Case Nos. 57941/00, 58699/00 and 60403/00
Judgment date: 26 July 2007
The case was brought by five applicants in respect of the killing of their relatives in Novy Aldy, Grozny in the context of hostilities between Russian forces and Chechen fighters. On 5 February 2000, a Russian military operation was carried out in Novye Aldy during which over 50 civilians were killed and numerous houses were burnt. The first applicant was a witness to nine killings by military servicemen – seven of the deceased being his relatives. The second and third applicants alleged that during the military operation, neighbours witnessed the burning of a house belonging to their relatives. The remains of their relatives were later discovered by their neighbours in the cellar of the house. The fourth and fifth applicants brought a complaint concerning the shooting of the fifth applicant’s brother and sister during a “mopping-up” operation.
Soon after the events the applicants and other relatives of the victims set up a group called the Aldy Civic Committee, in order to coordinate their efforts in the aftermath of the massacre. On 5 March 2000 the Grozny Town Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation into the murder of several inhabitants of the Novye Aldy settlement in Grozny by “unidentified men armed with guns”, and into the looting of property. Despite the different steps taken in the investigation, the detachments which had been involved in the security operation in Novye Aldy were not identified and no one was charged with any crime. The investigation had been adjourned and resumed on several occasions.
On the basis of numerous witness statements, as well as other first-hand evidence collected by NGOs the Court found a well-founded prima facie case by the applicants that the perpetrators were Russian servicemen. No explanation had been provided by the Russian Government as to the circumstances of the deaths, nor had any ground of justification been relied on by them in respect of the use of lethal force by their agents. It was thus irrelevant whether the killings had occurred “with the knowledge or on the orders” of the federal authorities. Liability for the applicants’ relatives’ deaths was therefore attributable to the Russian State and there had been a violation of Article 2 in respect of the applicants’ 11 relatives killed on 5 February 2000.
The Court found a further breach of Article 2 as a result of the inadequacy of the official investigation into the killings, stating that the “astonishing ineffectiveness of the prosecuting authorities… can only be qualified as acquiescence in the events”. The finding was based on an unacceptable initial delay of one month before an investigation was commenced and “serious and unexplained delays and failures” once the investigation was opened.
In respect to Article 3 the Court found that the first applicant had suffered inhuman and degrading treatment. It held that although Article 3 would not normally be extended to the relatives of those unlawfully killed, the first applicant was a special case as he had been a witness to the extrajudicial execution of several of his relatives and neighbours after being forced by the perpetrators to lie on the ground, fearing for his own life. The Court held that the shock, coupled with the authorities’ wholly inadequate and inefficient response, caused his suffering to reach the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment proscribed by Article 3.
The Court further found a violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 2 in that the criminal investigation into deaths had been ineffective and the effectiveness of any other remedy that might have existed, including the civil remedies suggested by the Russian Government, had been undermined.
Both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages were awarded under Article 41. Pecuniary damages of EUR 3,000 were awarded to the third applicant in respect of the loss of future earnings due to the death of her husband. As to the non-pecuniary damage, the first and second applicants and the fourth and fifth applicants jointly were awarded EUR 30,000; the third applicant – EUR 40,000. An additional EUR 5,000 was awarded to the first applicant in respect of the violation of Article 3.