ECHR: Russia has violated Kirill Shchiborshch's right to life. For 8 years the incident has not been investigated


16 January 2014

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered its judgment in the complaint lodged by Kirill Shchiborshch’s relatives. The ECHR held that the Russian Federation had violated two Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights: right to life (Article 2 of the Convention) and right to an effective remedy (Article 13). The applicants receive legal assistance from the «Public Verdict Foundation», their interests before the ECHR are represented by the INGO «Committee Against Torture».

In 2006 Kirill Shchiborshch was 37 and suffering from a psychiatric disorder which required in-patient treatment. Actions of the special police unit («the OMSN») when «storming» his apartment resulted in serious injuries to Mr Shchiborshch’s heath: basal skull fracture, fractures of six ribs, and other injuries that altogether appeared lethal. That was what the attempt to forcibly place a person suffering from a mental disorder into a psychiatric hospital resulted in.

According to the relevant rules, the police in such situations must not act by themselves, but have the obligation to assist medical services. However, the police arrived before doctors and, despite having no special skills and knowledge, tried to apprehend Mr Shchiborshch. It provoked misunderstanding on the part of the latter: the man could not react adequately due to his mental condition. Mr. Shchiborshch felt threatened and called the police asking for help. A special police unit arrived and, instead of helping the man, started an assault upon the apartment. The unit’s actions cost a human life.

For almost 8 years Russian competent authorities have been unable to complete the investigation and to prosecute those responsible. The criminal proceedings have been 10 times unlawfully terminated and 26 times suspended. The proceedings have not passed the pre-trail stage yet. The fact that after 8 years the authorities have not yet transferred the case to court is a violation of the positive obligation to carry out an expeditious, effective and thorough investigation. The European Court also found that the State had failed to protect the right to life, as it is obliged under the Convention. The State is also obliged to ensure a proper professional training for its agents who, in accordance with their official duties, may have to deal with people suffering from mental disorders. The ECHR held that the respondent State is to pay the victim’s relatives EUR 47 550 in compensation.

The Head of the International Protection Department of the INGO «Committee Against Torture», Olga Sadovskaya, who represents Mr Kirill Shchiborshch’s relatives before the ECHR, comments on the judgment: «Firstly, we have to note that this is one of the few cases in which Article 2 of the Convention (right to life) has been violated in a «peaceful» region of Russia. Except for just several cases, all the ECHR judgments declaring violation of this Article have dealt with situations in Chechnya and other republics of the North Caucasus.

This case differs fundamentally: a group of armed people intentionally beat to death a helpless person, who needed medical assistance, and this was known to them in advance. The State argues that the force was called for, because the man had a knife in his hand. And this is true, he had. But this is not true that he hurt someone with the knife, as the authorities insist. The truth is, a man with a mental condition, having seen eight armed men at the door of his apartment, became scared – so he locked himself in the kitchen and took a small kitchen knife. He was sure that he was being attacked. Taking into consideration the established fact that the servicemen were equipped not only with bullet-proof vests, but also with kevlar gloves, it is clear that they could have just taken the knife away. The decision to apply force was unlawful and absolutely ungrounded. We must also add that, having knocked Mr Shchiborshch down on the floor, the policemen started beating him with a table leg.

Long years of fictitious investigation followed, but no one has been held accountable. I sincerely hope that this precedent is going to impact our authorities’ actions. It raises important issues, such as the organization and quality of job done by the police, and medical attendance to people who need psychiatric treatment».

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