European Court of Human Rights holds hearing on Beslan hostage crisis
Today on October 14, the European Court of Human Rights will hold a public hearing on the case of Tagayeva and Others v. Russia . The case is brought by 447 applicants who had raised various complaints relating to the actions of Russian authorities during the hostage crisis between 1-3 September 2004 at a school in Beslan, Russia. Considered one of deadliest hostage takings in modern history it took the lives of more than 330 people, more than half of them children.
Most of the applicants in the Beslan case are represented by a lawyer from Civil Rights Defenders partner Memorial. The Voice of Beslan is a local group seeking justice for the numerous shortcomings in the handling of the hostage crisis, have been a part of Civil Rights Defenders long-term initiative, the Stockholm Process, charged with strengthening human rights defenders in the North Caucasus.
The crisis began on 1 September when armed terrorists burst into a school where over 1,200 children, teachers and members of their families had gathered to celebrate the opening of the new academic year. The terrorists belonged to a group of Islamic militants, mostly Ingush and Chechen and were demanding independence for Chechnya together with a full withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory. At approximately 1:00 p.m. on the third day of the hostage siege, Russian security forces stormed the school in a bid to take control of the situation and break the siege.
The actions of the assailants – taking over one thousand people hostage, the majority children, depriving them of water and food for over two days, issuing repeated death threats against them, and killing many of the hostages – are egregious crimes.
The official investigations into the hostage crisis at Beslan concluded with the sentencing of one terrorist who was captured alive. According to official data the rest of the hostage-takers were killed on spot. Independent investigations by journalists and human rights defenders claim that the official investigation was inefficient and lacked transparency. They also claimed the security forces used excessive force to end the hostage crisis.
“It is important that the Russian authorities pull out all the stops to investigate such an important case as Beslan. Until the authorities take concrete measures to ensure that a thorough and independent investigation is launched into all circumstances surrounding the hostage crisis, justice for the surviving hostages and relatives of those killed will not be served”. said Roemer Lemaitre, Program Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Civil Rights Defenders.
A report about the crisis published by the OSCE stated that the Russian government failed to provide accurate and truthful information regarding pertinent details of the handling of the crisis such as the number of hostages held and the demands issued by of the terrorists.
Cases of detention and harassment of journalists were also highlighted in the report with a number of journalists citing that their work was seriously impeded by the authorities during the crisis. The murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya was twice prevented by the authorities from boarding a flight to the region to report on the story.
The Beslan crisis occurred at a time where widespread human rights abuses against civilians in Chechnya were perpetrated by Russian security forces. The near-total impunity for those who committed such human rights abuses is one of the factors that led to the conflict spreading throughout the whole of the North Caucasus region.
“The establishment of an effective judicial system enshrining human rights protection in line with international standards is crucial for achieving a lasting peace in the region,” said Roemer Lemaitre, Program Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Civil Rights Defenders.
Tags: Beslan, European Court of Human Rights, Memorial, North Caucasus, and Russia.