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The facts surrounding the death of the applicants’ relatives are disputed by the parties to this case. According to the applicants, residents the village Arshty in a district of the Republic of Ingushetia bordering on the Chechen Republic, on 6 August 2000, around midday, two military helicopters (MI-24s) fired with a machine-gun and with non-guided missiles at male villagers returning from cutting grass in a field near the village. Two men were killed and one was wounded by shrapnel in his leg. (§§16-17)
The applicants complained, in particular, of the death of their relatives in an attack by state agents and of the absence of an adequate investigation into these events. They also alleged a breach of their right to respect for their family life, denial of access to a court, and a lack of effective remedies in respect of the violations of their rights. The applicants relied on Articles 2 (right to life), 6(§ 1), 8, and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to the government, the authorities had carried out a ‘special operation’ to detain a group of illegal fighters in the area of the village. During the operation a transport helicopter crashed and MI-24 helicopters were charged with patrolling the area during the rescue operation. The pilots spotted a group of men with light machine-guns and received the order to fire warning shots at them with a view to prevent them from driving toward the zone of the rescue operation. (§§22-25)
The government conceded that the applicants’ relatives had been deprived of their lives by state agents, but argued that they had been killed in the course of a counterterrorist operation carried out by federal forces in order to effect lawful detention of illegal paramilitaries and to prevent further criminal activity by the latter and thus to secure public safety in the region. (§121)
The Court found a violation of Article 2 (right to life) under its substantive and procedural head, and related to it, a violation of Article 13 (effective remedy).
The Court retained doubts as to whether the male villagers were indeed armed when they were attacked, and noted that, in any case, it was not shown that the helicopters were fired at. (§133) Although acknowledging ‘the difficult situation' at the material time in the neighbouring Chechen Republic, 'which called for exceptional measures on the part of the State to suppress the illegal armed insurgency’, the Court was not prepared to accept that a belief that the men were armed on its own justified the use of lethal force against them. (§134)
The Court noted in particular that the pilots did not provide the command centre with any details regarding the men or the situation or that the command centre sought any further details to enable them adequately to assess the situation and take an appropriate action. (§136)
In particular, the pilots were not asked to provide any information as to visibility in the area, the distance between the site of the crash of the federal helicopter and the allegedly armed group, whether the area was populated, whether the pilots had or could have come under an armed attack, whether the men found by the pilots had tried to escape and whether the situation required any urgent measures to be taken by the pilots, or any other details. It is furthermore highly doubtful that the authorities in command established the identity of the applicants’ two relatives and the other men before giving the order to destroy them, given the very tight period that elapsed between the pilots’ first report and the order. Indeed, there is nothing in the submitted materials to suggest that they did or even attempted to do so.
In the Court's view all this suggested ‘a lack of appropriate care by the authorities in assessing the situation’. As a consequence, the Court was not persuaded that the killing of the applicants’ relatives was no more than absolutely necessary in pursuit of the aims provided for in Article 2(2) of the Convention. (§§137–38)
Last updated on: 09 February 2015