European Court questions Russian responsibility in Ingushetia disappearances

23 September 2016

On 23 September 2016, the European Court of Human Rights requested that the Russian Government submit its observations on the case of Rashid Ozdoyev and Tamerlan Tsechoyev, who were abducted and disappeared in Ingushetia in March 2004.  These cases represent a systemic problem in the North Caucasus; we have been litigating cases concerning the abduction and presumed deaths of men from Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia at the European Court since our inception in 2003. In this case, both men had been publicly critical of the local regime. Mr Ozdoyev’s father and Mr Tsechoyev’s brother are represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University, and Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow).

Rashid Ozdoyev was an assistant prosecutor at the Ingushetia prosecutor’s office and was in charge of supervision of the local Federal Security Service (FSS).  On several occasions he had criticised the unlawful activity of the FSS, including arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial executions. Shortly before his abduction, he reported on these activities to the federal authorities in Moscow. He had also written a report criticising the head of the Ingushetia FSS for engaging in misconduct in the course of his professional activities. Tamerlan Tsechoyev was the director of an NGO and an opposition activist.[1]

On the evening of 11 March 2004, while the two men were driving, a white car collided with them, blocking the road. According to witnesses, armed servicemen got out of the car, opened fire and took Mr Ozdoyev and Mr Tsechoyev to FSS premises in Magas (capital of Ingushetia). Mr Ozdoyev’s father was informed by FSS agents (who wished to remain anonymous, for fear of their lives) that at 3am the same night both men were taken from the FSS premises, allegedly to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia. Nothing is known of their whereabouts since that night. The investigations into their disappearances have been suspended and resumed on several occasions, and are currently pending.

In their application to the European Court, lodged on 4 February 2008, the applicants complain that their relatives’ right to life has been violated and that no effective investigation into the matter was conducted, under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Under Article 3 ECHR, they complain that they have suffered severe mental distress due to their relatives’ disappearances, the authorities’ indifference and the State’s failure to conduct an effective investigation. They further argue that the unacknowledged detention of Mr Ozdoyev and Mr Tsechoyev violates all the guarantees under the right to liberty (Article 5 ECHR). Finally, they argue that they had no access to an effective remedy (Article 13 ECHR) for their complaint under the right to life.

The Russian Government must submit its response by January 2017 and the applicants will then have an opportunity to respond. The judgments in such cases form a significant part of an ever-increasing body of case law challenging systemic human rights abuse by the Russian Government in this region, applying pressure through an international, and independent, judicial body. To date the European Court has delivered judgments in over 100 of our cases from the North Caucasus, finding the Russian State responsible for violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

[1] Tamerlan Tsechoyev’s brother, Zurab (also the second applicant in this case), was abducted from his home by about 50 armed, masked men on 25 July 2008. He was then taken to an unknown location, interrogated and beaten for five hours. Tsechoyev was hospitalised with a broken leg, kidney damage, and multiple bruises. The assailants left Tsechoyev on a road outside Ingushetia’s capital, Magas, after threatening to kill him and his family if he did not leave his job as the editor of human rights website Mashr, and leave Ingushetia.