Beslan ruling: Moscow slams ECHR’s claim that more lives could have been saved

The Strasbourg court has ordered Russia to pay almost €3 million in damages to the families of the victims of the terrorist attack in Beslan in 2004, but the Kremlin says some of the court’s findings are “theoretical” and “unacceptable.”

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia failed to minimize the casualties among hostages during the September 2004 crisis, when a group of some three dozen terrorists armed with firearms and explosives seized a school full of students in the city of Beslan.

The majority of judges agreed that Russia’s security forces “had contributed, to some extent, to the casualties among the hostages” by using heavy weapons when the three-day stand-off abruptly escalated into a bloody battle.

Two judges disagreed with the majority opinion, saying that the use of force during the Beslan siege was “absolutely necessary, and it was applied as a last resort in exceptional circumstances in order to remove the actual threat.”

The ECHR also unanimously claimed that more could have been done to prevent the Beslan seige because Russia had intelligence warning that a hostage taking terrorist attack was possible and because terrorists had previously carried out assaults on schools in Chechnya. It also found that the operation to end the Beslan siege had been poorly planned and executed and blamed Russia for failing to properly investigate how the victims had died.

The ruling awarded €2.995 million ($3.14 million) in damages plus legal costs to the 409 plaintiffs in the collective action case.

Commenting on the ruling on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov challenged the court’s contention that Russia had failed to act to prevent the terrorist attack. He also said the ECHR’s assertion that the number of victims could have been reduced was “purely theoretical” and “absolutely unacceptable.”

Terrorists trying to force Russia to relinquish its sovereignty over the Chechen Republic launched the terrorist attack on Beslan school on September 1, 2004, capturing over a thousand hostages.

After three days, the tense stand-off escalated into a chaotic battle that ended in one the bloodiest tragedies in Russia’s modern history. The death toll included 334 victims, of whom 318 had been hostages, including 186 children.