21 December 2015, Monday On 21 December 2015 Russian Justice Initiative sent its Observations on the Russian Government’s position concerning the case of Elita Magomadova v Russia, who has not seen her now six-year-old son for more than two years.

In 2013, the father of the child, Magomadova’s ex-husband, kidnapped the then three-year-old boy from Moscow, where he lived with his mother, and took him to Grozny. The local courts decided that the boy should remain with his father and that Magomadova could travel from Moscow to Grozny to see her son, although she had asserted before the court that since the kidnapping, her ex-husband had hid her son from her and cut off all of her communication with him. She lost her case in appeal, despite the fact that the conclusion of the local court was based on false information compiled by the local social protection services.

The European Court proceeded to examine the case in record time: it communicated the case within six months of the lodging of the application.

In its memorandum on the case, the Government attempted to refute the applicant’s allegations that her right to family life had been violated by asserting that the local courts had simply taken into account local traditions and customs, according to which children always “belong” to the father or to his family upon divorce or the death of either parent.

After lodging her application with the ECtHR, Magomadova’s husband died, yet the child remained with his elderly grandmother on his father’s side, who continued to hide him from his mother. The applicant again appealed to the local courts to obtain custody over her son, and although she was successful, the judgment of the local court awarding her custody currently remains unenforced. The bailiff’s service reports that they cannot find the applicant’s son or his grandmother.

“The Government in its memorandum to the Court expressly recognized the phenomenon of discrimination against mothers in the North Caucasus, which, to our knowledge, is a systemic problem,” said Olga Gnezdilova, a lawyer with RJI. “Our organization has a good number of similar cases, for example, concerning a woman whose deceased husband’s relatives were successful in depriving her of parental rights over her six children. And a few days ago we sent to the ECtHR a complaint from a woman originally from Ingushetia whose two small children, one of whom was an infant and still breast-feeding, were taken away from her in order to live with the family of her elderly ex-husband. The refusal of the state to guarantee the rights of mothers is a violation of Article 8 of the Convention and also discriminates against women."

RJI notes that the forcible separation of mothers from their children after divorce is common in the North Caucasus. The psychological burden on women and children in such situations is enormous. RJI hopes for a swift decision from the ECtHR in such cases and a prompt response from the relevant domestic authorities.  

See also: Khanamirova v Russia.

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