Shutting the Door for Chechens in Strasbourg?

Russia seeks to restrict flow of Chechen complaints to European Court on Human Rights

MOSCOW: Russia wants to restrict the flow of appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, where a growing number of Chechens have been winning cases against the Russian government.

The country’s Supreme Court this week described plans to allow its citizens to file human rights cases against the state in Russian courts – something they cannot do now. The government says the changes will make it easier for Russian to protect their rights without turning to the European court.

But Chechens – who say they are often subject to torture, summary executions, indiscriminate bombings and forced disappearances – fear the government wants to deprive them of their only hope for justice.

Russian authorities have denied that military and security forces are guilty of atrocities in the southern Muslim republic of Chechnya, where two wars have been fought to impose Moscow’s control. But they have restricted journalists’ access to the area.

When Chechens go to police with allegations of abuse, their cases rarely make it to court, leaving victims with little choice but to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Today in Europe Britain and France to make joint effort on terrorism and Darfur Portuguese resent EU as they take its helm Prime suspect in radiation poisoning accuses Britain

The court, in Strasbourg, France, has issued at least 10 verdicts against Russia in the past few months in cases concerning the Chechen wars. Some 200 are still pending.

Rights advocates say President Vladimir Putin’s government is irritated by the international exposure of atrocities in Chechnya brought by each new case.

Fatima Bazorkina’s is one such case: Watching the news on Russian channel NTV in February 2000, she said, she saw a Russian officer ordering her son to be killed. [A review of Bazorkina vs. Russia, including the film: http://www.finrosforum.fi/?p=107&language=en]

“Kill him, damn it. … Get him over there, shoot him,” the officer said, Bazorkina recalled over the phone from her home in Ingushetia, a region bordering Chechnya.

Bazorkina has not seen her son, Khodzhimurad Yandiyev, since. Authorities said her son had been abducted by unknown men.

The officer Bazorkina said she saw ordering her son’s killing, later identified as Col.-Gen. Alexander Baranov, has been promoted, according to the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, which helps victims of rights abuses in the North Caucasus – the troubled region that includes Chechnya – seek justice at home and in Strasbourg.

The European Court ruled in March that Russian authorities were responsible for Yandiyev’s presumed death and failed to adequately investigate.

The court said the suffering caused to his mother qualified as inhumane and degrading treatment and ordered the government to pay her €35,000 (US$48,400).

Russians have been able to appeal to the Strasbourg court since their country ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998.

Russians now file more complaints with the court than citizens of any other European country. By the beginning of 2007, they had filed about 20,000 cases against the state, according to Russia’s Constitutional Court.

Russia’s Supreme Court said this week that lawyers will draft legal changes to allow Russians to file human rights cases against the state in Russian courts.

“We are talking about reforming the Russian legal system in such a way that a number, a significant number, of the reasons our citizens turn to the European Court will be removed because of the availability of real and effective ways to protect their rights in their own nation,” Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin said in an opinion piece in the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

He denied this would limit Russians’ right to appeal to the European Court.

Magomet Mutsolgov, who filed a complaint last year over the disappearance in Ingushetia of his brother Bashir, said the planned changes were “an attempt to replace the European Court.”

“It is an attempt to deprive the people in the North Caucasus of their last hope to stand up for their constitutional rights,” Mutsolgov said.

He said his brother was last seen in December 2003 as he was stopped by security officers at a checkpoint. There has been no official investigation.

“There are some Russian officials who want to improve the country’s image and reduce the flow of Russian citizens’ complaints” to the European court, said Ole Solvang, head of the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.

“The right way to reduce the number of complaints (to the European Court) is not to allow abuses in the first place, and if they take place to thoroughly and effectively investigate them,” he said.

Solvang said Russian prosecutors do not refuse to investigate alleged government atrocities in Chechnya but investigations inevitably stall.

The Associated Press Published: July 20, 2007

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