Published: 29 Apr 2008

Kaplanova v Russia

Case Summary

Case No. 7653/02
Judgment date: 29 April 2008 

Facts

The case concerned Ms Kaplanova’s allegation that her son and son-in-law were abducted from their family home by Russian servicemen and subsequently killed. According to eye witness accounts, on 12 May 2001, at around 10.30 a.m. a group of about 20 federal servicemen came to the applicant’s house in six armoured personnel carriers. The servicemen were wearing masks and camouflage uniforms and carrying machine guns. They broke the doors down and searched the house without producing any documentation authorising the search. They took away the applicant’s son, her son-in-law and a neighbour who had been visiting them, and drove towards Grozny. The following day the neighbour was released. He told the applicant that they had been taken to the Staropromyslovskiy VOVD. Neither the applicant’s son nor son-in-law had been seen since. The applicant was granted victim status on 30 October 2002, but she was denied access to the case file. In May 2004 she lodged a complaint against the investigating authorities, claiming that they had failed to carry out an effective investigation into the disappearance of her son and son-in-law. Her complaint was subsequently dismissed. Between 15 July 2004 and 22 December 2006 the investigation was adjourned and resumed eight times. It failed to identify those responsible for the disappearance of the applicant’s son and son-in-law.

Judgment

The Court found a violation of the substantive limb of Article 2. It affirmed that, in the context of the Chechen conflict, where individuals have disappeared by unidentifiable officials, this could indeed be considered life-threatening. This assumption was corroborated by the fact that nothing had been heard of the two men for six years.

A violation of the procedural limb of Article 2 was also found. The authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation into the deaths of the two men. The numerous suspensions and resumptions of the investigation could not but have had a negative impact on the prospects of arriving at the truth. In addition no real attempt at finding those responsible had been made, despite relevant information having been established early on.

In relation to Article 5 the Court considered that the men were held in unacknowledged detention without any of the safeguards of Article 5, and subsequently disappeared. The Court held that this was incompatible with the very purpose of Article 5.

This additionally led to a finding of violation of Article 13 in respect of the alleged violation of Article 2 of the Convention as there was no effective, practical remedy available to the applicant.

The court awarded the applicant EUR 70,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damages.

Comment

As in the majority of cases on disappearances in Chechnya, the Government was reluctant to submit a copy of the investigation file opened into the disappearance of the applicant’s son and son-in-law. The Court found that, the reasons given by the Government for withholding key information were inadequate. The withholding of such information had hampered the Court’s examination of the applicant’s complaints.

Referring to the importance of a Government’s cooperation in Convention proceedings and mindful of the difficulties associated with the establishment of facts in cases of such a nature, in refusing to submit the documents requested, the Russian Government had therefore failed to meet their obligations under Article 38(1).