European court faults Russia on handling of Beslan siege

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Moscow failed to take steps that could have averted a 2004 hostage siege in the Russian town of Beslan in which more than 330 people died. The Kremlin said the ruling was "unacceptable."

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A woman grieves at a wall filled with photographs of siege victims at school N1 in the town of Beslan in September 2004.

Russian authorities breached European human rights laws when they stormed a school seized by separatist militants in 2004, contributing to the deaths of more than 300 hostages, the continent's rights court ruled on Thursday.

Among the more than 330 dead were at least 180 children. A further 750 people were wounded when security forces used "tank cannon, grenade launchers and flamethrowers" while trying to free more than 1,000 hostages at the school in the southern Russian town of Beslan.

This, said the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, "contributed to the casualties among the hostages" and did not respect the hostages' "right to life" by failing to restrict lethal force to what was "absolutely necessary."

The court ordered Russia to pay 2.955 million euros ($3.14 million) in damages and 88,000 euros in legal costs.

Russia criticised the ECHR ruling. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the finding "absolutely unacceptable."

Chechen rebels stormed the school on September 1, 2004, beginning a three-day hostage crisis.

The rebels were demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the war-torn republic of Chechnya.

They rigged the gymnasium of the school with explosives and packed more than 1,100 hostages inside, including around 800 children.

The court stated that although Russian authorities had information that a possible terror attack was being planned, they did not have sufficient measures in place to disrupt the plot.

 "The authorities had been in possession of sufficiently specific information of a planned terrorist attack in the area, linked to an educational institution," the court said in its judgement.

"Nevertheless, not enough had been done to disrupt the terrorists meeting and preparing."

It added that "insufficient steps had been taken to prevent them travelling on the day of the attack; security at the school had not been increased, and neither the school nor the public had been warned of the threat."

Russian authorities brought the siege to an end on September 3 when security forces stormed the school.

The case was brought by more than 400 Russians who were either involved in the incident or whose relatives were taken hostage or killed.

TRT World's Dana Lewis has more.

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies