Bazorkina v Russia
Case No. 69481/01
Judgment date: 27 July 2006
The applicants were represented by the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.
The applicant claimed that in August 1999 her son went to Grozny, Chechnya, and that she had not heard from him since. On 2 February 2000, she saw her son being interrogated by a Russian officer in a television news programme about the capturing of the village of Alkhan-Kala (also called Yermolovka). She later obtained a full copy of the recording, made by a reporter for NTV (Russian Independent TV) and CNN. At the end of the interrogation the officer in charge, who was identified as Colonel-General Baranov, ordered her son’s execution. The applicant’s son had been missing since. Immediately after 2 February 2000 the applicant began the search for her son, visiting detention centres and prisons and applying to various authorities. In August 2000 she was informed that her son was not being held in any prison in Russia. Despite numerous attempts to seek justice through the Russian legal system, the Government opened a criminal investigation into the “disappearance” only in July 2001, almost eighteen months after the events. The investigation was suspended and reopened six times between 2001-2006. Colonel-General Baranov was only questioned for the first time in June 2004, and no charges against him were ever brought before a Russian court. At the communication stage of the application before the European Court, the Government was requested to submit a copy of the criminal investigation file. Despite the partial disclosure of the file, the investigation established that the applicant’s son had been detained on 2 February 2000 in Alkhan-Kala. Immediately after arrest he was handed over to servicemen of the Ministry of Justice for transportation to a pre-trial detention centre. However, he did not arrive at the pre-trial detention centre and his subsequent whereabouts could not be established.
In determining whether the applicant’s son could be presumed dead, the Court referred to a number of crucial elements. It was undisputed that the applicant’s son was detained during a counter-terrorist operation. Furthermore, considering the execution order that was issued against him and the fact that he had been missing for more than six years, the Court held that the Russian government was responsible for his death in violation of Article 2. It further found the Russian Government in violation of the procedural aspect of Article 2 for failing to carry out an effective criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and presumed death of applicant’s son.
Concerning the applicant’s suffering as a result of her son’s “disappearance”, notably seeing him questioned in a video and later being ordered to be “executed”, coupled with the Russian government’s failure to take adequate steps to clarify his fate, the Court concluded there had been a violation of Article 3. The applicant had also raised violation of Article 3 in relation to her son while in detention by Russian servicemen. The Court held that there was insufficient evidence to support her allegation that her son had been subjected to ill-treatment in detention and held that there was no violation of Article 3 in that respect.
The Court further found that applicants’ relative was held in unacknowledged detention without any of the safeguards, amounting to a particularly grave violation of Article 5 of the Convention.
In view of its findings with regard to Articles 2 and 3, the Court found that the applicant should have been able to avail herself of effective and practical remedies capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible and to an award of compensation. However, considering the fact that the criminal investigation was ineffective, the Court found that the State had failed in its obligation under Article 13 in conjunction with Articles 2 and 3.
The applicant was awarded EUR 35,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damages.
Bazorkina v Russia was the first case where the European Court ruled on the Russian Government’s responsibility in a “disappearance” case from Chechnya. The Court used the principles developed in this case relating to the establishment of facts in dispute, in particular when faced with allegations of disappearances under Article 2, to the subsequent Chechen disappearance cases coming before it.