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The case concerns the shelling of the Chechen village Chechen-Aul. The alleged tube artillery attack killed three people, including two children, and injured three others, one of them seriously, resulting in permanent blindness. It also caused severe damage to the applicants’ house and vehicle.
The applicants complained under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights of a violation of the right to life in respect of their relatives and of the authorities’ failure to conduct a proper investigation (§73). The government disputed responsibility for the harm done, which it claimed was caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) laid by illegal armed groups.
The Court considered that the applicants’ version was coherent and convincing. It noted that due to the government’s refusal to submit the entirety of the case file, the burden was on the Government to disprove the applicants’ prima facie case (§91). The Government’s statement that the investigation did not find any evidence to support the involvement of state agents was deemed insufficient to discharge them from the above-mentioned burden of proof. ‘Drawing inferences from the Government’s failure to submit the documents which were in their exclusive possession or to provide another plausible explanation for the events in question’, the Court considered that the applicants’ relatives had died as a result of artillery shelling by the Russian military on 7 September 2002.
The Court found a violation of Article 2 in respect of the three dead relatives. It further found a violation of Article 2 under its procedural head as the Government had failed to carry out a thorough and effective investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths (§§95, 111).
The applicants also complained that ‘the anguish and distress suffered by them as a result of the shelling of their house, their relatives’ deaths and the authorities’ reaction amounted to treatment in breach of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the Convention’ (§112). While acknowledging the ‘profound suffering caused to the applicants by the deaths of their relatives’, the Court did not find a violation of Article 3, arguing that its case-law on the issue referred to the specific phenomenon of disappearances (§§115, 116).Compare, however, the Court’s finding in Esmukhambetov et al. v. Russia.
The applicants in this case alleged that the explosions that killed several of their relatives, injured others, and damaged their property were caused by artillery shells fired by Russian forced from three directions into the village. According to them, up to eighteen shells were fired, three of which hit the applicants’ house (§12). That the damage was due to artillery shelling by Russian military forces was confirmed by neighbours whose property was also damaged in the shelling,One neighbour ‘had heard the noise of artillery shots and a few seconds later the sound of explosions. He further noted that two shells had fallen into his kitchen garden and that a hole had been punched in the roof of his house.’ (§43) and by a finding of the district prosecutor’s office (§§43, 44), based in part on crater analysis and on the markings on shell fuze remnants found at the scene.
The Government argued, in contrast, that the harm was caused by ‘explosive devices’ that had been detonated in the immediate vicinity of the house (§18). According to one expert, fragments were found of 122mm artillery shells used ‘with howitzers of types M-30, D-30, 2C1 “Carnation” and M-66, as well as with cannons of types A-19 and D-49’, as well as detonators marked RGM-2, ‘used with artillery systems nos. 1-30, 2C1, 2Ch3, 2c19 and D-44’ (§77). The Government argued that the federal military units located in the vicinity of the village had not carried out any operations in the area on 7 September 2002 and ‘did not have 122-mm shells or the other ammunition mentioned in the expert examination report’ (§77). According to them, the shells had been transformed into improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and dug into the ground by members of illegal armed groups rather then launched from artillery ordnance (§§28, 47, 77).
The Court considered the applicants’ version of events more plausible, however. Not least because the Russian authorities had ‘rather dubiously assumed that explosive devices dug into the upper layers of soil could have fallen from above to punch a hole in the roof of [the neighbour’s] house’ (§87).
Last updated on: 09 March 2015