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The Government of the Russian Federation v. Akhmed Zakaev

Court Bow Street Magistrates' Court, Great Britain (UK)
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 23 November 2003
  • The Government of the Russian Federation
  • Akhmed Zakaev
Categories Torture
Keywords Extradition; internal armed conflicts; judicial cooperation; law of armed conflict; torture
Other countries involved
  • Russian Federation
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Akhmed Zakaev was an envoy of the Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Zakaev was arrested in the UK in 2002 and his extradition was requested by the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation alleged that during the First Chechen War (1994-1996), Zakaev committed murder, wounding, false imprisonment (imprisonment not made in accordance with the law), and conspiring. On 13 November 2003, the Bow Street Magistrates' Court declined to extradite Zakaev because the Court feared he would be subjected to torture and would not receive a fair trial if he would be brought back to the Russian Federation.

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Procedural history

On 25 October 2002, the Russian Government issued a request to Interpol to secure the arrest of Akhmed Zakaev, a high-profile Chechen separatist leader and envoy of the former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.

On 30 October 2002, Zakaev was arrested in Copenhagen where he was attending the World Chechen Congress. The Denmark's Justice Ministry declined the Russian Federation’s request for extradition for lack of evidence.

On 5 December 2002, Zakaev was arrested in the U.K. The Russian Federation requested the extradition of Zakaev in respect of some thirteen allegations of conduct which, had it occurred in the U.K., would have amounted to the offences of soliciting persons to murder, three counts of murder, two counts of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, one count of false imprisonment, and six counts of conspiring with others. The particular offences occurred during a fighting in Chechnya in 1995 and 1996.

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Related developments

Following the decision of the Bow Street Magistrates' Court in 2003, Zakaev was granted political asylum in the U.K. In 2010, he went to Poland to attend the World Chechen Congress (a meeting of Chechen exiles), where he was arrested by the Polish authorities. The Russian Federation subsequently requested his extradition.  A district court in Warsaw decided not to consider Zakaev’s extradition to the Russian Federation, which was confirmed by the Court of Appeal of Warsaw in 2011.

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Legally relevant facts

The First Chechen War was a conflict that took place from December 1994 to August 1996 between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. In December 1994, the forces of the Russian Federation entered Chechnya in order to prevent Chechnya's effort to secede. The two years of fighting, characterised by numerous human rights violations, ended with the signing of a peace agreement.

In 1997, Zakaev became the first Deputy Prime Minister of Chechnya.Throughout 2001 and 2002, Zakaev acted as a peace envoy.

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Core legal questions

Could Akhmed Zakaev be extradited to the Russian Federation?

Would Akhmed Zakaev receive a fair trial in the courts of the Russian Federation?

Would Akhmed Zakaev be subjected to torture if he would be brought back to the Russian Federation?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Extradition Act 1989,  United Kingdom:

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Court's holding and analysis

In the course of its analysis, the Court first held that the formalities of the European Convention on Extradition were met, and that thedocumentation provided by the Russian Federation was properly authenticated and certified (p. 1).

One of the issues raised by the Defence was that ‘killing of combatants in war would not amount to the crime of murder’ (the offence of murder can only take place during the currency of the Queen's peace), and therefore, it was not a crime for which a person can be extradited. The Court stated that there was an internal armed conflict in Chechnya in 1995 and 1996 which would fall within the Geneva Convention. Therefore, the Court held that ‘those crimes which allege conspiring to seize specific areas of Chechnya by the use of armed force or resistance are not extraditable crimes because the conduct in those circumstances would not amount to a crime in this country’ (p. 1). However, the Court held that the unlawful killing of civilians could amount to murder, because ‘the alleged victims in those cases should have had the protection of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention in so far as they were civilians’ (p. 2). Therefore, the charges of murder and conspiracy to murder were upheld by the Court.

The Defence further claimed that extradition should be denied because of abuse of process. The Court held that by virtue of the European Convention on Extradition, there is ‘a presumption that any trial in Russia will take place fairly’ (p. 3). However, taking into account the delay in bringing the proceedings (7 years), the evidence given by witnesses, and the deep concern of both the Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee and the United Nations Committee Against Torture over the alleged torture of Chechens by the Russian authorities, the Court concluded that the request for extradition was made for purposes of prosecuting Zakaev ‘on account of his nationality and his political opinions’ (pp. 3-6).

Accordingly, the Bow Street Magistrates' Court declined the request for extradition and discharged Zakaev.

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Further analysis

J. Hall, ‘"Empty Promises:" Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard against Torture’,Human Rights Watch, April 2004, Vol. 16(4), pp. 29-30.

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials

Judge rejects bid to extradite Chechen rebel leader’, The Guardian, 13 November 2003.

‘Court rejects Chechen extradition’, BBC News, 13 November 2003.

‘Russian Federation/UK: UK court decides not to extradite Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev’, Amnesty International, 13 November 2003.

A. Rodriguez, ‘Top Chechen envoy avoids extradition’, Chicago Tribune, 14 November 2003.

A. Cowell, ‘Russia Loses Fight Over Chechen's Extradition’, The New York Times, 14 November 2003.

UK judge rejects Russia’s bid to extradite Chechen leader’,, 14 November 2003.

K. Murphy, ‘British judge refuses to extradite Chechen envoy’, Los Angeles Times, 14 November 2003.

Chechen granted UK asylum’, CNN, 29 November 2003.