Russian state agents responsible for disappearance, detention and presumed death of 14 men from North Caucasus
It is almost twenty years since the start of the second armed conflict in Chechnya, which formed the backdrop for countless enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and torture throughout the North Caucasus. Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in a group of cases concerning the enforced disappearances of 14 men from Ingushetia and Chechnya between 2001 and 2005, finding the Russian state authorities responsible for their detention and presumed deaths, as well as for the emotional distress caused to their families. EHRAC and Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) represented Aza Kukurkhoyeva, whose husband Girikan Tsechoyev was abducted in 2004.
What happened to Mr Tsechoyev?
On 11 July 2004, Mr Tsechoyev was visiting a relative in the village of Muzhichi (Ingushetia) when a group of service personnel arrested him on the outskirts of the village. He was handed over to the Federal Security Service (FSB), who took him away to an unknown destination. That evening, police officers from the District Department of the interior (known as ROVD) searched Ms. Kukurkhoyeva’s house in Ordzhonikidzevskaya (Ingushetia), having informed her that her husband had been arrested by FSB officers. The next day, Mr Tsechoyev’s brother went to the District Prosecutor’s Office where he was informed that his brother had been detained by the FSB; this was confirmed again by a representative of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Head of the ROVD Criminal Investigation Department, who added that he was being held at the FSB’s premises in Ingushetia.
A criminal investigation into Mr Tsechoyev’s disappearance was opened in August 2004, and was suspended and re-opened on several occasions, including for failure to identify the perpetrators. Ms. Kukurkhoyeva was denied access to the case file.
What did the European Court find today?
The European Court noted that the state authorities (the Prosecutor’s Office) confirmed that Mr Tsechoyev had been arrested and detained by State agents (the FSB). Given that Mr Tsechoyev’s whereabouts remain unknown to this day, almost fifteen years since his disappearance, the Court concluded that he must be presumed dead. Given the absence of explanation provided by the Russian Government, the Court found that his death was attributable to the State in violation of the right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights – ECHR, substantive limb). Further, it found that the authorities had failed to carry out an effective criminal investigation into the circumstances of his death (Article 2, procedural limb). The Court stated that:
“since it has been established that [Mr Tsechoyev was] detained by State agents, apparently without any legal grounds or acknowledgement of such detention, this constitutes a particularly grave violation of the right to liberty and security of persons” (Article 5 ECHR).
Re-iterating that, in the context of disappearances in the North Caucasus between 1999 and 2005, ineffective investigations of disappearances constitute a systemic problem, the Court concluded that Ms. Kukurkhoyeva did not have at her disposal an effective domestic remedy, in violation of Article 13 with Article 2.
The Court further found that Ms. Kukurkhoyeva must be considered a victim of a violation of the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3 ECHR), on account of the distress and anguish which she has suffered and continues to suffer, as a result of her inability to ascertain the fate of her missing husband, and the manner in which her complaints were dealt with. Additionally, she did not have an effective domestic remedy for her grievances in this regard, in breach of Article 13 with Article 3. Ms. Kukurkhoyeva was awarded €60,000 in damages.
As we argued in this case, the Russian Government must identify and prosecute those responsible for Mr Tsechoyev’s abduction, launch a fresh investigation into his abduction and presumed death, and provide Ms. Kukurkhoyeva with access to the investigation file. The Government should also undertake all possible measures to locate Mr Tsechoyev’s body and return it to his family. It is now up to the Russian Government to take steps to remedy the grave human rights violations raised in this group of cases, and the hundreds of similar cases from the North Caucasus.
 The applicants in the other cases in this group were represented by the Stichting Justice Initiative/Astreya, Mothers of Chechnya and individual lawyers.