EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
CASE OF NAZYROVA AND OTHERS v. RUSSIA
(Applications nos. 21126/09, 63620/09,
64811/09, 32965/10 and 64270/11)
<*> This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Nazyrova and Others v. Russia,
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Luis Guerra, President,
Pere Pastor Vilanova, judges,
and Marialena Tsirli, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 19 January 2016,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
- The case originated in five applications (nos. 21126/09, 63620/09, 64811/09, 32965/10 and 64270/11) against the Russian Federation lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms («the Convention») by Russian nationals («the applicants»), on the dates indicated in the Appendix I.
- The applicants were represented before the Court by Mr Said Mushayev, a lawyer practising in Russia, Mr Nino Parravicini, a lawyer practising in France and lawyers from the NGO Stichting Russian Justice Initiative (SRJI) (in partnership with the NGO Astreya). The Russian Government («the Government») were represented by Mr G. Matyushkin, Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Court of Human Rights.
- The applicants alleged that on various dates between 2000 and 2003 their five relatives had been abducted by State servicemen in the Chechen Republic, and that the authorities had failed to investigate the matter effectively.
- On the dates indicated in the Appendix I the applications were communicated to the Government.
- The circumstances of the case
- The applicants are Russian nationals who, at the material time, lived in various districts of the Chechen Republic. They are close relatives of individuals who disappeared after being unlawfully detained by servicemen during special operations. In each of the applications, the events concerned took place in areas under the full control of the Russian federal forces. The applicants have had no news of their missing relatives since the alleged arrests.
- The applicants reported the abductions to law-enforcement bodies and official investigations were opened; however, the proceedings were repeatedly suspended and resumed, and have remained pending for several years without achieving any tangible results. The investigations have consisted mainly of requests for information and formal requests for operational-search measures to be carried out by counterparts in various parts of Chechnya and other regions of the North Caucasus. The requests received either negative responses or none at all.
- From the documents submitted, it appears that the relevant State authorities were unable to identify the State servicemen allegedly involved in the arrests or abductions.
- In their observations, the Government did not challenge the description of the circumstances of the abductions as presented by the applicants; however, they stated that there was no evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that State agents had been involved in the incidents.
- Summaries of the facts in respect of each individual application are set out below. Each account is based on statements provided by the applicants and their relatives and/or neighbours to both the Court and domestic investigative authorities. The personal details of the applicants and their missing relatives, and some other key facts, are summarised in the Appendix I.
- Application no. 21126/09, Nazyrova v. Russia
- The applicant, Ms Maret Nazyrova, was born in 1968 and lives in Gekhi in the Urus-Martan district of the Chechen Republic. She is the sister of Mr Badrudi Nazyrov, who was born in 1973.
- Abduction of Mr Badrudi Nazyrov
- On 20 April 2000, during the daytime, Mr Nazyrov and his friend, Mr Said-Selim Aguyev, were at the applicant’s house in Gekhi when a group of about thirty to forty armed servicemen from the Police Special Task Unit (Отдел милиции особого назначения (ОМОН)) (hereinafter «the OMON») comprised of servicemen from the Perm Region arrived at the settlement in several vehicles. Some of them were wearing balaclavas. They cordoned off the area and ordered the residents to stay inside. About fifteen servicemen broke into the applicant’s house and searched it. Then they beat up the applicant’s brother and his friend, pulled their T-shirts over their heads, put them into UAZ-type minivans and took them to the Urus-Martan military commander’s office. The applicant and a number of local residents witnessed the events.
- The Perm OMON unit was stationed on the premises of an orphanage in the vicinity of the applicant’s house. At the material time, two brothers of the Kuznetsov family were in charge of the OMON unit. It appears that they were involved in the abduction as they were not wearing masks and could therefore be identified by the applicant. The following day the military commander’s office accepted a food package for Mr Nazyrov, but the next day the servicemen denied that he had ever been detained on their premises.
- The applicant has not seen Mr Nazyrov since the abduction on 20 April 2000.
- The above account is based on witness statements provided by the applicant and copies of documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government.
- Official investigation and relevant developments
- From the documents furnished by the applicant and six pages of documents from criminal case no. 24074 submitted by the Government, information about the ensuing official investigation can be summarised as follows.
- On 4 May 2000 Mr Nazyrov’s father, Mr Sh.N., reported the abduction to the Urus-Martan military commander’s office and the Urus-Martan military prosecutor’s office, stating that his son had allegedly been taken to the Urus-Martan military commander’s office with Mr Aguyev, and that the two men had been detained as the latter had had no identity documents on him.
- On or around 14 May 2000 the abduction report was forwarded to the Urus-Martan temporary police department (Временный отдел внутренних дел (ВОВД)) (hereinafter «VOVD») and from there to the Urus-Martan district prosecutor’s office.
- On 16 May 2000 the Urus-Martan district prosecutor’s office returned the complaint to the VOVD stating that it had been submitted «prematurely».
- On 17 May 2000 investigators from the VOVD refused to initiate criminal proceedings into the abduction.
- On 25 November 2000 the Urus-Martan district prosecutor’s office overruled the refusal and opened criminal case no. 24074. The decision stated that the applicant’s brother had been detained «during a special operation, the lawfulness of which has not been confirmed».
- From the documents submitted, it appears that between November 2000 and January 2007 the investigation was suspended and no investigative steps were taken. The applicant was not informed thereof.
- It appears that on an unspecified date in January or February 2007 the investigation was resumed at the request of the applicant and on 2 February 2007 she was granted victim status in the criminal case.
- On 1 March 2007 the investigation was suspended. The applicant was informed thereof.
- On 21 August 2008 the applicant complained to the Urus-Martan Town Court that the investigation into the abduction was protracted and asked for it to be resumed.
- On 9 September 2008 the court rejected the applicant’s complaint, as the investigation had been resumed on 1 September 2008.
- On 30 September 2008 the investigation was again suspended. The applicant was informed thereof.
- From the documents submitted, it appears that the investigation is still pending.
- Application no. 63620/09, Babuyeva v. Russia
- The applicant, Ms Satsita Babuyeva, was born in 1958 and lives in Grozny, the Chechen Republic. She is the wife of Mr Muma Babuyev, who was born in 1958.
- Abduction of Mr Muma Babuyev
- At the material time, Mr Babuyev worked as a driver for the Department of Technological Equipment (Управление производственно-технологической комплектации (УПТК)) based on the premises of the main military base of the Russian federal troops in Khankala, Chechnya. On the morning of 30 August 2002, on his last day of work, he went there with the applicant to the military base to collect a year’s salary arrears. The couple arrived at the checkpoint at the entrance to the base at about 10 a.m. The applicant’s husband went inside, while she was told to wait for him at the entrance.
- The applicant spent the entire day waiting for her husband but he never came out. In the evening she had to return home. She spent the next two days at the checkpoint waiting for him but to no avail. On 2 September 2002 she managed to speak to a woman from the admissions office who issued entrance passes to the military base. She confirmed that on 30 September she had issued a pass for Mr Babuyev. She had also made one for him for 1 September 2002 but he had not picked it up, which meant that he must have remained inside and not left the premises. The applicant’s husband has been missing ever since.
- The above account is based on statements provided by the applicant and copies of documents from the investigation file.
- Official investigation and relevant developments
- The Government submitted copies of a small number of documents from criminal case file no. 52112 opened into the disappearance of Mr Babuyev, covering the period between September and November 2002. The relevant information may be summarised as follows.
- On 22 September 2002 the applicant reported her husband’s disappearance at the military base to various authorities. Her statements concerning the circumstances of the incident were similar to the account she submitted to the Court.
- On the same date the Grozny city prosecutor’s office initiated a criminal investigation into the events, under Article 126 § 1 of the Criminal Code (kidnapping). The case file was given the number 52112. The relevant parts of the decision read as follows:
«…On 30 August 2002 [Muma Babuyev] went to the military settlement of Khankala in Grozny to collect his salary arrears; other employees of [the department] saw [him] on the premises… [He] did not exit the premises and did not return home…»
- On 16 October 2002 the applicant was granted victim status in the criminal case.
- On 21 October 2003 the military prosecutor’s office of military unit no. 20102 informed the applicant that further to her complaints, they had conducted a prosecutor’s inquiry into her husband’s disappearance which had not established the involvement of military servicemen in the incident.
- On 22 November 2002 the investigation was suspended. The applicant was not informed thereof.
- On an unspecified date in April and on 18 May 2003 the applicant reported her husband’s unlawful arrest and subsequent disappearance to the Chechnya Prosecutor’s office and requested its assistance in the search for him.
- On 2 October 2003 the Main Military Prosecutor’s office informed the applicant that their inquiry had not established the involvement of military servicemen in her husband’s disappearance.
- On 2 November 2004 the Staropromyslovskiy District Court of Grozny declared Mr Babuyev missing at the request of the applicant.
- On an unspecified date between 2004 and 2009 investigators replied to requests by the applicant for information by providing her with a statement to the effect that the investigation into her husband’s abduction was in progress but his whereabouts had not yet been established.
- On 10 September and then on 3 November 2009 the applicant asked the investigators to inform her of the progress of the investigation and for access the case file. No replies were given to these requests.
- On 4 August 2011 the investigation was resumed at the request of the applicant. From the documents submitted, it appears that it is still pending.
- Application no. 64811/09, Kagermanov and Yakhayeva v. Russia
- The applicants are Mr Adam Kagermanov, who was born in 1971 («the first applicant») and Ms Zura Yakhayeva (also spelled Yakhyayeva), who was born in 1977 («the second applicant»). The applicants, who live in Gekhi in the Urus-Martan district of the Chechen Republic, are the brother and niece of Mr Ruslan Kagermanov («Mr Kagermanov «), who was born in 1963.
- Abduction of Mr Ruslan Kagermanov
- The applicants’ family home consisted of four dwellings with a shared courtyard. Mr Kagermanov lived alone in a separate dwelling. At the material time, Gekhi was under curfew. At around 4 a.m. on 4 February 2002 the first applicant learnt from a family member that Mr Kagermanov had been abducted earlier that night by a group of armed servicemen, who had arrived at his home in a Ural lorry and broken down the door. The neighbours had heard the abductors driving off in the direction of Urus-Martan. The applicant thought that his brother had been taken by State servicemen, as at the time many young men had been abducted in a similar manner during curfew hours. In addition, local residents had seen servicemen driving armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in the vicinity that night.
- Later that morning the applicants found Ural lorry tyre tracks and footprints of military boots in the snow next to Mr Ruslan Kagermanov’s dwelling.
- At around 10 a.m. about fifty to sixty Russian servicemen in several APCs and Ural lorries arrived at the Kagermanov family home. They blew up Mr Kagermanov’s household small oil refinery in his backyard and searched the premises. According to the applicants, the servicemen had carried out a sweeping-up operation in the area and had searched other houses with oil refineries.
- The applicants have not seen Mr Kagermanov since 4 February 2002.
- Official investigation of the abduction
- The Government did not furnish any documents from the investigation file. From the documents submitted by the applicants, the steps taken by the investigative authorities may be summarised as follows.
- On 4 February 2002 Mr Kagermanov’s mother, Ms P.K., reported her son’s abduction by military servicemen to the Urus-Martan district prosecutor’s office.
- On 18 February 2002 the Urus-Martan district prosecutor’s office opened criminal case no. 61023.
- On unspecified dates in February 2002 investigators questioned the applicants, who both stated they had discovered that Mr Kagermanov had disappeared at about 3.20 a.m. on 4 February 2002. They had found the entrance to his home broken down, footprints of military boots, his belongings scattered around and his broken watch indicating 3.10 a.m. on the floor. The applicants further stated that at about 10 a.m. the same morning a group of fifty to sixty Russian military servicemen in several APCs and Ural lorries had arrived at their house, searched it and destroyed Mr Kagermanov’s oil refinery.
- In February and March 2002 investigators questioned the applicants and their family members. The statements received were similar to the account furnished by the applicants to the Court.
- On 18 April 2002 the investigation was suspended. The applicants were not informed thereof.
- On 4 May 2009 the second applicant requested access to the investigation file. Her request was refused by the investigators on 9 June 2009.
- On an unspecified date between June and August 2009 she requested victim status in the criminal case. On 11 August 2009 the investigators granted this request and questioned her. Her statement was similar to the account she submitted to the Court.
- On 18 August 2009 the investigators questioned the first applicant, whose statement was similar to the account he submitted to the Court.
- On various dates in August 2009 the investigators also questioned the applicants’ relatives and neighbours, Mr Z.K., Ms R.G., Mr M.I. and Ms P.K., whose statements were similar to those of the applicants. No new information was obtained.
- On 25 August 2009 the investigators examined the crime scene. No evidence was collected.
- On 11 September 2009 the investigation was suspended. The applicants were informed thereof.
- On 15 September 2009 the second applicant complained to the Achkhoy-Martan District Court that the investigation had been ineffective and requested access to the investigation file.
- On 12 October 2009 the second applicant’s complaint was partially allowed by the Achkhoy-Martan District Court. It noted, inter alia, that for seven years, between 2002 and 2009, the proceedings had been dormant and no tangible steps had been taken by the investigators. The court instructed the investigators to provide her with access to the case file.
- From the documents submitted, it appears that the investigation is still pending.
- Application no. 32965/10, Tchapanova v. Russia
- The applicant, Ms Khedi Tchapanova, who was born in 1974, lives in Nice, France. She is the wife of Mr Eduard Zaynadinov (also spelled Zainadinov), who was born in 1974.
- Events surrounding the abduction of Mr Eduard Zaynadinov
- According to the applicant, her husband was an active member of illegal armed groups between 1994 and 1996 and then between 1999 and 2000. During the more recent period, the applicant and her two children lived in Shali. In January and February 2000 Russian servicemen regularly visited their dwelling. They searched for firearms and asked the applicant questions concerning her husband’s whereabouts. Fearing for her family’s safety, the applicant moved to the «Kavkaz» neighbourhood in Shali. In June 2002 her husband joined them there. On 24 June 2002 servicemen in APCs took him from his home. He was released a week later.
- Between 3 and 4 a.m. on 30 July 2002 a group of armed servicemen in balaclavas broke into the applicant’s flat in Shali. They pulled a plastic bag over Mr Zaynadinov’s head and took him to an unknown destination in an APC.
- Several days later the servicemen returned to the applicant’s house. They searched the premises and asked her about her husband’s involvement in illegal armed groups. During the search they found a list of members of illegal armed groups and a number of identity documents, as well as firearms hidden in the garden.
- The applicant has not seen Mr Zaynadinov since 30 July 2002. In 2007 she moved to France.
- Official investigation and relevant developments
- The Government submitted copies of seventeen pages of documents from criminal case file no. 59229 opened into the abduction of Mr Zaynadinov. The information concerning the criminal proceedings as submitted by both parties may be summarised as follows.
- On 6 August 2002 the Chechnya prosecutor’s office forwarded the abduction report lodged by Mr Zaynadinov’s father, Mr A.Z. to the Shali district department of the interior (Шалинский районный отдел внутренних дел (РОВД) (hereinafter «ROVD»).
- On 6 September 2002 investigators questioned Mr A.Z., who stated that at about 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. on 30 July 2002 armed men in camouflage uniforms had arrived in two APCs at their house. They had broken in and checked some identity documents. Afterwards they had taken his son outside, put him into one of the APCs and driven off.
- On 7 September 2002 two of the applicant’s neighbours (their names were illegible on the documents submitted) stated that on the night of 29 July 2002, they had been woken up by the sound of women crying. They had gone outside and had seen their neighbours on the street and several APCs driving off. They had then learnt that Mr Zaynadinov had been abducted.
- On 16 September 2002 the Shali district prosecutor’s office opened criminal case no. 59229 into the abduction and informed the applicant thereof.
- On 16 November 2002 the investigation was suspended. The applicant and her relatives were not informed thereof.
- On 10 June 2004 the Shali ROVD replied to a request by the applicant for information stating, amongst other things:
«…in connection with the abduction of Mr E. Zaynadinov, the Shali district prosecutor’s office opened criminal case no. 59229… the police operational search unit opened search file no. 71373 and has been taking measures to search for Mr E. Zaynadinov, whose whereabouts as of 10 June 2004 have not yet been established […]»
- According to the applicant, on 16 November 2004 she had to leave the Chechen Republic out of fear for her and her children’s lives. Since January 2007 she has resided in France.
- On 16 May 2007 the Shali Town Court declared Mr Zaynadinov missing.
- On 18 March 2008 Mr A.Z. asked the investigators to provide him with copies of documents from the investigation file. His request was granted on 19 March 2008.
- On 28 October 2008 the Shali Town Court declared Mr Zaynadinov dead at the request of the applicant’s representative.
- On 12 December 2011 the investigation was resumed further to a complaint by the applicant’s relatives.
- On various dates in December 2011 and then in February 2012 the investigators questioned several of the applicant’s relatives and neighbours and examined the crime scene. No new information was obtained.
- On 13 February 2012 the investigation was again suspended. From the documents submitted, it appears to be still pending.
- Application no. 64270/11, Alkhotova v. Russia
- The applicant, Ms Ayna (also spelled Aina) Alkhotova, was born in 1975 and lives in Grozny, the Chechen Republic. She is the wife of Mr Ayndi (also spelled Aindi) Diniyev, who was born in 1971.
- Abduction of Mr Ayndi Diniyev
- At the material time Grozny was under curfew. The applicant and her husband resided in a block of flats at 186 Pugacheva Street in the Staropromyslovskiy district of Grozny.
- At about 1 a.m. on 16 August 2003 a group of about ten to fifteen armed servicemen in camouflage uniforms and balaclavas arrived at the flats in three grey UAZ vehicles and an APC. They broke into the applicant’s flat, quickly searched it, dragged Mr Ayndi Diniyev outside, forced him into one of their vehicles and drove off through checkpoint 24 in the direction of the city centre.
- The applicant has not seen her husband since his abduction on 16 August 2003.
- The above account is based on a statement provided by the applicant and copies of documents from the criminal case file.
- Official investigation and relevant developments
- On 18 August 2003 the applicant reported her husband’s abduction to the Staropromyslovskiy ROVD stating, amongst other things, that the abductors had arrived in three UAZ minivans and an APC without registration numbers.
- On 18 August 2003 investigators from the Staropromyslovskiy district prosecutor’s office («the prosecutor’s office») examined the crime scene. No evidence was collected.
- On the same date the investigators questioned the applicant and her relatives, Mr R.E. and Ms M.A., whose statements concerning the incident were similar to the account the applicant submitted to the Court.
- On 29 August 2003 the prosecutor’s office opened criminal case no. 50094 into the abduction of Mr Diniyev.
- On 22 September 2003 the investigators questioned the applicant’s mother Ms M.A., whose statement was similar to the account the applicant submitted to the Court.
- On 22 September 2003 the applicant was granted victim status in the criminal case and questioned. Her statement was similar to her earlier statement of 18 August 2003. In addition, she stated that she would not be able to identify any of the abductors as their faces had been covered.
- On 29 October 2003 the investigation was suspended for failure to identify the perpetrators. The applicant was not informed thereof.
- On 7 December 2004 the Staropromyslovskiy District Court of Grozny declared Mr Diniyev missing.
- On 12 May 2005 the investigation was resumed.
- On 28 May 2005 the investigators again questioned the applicant, who reiterated her earlier statements.
- On 12 June 2005 the investigation was suspended again. The applicant was not informed thereof.
- On 8 April 2008 the Leninskiy inter-district investigations department in Grozny replied to a request by the applicant for information and provided her with copies of two documents from the investigation file.
- It appears that on 20 August 2010 she was again granted victim status in the criminal case at her request.
- On 1 June 2011 the supervising prosecutor criticised the investigators for their failure to take basic steps and ordered that the investigation be resumed. On 7 June 2011 the proceedings were resumed.
- On 24 June 2011 the investigators again questioned Mr E.R. and the applicant, who reiterated their earlier statements. In addition, the applicant stated that about a month prior to the abduction unidentified armed men had robbed her mother-in-law and had even fired several shots at her.
- On 7 July 2011 the investigation was suspended.
- On 14 July 2011 the applicant complained to the Leninskiy District Court of Grozny that the investigation of the abduction had been ineffective and asked for the proceedings to be resumed. On 2 August 2011 the court rejected the applicant’s complaint as the investigation had been resumed earlier the same day.
- On 2 September 2011 the investigation was suspended again and then resumed on 23 April 2012.
- The criminal proceedings are still pending.
- Relevant domestic law
- For a summary of the relevant domestic law and international and domestic reports on disappearances in Chechnya and Ingushetia, see Aslakhanova and Others v. Russia (nos. 2944/06, 8300/07, 50184/07, 332/08 and 42509/10, §§ 43 — 59 and §§ 69 — 84, 18 December 2012).
- The Court will deal with the procedural matters in the case before considering the applicants’ complaints concerning the abduction of their relatives and the allegedly ineffective investigation.
- Joinder of the applications
- In accordance with Rule 42 § 1 of the Rules of Court, the Court decides to join the applications, given their similar factual and legal background.
- Compliance with the six-month rule
- The parties’ submissions
- In their observations in respect of the Nazyrova (no. 21126/09), Babuyeva (no. 63620/09), Kagermanov and Yakhayeva (no. 64811/09) and Tchapanova (no. 32965/10) applications, the Government submitted that as no final domestic decisions had been taken in respect of the applicants’ complaints and the investigation was still pending, the six-month time-limit was not applicable.
- In respect of the Alkhotova (no. 64270/11) application the Government, in their initial observations on the admissibility and merits, submitted that the applicant had complied with the six-month time-limit. In their additional observations, however, they stated that she had failed to demonstrate «a certain amount of diligence and initiative» in contacting the authorities to justify the belated lodging of her application with the Court.
- The applicants
- The applicants in all the applications submitted that they had complied with the admissibility criteria concerning the six-month time-limit. They had taken all possible steps within a reasonable time-limit to initiate the search for their missing relatives and assist the authorities in the proceedings. They submitted that there had been no excessive or unexplained delays in submitting their applications to the Court, and that they had lodged their complaints as soon as they had become convinced that the investigations into the abductions of their relatives had been ineffective.
113. Referring to the case of Varnava and Others v. Turkey [GC] (nos. 16064/90, 16065/90, 16066/90, 16068/90, 16069/90, 16070/90, 16071/90, 16072/90 and 16073/90, ECHR 2009), the applicants argued that the six-month rule did not apply to continuing situations of enforced disappearances, and that in any event they had lodged their applications within between seven and nine years of the dates of the abductions, which appeared to be a reasonable time-frame in the circumstances. The applicants submitted that that they had complained to the authorities shortly after the incidents and had hoped that the criminal investigations initiated thereafter would produce results, just as they would in any other official investigation initiated by the authorities in the Russian Federation. They lodged their applications with the Court after realising that the domestic investigations had been ineffective. The applicants further maintained that the armed conflict in Chechnya had led them to believe that investigative delays were inevitable. Moreover, owing to their lack of legal knowledge and financial means to hire a lawyer, and in the absence of any domestic provisions for free legal assistance to victims of enforced disappearances, they had been unable to assess the effectiveness of the investigations. It was only with the passage of time and a lack of information from the investigating authorities that they began to doubt the effectiveness of the investigation and started looking for free legal assistance to assess the effectiveness of the proceedings and then, subsequently, to lodge their applications with the Court without undue delay.