European Court Finds Two Chechens Were Tortured

Inmates walk in a yard at Chechnya's Chernokozovo detention center, where brothers Adam and Arbi Chitayev were transferred by the Russian military in April 2000.
Inmates walk in a yard at Chechnya's Chernokozovo detention center, where brothers Adam and Arbi Chitayev were transferred by the Russian military in April 2000. (Associated Press)
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 19, 2007

MOSCOW, Jan. 18 -- The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that two Chechen brothers were tortured in their strife-torn Russian republic and that authorities there failed to investigate their allegations of abuse. It was the first decision on torture in Chechnya issued by the court, based in Strasbourg, France.

"The applicants were indisputably kept in a permanent state of physical pain and anxiety owing to their uncertainty about their fate and to the level of violence to which they were subjected throughout the period of their detention," according to a panel of seven judges, who reached a unanimous decision.

"The Court considers that such treatment was intentionally inflicted on the applicants by agents of the State acting in the course of their duties," the judgment stated, "with the aim of extracting from them a confession or information about the offences of which they were suspected."

Human rights groups have long contended that torture is widespread in Chechnya, where Russian troops have fought separatists off and on since 1994. Thursday's ruling follows a series of judgments against Russia concerning disappearances and the indiscriminate use of force by the Russian military and its proxies in the southern republic.

The court receives more complaints from Russia than from any other country. Some Russian politicians, weary of a seemingly endless string of negative judgments, have become highly critical of the court, charging that it is anti-Russian and politicized.

In December, the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, refused to ratify a court reform designed to speed up decision-making in Strasbourg. Of the 46 member states of the Council of Europe, the body responsible for the human rights convention that the court enforces, only Russia has refused to agree to the change.

"It's not acceptable that this organization is used for attacks on the Russian Federation," Sergei Baburin, a member of parliament, said at the time of the vote.

The government supported ratification, but some supporters of the measure said that was a charade.

President Vladimir Putin "can now say that he wanted the document ratified -- but we have democracy in Russia and parliament saw fit to turn it down," Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent legislator, told Russian reporters. "However, the whole world knows that our parliament is like a dog at its master's feet -- it would never bark without an order from the Kremlin."

On April 12, 2000, Adam and Arbi Chitayev were detained at their family home in Chechnya by the Russian military. They were later transferred to the Chernokozovo detention center, a facility that human rights groups charge has a notorious history of abuse.

The two men said in court filings that, among other forms of abuse, they were subject to electric shock; suffocated with adhesive tape, a cellophane bag and a gas mask; had dogs set on them; and had parts of their skin torn away with pliers.

"Unfortunately, torture is not a thing of the past in Chechnya," said Jan ter Laak, chairman of the board of the Russian Justice Initiative, a legal aid group based in the Netherlands, which brought the case before the court. "The Russian and Chechen authorities must now take this problem and this judgment seriously and bring an end to this terrible practice."

The two brothers were released on Oct. 5, 2000, six months after their arrest. The case against them was dropped.

"I am satisfied with the judgment," said Arbi Chitayev, who currently lives in Germany, according to a statement released by the Russian Justice Initiative. "At the same time I am worried that what happened to me could happen to my relatives who still live in Russia."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company