Friday 15 December 2017

Russians 'failed to act on intelligence' to avert Beslan school massacre

Corpses outside the school in Beslan after the 2004 siege that left more than 300 people dead. File photo / AP
Corpses outside the school in Beslan after the 2004 siege that left more than 300 people dead. File photo / AP

Roland Oliphant in London

RUSSIA has been ordered to pay €3m in compensation for "serious failings" in its handling of the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis, which ended with more than 300 civilian deaths, more than half of them children.

The European Court of Human Rights said in a ruling yesterday that Russian security services failed to act on intelligence to prevent the attack, had run a poorly organised response, and used heavy weapons that contributed to the civilian death toll. The Kremlin said it would appeal the ruling.

The Beslan siege began on September 1, 2004, when heavily armed Chechen terrorists took more than 1,000 people hostage at a school in North Ossetia, a republic in the Russian North Caucasus, and demanded Russian forces withdraw from neighbouring Chechnya.

The siege, during which hostages were held for more than 50 hours in the school sports hall underneath bombs wired to basketball hoops, ended in a chaotic fire-fight on September 3 after two bombs exploded and Russian special forces stormed the building. More than 330 people, including 180 children, were killed.

Yesterday's ruling concluded a case brought by 409 survivors and relatives of those killed.

The court said Russia's failure to prevent the attack amounted to a violation of Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life.

Its judgment found that authorities had been "in possession of sufficiently specific information" that a terror attack was being planned but "not enough had been done to disrupt the terrorists meeting and preparing" and security at the school had not been increased.

It added poor organisation of the rescue led to "serious flaws in decision making" and that Russia had used more deadly force than necessary including "tank cannon, grenade launchers and flame-throwers".

Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, dismissed the court's criticism. "Such hypothetical assessment is hardly acceptable," Mr Peskov said.

"All the necessary legal action regarding this ruling will be taken."

Meanwhile, international organisations urged the Russian government to investigate reported abuse and killings of gay men in Chechnya.

The respected Russian newspaper 'Novaya Gazeta' reported earlier this month that police in the predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya have rounded up more than 100 men suspected of homosexuality and that at least three of them have been killed.

Chechen authorities have denied the reports, while the spokesman for the region's leader Ramzan Kadyrov insisted there were no gay people in Chechnya.

A statement released yesterday by the United Nations' High Commissioner on Human Rights called upon the Russian government "to put an end to the persecution of people perceived to be gay or bisexual . . . who are living in a climate of fear fuelled by homophobic speeches by local authorities."

Separately, Michael Georg Link, of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said yesterday Moscow must "urgently investigate the alleged disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment" of gay men in Chechnya.

After two separate wars in the 1990s, predominantly Muslim Chechnya became increasingly conservative under late president Akhmat Kadyrov and his son Ramzan.

'Novaya Gazeta' also reported earlier this month that Chechen authorities are running a secret prison in the town of Argun where men suspected of being gay are kept and tortured.

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