Sun, Jul 22, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Court allows rights cases against the Russian state

CHANGE The European Court of Human Rights issued at least 10 verdicts against Russia in cases concerning the Chechen wars. Now Russian courts will hear complaints


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.

But 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.

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 Russian 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.

"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 Colonel-General 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 euros (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 this year, they had filed about 20,000 cases against the state, according to Russia's Constitutional Court.

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