A man has been awarded €55,000 by human rights judges today who declared that he had been abducted and tortured by state agents in Chechnya.
In the case Gisayev v. Russia (application no. 14811/04), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
Two violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights;
Violation of Article 5 (right to liberty and security);
Violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 3);
No violation of Article 34 (right of individual petition).
The case concerned the abduction, unacknowledged detention and torture of Akhmed Gisayev in the autumn of 2003 and the lack of effective investigation into that.
The applicant, Akhmed Gisayev, is a Russian national who was born in 1973 and lives in Grozny in the Chechen Republic of Russia.
According to Akhmed, he was abducted from his home at about 7 a.m. on 23 October 2003 by a group of 20 to 30 men wearing camouflage uniforms (with a sign on the forearm saying “Armed Forces of Russia”), black masks, sub-machine guns, bullet-proof jackets and helmets. They spoke unaccented Russian and were very well coordinated. After searching his house, the men put him on a vehicle and drove away placing a shirt over his head.
He was taken consecutively to three different places, unknown to him, where he was beaten and tortured, throughout the period until his release on 8 November 2003, in an attempt to find out whether he knew anything about the Chechen rebels and weapon hoards. In particular, his abductors ran electricity through his body, beat him all over the body, hung him by his arms, stepped on him and kicked him, made him lie on a floor covered with water, put a gas-mask on his face and made him inhale suffocating smells, repeatedly threatened to kill him and his family, and forced him to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes to check that he was not a radical Islamic fundamentalist.
While he did not know the exact buildings in which he was held, he recognised the places to be near the premises of the operational-search bureau ORB-2, the FSB (Federal Security Service), the Organised Crime Unit (“the UBOP”), the military commander’s office and the Government of the Chechen Republic .
On 8 November 2003, Akhmed’s abductors told him to leave Chechnya or else they would kill him and his family, following which they took him to one of his relatives who worked for the law-enforcement authorities. Akhmed saw his relative give something to two servicemen wearing camouflage uniforms with the Russian military sign on the sleeves. Alkhmed discovered later that his relatives had paid a ransom of about 1,500 US dollars for his release. He did not disclose the identity of the relative who brought him home as he feared for his life.
After his return home, Akhmed suffered from major health problems, including severe brain contusion, recurring hypertensive-hydrocephalic crises, recurring vestibular crises and strongly pronounced astheno-neurotic syndrome. He could hardly walk, trembled, could not sleep, had severe head-aches, at times lost his coordination and memory of current events, ached strongly in various places and felt dizzy and weak. He submitted medical certificates corroborating the above complaints.
An investigation into Akhmed’s abduction was opened on 1 November 2003 and is still pending. Some witnesses were interviewed, but the Russian Government did not disclose any material related to the investigation referring to the incompatibility of such a step with Russian legislation.
Akhmed also complained that he was intimidated on several occasions after his release by several people – including prosecutors, investigators and police officers – who threatened him and told him he was lucky to be alive and should better agree to the closing of the investigation.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court
Relying on Articles 3, 5, 13 and 34, Akhmed complained that he had been abducted, detained and tortured, and there had been no effective investigation into it, that he had been intimidated by the Russian authorities in relation to his complaint to the Court and he did not have an effective remedy for his complaints.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 19 April 2004.
Decision of the Court
The Court recalled that an obligation to investigate was not an obligation of result but an obligation of means: not every investigation could necessarily be successful or come to the conclusion advanced by the claimant. However, investigations should, in principle, be capable to lead to the establishment of the facts of the case and, if the allegations proved to be true, to the identification and punishment of those responsible. In addition, to be effective, investigations had to be thorough and prompt.
The Russian Government had not disclosed any documents from the investigation into Akhmed’s abduction. In the light of that, it had been impossible for the Court to establish what investigative measures had been taken, how promptly, and – even – whether they had been taken at all. Referring to the investigative steps which the Government asserted had been carried out, the Court noted that the following crucial steps did not appear to have been carried out: no police officers had been interviewed, no attempt had been made to verify Akhmed’s submission that he had been detained on the premises of ORB-2, no forensic examination had been made of the clothes in which he had been detained and his relatives had not been questioned after his release. Accordingly, the effectiveness of the investigation had been critically undermined. Given that it had been pending for many years without any tangible result, the Court found that the Russian authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation into Akhmed’s allegations of ill-treatment. There had, therefore, been a violation of Article 3.
The Court was satisfied that Akhmed had presented a very detailed, coherent and convincing picture of his abduction, detention and alleged ill-treatment. The Government had refused to produce any documents related to the investigation and the Court could thus draw inferences from it in respect of Akhmed’s allegations. In addition, Akhmed had submitted medical documentation attesting to injuries and illnesses he had complained had been the result of his ill-treatment in detention. In the absence of any explanation by the Government about how Akhmed’s abduction, detention and injuries had occurred, the Court found that Akhmed had been kidnapped and held in unacknowledged detention by the Russian authorities, who ill-treated him as he had described. Given the level of pain and permanent anxiety caused to him by the on-going ill-treatment, the grave after-effects described by him and attested in the medical certificates, the Court concluded that Akhmed had been tortured, in violation of Article 3.
Having regard to its above finding that Akhmed had been detained by the authorities on 23 October 2003 and the fact that the Government had not given any satisfactory explanation about his detention from that date until his release on 8 November 2003, the Court held that, during that period, Akhmed had been held in unacknowledged detention in complete disregard of the safeguards in Article 5. That had been a particularly grave violation of his right to liberty and security and there had, therefore, been a violation of Article 5.
Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3
Given that the investigation into the events had been inadequate, any other remedy available to Akhmed, including a claim for damages, had had limited chances of success. Consequently, there had been a violation of Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3.
The Court was unable to establish whether the alleged occasions of pressure put on Akhmed and his relatives had been connected to his application before it. Likewise, the Court could not establish that they had taken place at all, given that no evidence, such as statements by Akhmed’s relatives had been presented to confirm his allegations. Finally, Akhmed had only raised his complaint about pressure put on him two years after the lodging of his application before the Court. Accordingly, the alleged breach of Article 34 had not been established.
Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held that Russia was to pay Akhmed 55,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,957 in respect of costs and expenses.