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The applicants in this case ran a private photo laboratory in a rented room of a house in the town of Argun, Chechnya. On 27 July 2001, during the passage of a tank convoy through the town, a skirmish took place between Russian military forces and unidentified armed persons, during which a shot fired from a tank set the house on fire and the applicants’ photo laboratory, along with all their equipment and other belongings, was destroyed.
The applicants complained about a breach of their right to respect for their property, as provided for in Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights. The government denied the state’s interference with the right in question but did not put forward any arguments as to the lawfulness, legitimate aim, or proportionality of the interference with the applicants’ property (§58).
The Court observed that because no state of emergency or martial law had been declared in the Chechen Republic (§45), that no federal law has been enacted restricting the rights of the population of the area, and no derogation under Article 15 of the Convention had been made, the operations in question had to be examined against a normal legal background. However, the Court also highlighted a distinction between two types of complaints brought by residents of Chechnya in respect of violations of their property rights during anti-terrorist operations:
in some cases property was damaged during a period – essentially between the end of 1999 and first half of 2000 – characterised by significant civil strife in the Chechen Republic, which, at the time, was the scene of a violent confrontation between the Russian military and security forces and illegal armed groups. The applicants, who were often absent when the damage was inflicted, were unable to furnish the domestic courts, or this Court, with reliable evidence confirming the involvement of State agents in the infliction of the damage to their property. Having regard to the twofold violence ensuing from the actions of both parties to the conflict, the Court was not convinced that in such circumstances the State could be held responsible for any damage inflicted during the military operation, or that the State’s responsibility was engaged by the mere fact that the applicant’s property had been affected ... It therefore endorsed the findings of the domestic courts to that effect.Emphasis added. See, e.g. Trapeznikova v. Russia.
in another group of cases arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable decisions of the domestic courts as to the absence of State responsibility could lead the Court to reach a different conclusion. This happened, for instance, if the applicants produced sufficient evidence that the State was responsible for the interference in question.(§§54-56)
The Court found that the case at hand fell within the second category and concluded that Russia was responsible for the interference in question and that the conclusions of the domestic civil courts as to the absence of State responsibility appeared ‘to be arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable’. (§57) The Court found a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention. It based its finding also on the inadequacy of the domestic legal framework (§60), specifically, the vague and general formulations of the Suppression of Terrorism Act, which failed to impose clear boundaries to the security forces' actions. (§59)
Whereas the applicants argued that there was overwhelming evidence that their property had been destroyed by a shot fired by military servicemen from a tank (§43), the government submitted that the perpetrators of the alleged acts had not been established and that it had not obtained conclusive evidence that the fire had started as a result of the actions of the military (§44).
The Court noted that although there were different accounts as to whether the tank shelling had been provoked by gunfire, the applicants’ claim that military tank shelling was the cause of the fire that destroyed their property was credible and consistent with investigation reports and witness statements. (§51)
Last updated on: 09 February 2015