|CHECHNYA JUSTICE PROJECT
ANNUAL REPORT 2004
STICHTING CHECHNYA JUSTICE INITIATIVE
MOSCOW NAZRAN UTRECHT
Table of Contents
Letter from the Governing Board
I. Background and Context
II. Executive Summary
Human Rights Prize of the French Republic
Leadership in Human Rights Litigation
III. Achievements of 2004
Legal Developments and Casework
Addressing Threats to Security
Legal Research and Publications
IV. Project Plan for 2005
V. Cases before the European Court of Human Rights
VI. Staff, Board, Committees
Committee of Recommendation
VII. Finances and Supporters
Letter from the Governing Board
1 February 2005
Dear friends and supporters,
In late 2004 our initiative changed its name. We are now known as the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, which, through its implementing partners, the Moscow office of the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative (registered in the Netherlands) and the Ingushetia-based organization Pravovaia Initsiativa, implements the Chechnya Justice Project. We hope that the new name serves to underline one of the main goals of our initiative: The integration of Russia into a common European legal sphere based on the European Convention on Human Rights.
Our work, on the other hand, has not changed, although the caseload continues to grow. Currently we represent more than 700 individuals in 95 cases, 72 of which have been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights. Fourteen of the cases have progressed to advanced stages of litigation before the Court, and on 20 January 2005 the Court declared our first case admissible, meaning that it will now be heard on its merits. The case, known as Imakayeva v Russia, concerns a woman, Marzet Imakayeva, whose son became victim of an “enforced disappearance” in December 2000. Marzet Imakayeva filed an application to the Court in 2002 together with her husband, Said-Magomed, who subsequently also “disappeared” after being detained by federal troops.
From the start of the project, we have placed emphasis on protecting our clients and staff, and have put in place various security procedures to that end. We were, however, unable to protect our client Said-Magomed Imakayev. His disappearance was a blow against the very idea of accountability for crimes in Chechnya. The admissibility decision in this case is therefore especially significant: The Court simply cannot tolerate that its applicants become victims of grave human rights abuses; the European legal sphere also includes Chechnya.
Unfortunately, incidents of harassment and intimidation of applicants to the Court continue to be widely reported. Persecution of human rights defenders -- a category that includes victims of human rights abuses who seek justice through the courts -- has been a consistent feature of the “second” Chechen war, and continues unabated after more than five years of armed conflict. By persecuting human rights defenders, the perpetrators aim to silence dissenting voices and impose their version of events on the conflict. To a degree this tactic has met with success: The plight of Chechnya today seldom makes the headlines.
This does not mean that the situation in Chechnya has improved. In some respects the situation is now even worse than before. The armed conflict is spreading beyond the borders of Chechnya, and so do the grave abuses associated with it. Several of the new cases are from Ingushetia, where attacks on human rights defenders also take place with increasing frequency. In response to numerous documented incidents of harassment of applicants, in August 2004, the Court granted priority to all cases from Chechnya. The Court heard the first six cases from Chechnya, which were submitted by the Russian Human Rights Centre “Memorial,” and the London-based European Human Rights Advocacy Centre in October 2004, and the decisions are due in late February 2004.
Given the overall gloom surrounding Chechnya today, there is comfort in being involved in a project that brings the hope of justice closer to our clients, and the European legal system closer to Russia. Our work in this regard has increasingly met with international recognition. In December 2004, our initiative was awarded the prestigious Human Rights Prize of the French Republic (Prix des droits de l'homme de la République Française) for its work on behalf of victims of torture. The recognition is the fruit of the hard and conscientious work of the staff of the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, which has been made possible by our financial supporters. The board especially would like to thank outgoing executive director, Jane M. Buchanan, for her dedication and efforts during her 20 month long tenure.
On behalf of the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative Governing Board
I. BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
The Chechnya Justice Project is a groundbreaking initiative that utilizes domestic and international legal mechanisms to seek redress for ongoing human rights violations in Chechnya. Together, its implementing partners—the Moscow office of the Stichting Russia Justice Initiative (Netherlands) and the Ingushetia-based organization Pravovaia Initsiativa—provide free legal counsel to select victims of human rights violations and their families. Chechnya Justice Project lawyers and researchers investigate incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions and bring these cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
From its earliest days, the second armed conflict in Chechnya (1999-present) has been marked by large-scale grave abuses of human rights, including torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial execution, committed by both sides of the conflict. Notably, the persistent lack of will on the part of the Russian government to guarantee the rule of law and act on abuses perpetrated by its forces in Chechnya has served to perpetuate this violence.
The Chechnya Justice Project emerged out of small litigation activities begun in 2000 as a response to this problem of impunity for abuses in Chechnya. Initially, members and volunteers of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch put victims in contact with experienced European lawyers, who, in turn, prepared applications to the European Court on the victims’ behalf. By mid-2001, as a growing number of victims expressed a desire to bring proceedings to Strasbourg, these ad-hoc efforts were no longer sufficient.
Thus, in late 2001, a group of human rights activists founded the Stichting Chechnya Justice Initiative in the Netherlands, with an office in Moscow, and a local organization in Ingushetia now known as Pravovaia Initsiativa to implement jointly the Chechnya Justice Project. Since that time, the project retained that structure and steadily increased the number of victims it represents. In December 2004, the organization’s governing board took a decision to officially rename the Stichting Chechnya Justice Initiative, the Stichting Russian Justice Initiative.
In just a few years’ time, Chechnya Justice Project has established itself as one of the leading legal representation and litigation projects in Russia today. As grave human rights abuses continue, and the climate of impunity persists, the work of the Chechnya Justice Project remains wholly relevant and crucial in its contribution toward ending violence and opening the way for a lasting peace and the development of genuine democracy in the Northern Caucasus.
II. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Human Rights Prize of the French Republic
In 2004, the Chechnya Justice Project enjoyed its most public recognition to date, when the Chechnya Justice Initiative was awarded the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic 2004 (Prix des Droits de l’homme de la République Française 2004) in December. The Chechnya Justice Initiative was one of five award recipients selected from a pool of 116 organizations nominated from 43 countries, and the only organization selected from Russia. The project’s partner, Secours Catholique (CARITAS-France), supported CJI’s nomination. The independent National Human Rights Commission selected the organization for its work on behalf of victims of torture and towards torture prevention through the Chechnya Justice Project. In addition to an engraved Human Rights Prize medal, the project received a small grant to provide additional assistance to victims and training to human rights advocates.
Leadership in Human Rights Litigation
The Chechnya Justice Project remains the only project dedicated to representing victims from the conflict in Chechnya before Russian legal institutions and the European Court of Human Rights. The project also makes important contributions to the field of human rights litigation in Russia through professional research, publications, advocacy, and training.
In 2004, the project again exceeded all expectations for its litigation before the European Court and further distinguished itself as the leading litigation project assisting victims from Chechnya. At the end of the year, the project had come to represent more than 700 victims and their family members in 95 cases. In 72 cases, the project has presented applications to the European Court of Human Rights. A total of 20 full and 21 preliminary applications were submitted in 2004 alone.
A number of the project’s cases made demonstrable progress before the European Court in 2004. The European Court has now communicated 14 of the project’s cases to the Russian government, eight of them in 2004. Communication is the second stage of litigation following the initial application on the part of the applicant. At this stage, the Court invites the Russian government and the Chechnya Justice Project to present additional arguments on the admissibility and legal merits in the case. Following the Court’s communication and responses, the Court will take a decision on admissibility. If the Court determines the case admissible, then a final judgment will follow.
The Chechnya Justice Project cases communicated thus far by the Court primarily concerned events in 2000 and 2001, including the large sweep operations in the Novye Aldi suburb of Grozny and Sernovodsk, as well as torture during detention in the Chernokozovo prison. Three of the cases involve more recent events, but the European Court elected to give these cases priority due to harassment of the applicants and their family members. In seven cases, the Russian government has submitted a memorandum, and the project has already responded on behalf of the applicants with counter arguments and additional information relevant to the admissibility and merits of the case. In the remaining cases, the project is currently preparing responses to the government memoranda.
Prioritization of Cases from Chechnya
In August, the European Court informed the Chechnya Justice Project that it had taken a Rule 41 decision on all cases from Chechnya, thereby prioritizing them in the Court’s review process. This decision was taken at least in part as a direct result of the Chechnya Justice Project’s advocacy, undertaken together with the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre and Memorial, to encourage the Court to take concrete measures to help ensure the security of applicants. With this decision, the project anticipates a somewhat expedited review process for its cases.
Sharing Litigation Expertise
Building on many years experience, the Chechnya Justice Project’s staff members have now distinguished themselves as experts in the field of ECHR litigation in Russia. Three staff lawyers contributed to a book providing commentary to the European Convention of Human Rights and analyzing Russian law relevant to the convention. The lawyers examined Article 2 (right to life) using their extensive experience with cases involving extrajudicial execution and non-investigation of crimes committed by federal forces. In addition, one lawyer delivers lectures on the ECHR for advanced law students at a prominent Moscow university. Members of the staff were also asked to contribute to ECHR and Russian law trainings in Russia.
Advancing Knowledge of the ECHR
The Chechnya Justice Project made additional important contributions in 2004 to the advancement of the legal expertise of Russian lawyers, human rights advocates, and others through training, research, and publications. In October, with the support of the German Embassy, the project sponsored a group of lawyers that included project staff lawyers and lawyers from Chechnya to attend a weeklong seminar hosted by the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. In December, the project hosted a seminar for lawyers representing applicants from Chechnya and other parts of Russia before Russian judicial bodies and the ECHR.
Building on established professional relationships with law faculties and law schools at prestigious universities, including Amsterdam University, Harvard University, and Yale University, the project produced two academic publications that analyzed important aspects of European and European Court law and practice relevant to both Russian as well as other lawyers and human rights activists working in Europe. Graduate interns produced two other publications in 2004 that examined specific practices in Chechnya that contribute substantially to the problem of impunity.
In early 2004, the Chechnya Justice Project produced the Citizen’s Guide for Residents of the Republic of Chechnya: Defending your Rights on the Territory of the Russian Federation. This highly practical instructional guide is the first of its kind and serves to educate victims of the conflict in Chechnya living in the Northern Caucasus about their rights under Russian and international law. The guide also provides information about the domestic and international rights protection mechanisms available to victims and their relatives, and provides detailed instructions for defending these rights. This much-needed publication has begun to fill a significant void by encouraging victims to know their rights and exercise them effectively.
The impact of the Chechnya Justice Project will be felt most clearly with decisions on the project’s cases at the European Court of Human Rights, which are still forthcoming. Nevertheless, as cases proceed through advanced stages of litigation before the ECHR, the project has already begun to see an impact on the practices of domestic law enforcement agencies. Notably, the project has found that once cases reach the communication stage, the activity of the local procuracies responsible for criminal investigations increases, at times dramatically. Procuracies undertake basic investigative steps such as deposition of witnesses and relatives, inspection of the crime scene, and forensic examinations. These actions appear to be largely a result of inquiries and requests for information sent from the main civilian and military procuracies in Moscow in response to inquiries from the Russian Representative before the ECHR, who is responsible for preparing submissions to the European Court on behalf of Russia.
Although the investigative steps taken at this point are usually several years after the date of the crime and, according to the Court’s case law, cannot be considered “effective” investigative actions,1 the impact of ECHR litigation on the domestic system, even before the decision stage, is noteworthy. It is possible that at least some of these investigations will lead to a conclusion in certain cases, and possible that procuracies will begin to take active steps before waiting for inquiries from the European Court.