Russia Ordered to Pay Owners of Demolished Buildings

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Russia must pay damages to a couple whose property was confiscated and demolished to make way for a municipal building, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday.

The Strasbourg-based court didn’t accept Russia’s claim that because the demolition was carried out by a nongovernment entity, it couldn’t be forced to compensate them.

The grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

Despite strict measures to combat the spread of Covid-19, the court, abbreviated as the ECHR, is still issuing decisions for cases it heard before the restrictions were put in place.

Mayrbek Abiyev and Nadezhda Palko owned three buildings in the center of Argun, a city located in the Chechen Republic, a semi-autonomous area that is federally administered by Russia.

The Chechen Republic, also known as Chechnya, has long been a place of upheaval. It has had a contentious relationship with both the Soviet Union and Russia. The First Chechen War broke out in 1994, when parts of the region declared independence from Russia. That conflict ended with a peace treaty in 1996. The region is largely Muslim and the Second Chechen War broke out in 1999 when Islamic fighters declared independence from Russia. By 2009, the Russian military defeated most of the insurgents.

In 2010, following the Second Chechen War, Chechen authorities set up the so-called Reconstruction Headquarters, which brought together representatives from the Chechen government, the city and local businesses to rebuild parts of Argun. The plan they came up with involved demolishing certain buildings to make way for new construction.

The buildings belonging to Abiyev and Palko were quickly destroyed and the land was confiscated for a new municipal building. Two years later, local officials made the couple a resettlement offer, but they turned it down.

They then filed a lawsuit against the Russian government, requesting compensation for their property. The government, however, argued that the Reconstruction Headquarters was not a government entity and therefore it couldn’t be held liable for the damages. Following several appeals, the case was ultimately dismissed by the Chechen Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the ECHR rejected the Russian government’s argument that a sufficient remedy had been offered to the couple in the form of relocation.

“The compensation to be granted for material damage must correspond to the full value of the goods in question at the time of the expropriation, updated and accompanied by interest if necessary,” the seven-judge panel held in a ruling only available in French.

The court awarded a total of 103,750 euros ($111,778) plus legal fees to Palko. Abiyev, her husband, died in 2016.

The ECHR was established by the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the civil and political rights of those living in its 47 member states. It is considered a court of last resort, so applicants must first exhaust their options in their national courts before filing a complaint.

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