Today, on 16 June 2020, the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling with regard to a complaint submitted by human rights defenders in the interests of seventy five dwellers of Chechen village Elistanzhi who (or their relatives) became the victims of the bombardment of 7 October 1999. The European Court declared the applications of seventy-five victims to be inadmissible due to violation of six months’ time limit of application. Only for one application the ECHR accepted a violation of the European Convention only due to absence of effective investigation of the incident. Lawyers with the Committee Against Torture intend to insist on payment of compensations to the victims in national courts.
The Elistanzhi village dwellers applied for legal assistance to the Chechen branch of the Committee Against Torture in 2006. They reported that on 7 October 1999 between 1 and 2 p.m. their village was subjected to air bombardment by Russian Air Forces.
That is how the Elistanzhi village dwellers remembered that day.
“When I looked up I saw two aircrafts dropping bombs. These bombs opened and a multitude of small ball-shaped components scattered around like seeds. When all these components reached the ground there was a powerful explosion. I seized the children which were nearby and laid on the ground, putting them under myself. There were some more explosions. A lot of dust made it dark like in the night. When the dust started to dissipate I left the kids which were with me and ran to the ruins which used to be our house and pulled my daughter Selima out. Then, having gathered all the kids, I ran to my neighbors’ basement. Only there I noticed I had a phalanx on my index finger severed”, – Taisiya Yaskiyeva described.
“I was at the end of our vegetable garden when I heard explosions. Explosive blast threw me on the ground, after that I stood up and ran to the backyard to see what happened to my family. At the backyard, I saw my son Turpal-Ali carrying my younger son Asvad in his arms. As soon as I ran to them I saw that Asvad was already dead”, – Sanet Nadayeva recalled.
From the evidence of Raisa Artsuyeva: “Two bombs hit our vegetable garden, and my daughter Taisa died due to these bombs and my other kids, Luiza, Razita and Shaikh-Mansur got shrapnel wounds of various gravity”.
It is confirmed by the documents that the missile and bombing raid became fatal for thirty-five civilians of the village, and sixty got injuries and wounds of various degree of severity. Some private households and a village school were also destroyed. Several new-born babies were among the deceased. Twenty-three kids aged under fourteen suffered the consequences of the air raid, some of them remained disabled for life. We reported one of these cases in 2008.
All the applicants claim that no militants or any military targets were in Elistanzhi. During the attack on the village the weather was fine and the aircrafts could be clearly seen from the ground.
“The criminal case based on the fact of the bombardment of the village was initiated as late as on 14 December 2000 by the Vedeno District Prosecutor’s Office, however, later on it turned out that the materials of the criminal case were lost, possibly, as a consequence of a fire, – lawyer with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture Magomed Alamov describes. – Only in 2007 after complaints of our lawyers and applicants the investigation of the criminal case was resumed. Later on it was illegally dismissed several times and we time after time appealed against these rulings”.
For a long time, the District Prosecutor’s Office and the Military one were poking at one another, because the latter did not want to accept the case to its proceedings. And, only in December 2010, this departmental dispute on jurisdiction was ended, and the criminal case was successfully handed over to the competence of the military investigators.
“To the present time, the culprits have not been identified or brought to responsibility. Moreover, the military investigators obstructed the realization of the rights of the victims, having made the criminal case materials classified”, – Khatsiev emphasized.
Due to the failure to insist on the effective investigation at the national level, in May 2011 the lawyers with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture were forced to submit a complaint on behalf of seventy-six dwellers of Elistanzhi village in Chechnya to the European Court of Human Rights.
Part of these victims (twenty-eight applicants), without waiting for the ruling of the European Court, applied with lawsuits on compensation for material and moral damage to the national courts, which awarded the relatives of the deceased one million rubles each, and from two hundred to four hundred thousand – to the wounded.
Today, the European Court of Human Rights passed a ruling on the complaint. Having agreed with an objection from the Russian Federation government, the court established that the applicants missed the six months’ time limit for submitting an application. Only with regard to Anisat Tasuyeva it was established a violation of the European Convention in the part of ineffective investigation of the death of her relatives by the authorities, with regard to which a compensation of moral damage in the amount of 15 000 Euro was awarded.
The European Court of Human Rights pointed out that between the air strike in Elistanzhi in 1999 and submitting applications in 2011 over eleven years passed. Such a long period of time in itself unavoidably raises questions concerning the observance of six months’ time limit. With regard to this the Court also pointed out that all the applicants, except for Tasuyeva, did not maintain any contacts with the investigative authorities, whatsoever. The Court did not interpret providing a victim status or official notifications obtained by some applicants about closing and resuming of the investigation, to be sufficient evidence of the fact that the applicants attempted to participate in the investigation.
“The Court established that the applicants should have realized the impossibility of restoring their rights at the national level and apply to the Court at the earlier stage. However, we supposed that it was necessary to insist on the investigation of the case at the national level. Any progress was important for us, – head of the department of International Legal Remedy with the Committee Against Torture Olga Sadovskaya comments. – The Russian authorities used the gap in the investigation which they created themselves, de facto informing the European Court that yes, there was no effective investigation of the case performed by us and the applicants should have realized that earlier than the time when the applications were submitted on their behalf. In my opinion, it is a cardsharper’s game: at first we will not conduct an investigation and refuse to perform it for as long as we can, and then we’ll say: well, we did not perform an investigation and did not even intend to, why then the applicants did not realized this earlier. Unfortunately, the Strasbourg judges were satisfied with these explanations of the Russian authorities, and they passed a ruling stating that the seventy-five applications are inadmissible”.
“This ruling of the ECHR came to us as a complete surprise, – head of the North Caucasus branch of the Committee Against Torture Dmitry Piskounov comments. – Now we will appeal to national courts with lawsuits in the interests of our applicants on compensating the material and moral damage inflicted both by the bombing and ineffective investigation of this tragedy”.