|European Human Rights Court
Will Hear Chechen Cases
European Court of Human
Rights announced in January, 2003, that it will hear six cases
brought by ethnic Chechen civilians against Russia, marking the first
time that a supranational court has agreed to consider allegations of
Russian human rights abuses in the Chechen Republic. The
charges include torture, extra-judicial execution and the
indiscriminate bombing of civilians. All of the plaintiffs allege that
attempts to investigate and prosecute these crimes in Russia were
The Court’s involvement came after nearly a decade of violence in Chechnya. The self-proclaimed republic attempted to split away from Russia in the early 1990s but gained little international recognition. It was claimed back by Moscow in both the war of 1994 to 1996 and during the current conflict, which began in 1999. Today Russian forces and Chechen separatists remain locked in a guerilla war. Over 100,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the two conflicts, and more than 200,000 have fled their homes. For a more complete history of events in Chechnya, see the BBC’s overview or timeline.
As a member of the Council of Europe and signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, (ECHR) Russia has accepted that it must provide the rights and freedoms described in the convention to everyone in its jurisdiction. It has also recognized the authority of the European Court of Human Rights to ensure observance of this obligation, and the right of individuals to petition the Court.
Human Rights Watch says in their latest report that war crimes have been committed in Chechnya by both Russian troops and separatists. Mass graves continue to be discovered throughout the region, and Russian forces have allegedly tortured, raped and executed Chechen civilians. Chechen guerillas have claimed responsibility for attacks on Russian non-combatants, including taking more than 750 civilians hostage in a Moscow theatre in October, 2002.
Written January 30, 2003; Last updated August 20, 2007.