Middlesex University's European Human Rights Advocacy Centre has played a part in the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Russia failed to protect the life of a military conscript.
Mikhail Perevedentsevy was found dead during his mandatory military service in the Russian army in February 2004.
Mikhail's parents, the applicants in the case Perevedentsevy v Russia (No. 39583/05), were represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) based at Middlesex University and the Russian NGO Memorial, based in Moscow.
They were awarded €40,000 in damages.
In May 2003 Mikhail was drafted into the army for two years' service in the Nizhniy Novgorod Region. In subsequent months he sent letters to his parents describing forms of abuse he and other fellow new recruits were enduring at the hands of the senior conscripts (under the 'dedovshchina' system' or 'rule of the grandfathers') including beatings, deprivation of sleep and referred several times to him owing money to the 'Dedy' (senior conscripts). On 16 February 2004 he was found dead with a noose around his neck.
Criminal proceedings for incitement to suicide were opened on the same date by the Military Prosecutor's Office. A post-mortem revealed he died from strangling which he could have carried out himself with the noose. A psychological and psychiatric post-mortem report established that he had 'psychological peculiarities' which may have influenced his suicide and that he may have been frightened of returning to his garrison, or that he may have committed suicide following a breakup with a girlfriend. In April 2004 the investigation was discontinued owing to lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. The investigation was reopened and suspended on several occasions. His parents' requests to see the case files, and for victim status, were granted in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Proceedings were finally discontinued in 2010.
The applicants argued that his death and the ensuing inadequate investigation violated the right to life (Article 2) and the right to an effective investigation (Article 13) under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Russian Government claimed they could not have foreseen that Mikhail would commit suicide and could not have taken any measures to prevent it, and that the death had been properly investigated.
The European Court concluded that as the domestic authorities had been aware of his psychological difficulties, evidenced by a document written by an army commander which revealed he was considered to be at the highest risk of a nervous breakdown, and considering the endemic culture of 'dedovschina' in the Russian Army, that they failed to take the necessary measures to protect his life. Although the investigation was carried out independently, proceedings lasted over six and a half years and were marked by "substantial delays" which were unexplained, and there were a number of discrepancies and omissions in the investigation. Therefore it could not be considered an effective investigation, also in breach of Article 2. The Court saw no need to examine the issue separately under Article 13 of the Convention.
Middlesex Professor Philip Leach, Director of EHRAC, said: "This tragic case of the death of a teenage boy performing his military service, reveals the extent of the physical and psychological abuse suffered by military conscripts as a result of the 'dedovshchina' system, which the European Court has found is endemic within the Russian armed forces."
More information about the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre can be found here.