The Russian Federation ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in May 1998. The first judgment against Russia came in 2002. Violations found by the Court include violations of the right to life (art. 2), of the right to fair trial (art. 6), of the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (art. 3), of the right to liberty and security of the person (art. 5), of the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence (art. 8), of the freedom of expression (art. 10), of the right to effective remedy (art. 13), and of the obligation to cooperate with the Court (art. 38). A total of 41,300 pending applications by 31 October 2011 Russia remains the country against which the largest number of applications is lodged.
In January 2003, the European Court admitted the first applications concerning human rights violations in Chechnya. The applicants alleged that the Russian military violated their rights in the course of military operations in Chechnya in 1999-2000. In three judgments of 24 February 2005 the Court held that the Russian Federation had violated Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment), and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention (protection of property). The first case concerning enforced disappearence in Chechnya (Bazorkina v. Russia) was delivered by the Court on 27 July 2006.
Judgments in cases from Chechnya and other North Caucasus republics, brought by Russian Justice Initiative and others, have since contributed to clarifying important issues such as what constitutes inhuman treatment of relatives, under what circumstances it is possible to hold that a disappearance is a violation of the right to life, and the obligations of a respondent state when it comes to cooperating with the Court.
By December 2011, another 230 of the Initiative's cases were pending before the Court.
Why bring cases from North Caucasus to the Court?
Exhaustion of domestic remedies
In order for the European Court of Human Rights to admit a case for review, it must find that the applicant has exhausted domestic remedies, meaning that the applicant's attempts to seek justice within the domestic system can go no further. The situation in North Caucasus--unstable security conditions and threat of violent retribution, lack of access to information on domestic and/or international remedies, lack of qualified lawyers in the region, general poverty, and lack of basic infrastructure such as telecommunications services--places almost insurmountable obstacles before those individuals who wish to pursue their cases before local judicial organs. Despite these obstacles, Russian Justice Initiative clients--usually immediate family members of the victims--have shown persistence and determination in appealing to local, regional, and federal authorities.
In the majority of cases, local public prosecutors open criminal investigations into civilians' complaints of serious abuses, such investigations are routinely suspended for alleged lack of material evidence and witnesses. At the same time, investigators regularly fail to take such basic steps as visiting the scene of the crime and collecting physical evidence. As a result, criminal prosecutions are extremely rare, even in straightforward cases, and the region suffers from rampant impunity for human rights abuses.
While a European Court finding in favor of an applicant cannot restore a loved one's life, a judgment that finds a substantive violation of one of the fundamental Convention rights serves to vindicate the applicants, who domestically sought, but never received, recognition that their rights or those of their relatives were violated. When the European Court makes a judgment in favor of the applicant, it may order the respondent government to pay the applicant's legal costs as well as pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. By 14 May 2009, the Court had awarded close to 8 million euro to the victims in judgments relating to Chechnya.
The Court's judgments moreover provide the basis for calls for crucial legal reforms and changes to practice. In order to target deficiencies in Russian law-enforcement Russian Justice Initiative develops and submits recommendations for individual and general measures to the Committee of Ministers, the body in charge of overseeing the implementation of judgments at the Council of Europe. Whereas individual measures, such as payment of compensation and the reopening of a criminal investigation, may provide redress in an individual case, general measures seek to address systemic problems revealed in the Court's judgments. General measures thus aim at preventing future violations and may consist of various measures such as legal reforms, new policies and improved human rights education. The Court's judgments thus carry with them great potential to ultimately improve the human rights situation and strengthen the protection of the individual in the North Caucasus.