Published: 21 Jun 2007

Bitiyeva and X v Russia

Case Summary

Case Nos. 57953/00 & 37392/03
Judgment date: 21 June 2007

Facts

The first applicant, Zura Bitiyeva, was a Chechen peace activist. She had originally complained of being subjected to ill-treatment in the Chernokozovo detention facility in 2000. She was killed in May 2003. The second applicant, X, is Ms Bitiyeva’s daughter.

Ms Bitiyeva’s original application concerned ill-treatment during her detention. In particular, she complained of lack of heating, overcrowding, poor food and hygiene, humiliation on account of her being a woman and of Chechen origin, and witnessing other detainees’ ill-treatment, including against her son. She suffered from serious respiratory, heart and inflammatory diseases and claimed that she was denied medical assistance. On 25 April 2000, the first applicant complained to the European Court that her treatment in prison amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment and torture.

On 21 May 2003 Ms Bitiyeva, her husband, their son, and her brother, were killed at Ms Bitiyeva’s house. According to witness statements, at around 3.30 am a group of armed men entered the first applicant’s house, whilst others spread out in the streets around the house. After a few minutes, the neighbours heard muffled shots. The first applicant’s other son discovered the bodies, all shot in their heads. An investigation into the killings was opened on the same day. However, as submitted by the second applicant, no autopsies were performed and the bodies were buried on the same day. The second applicant requested victim status in November 2003, which was granted to her only in 15 December 2005. No perpetrators were identified throughout the course of the investigation.

Judgment

  1. a) In relation to the first applicant

In respect to Article 3, the Court held that taken together – the poor detention conditions, lack of adequate medical care and resulting deterioration in the applicant’s health reached the level of suffering which amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention.

The Court also held that the lack of procedural safeguards relating to the applicant’s detention constituted a serious breach of Article 5. No charges were brought against the applicant, no decision to detain or to release her was given by a competent authority, and her detention was not formally linked to any criminal investigation.

  1. b) In relation to the second applicant

The Court held that the killing of the second applicant’s relatives was clearly unlawful, and that sufficient witness evidence existed to attribute the killing to the Russian Federation in violation of Article 2.

A further breach of Article 2 was also found in relation to the inadequacy of the investigation into the killings. There had been an inexcusable lack of progress in the investigation over a significant period of time which was inconsistent with the need for effective and prompt investigative means.

Given that the criminal investigation into the killings had been ineffective and the effectiveness of any other remedy that might have existed, including civil remedies, had consequently been undermined, the Court found that there was a violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 2 of the Convention.

The Court awarded EUR 10,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damages sustained by the first applicant and EUR 75,000 in respect to the second.

Comment:

The second applicant had claimed that the feelings of fear, anguish and distress she had suffered as a result of the killing of four close members of her family amounted to treatment contrary to Article 3. While the Court expressed no doubt that the death of her family members had caused her profound suffering, it nevertheless reiterated the differentiation between sufferings of relatives of those who had been killed as opposed to the relatives of victims of enforced disappearances, finding no violation of Article 3.