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The applicants in this case, twenty-seven Russian nationals who were residents of the village of Kogi in the Shelkovskiy District of the Chechen Republic (near the border to Dagestan) complained, in particular, that an airstrike on the village had resulted in the deaths of family members, and in the destruction of their houses and property. They also complained of the moral suffering they had endured in connection with those events, the lack of an investigation, and the lack of effective remedies in respect of the alleged violations.
According to the applicants approximately seventy bombs were dropped on their village on 12 September 1999, resulting in the deaths of two children and three women, and the destruction of, or severe damage to, about thirty houses. Most of the applicants left Kogi and never came back. They spent the winter of 1999 to 2000 in a refugee camp in the Republic of Dagestan.
The applicants relied on Articles 2, 3, 8, and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.
According to the Government, two military SU-25 planes performed ‘a strike with light missiles using a precision guidance system’ in the course of ‘counter-terrorist activities’ aimed at the location of illegal armed groups near the village in question. In the Government’s view, the airstrike had been justified in the circumstances, given that illegal armed groups had been showing violent armed resistance to the authorities, thus posing a danger to local residents and other persons and to the public interest. In the Government’s submission, that danger could not have been eliminated by any other means, in particular, it was impossible to use ground troops in the vicinity of Kogi. (§136)
Among the relevant legal sources, the Court cited provisions of 1977 Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, applicable to non-international armed conflicts, pertaining to the protection of the civilian population, the protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and the prohibition on the forced movement of civilians.
The Court found that there had been a violation of the right to life, both under its procedural head (lack of a thorough and effective investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the applicants’ relatives)(§130) and in substance. The Court considered that the Government had not properly accounted for the use of force. (§141) Insofar as the Government relied on Article 2§2(b) of the Convention, the Court considered that ‘the deployment of military aviation equipped with heavy weapons’ was ‘in itself, grossly disproportionate to the purpose of effecting the lawful arrest of a person’. (§146)
Insofar as the Government invoked Article 2§2(a) of the Convention, the Court noted that the Government was most probably aware (and in any event should have been aware) of the presence of a civilian population in Kogi. Against this background, the Court pronounced itself ‘struck by the Russian authorities’ choice of means’ in the present case purportedly in defence of persons from unlawful violence. (§147) The Court did not accept the Government’s claim that they could not have attained the aim in question by any other means. In the Court’s view they could, for example, have used ground troops.
The Court further rejected the Government’s assertions to the effect that the airstrike was of a ‘pinpoint’ nature as it had failed to name any of the alleged targets. Consequently, the Court agreed with the applicants that their village had ‘come under indiscriminate bombing’ by the federal air forces. (§148)
In the Court’s assessment, the Government had failed to consider comprehensively ‘the limits and constraints on the use of indiscriminate weapons within a populated area’ and had not provided evidence showing that any measures were taken in order to avoid, or at least to minimise, the risk to the lives of the residents of Kogi.
The Court concluded that the authorities failed to exercise appropriate care in the organisation and control of the operation of 12 September 1999, and that
the indiscriminate bombing of a village inhabited by civilians – women and children being among their number – was manifestly disproportionate to the achievement of the purpose under Article 2 § 2 (a) invoked by the Government.§§149-152.
The Court also acknowledged that the applicants had endured ‘profound mental suffering’ on account of the death and injury of relatives and the destruction of their property. However, the Court did not find that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment), except with respect to one applicant 'who witnessed the killing of his whole family':
The first applicant experienced a shock of such intensity that he suffered from a temporary loss of memory. The Court further considers that the suffering endured by the first applicant was of such severity for the authorities’ acts resulting in the deaths of the first applicant’s family members to be categorised as inhuman treatment within the meaning of Article 3.§191.
The Court also found a violation of Article 8 of the Convention (right to respect for private and family life, home) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (peaceful enjoyment of ones possessions) on account of the destruction of the applicants’ property, including their housing.
Last updated on: 09 February 2015