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Armenia Failed to Protect Conscript’s Right to Life, ECHR Rules

Armenian authorities did not take appropriate steps to protect military conscript Suren Muradyan’s life while he was in their care and have subsequently failed to carry out an effective investigation into the circumstances of the soldier’s death, according to a European Court of Human Rights ruling issued on November 24, which has obliged Armenia to pay the soldier’s family 50,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

The case against Armenia had been filed by Hrachik Muradyan, a native of the village of Baghramyan who alleged that his son had died as a result of ill-treatment by his superiors while in the army and their failure to provide him with proper medical help. The applicant also accused Armenian authorities of failing to protect his son’s life while he had been under their care as a military conscript.

According to the application, the soldier had sustained a fatal injury to his spleen as a result of multiple episodes of ill-treatment by higher ranking military officers at his unit. The authorities, however, did not investigate these circumstances; moreover, they did everything to cover up the case, suggesting that the soldier had sustained his injuries as a result of an “accidental light blow” and putting forward a fake diagnosis of malaria as a factor to the death.

“[…] Suren Muradyan died as a result of an injury to his spleen which initially resulted in its sub-capsular rupture and later in a full rupture and acute bleeding. It appears that medical negligence may also have contributed to his death. As regards the fatal injury, the authorities carried out an official investigation into this fact and concluded that it had been sustained on 21 July 2002 when officer V.G., during a public argument with Suren Muradyan, briskly shook his hand, as a result of which their hands – apparently accidentally – hit or touched the left side of Suren Muradyan’s abdomen and caused the sub-capsular rupture of the spleen. The Court, however, has doubts about this explanation of Suren Muradyan’s fatal injury in view of a number of serious flaws in the conduct of the investigation that led to those conclusions,” the ruling said.

“[…] The investigating authority, having interviewed a number of witnesses, obtained evidence suggesting that Suren Muradyan had had a conflict with two officers of the same military unit, V.G. and D.H. The conflict had started with an argument on 21 July 2002 because of an allegedly stolen watch and Suren Muradyan had been given a deadline to comply with certain demands and had allegedly been threatened that he “would get into trouble” and “would be punished” if he failed to do so. Furthermore, a few days later, apparently when the deadline expired, he was taken by those officers on several occasions to the headquarters, including officer K.Z.’s office, where the threats allegedly continued. This also appears to be the period when Suren Muradyan started to feel unwell. Despite all this evidence which pointed to possible wrongdoing on the part of officers D.H., V.G. and K.Z., they were not immediately isolated and were not questioned until two, three and ten days later respectively.

“[…]The investigating authority, while having eyewitness evidence suggesting that there had been no obvious acts of physical abuse in respect of Suren Muradyan during the argument of 21 July 2002, nevertheless chose to focus its attention primarily on that argument without making any serious attempts to clarify the circumstances of Suren Muradyan’s subsequent visits to the headquarters. No detailed questions were posed to the officers in an attempt to inquire about any possible ill-treatment to which Suren Muradyan might have been subjected during those visits. The denial of any ill-treatment on their part was readily accepted without further inquiries,” the Court observed, noting that authorities did not actively pursue the ill-treatment hypothesis, even after obtaining evidence suggesting that at least two of the three implicated officers, namely D.H. and K.Z., had been involved in episodes of violence.

More on the case – here.