Russia responsible for “most grave violation” of unlawful arrest and ill-treatment of Sultan Barakhoyev
Today the European Court of Human Rights found that Russia unlawfully arrested and detained Sultan Barakhoyev, in a “complete negation of fundamentally important guarantees” ten years ago in North Ossetia-Alania, and subjected him to inhuman and degrading treatment. Mr Barakhoyev’s application was continued by his mother following his death; they were represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University, and Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow).
On 10 January 2007, Mr Barakhoyev and a friend were walking down the street in Kartsa, where they lived. Three cars pulled up alongside them, and several men dressed in plain clothes got out. They pushed Mr Barakhoyev into one of the cars. He was taken to a police station where he was punched and kicked; the men shouted at him that “all Ingush should be crushed”, put a plastic bag over his head to suffocate him, and beat his feet. When he lost consciousness, they poured cold water over him to revive him. He was then taken to another office where the policemen planted a grenade in his jacket pocket, which was then “found” when he was searched. Mr Barakhoyev was released the next day. He was initially charged with possession of a grenade, but those charges were subsequently dropped. A criminal investigation into Mr Barakhoyev’s allegations of ill-treatment was opened on 19 February 2007, and suspended and re-opened on several occasions; it is currently pending.
In finding a violation of the procedural limb of the prohibition of torture (Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – ECHR):
the European Court found it “striking that the case has been pending before the investigating authorities for over nine years and the latter have so far failed to clarify the circumstances of the case”.
Regarding the substantive complaint of ill-treatment, based on the medical evidence presented, the Court held that it could not “accept the Government’s version of the events as credible”.
It observed that:
the “sustained multiple injuries to [Mr Barakhoyev’s] body, …must have caused him mental and physical suffering…The beatings the applicant endured strongly suggest that they were aimed at debasing him and forcing him into submission.”
It therefore found that Mr Barakhoyev had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 ECHR (substantive limb).
In a particularly strongly-worded finding of a violation of the right to liberty (Article 5(1) ECHR), the Court noted that there was no official record of Mr Barakhoyev’s arrest and detention:
“the absence of such a record must in itself be considered a most serious failing…unrecorded detention of an individual is a complete negation of the fundamentally important guarantees contained in Article 5 of the Convention and discloses a most grave violation of that provision. The absence of such a record…must be seen as incompatible with the requirement of lawfulness and the very purpose of Article 5 of the Convention.”
Mr Barakhoyev’s mother was awarded €19,500 compensation.
The Court’s judgment highlights the severe lack of accountability for human rights abuses perpetrated by law enforcement officers in the North Caucasus, both in terms of recording arrests and detention, and in effectively investigating allegations of ill-treatment in police custody. With hundreds of judgments establishing State responsibility in cases of unlawful detention, abductions, killings and torture in the North Caucasus region, Russia must take steps to give families access to justice and redress, and ensure that such practices do not occur again.
Prof. Philip Leach, Director, EHRAC