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European Human Rights Court
Will Hear Chechen Cases
The European Court of Human Rights announced in January, 2003, that it will hear six cases brought by ethnic Chechen civilians against Russia, marking the first time that a supranational court has agreed to consider allegations of Russian human rights abuses in the Chechen Republic. The charges include torture, extra-judicial execution and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. All of the plaintiffs allege that attempts to investigate and prosecute these crimes in Russia were ineffective.

The Court’s involvement came after nearly a decade of violence in Chechnya. The self-proclaimed republic attempted to split away from Russia in the early 1990s but gained little international recognition. It was claimed back by Moscow in both the war of 1994 to 1996 and during the current conflict, which began in 1999. Today Russian forces and Chechen separatists remain locked in a guerilla war. Over 100,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the two conflicts, and more than 200,000 have fled their homes. For a more complete history of events in Chechnya, see the BBC’s overview or timeline.

As a member of the Council of Europe and signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, (ECHR) Russia has accepted that it must provide the rights and freedoms described in the convention to everyone in its jurisdiction. It has also recognized the authority of the European Court of Human Rights to ensure observance of this obligation, and the right of individuals to petition the Court.

Human Rights Watch says in their latest report that war crimes have been committed in Chechnya by both Russian troops and separatists. Mass graves continue to be discovered throughout the region, and Russian forces have allegedly tortured, raped and executed Chechen civilians. Chechen guerillas have claimed responsibility for attacks on Russian non-combatants, including taking more than 750 civilians hostage in a Moscow theatre in October, 2002.
  • Jonathan I. Charney, Self-Determination: Chechnya, Kosovo, and East Timor, 34 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 455, (March 2001).
  • Paola Gaeta, The Armed Conflict in Chechnya before the Russian Constitutional Court, E.J.I.L. Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 563 (1996).
  • Jeffrey Kahn, Russian Compliance with Articles Five and Six of the European Convention of Human Rights as a Barometer of Legal Reform and Human Rights in Russia, 35 U. Mich. J.L. Ref. 641, (Spring 2002).
  • Geoff Larson, The Right of International Intervention in Civil Conflicts: Evolving International Law on State Sovereignty in Observance of Human Rights and Application to the Crisis in Chechnya, 11 Transnat'l L. & Contemp. Probs. 251, (Spring 2001).

Written January 30, 2003; Last updated August 20, 2007.

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