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Bring Human Rights Home: A Story from Russia

14 July 2021

Women get justice for their destroyed mountain village

“Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by the law” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 8

Sitting on the couch are Aminat Supyanova, Dzhmilya Gadzhieva, Dzhamilya Patimat Kamilova and Napisat Patakhova. They are four determined women from Vremennyi, Dagestan. With full intensity they explain they just had to speak up; that officials cannot get away with everything, just because they have power.

It all happened in 2014, the year that the Olympic Games were held in Sochi. Russian authorities were running many counter-terrorist operations. Vremennyi, a small mountain village, got subjected to a particularly aggressive one.

Women as live shields

The day it took place, Aminat was at work and got a panicked call from her neighbour. The village had been surrounded by armed military, and Aminat’s children were at home, terrified. When she got to the village, officers shouted at her and told her to leave. She refused. As the chaos increased, they started pushing women in front of them while searching the houses with guns.

All residents got evicted. It would be one-and-a-half months before they were allowed to return. Everything was destroyed. Their vegetable gardens were ruined and their animals had gone. Walls were torn down and valuable items taken, including TVs, computers, lamps, even the electric sockets.

Aminat and the four other women went to Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, to request financial compensation. But nothing got paid. Stunned and frustrated, they went to “Human Rights Center Memorial” for legal support. One of the lawyers, Marina Agaltsova, helped them to try and open a criminal case. They applied for compensation for all the damages, but this was denied. They then filed a lawsuit against inaction. Eventually, they applied to the European Court of Human Rights, addressing the countless human rights violations during the operation.

Nothing would stop them
In between court cases, the women received threatening messages. They were told to stop or they would be put on a list of dangerous terrorists. Their courage and the legal support being given motivated other villagers to come on board. Eventually, 128 of them joined. Together they sent letters to multiple authorities and threatened to block the Gimry tunnel. Their collective action had an impact. After almost five years, they finally got some compensation.

Marina explains that without the assertiveness of the locals they would not have succeeded. These five ‘true mountain women’, as she calls them, showed their determination was stronger than their fear. The legal journey is not over yet – many villagers still don’t have enough to repair their homes – but their first success is promising.

Authorities claimed as result of the operation, they arrested two terrorists and found four bunkers. Residents of Vremennyi say they have never seen any proof of this.

Watch the story here.

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