Court blames Russian force in massacre

October 13, 2006|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MOSCOW -- The European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that Russian forces were responsible for the summary executions of a pregnant Chechen, her year-old son and three other family members during a military operation in 2000 that rights groups have called one of the worst massacres in the separatist conflict in Chechnya.

At least 60 Chechen civilians were killed Feb. 5, 2000, during a mop-up operation by Russian forces in a suburb of Grozny, Chechnya's capital, days after Russian troops retook the city. New York-based Human Rights Watch interviewed witnesses who said Russian soldiers stormed into Novye Aldy, shot Chechen villagers at close range, burned homes and raped at least six women.

Five of those executed were members of the Estamirov family, including Toita Estamirova, who was eight months' pregnant, and her son Khasan. All were shot to death, and some of the bodies were partly burned.

Meanwhile, a slain Russian journalist's last article was published yesterday, revealing an unfinished report on torture in Chechnya that some believe might have been the motive for her murder. Anna Politkovskaya's article described the torture of two suspected terrorists by the Kremlin-backed Chechen security services. It was accompanied by graphic images taken from a video apparently shot by the torturers.

The Russian government conducted cursory investigations into the 2000 killings but never charged anyone. In August 2000, relatives took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, which can order governments to pay restitution to victims.

Russia falls under the court's jurisdiction because it ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998. The court criticized the Russian government for failing to fully investigate the Estamirov killings.

"The court notes that the investigation into the deaths was never completed and the individuals responsible were not identified or indicted," the ruling stated.

Officials with the North Caucasus military prosecutor's office declined to comment on the case, and a spokesman for Russia's North Caucasus military district could not be reached for comment.

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