MOSCOW, April 19 (RIA Novosti) – The European Court of Human Rights has handed down a ruling that rights activists called unprecedented in its implication of Chechen law enforcement officials in a kidnapping case.
Earlier this week, the court awarded a Chechen woman €61,800 ($80,000) in compensation in a lawsuit against Russia over the 2009 abduction of her son, who was allegedly captured by police in the turbulent republic of Chechnya.
Human rights advocates said the court’s decision is the first to implicate Chechen police in kidnappings during the rule of the republic’s current leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has denied charges of abuses leveled against him and his officials.
In her complaint, Tamara Askhabova, a resident of the North Caucasus town of Shali in Chechnya, stated that her son, Abdul-Yazit, born in 1983, was abducted by three armed and masked men wearing military camouflage uniforms from his family home in 2009, and has been missing ever since. The family believes the men were regional police officers.
“The men dragged Abdul-Yazit Askhabov out of bed and took him away without giving any explanation. One of them just said: ‘The FSB’ [the Federal Security Service],” Askhabova’s complaint said.
Askhabova’s two other sons were killed by police forces in 2000 and 2009 during counter-terrorism operations, which put the family on the authorities’ radar. She appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) back in 2009, but the decision was only handed down now.
Russian investigators opened a criminal case on charges of abduction, but the case has been put on hold at least eight times, which the ECHR considered a failure to conduct a proper inquiry. The Russian government denied that state agents had been involved in the incident.
Askhabov is feared dead by his family and human rights activists, while Russia’s representative in court insisted there was no official evidence proving his death.
The ECHR said in its ruling that the authorities violated a range of international conventions and therefore should compensate the family.
The Strasbourg Court has been overwhelmed with lawsuits from Russia, including hundreds coming from Chechen plaintiffs, over rights abuses dating back to the first civil war in Muslim-populated Chechnya in the 1990s.
Human rights groups have repeatedly said the ECHR is the only legal institution where they can seek justice for crimes.
The Memorial human rights group, which supported the woman’s appeal and helped to gather evidence, emphasized the fact that this is the first time the ECHR finds law enforcement officials responsible for abduction during the rule of Kadyrov, the region’s controversial 36-year-old leader who has been in power since 2007.
Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya of the International Crisis Group said that the ruling is important because it is the first by the ECHR concerning modern times in Chechnya, when, starting in 2003, key administrative and law-enforcement positions were transferred to the Chechens by the federal government.
“Over the past few years, people have lived in an atmosphere of fear, afraid to report crimes against them by local law enforcement officials. As a result, the level of impunity has greatly increased,” Sokiryanskaya said.
Anton Ryzhov of the Committee Against Torture noted that this was “the first time the ECHR established that a man was kidnapped by law enforcement officials not in the early 2000s, but in 2009.” He added that such cases are rarely investigated in modern Russia.
Nevertheless, Sokiryanskaya said, more similar cases are pending review at the ECHR, and similar rulings are expected to follow.
Kadyrov has repeatedly denied that regional law enforcers are responsible for violence against the civilian population.