Staunton, March 11 – Article 22 of the Russian Constitution contains many of the guarantees that in the West are known as habeas corpus, the right of an individual to a judicial hearing before being incarcerated. Those rights are enshrined in the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure that has been in force since 2002 (loc.gov/law/help/habeas-corpus/russia.php).
But a new study by Vedomosti and the Memorial Human Rights Organization documents that “habeas corpus Russian-style” does not function as the language of those documents suggests it should and means that people can disappear into the legal system or simply disappear with little legal recourse (vedomosti.ru/society/articles/2020/03/11/824924-habeas-corpus).
Especially in the North Caucasus, people disappear into the legal system or disappear completely, and efforts by republic governments or lawyers to force the courts to produce “the body” which is the basic meaning of habeas corpus have failed so often that the Council of Europe has urged Moscow to set up a commission to investigate disappearance.
That recommendation was made already in 2012, but “over the past eight years, no such organ has appeared, and the number of cases which it could have investigated has become ever larger,” the Moscow paper says. Last year, the Council of Europe held that forcible disappearances of Russian citizens continue to be defined as kidnappings rather than murders.
“Why is this a bad thing?” Vedomosti asks rhetorically. “For investigators it is a very good one.” It improves their statistics and allows them to drop from any investigation those who have been missing only five years. For those assumed to have been murdered, the statue of limitations is 15.
That is no small thing given that the numbers of disappearances continue to rise. Between the second half of 2017 and February 2019, the paper reports, there were 25 complaints about such actions. And in Chechnya, between 2012 and 2015, only two cases were investigated in Chechnya, while the European Court received “hundreds” of appeals about them.
But by declaring that those missing are presumed kidnapped but not dead, the European action has removed pressure on Russian courts to investigate the estimated 1000 to 2800 cases of disappearances between 1999 and 2006 which the Russian statute of limitations allows investigators and prosecutors to ignore. And that is a very bad thing indeed.
That means that many victims of kidnapping and torture and their families are deprived of the legal recourse that habeas corpus should provide and that those Russian siloviki who are inclined to use such methods will now feel themselves even less constrained by international law than they were.