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Russian authorities ruled responsible for Chechen women's disappearance

In a ruling made on 29 May 2008, the European Court of Human Rights has found the Russian authorities responsible for the May 2003 enforced disappearance of two young Chechen women, Aminat Dugaeva and Kurbika Zinabdieva. “The Court’s ruling is a step forward in the search for justice for Aminat, Kurbika and their families. We will continue to campaign on their behalf and urge the Russian authorities to ensure that the women’s disappearance is fully investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice,” said Nicola Duckworth of Amnesty International. The women, members of the same family, were abducted on the night of 16 May 2003 from Kurbika’s home in Ulus-Kert, Chechnya, by a group of 20 men wearing blue uniforms and balaclavas. Aminat was only 15 years old at the time. Kurbika, who suffered from a brain tumour and epilepsy, needed constant care. Their families have had no news of them since. In its decision of 29 May, Gekhayeva and others v. Russia, the European Court of Human Rights strongly supported the family’s allegation that the abductors were in fact Russian servicemen. The Court also criticised the Russian authorities for their failure to provide documents about the investigation into the case. The European Court found that the official investigation, launched in 2003, has been incomplete and inadequate. It was suspended from June 2004 to August 2006 and so far has failed to identify those responsible for the women’s disappearance. As a result, the Court found the Russian authorities to be in grave violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, concluding that:

There had been a violation of the right to life, given that the women had to be presumed dead following their unacknowledged detention by Russian servicemen and that the authorities had not justified the use of lethal force by their agents. The unacknowledged detention of Aminat and Kurbika violated their right to liberty and security. The Russian authorities’ handling of complaints by the victims’ families constituted inhuman treatment, given the stress and anguish they had suffered.

The Court also concluded that the Russian authorities had failed to carry out an effective criminal investigation. Serious shortcomings included the authorities’ initial refusal to open a criminal investigation and the suspension of the investigation for more than two years.