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Mothers Of Slain Russians Go To European Court

President and then prime minister, Vladimir Putin is seen by critics as presiding over a period of impunity for officials guilty of serious crimes.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The mothers of two Russian teenage girls who they say were raped and murdered by men connected to authorities have said they had lodged appeals with Europe's human rights court.

Legal advisers say the attention of the France-based court underscores Russia's inability to solve such crimes at home and they are hoping it will encourage others to come forward in a country where rights groups say many such crimes go unpunished.

Lawyers for beauty queen Svetlana Karamova, 17, say she was gang-raped by police who snatched her in broad daylight before dumping her body with a burst liver and broken ribs near her home in Bashkortostan, some 1,160 kilometers east of Moscow.

"They [the authorities] should be ashamed that we live in this so-called society. I don't even feel like a citizen," her mother Olga told Reuters, choking back tears.

She added that the European court offered a minute chance at any recognition of their ordeal, though the mothers also fear eyewitnesses will be too scared to speak out.

Suspects were briefly detained for the murders committed seven years ago but no one has been convicted, leaving their killers still at large despite letters to then-President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from activists and the families.

Investigators in the oil-producing and processing region, where both girls were killed, could not be reached for comment. Police will not comment on how the girls died.

A spokeswoman for the European court said Karamova's case had been registered but a decision on whether or not it will be investigated is pending.

Heavy Burden

Seen as a last shot at justice, the influential European court is becoming increasingly more popular in Russia, which had the largest number of accepted cases last year at 8,161.

Gulnara, the mother of Lena Aleksandrova, 15, who lawyers say was raped and killed by a relative of a senior official, said her case has also been registered though the court could not confirm that on September 25.

Her daughter's tortured body was found hanging from a tree by a motorway several days after she went missing, she said.

If the cases are accepted, the mothers would then have to prove the state had a role in their daughters' deaths and Russia would be issued with a "judgment" by the court, or an order to investigate, the court's spokeswoman said.

UN expert and legal adviser to the mothers, Margaret Satterthwaite, said there is still little chance Russia will solve the murders even if a violation by the state is found by the court.

Human rights groups accuse Bashkortostan's leader, Murtaza Rakhimov, of abusing his power in the region by allowing many crimes to go unpunished. Opponents have accused him of running a dictatorship where murder and corruption is rife.

Last month, four bloggers who documented corruption by officials in Bashkortostan were detained for "extremism."

"Corruption runs right through," Karamova said.

For Aleksandrova, who uprooted her family to another city after she received threats she blames on local authorities following pleas to prosecutors to examine her case, said she has lost all faith in the Russian justice system.

"Real hope that something will be solved has already vanished. Of course I want to believe but...there is no way people in our country will let it happen."

The mothers scoffed at pledges by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to increase openness in society and reduce lawlessness.