal proceedings are still pending.

In relation to all the cases, the Russian Government claimed that that “there was no evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that State agents had been involved in the incidents” or that the applicants’ relatives were dead. The Court, however, found that in many cases concerning disappearances in Chechnya, a missing person may be presumed dead, and in these cases the deaths could be attributed to the Russian Government in violation of the right to life (Article 2).

The Court also ruled that Russia failed to carry out effective criminal investigations into the disappearances and presumed deaths, and that the applicants did not have effective domestic remedies by which to challenge 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 EHRAC, commented:

“For up to 10 years these families fought to find out what happened to their loved ones. Memorial HRC and EHRAC represented two of the victims, and on their behalf, we are pleased that the disappearance of the men and the mental anguish suffered by their families has now been acknowledged by the European Court.

The European Court is a vital tool in holding Russia – and all the Council of Europe member states – to account over their actions. With the events unfolding now in Ukraine and the challenges facing LGBT people in Russia, this mechanism for securing justice has never been more crucial.”

The Court joined together 9 applications in the case of Dzhabrailov and Others v Russia (Nos. 8620/09, 11674/09, 16488/09, 21133/09, 36354/09, 47770/09, 54728/09, 25511/10, 32791/10). Dzhabrailov and Usumovy were represented by EHRAC/Memorial.