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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Russia Bungled Response to Moscow Hostage Crisis

(CN) - Russia was right to pump chemical gas into a Moscow theater where Chechen separatists were holding nearly 900 people hostage, but it must pay $1.6 million for bungling the rescue operation, Europe's human rights court ruled.

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights had considered the case of 64 survivors or relatives of those held hostage by Chechen separatists in the Dubrovka Theater for three days at the end of October 2002.

A group of Islamist separatists held nearly 900 people at gunpoint and threatened to blow up the theater unless the Russian government withdrew troops from Chechnya.

Russian police implemented a secret plan of pumping narcotic gas into the theater and then storming it. All terrorists were killed, and at least 125 hostages ended up dying as well.

A class of surviving hostages and their relatives alleged that disproportionate use of force and a poorly implemented rescue operation resulted in many needless deaths.

In a complaint filed with the rights court the year after the incident, the class also claimed that Moscow failed to adequately investigate the authorities on the issue.

The European Court of Human Rights shot down the government's assertion that all hostage deaths were natural, finding that use of the gas was a primary cause of death.

It also agreed with the survivors that the rescue operation was poorly prepared and coordinated.

Many hostages had died after the building was stormed because they didn't receive an antidote shot, were bottlenecked at a few hospitals for treatment, or choked on their own vomit because they simply were not lain out on their stomachs.

Although Moscow had thoroughly investigated the separatist perpetrators, it failed to examine its own role in the hostage deaths, the European Court of Human Rights ruled.

But the level of force in storming the Dubroka Theater was proportionate, the court added, saying it represented a "lesser evil" in light of the threatened terrorism.

The court awarded the 64 applicants around $1.6 million in damages, as well as $44,000 in expenses.

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