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Moskalenko: Will the Russian government answer for Nord-Ost?
Written by   
, 08 2010
Responses should be at the Strasbourg Court no later than May

In April of 2004*, six months after the terror attack on Dubrovka, attorney Karinna Moskalenko, acting in the interests of the Nord-Ost victims, filed a complaint against the government of Russia at the European Court of Human Rights. Afew months later another group filed a similar complaint. Forsix years both complaints wandered the Strasbourg corridors. There was an written exchange between the parties, and finally a big win for all whose lives were damaged in varying degrees by Nord-Ost, and indeed for all citizens of Russia: the Court consolidated the two cases into one and made a decision on its admissibility. Karinna Moskalenko discussed with Novaya Gazeta what this all means and what steps the Russian government will now take to make sure the truth comesout.

Karinna, Novaya Gazeta has information that the European Court of Human Rights made a decision on the admissibility of the Nord-Ost victims' complaints. Isthis so?
Yes it is. Thisis not a decision on the merits of the governments' violations, but nevertheless it is a very important stage in the complaint. TheCourt acknowledged that our complaint is within its jurisdiction, and it will make a decision on allegations of violations of human rights. Decisions by the European Court are binding.
But did the European Court of Justice not already accept the complaint a long time ago?
Yes, and it has already been communicated to the government.
Communication is
This is the initial stage of the complaint, during which the Court sets before the two parties the petitioner and the government the substantive issues of the Court's coming decision.
The Court at this stage is already deciding on the admissibility of the described facts that establish the resolution. Forthis it has used information from the petitioners' complaints. Prior to this decision all the questions were put to the government, the government responded to the questions, and the petitioners were granted their inalienable right to comment on the government's responses or object as needed.
What happens after the stage of communication?
The Court prepares its decision. Buta decision on complicated cases, like this complaint, occurs in two stages. First the Court answers the question, is the complaint, or any of its points, admissible to the European Court? Thisis not a mere formality. Itis worth mentioning that a majority of complaints are not taken into consideration at this point. Thevast majority of complaints from Russia do not reach Court because complainants either did not exhaust all legal remedies in their country, or they exceeded the six-month window allowed for filing a complaint.
So, you have passed the first step on the admissibility of the complaint. Nowwhat?
Now, in the second stage, the Court will determine exactly what violations were committed by the state. Government representatives, and we, will be asked additional questions on the merits of the alleged violations. Thiscomplaint addresses so many issues that, frankly, have rarely ever been seen by the European Court. Theissues are grouped and divided into eight parts, and some parts even contain ten questions.
So, the European Court is still not clear on a lot of issues?
Yes, they are demanding explanations. Mostly from the government. Wecriticized the initial responses of the government, and this resulted in the Court formulating new, very important, and very significant questions. Aseven-judge chamber examined the Nord-Ost case, and one of the judges was from Russia.
And among the judges there is always a representative from the respondent's nation?
Yes, it is required.
It would be interesting to know what questions did the European Court put to the Russian government?
I have no right to speak on this precisely, because the Court requested that all lawyers on the case maintain confidentiality. Ishould note that confidentiality in this case is nothing but legal nonsense, because all the hearings on Nord-Ost in Russia were conducted in the open, and nothing was ever classified. This, of course, was an idea of the Russian government, it petitioned the European Court of Justice for confidentiality, and the Court, unaware of the true state of affairs, accepted the notion at face value. Ithink that speaks of a type of deliberate deception of the Court, and Ihave already sent the Court my views in this regard.
And why did the government do this?
The Government is trying to hide a number of facts in the case.
But this is illogical. Thecircumstances are all known. Isthere some failure of logic?
That is exactly the right way to put it. TheEuropean Court, however, shot down the authorities' logic. Ialready said in Strasbourg that the data was completely open source, and that all the trials were open. Nomatter how unpleasant the questions were that we raised in the Russian courts, the questions that the authorities tried to classify, and would still like to classify as secret, were stated and answered openly in Court. TheRussian courts, unfortunately, denied all of our complaints, and relatives, for example, still do not know how their loved ones were killed, and what was the impact of the substance they received.
Perhaps more than just the relatives have a right to know this?
Without a doubt. Itis socially important. Ina letter to the European Court, Iquoted the recommendation of the UN Human Rights Council, which stated that the UN Human Rights Committee considers that such issues should be thoroughly and independently investigated, and that the general public should know the results. Nevertheless, at some stage the government managed to persuade the European Court to classify the case, citing national security issues. Thisis despite, Irepeat, the fact that everything we are now asking the European Court, and about which Ido not now have the right to speak about in detail, has been a subject of examination in Russian courts of law.
Well then Iwill ask, what was the subject of the Russian courts?
Anna Politkovskaya in Novaya Gazeta wrote all about it in great detail, and for us it was enormous moral and informational support. Wequestioned the appropriateness of using the gas, the nature of the chemical substance, the reasons why the assault was launched, why this gas was used when it could not have prevented the terrorists from setting off their bombs, but could have provoked them into this response. Somehow the terrorists did not do this, and that is probably why this is a key issue. Andmuch, much more.
So, it turns out that the questions remain the same, and you have not moved very far?
How to say this? Youasked me the question: if everything in Russia is already known, then what is the point in asking the Court to classify it all? Inour law courts the Russian authorities received full satisfaction and agreement with their position, and all the victims' complaints were found to be unsubstantiated. Wewere denied everything, except the PROVISION OF ALL CASE MATERIALS. Since then the case materials ceased to be confidential. Now, with the European Court recognizing the admissibility of this case for consideration, the Russian authorities suddenly have become concerned that they will be found to be in violation.
And will the claims of the applicants be satisfied?
The problem there is not in the suits. Thisis not a lawsuit. Thesubject of the complaint is not material in nature.
The subject of the complaint is restoration of justice?
Absolutely. Ifyou speak the language of the European Court, this would be the finding of a violation, by the state, of the applicants' rights as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
I still cannot figure out, whom is the government trying to keep these documents from? TheCourt will still read all the materials.
From the Russian people. Ifthe issues, that my clients ask to be recognized, are found to be violations, then the face of the Russian government will not be very handsome.
But if this were recognized, then it would be irrespective of the degree of confidentiality?
Apparently, there is a desire to hide PRECISELY which issues in the case are considered to be violations. Ifthe European Court in its decision discusses someone's personal responsibility, then confidentiality will enable the government to not name names. Itmay even allow them to punish my clients and us, the four lawyers, if we disseminate it. Ihonestly cannot imagine that in such a case they would decide to classify this information. Inaddition, Icannot keep after all my clients, what should Ido, have them all sign non-disclosure agreements? There are more than sixty of them, and they are all outraged by the government's tricks.
So, if the whole matter remains classified, then, accordingly, all decisions on it, too, will be kept secret and we never know who were the high officials that gave the orders, and what resulted from those orders. Maybe this is the hidden meaning of government's action?
It is quite likely. I, unfortunately, do not exclude the possibility of the case becoming classified to the extent that it exceeds the necessary limits of confidentiality, but Ihope this will not happen, because we described in great detail and very clearly to the European Court the level of openness, which exists in the Nord-Ost case in its most sobering and poignant moments.
In general, you are opposed to attempts to once again tell the public as little as possible of the truth?
Yes. IfI had no restrictions in terms of privacy, Iwould very much like to tell our readers and all Russians where to focus their attention. TheEuropean Court put forward an unprecedented number of questions, and hit the nail on the head. Beyond a doubt, the Government's responses should be made public.
When can we expect this?
Since the time for the parties' responses to the Court's latest questions is May 31, Ihope that it will be no later than that date, and maybe sooner.
* Misprint, the complaint was filed in April of 2003

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