Women’s rights in Russia's North Caucasus: between “national traditions” and “ordinary” m urders

In February 2018, the European Court of Human Rights awarded €20,000 in compensation to Khava Bopkhoyeva from the village of Galashki in Ingushetia. Her daughter Zaira was 19 when she was taken to hospital and diagnosed as having been poisoned by “unknown substances”. The girl fell into a coma as a result of impaired oxygen flow to the brain.

A couple of months previously, Zaira had been bride-kidnapped on her way home from college. Though bride-kidnapping is banned – at least on paper – in Chechnya, it is still practised in Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
Honour killings are not a ubiquitous phenomenon, of course. But they do exist, and they’re justified on the basis of tradition, which renders any discussion around women’s rights absurd. Furthermore, there has been a recent tendency to make allowances for “national traditions” even in court, especially when it comes to post-divorce custody decisions. We’ve witnessed many cases of Ingush and Chechen women being forcibly separated from their children. So many, in fact, that one is tempted simply to focus on those where everything ended happily.

Having reviewed Elita Magomadova’s appeal, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in April 2018 that her right to family life had been violated and awarded her €15,000 in compensation for moral damages. This marks the first time that a case concerning familial relations in Chechnya has been resolved in such a senior court.

Elita’s son was returned to her only in 2016, three years after the boy was kidnapped and relocated from Moscow to Chechnya by her ex-husband.

Elita did her best to put up a fight. But the Russian court ruled again and again that the child would remain with his father. Even after the latter was killed in a road accident, his relatives still refused to give the child back to her mother. Though Elita managed to win the case following numerous legal proceedings, the court bailiffs spread their arms in a gesture of helplessness: we cannot find the child! Desperate now, Elita appealed to the ECHR, which sent an inquiry to Russia. As was to be expected, however, our country failed to recognise that any rights violation had taken place. The court’s decision not to return the kidnapped child to her mother and leave him in the care of his father’s family was explained with reference to “the national idiosyncrasies of child-rearing in Chechen families”.

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