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Rights group appeals to Russian government over houses destroyed in special operation

21 December 2017

Russian rights group Memorial has appealed to the Russian government on behalf of 130 families who lost property in a special operation three years ago. The families, from the village of Vremenny in Daghestan’s Untsukul District, have been seeking compensation for houses damaged and destroyed as well as possessions which went missing.

Marina Agaltsova, a lawyer from Memorial, is representing the victims.

The special operation, which damaged houses and other property in the village, was conducted from 18 September to 26 November 2014. According to Memorial, security forces forced the majority of residents to leave the village during the operation. When they were allowed to return on 26 November, many found that their homes had been badly damaged or completely destroyed, and property had gone missing or been damaged.

‘They found the village devastated: remains of animals rotting on the ground, mountains of rubbish everywhere, the whole village was overrun. There was no water and no electricity. Both real estate and other property was severely damaged’, the appeal to the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev reads.

The villagers have been fighting to receive compensation for stolen or destroyed property ever since.

According to them, for three years ‘they have been forced to shelter with their relatives or friends and repair houses at their own expense’.

‘Considering the upcoming election, the three-year neglect of the authorities has created an extremely dangerous situation, which does not contribute to a favourable perception of the current authorities among the affected villagers’, the appeal reads.

According to Russian law, the victims are entitled to compensation.

‘The military should know where the property went missing’

According to Memorial, there are over 900 people eligible who have gone without compensation. Agaltsova says that only five families initially applied, but by the time of the appeal this had grown to 130. In the following days, another eight families signed on.

‘There were number of meetings on this case, there were a lot of promises, but they’ve done nothing for the victims in these three years. People are completely dissatisfied and do not want to wait anymore’, Agaltsova told OC Media.

She says that compensation for residents of Vremenny consist of two components: compensation for houses and for other property. The amount of compensation for other property, like household appliances, was set immediately after the operation on 26 November 2014, when the villagers were allowed to return. They were accompanied by the authorities who evaluated their losses.

‘In these documents, it’s indicated that if the property was fully lost, ₽100,000 ($1,700) per person was allocated. For example if there are 7 people in a family, compensation was ₽700,000 ($12,000). These documents were signed by 16 members of the [compensation] commission. In July 2017 the administration of Untsukul District finally signed these documents and took them to the Regional Ministry for Emergency Situations and the Interior Ministry’, the lawyer says.

Compensation for real estate requires the government conduct specialist evaluation, but Memorial says only three applicants of 138 have had their property evaluated.

On 18 January 2017, five of them appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

‘We appealed to the ECHR because our rights to private life and property rights were violated. [The military] practically broke into the houses of people and destroyed them. Some property went missing. Here’s the question: who took them? Meat grinders, TVs — where did they go? There were only soldiers in the village. They should know where all the property went missing’, Agaltsova says.

The  case has not been given priority and so the ECHR will not rule on it for some time. However, Agaltsova says the applicants still hope to win the case over Russian authorities.

The government has 30 days to respond.