Date of this Version
Since 1994, the wars between the Russian military and Chechen nationalist forces have resulted in "butchery and savagery on a scale and intensity recalling World War II" An estimated 100,000 persons may have been killed so far, the vast majority being civilians? In relation to other international crises, the conflict in Chechnya has been largely muted in the press, and the international community's reaction has been to marginalize the conflict as an "internal matter" of Russian affairs. In January 2003, for the first time, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECIIR or the Court) declared six petitions alleging the commission of human rights violations by Russian forces in Chechnya admissible. This Article examines the Court and its human rights case law as a potentially significant mechanism for the enforcement of human rights and redress in a war that has generated minimal interest on the international stage.
Part I of this Article provides a brief historical background to the current situation in Chechnya. It outlines a descriptive history of Chechnya and its experiences through the Tsarist and modem eras until its declaration of independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Part II outlines documented reports of alleged human rights violations committed by Russian forces in Chechnya since 1994. Reported violations include the commission of (A) torture of persons, including rape; (B) forced "disappearances" of civilians; and (C) presumed extrajudicial killings of civilians by Russian forces. Part III provides a descriptive outline of the ECHR based in Strasbourg. It examines the Court and its role as the Council of Europe's judicial body charged with upholding the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Part N reviews (A) the lack of an effective international response to human rights violations in Chechnya; and (B) the claims in Khashiyev v. Russia and Akayeva v. Russia, the first cases deemed admissible by the Court charging Russian forces with committing human rights violations in Gromy in 2000.
Part V of this Article proceeds to examine previous ECHR case law involving facts and claims applicable to the human rights situation in Chechnya. Many, but not all of these cases, stem from military operations conducted by Turkish forces against Kurdish separatists in the early-mid 1990s. Particular aspects of the Court's holdings examined in these cases include its treatment of (A) the obligation imposed by Article 2 of the European Human Rights Convention to investigate deaths of individuals resulting from the alleged use of fatal force by government agents; (B) the obligation imposed by Article 3 of the European Convention to protect individuals held in government custody; (C) principles involving the exhaustion of domestic remedies for redress and the availability of an effective domestic remedy for aggrieved parties seeking investigation of alleged human rights violations; and (D) the development of Court case law involving the establishment of presumptions of custody and death in "forced disappearance" cases. Part VI concludes this Article with a review of how the ECHR may treat claims of human rights abuses evolving from the conflict in Chechnya. This development will hopefully provide some forn of justice for Chechen victims of war crimes committed by Russian forces and deter ongoing abuses in the Republic of Chechnya.