European Court Hears Chechens' Lawsuits
Published: October 15, 2004 (Issue # 1012)
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Europe's top human rights court on Thursday heard the first cases involving alleged abuses by Russian military forces of six civilians who lived in Chechnya.
Lawyers for the six civilians - five of whom were in the packed courtroom - told a seven-judge panel at the European Court of Human Rights that Russian authorities had violated their clients' rights under the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Russia, as member of the 45-nation Council of Europe, is bound to uphold that convention.
Russia's representative at the court, Pavel Laptev, expressed hope that the case would not be "politicized."
"We view this case as a kind of test for the European Court: Will it comply with all principles of the European Convention and, most important, will it avoid double standards in its verdict?" he said, Interfax reported.
Bill Bowring, a human rights lawyer and professor at London Metropolitan University who is representing the Russian civilians, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The six are seeking 10,000 to 30,000 euros ($12,300 to $37,000) in moral damages and separate compensation for lost property and income at the court which is based in Strasbourg, France.
They hope to draw international attention to widespread human rights abuses of civilians during the military campaigns in Chechnya, lawyers said.
"This will be quite important recognition by a very authoritative international body that at least some operations in the course of the military conflict have been conducted in violation of current international law," Kirill Koroteyev, a lawyer for the victims, said ahead of Thursday's hearing.
Lawyers for the first two plaintiffs, Magomed Khashiyev and Roza Akayeva, argued their relatives were tortured and killed in 2000 during so-called sweep operations when federal forces searched households for suspected rebels.
They claim their right under the convention's articles right to life, prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, and a right to an effective legal remedy were violated.
A second case involves Medka Isayeva, Zina Yusupova and Libkan Bazayeva, who claim their relatives were killed and their property destroyed in October 1999 by military planes.
The incident took place on Oct. 29 when thousands of civilians streamed from Chechnya to neighboring Ingushetia, having been promised a safe corridor out by authorities.
However, after they found the border was closed and were turned back, they were shelled by military planes, which left dozens killed and wounded. Russian officials later claimed they were targeting a rebel truck, the victims' lawyers said.
The court will also consider the case of Zara Isayeva, who says her son and three nieces were killed when the Russian military bombed the village of Katyr-Yurt in February 2000 in an attempt to destroy rebels.
Her lawyers argued her right to life and right to protection of property were violated, as well as her right to effective legal action.
Thursday's hearing lasted about 2 1/2 hours. A ruling is not expected for several months, court officials said.
New Chechen President Alu Alkhanov reappointed Sergei Abramov as the region's prime minister, Interfax reported Thursday.