Britain is being urged to confront Russia over its human rights record today when it chairs a high-level conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Campaigners want the Government to persuade Europe’s leaders to invoke new “exceptional” measures against Russia for failing to comply with almost 200 critical rulings from the ECHR.
However, Britain risks igniting a diplomatic storm if it adopts an aggressive stance while international efforts to garner Moscow’s support for a Syrian peace plan hang in the balance.
David Cameron and other senior Tory ministers have criticised the ECHR for meddling in Britain’s domestic affairs, suggesting that the court should concentrate on serious human rights abuses in countries like Russia.
But the ECHR has found Russian security forces culpable of multiple abuses in at least 180 separate cases arising from unlawful killings, abductions, secret detention, torture, ill-treatment and destruction of property perpetrated in Chechnya and other republics in the North Caucasus region.
A systematic failure by Russian authorities to adequately investigate the crimes has been a feature of almost all the cases ruled on by the ECHR since 2005. The Russian authorities have failed to hold anyone to account for the crimes leading to allegations by the United Nations of “widespread impunity” for perpetrators of human rights violations in the region.
The Committee of Ministers - the 47 Council of Europe foreign ministers responsible for monitoring compliance with ECHR judgements – could use new “infringement proceedings” for the first time which has the potential to embarrass the Russians by refocusing international attention on its ‘dirty’ internal conflict.
On Monday Britain has a unique opportunity to push for this as it chairs the conference in Brighton as part of its six month stint as head of the Committee of Foreign Ministers. The ECHR has made it clear that it has done as much as it can and that it is now down to political leaders to confront over its disregard of the court.
Lord Frank Judd, the Labour peer and former rapporteur on Chechnya, last night said Europe's feeble response to Russia's human rights record mounted to “wanton irresponsibility as its actions continued to incite terrorism and extremism in the region”. This comes amid warnings by MI5 that Moscow controlled assassins are operating in the UK.
Professor Philip Leach from the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre at London Metropolitan University said: “The ECHR has played an absolutely vital role in holding Russia to account, which no other international body has been able to do… Taking up infringement proceedings against Russia would signal that governments are serious about tackling grave human rights abuses on the European continent. Not to do so would call into question the effectiveness of the human rights machinery in Europe.”
Human rights experts want the Committee of Ministers to specifically refer the Russian military’s “indiscriminate” aerial and arterial bombardment of the village of Katyr-Yurt in February 2000 back to the ECHR. The bombings that led to dozens of unarmed, civilian men, women and children being killed during the three-day “disproportionate” military attack, have been ruled on twice by the ECHR, yet still the Russian authorities refuse to properly investigate.
In 2005, in the case of Isayeva, the court ruled that the Russian armed forces planned the attack by enticing the rebel fighters from Grozny into Katyr-Yurt, but failed to warn the villagers. The Isayeva family were attacked by aerial bomb while trying to escape through an apparent “humanitarian corridor”. The court found that the death of Isayeva’s son and three nieces as a result of FAB-250 bombs fired by two SU-25 military planes, violated Article 2, the right to life, including the right to a subsequent adequate investigation, and Article 13, the right to effective remedy.
Five years later, in a case brought by 29 of the villagers, including Marusya Abuyeva (pictured), involving 24 deaths during the same attack, the court said that Russia had “manifestly disregarded the specific findings of a binding judgment” in failing to carry out an effective investigation in response to the Isayeva judgment.
In an unprecedented move, the judges ruled that it was now up to the Council of Ministers, rather than Russia, to address what authorities should do in practical terms to comply with the judgment, which must include a “new, independent investigation”.
Tanya Lokshina from Human Rights Watch in Moscow said: “Russia submits regular reports to the Committee of Ministers on the alleged progress with implementation of ECHR judgement, however, this cooperation appears to be largely perfunctory.
“The Committee is possibly reluctant to invoke infringement proceeding because making Russia a test case is quite a challenge. There may fear that the invocation of infringement proceedings may result in Russia becoming even less cooperation on implementation issues.”
An FCO spokeswoman said: “Russia’s continued non-implementation of ECHR judgements relating to violations in the North Caucasus remains of concern. We have called and will continue to call for Russia to fully implement vital judgements, including pressing on individual cases through the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.”