Finogenov & Ors v Russia
Forum: European Court of Human Rights
INTERIGHTS’ role: Third party interveners
Keywords: Life, Health
European Court Finds Russia Violated Hostages’ Right to Life During Moscow Theatre Siege Crisis Which Killed Over 129
The European Court of Human Rights today found that Russia failed to adequately plan and conduct the rescue of the victims of the ‘Nord Ost’ hostage crisis in October 2002. Russia was also found at fault for subsequently failing to conduct an effective investigation into the rescue operation, and the Court awarded compensations ranging between 8,000 and 66,000 Euros to 64 claimants. INTERIGHTS, together with the International Commission of Jurists, submitted written comments to the Court in the case.
The case relates to the siege at the Nord Ost theatre in Moscow in 2002 and the subsequent rescue operation in which, according to official records, some 129 hostages were killed. In order to end the siege, Russian authorities pumped an unknown gas into the theatre before storming it. The applicants claimed that the gas killed not only the hostage takers, but a large number of hostages, and that no adequate medical assistance was provided to the hostages in the aftermath of the operation. The 64 applicants in the case, who include surviving hostages as well as relatives of people who died during the siege, complained to the European Court about disproportionate use of force by the security forces, the lack of adequate medical assistance to the hostages after the evacuation from the theatre, and the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the events.
Today’s case raises significant issues regarding the conduct of law-enforcement operations and counter-terrorism operations which are of great practical relevance. The European Court’s judgment reaffirms the obligation on states to plan and control their counter-terrorist operations so as to minimise, to the greatest extent possible, recourse to lethal force and human losses, and to take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of operation. The Court confirmed that security operations must be authorised under national law, which needs to provide sufficient regulations and a system of adequate and effective safeguards against arbitrariness and abuse of force, and against avoidable accidents.
The Court concluded that the rescue and evacuation plan was flawed, as it did not provide for a centralised coordination at the site; it did not contain instructions regarding exchange of information about the condition of individual victims between different rescue services or regarding priorities for the medics; and there was a lack of provision for medical assistance on the buses used for transportation of victims to hospital and no clear plan for the distribution of victims amongst various hospitals.
The Court recognised the need to keep certain aspects of the security operation secret, but criticised the Russian authorities for not having given information about the potentially lethal gas and the treatment to be employed to the rescue workers and medics before, or at least immediately after, its use. It further held that the authorities unduly delayed the mass evacuation of hostages from the theatre for over an hour, that there was a lack of appropriate medical treatment and equipment on the site, and that the logistics were inadequate. On the basis of these conclusions, the Court found that Russia violated the 64 applicants’ right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court however disagreed with the claim that the toxic gas was a lethal weapon used indiscriminately against both terrorists and innocent hostages. It upheld its well-established principle that the use of indiscriminate weapons in counter-terrorist operations is not compatible with the standard of care required in operations involving use of lethal force by state agents, but found that the use of the gas during the raid of the theatre was not a disproportionate measure in the circumstances of the siege.
INTERIGHTS’ and the International Commissions of Jurists’ joint intervention addressed the duty to plan and carry out a counter-terrorist operation so that any use of lethal force will be absolutely necessary and proportionate, and the application of these standards in the particular context of a hostage situation. The intervention contained an analysis of international and comparative standards and practice, with reference to relevant jurisprudence of other international and regional human rights tribunals and of international criminal tribunals. The text of the intervention can be accessed here.
Vesselina Vandova, Senior Lawyer at INTERIGHTS, said: “Today’s judgment affirms the obligation of states to plan and conduct their law enforcement and security operations in such a way that they ensure maximum protection of the right to life. People held as hostages are particularly vulnerable, and the authorities must take all reasonable steps to protect their life and health.”