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Court win for victims of the Beslan school terrorism attack

Tagayeva and Others v. Russia  | 2017

Court win for victims of the Beslan school terrorism attack

As a mother, it’s terrible to bury your children… Having felt this pain, I can’t let anyone else suffer the same way. We have to do whatever we can so that nothing like this is ever repeated.

Emma Tagayeva, who lost her husband and both sons in the attack. Reported by the BBC - © Photo Creative Commons Aaron Bird

Background

In September 2004, more than thirty heavily-armed terrorists carried out an attack on a school in Beslan, North Ossetia. For over fifty hours they held more than 1,000 people captive, the majority of them children. Following explosions, fire and an armed intervention, over 330 people – including more than 180 children - lost their lives and over 750 people were injured.

It later emerged that local authorities had enough information to know that there would be a terrorist attack against an educational institution on or around the day in question. However, they did not try to intercept the terrorists, increase security at the school or warn the public.

The authorities’ response to the incident suffered from a lack of formal leadership, resulting in serious flaws in decision-making and coordination. In the absence of proper rules governing how the security forces should engage with the terrorists, indiscriminate weapons had been used on the buildings where hostages were still being held. Those weapons included flame-throwers, grenade launchers and a tank cannon, which contributed to the heavy causalities among the hostages.

409 victims or family members brought their case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that there had been numerous failings by the Russian authorities in relation to the attack. Many wanted to obtain the truth about the incident and lessons to be learnt to avoid future tragedies.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, national authorities are obliged to prevent threats to life whenever possible and to take reasonable steps to minimise harm in dangerous situations. However, in this incident the authorities had failed to carry out their obligations in a number of ways.

The court ruled that, given their knowledge about an upcoming attack, the authorities’ efforts to prevent the hostage-taking and warn the public had been inadequate. The planning and control of the security operation had been disorganised and suffered from a lack of leadership. In the absence of proper legal rules, indiscriminate weapons had been used on the school, adding to the number of casualties. Finally, the investigation into the events had been insufficient for finding the truth about what happened.

The court indicated the need for a variety of measures aimed at drawing lessons from the past, raising awareness of relevant legal and operational standards, and preventing similar violations in the future.

 

The applicants were awarded almost 3 million euros in compensation.

The dead can never come back, but we can be strong and talk openly about what happened, so that Beslan will be the last attack of its kind.

Mrs. Ella Kesayeva, whose four family members were held hostage during the siege. She chaired Voice of Beslan, a grassroots NGO. As reported by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre - © Photo Jam News      

Follow-up

Since 2012, the Council of Europe has been monitoring Russian reforms to the structures and procedures designed to respond to terrorism. This monitoring first arose in response to another case at the European court, concerning the Moscow theatre hostage crisis of 2002 (Finogenov and Others v. Russia).

Since the time of the events in Beslan, two Presidential decrees and a federal law have been issued to improve the legislative and regulatory framework in the fight against terrorism.

A wide range of seminars, events and training exercises have been carried out in order to improve the authorities’ capacity to deal with terrorist events.

The Council of Europe continues to monitor reforms in this area and the additional investigations that are required into these events.


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