Rights Court Says Russian ‘State Agents’ Killed Chechen Activist
MOSCOW, June 21 — The European Court of Human Rights found Thursday
that a Chechen woman who had appealed to the court and was
subsequently slain in her home along with three members of her family
was “extra-judicially executed by State agents,” according to the
Zura Bitiyeva, a local human rights activist, had accused the Russian
state of subjecting her to inhuman and degrading treatment after she
was arrested in January 2000. She was held at the Chernokozovo
detention center, a notorious facility that has been the subject of
investigations by human rights groups. She was released without charge
the following month. In April of that year, after a period in the
hospital, she appealed to the court.
Three years later, on May 21, 2003, a group of men wearing the
uniforms of Russian special forces burst into Bitiyeva’s home in the
middle of the night, the judgment said.
Neighbors and Bitiyeva’s daughter, who was hiding in another building
off the family courtyard, heard six or seven shots. Bitiyeva’s
daughter, who later received asylum in Germany, found the bodies of
her mother, father, brother and uncle. Their hands and feet had been
taped and they had been shot in the head.
After reviewing the evidence, the panel of seven judges wrote that
“the Court concludes, therefore, that the deaths . . . can be
attributed to the State.” The judges noted that the Russian government
had “failed to provide any other explanation of the events.”
Russian officials told the court that there were no special operations
in Bitiyeva’s village on the night she was killed, but the judges said
Russian authorities provided little evidence to support that claim. In
2003, a second Chechen war was raging between Russian forces and
The judgment said there was no “direct evidence” that Bitiyeva was
killed because of her application to the court, which is in
Strasbourg, France. The court enforces the European Convention on
Human Rights, a founding document of the now 47-member Council of
Europe, the continent’s human rights body.
This was the court’s first ruling in a case from Chechnya in which an
applicant was subsequently slain. Human rights advocates said
Bitiyeva’s death was part of a pattern of intimidation, disappearance
and killing of Chechens who had appealed to the court.
The court also found in favor of Bitiyeva’s original application that
she was subject to inhuman and degrading treatment at Chernokozovo —
and noted that, at the time, the detention center appeared to be
outside the control of any legal authority.
“The Court finds it inconceivable that in a State subject to the rule
of law a person could be deprived of his or her liberty in a detention
facility over which for a significant period of time no responsible
authority was exercised by a competent State institution,” the judges
said. “This situation fosters impunity for all kinds of abuses and is
absolutely incompatible with the responsibility of the authorities to
account for individuals under their control.”
That language may signal the court’s hostility to any European
cooperation with the American use of extraordinary rendition, the
practice of seizing and holding terrorism suspects in unknown
locations, if cases on the issue make their way to the court,
according to Philip Leach, director of the London-based European Human
Rights Advocacy Center. “The court is making a very clear statement
that any kind of detention has to be regulated by the state,” Leach said.
The human rights center, along with the Russian human rights group
Memorial, represented Bitiyeva’s daughter at the court.
No one has been arrested in the killings of Bitiyeva and her family.
Her daughter was awarded approximately $115,000 in moral damages by
But Leach said the Council of Europe needs to step up pressure on
Russian authorities to press investigations through to a conclusion.
“Bringing people to justice has got to happen, but it’s not
happening,” he said. “The Russians say in this case and others that
they are reopening investigations, but it doesn’t go much further than
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 22, 2007; Page A15