ECtHR decision in M.G. v. Bulgaria, Application No. 59297/12, 25 March 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Based on reports of frequent torture of detainees suspected of belonging to armed groups operating in the North Caucasus, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that, despite diplomatic assurances to the contrary, the extradition of a Chechen man from Bulgaria to Russia would violate his rights under Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court also relied on the common failure of the Russian authorities to conduct an effective investigation into allegations of abuse in remand facilities in the North Caucasus. In addition, in this case the Russian government had not specified to the ECtHR what practical steps the authorities would take to protect the applicant from ill-treatment. Finally, the Bulgarian court was criticised by the ECtHR for relying exclusively on the Russian authorities’ diplomatic assurances, and failing to adequately consider the risk of abuse to the Applicant if extradited.

The ECtHR was persuaded that the Applicant, who is charged in Russia with offenses relating to the activities of an armed Chechen insurgent group, would be particularly exposed to the danger of being tortured to deliver a confession. In reaching this conclusion, the ECtHR relied on the 2011 visit reports of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, and the 2012 Concluding Observations of the UN Committee Against Torture. According to the ECtHR, all these reports testify that detainees charged with offences like those against the Applicant are systematically subjected to ill-treatment.

The Applicant, who fled criminal charges in Russia and obtained refugee status with his wife and children in Poland and Germany in 2004-5, was detained pending extradition by the Bulgarian authorities after being intercepted at the Bulgarian-Romanian border. The ECtHR noted that the prior refugee status was an ‘important indication’ of sufficient evidence of persecution risk at the time it was granted, but only operates as a ‘starting point’ for the ECtHR’s assessment of the proposed extradition.

Even before the ECtHR considered the Applicant’s personal circumstances, it declared on the basis of the available country of origin information that ‘the North Caucasus, including Ingushetia [the location for extradition], continues to be an area of armed conflict, marked by violence and insecurity and serious violations of fundamental rights ..., such as extra-judicial executions, disappearances, and torture or other ill treatment’.

Read the judgment of the ECtHR.

28 March 2014

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Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment