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Court: Chechen family faces “risk of ill-treatment” if deported from Sweden to Russia

Judges have declared that Sweden’s plan to deport Chechen family members to Russia would expose them to the risk of being ill-treated.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of I v. Sweden (application no. 61204/09), which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that:

The deportation of the applicants to Russia would give rise to a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned the Swedish authorities’ decision to reject a request for asylum lodged by a family from Chechnya (Russia) who stated that they would be exposed to a real risk of ill-treatment if returned to Russia.

The court held that – while there were reasons to doubt the credibility of the applicants’ account as to why they were under threat – a number of factors taken cumulatively gave rise to a real risk of
ill-treatment in case of their removal, in particular the fact that Mr I had visible signs of torture, which could indicate that he had actively taken part in the second war in Chechnya.

The court also found that the right of the Member State of origin of the applicants to submit comments on the case, under Article 36 of the Convention (third party intervention), did not apply where the applicants’ reason for applying to the Court was their fear of ill-treatment if returned to that state. Therefore Russia was not notified of the introduction of the case.

Principal facts

The applicants, Mr and Ms I and their child, are Russian nationals of Chechen origin, who were born in 1965, 1978 and 1999 respectively and live in Vilhelmina (Sweden). In December 2007, the family arrived in Sweden and requested asylum. They submitted that both Mr and Ms I had been tortured in Chechnya and that Mr I was wanted there on account of having documented in photos the execution of Chechen villagers by Russian federal troops between 1995 and 2007 and on account of his contacts with the journalist Anna Politkovskaja, who had been killed in 2006.

According to the applicants’ submissions, Ms I had been kidnapped by the Russian Federal Security Service and Mr I had been arrested by a military guard, then detained in a cellar and forced under torture to provide information about the Chechen rebels. The torture had included having a cross burned into his chest with cigarettes.

The Swedish Migration Board rejected the applicants’ asylum request in October 2008, finding in particular that the situation in Chechnya or the situation for Chechens in Russia alone could not justify the granting of asylum and that the applicants’ account had been incoherent and partly inconsistent. Mr I had not been able to show or point to any of the pieces of documentary work he had allegedly produced over several years. Upon appeal, the decision was upheld by the migration courts and gained legal force in October 2009.

In November 2009, the European Court of Human Rights applied an interim measure (under Rule 39 of its Rules of Court) in the applicants’ case, requesting the Swedish government to stay their expulsion until further notice.

Complaints

The applicants complained that if removed to Russia they would face a real risk of treatment in breach of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment).

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