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Russia Seen As Snubbing European Rights Court On Chechnya

A makeshift memorial to Alik Dzhabrailov and Zarema Sadulayeva of the Save The Generations charity, murdered in Chechnya last month
(RFE/RL) -- Activists and lawyers have seconded accusations leveled against Russia in a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in which the group alleges that Moscow routinely ignores rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, contributing to a climate of impunity in the North Caucasus.

Russia has so far paid monetary compensation and legal fees awarded by the court. But rights activists say Moscow has largely failed to adopt requested policy changes to prevent similar violations.

"The government has to pay, but it is also obliged to investigate the offenses and to eliminate the factors that made these crimes possible," Aleksandr Cherkasov, an activist with the Russian rights group Memorial, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service. "In the North Caucasus, there have been neither investigations nor systemic changes to the structures that generate these crimes."

Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, which oversees the court, and as such has an obligation to obey its rulings.

Another Memorial campaigner, Oleg Orlov, once accused Russian authorities of treating reparation payments to European Court plaintiffs as a "tax on impunity."

The Human Rights Watch report says fully implementing the rulings is vital to combat abuses in the volatile North Caucasus.

"Every crime that goes unpunished," it says, "sends a clear signal to others that they can get away with equally horrific abuses."

Residents of Russia have little faith in their country's court system and are turning to the Strasbourg court en masse. They have filed some 46,000 complaints with the court since 1998 and now account for one-fifth of all new complaints, many of them from Chechnya.

Rights groups accuse Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov of using violence to tighten his grip on Chechnya, where Moscow has fought two wars against separatist rebels in the past 15 years.

String Of Bombings, Attacks

The republic has been hit by a string of suicide bombings and attacks on human rights activists and security forces.

In July, prominent rights campaigner Natalya Estemirova was murdered after being kidnapped from her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Less than a month later, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, who ran a local children's charity, Save the Generation, were found dead in the trunk of a car in Grozny.

Both murders drew international outrage.

The violence, together with Russia's reluctance to honor its commitments to the European Court, has led to calls for action against Russia at the Council of Europe.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on September 28 voted to hold a debate on the threats to human rights campaigners in the North Caucasus and on growing violence in the region.

Such talks, however, may change little about Moscow's attitude toward Caucasus violence and the role of the European Court.

"The main problem is the investigation of cases," says Karinna Moskalenko, a lawyer who has helped many Russian citizens file complaints with the Strasbourg court.

"Russian authorities almost never admit responsibility, and failing to fully acknowledge violations means resisting the implementation of rulings. When a country belonging to a club of nations refuses to respect its rules, collaboration with this member becomes impossible."

Thirty-Three Cases

The New York-based watchdog, in a statement released this week, said the court, based in the French city of Strasbourg, has so far delivered 115 rulings on Chechnya. The group closely studied 33 of them for its report.

The cases relate to violations during Russian federal military operations to combat Chechen separatists between 1999 and 2004.

Allison Gill, the head of Human Rights Watch's Moscow office, says the study found that Russian officials consistently failed to bring perpetrators to justice -- even when these were directly named in court judgments.

"In almost every case, the court ruled that the Russian government was responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced disappearances," Gill says. "And in almost every case, the court also found the government guilty of failing to carry out an adequate investigation. In the cases we've studied, the court rulings have not led to a single prosecution."

Worse still, the reports notes, several Russian army officers found guilty by the Strasbourg court have since been promoted.