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The facts surrounding the bombardment of civilian cars on a road near the village of Shaami-Yurt and the ensuing investigation were partially disputed. According to some statements ‘a substantial number of civilian cars and thousands of people’ were present on the road at the time of the attack. The civilians were trying to flee from Grozny in the direction of Ingushetia, when they were subjected to an ‘aerial missile attack’ during which the first applicant's two children were killed and both the first and the second applicant were wounded, bringing the complaint within the ambit of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. (§174)
The Court was prepared to accept that ‘the situation that existed in Chechnya at the relevant time called for exceptional measures on behalf of the State in order to regain control over the Republic and to suppress the illegal armed insurgency’, measures that ‘could presumably include employment of military aviation equipped with heavy combat weapons’. (§178) Although the Court retained certain doubts about the Government’s portrayal of the situation, it accepted that the military could reasonably have assumed that the planes were attacked by militants, which could possibly have justified recourse to lethal force to protect persons from unlawful violence within the meaning of Article 2§2(a) of the Convention. (§181) However, the Court was not convinced by the Government’s assertion that the attack had targeted isolated vehicles of militants on the road, and it noted that the military had ‘used an extremely powerful weapon for whatever aims they were trying to achieve’. (§195) (See below)
The Court found that the use of force had violated the right to life (Article 2) in substance, and that the ‘authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into the circumstances of the attack’ amounting to a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 2. (§§200, 225) The Court also found a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention with regard to the destruction of cars and family possessions, and a violation of Article 13 (effective remedies) of the Convention.
The Court noted that according to the conclusions of the domestic investigation,
12 S-24 non-guided air-to-ground missiles were fired, six by each plane, which is a full load. On explosion, each missile creates several thousand pieces of shrapnel and its impact radius exceeds 300 metres (or 600-800 metres, as suggested by some documents …). There were thus several explosions on a relatively short stretch of the road filled with vehicles. Anyone who had been on the road at that time would have been in mortal danger.§195.
In the Court’s assessment the ‘level of danger’ was the same for all applicants (§196) and it found a violation of Article 2 of the Convention in respect of the applicants and of the children of one of the applicants killed in the attack: ‘even assuming that that the military were pursuing a legitimate aim in launching 12 S-24 non-guided air-to-ground missiles’, the Court did ‘not accept that the operation near the village of Shaami-Yurt was planned and executed with the requisite care for the lives of the civilian population’. (§§199-200)
Two applicants further submitted that they were wounded and witnessed the deaths of many people around them, including their loved ones, and that this constituted inhuman treatment. The Court considered, however, that as the ‘danger to the lives of the three applicants as a result of the missile attacks’ were taken into account with regard to their right to life, no separate issues arose under Article 3 of the Convention. (§229)
Last updated on: 09 February 2015