Closure For Victims And Families Of Beslan School Siege, Thirteen Years On

Thirteen years after the Beslan School siege, the Russian Federation has signalled its willingness to comply with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) April ruling that Russia used disproportionate force to end the attack. Accordingly, the state will pay €3 million in damages to 409 victims and family members involved in the 2004 hostage crisis and subsequent massacre in the North Caucasus Republic of North Ossetia, Southern Russia. On Tuesday, September 19th the Russian Justice Ministry made the announcement, marking an end to a drawn-out quest for justice by the survivors of the siege, who hopefully may now be able to seek closure on the traumatic event.

Russian cooperation comes only as a result of failed attempts to appeal the ECHR finding that concluded the state had failed to respect the right to life, using disproportionate lethal force to end the siege, and thus contributing to civilian casualties. Yet neither side has conveyed satisfaction with the resolution. Speaking on behalf of the Beslan Mothers Committee, Sergei Knyazkin said, “Three million euros in compensation is not enough, because you cannot measure the death of children in such figures.” At the same time, official reactions in Russia portray Russia as a victim of terrorism, as well as being subject to anti-Russian sentiment from the ECHR.

Russian fulfilment of the ECHR report findings is a positive and conclusive step in the protracted conflict resolution process subsequent to the atrocities that occurred during the siege. However, the process as a whole should be seen as an antithesis of post-violence procedure for a state. The timespan that it has taken for a resolution to come about has further negatively impacted those affected by the siege, as the process of reconciliation and healing has not been able to take place. This is particularly harmful when many of the victims are children, as the life of these individuals can become subsumed by the violent event. The official investigation, which stalled then absolved authorities of any fault in the outcome of the siege provoked survivors to apply to the ECHR.

On September 1st 2004, 1,100 school children, teachers and parents were taken hostage by Chechen militants, who sought to use terrorism as leverage for Chechnya’s independence. After three days, violence escalated and Russian security forces sought to end the siege, resulting in 334 civilian casualties, including 186 children. The school infrastructure was completely destroyed due to the weaponry employed by both sides, and many survivors have suffered psychological harm from the attack. The event took place in the context of the Second Chechen War, with the liberation group Riyadus-Salikhin lead by Shamil Basavev claiming responsibility for the attack.

Although Russia’s compliance with the ECHR ruling is a positive and conclusive step in addressing the grievances of the victims of the Beslan School siege, true attempts at reconciliation and peace have taken too long. The human impact of the violence that ensued in 2004 has been unnecessarily lengthy. Institutional reforms were introduced in North Ossetia following the incident, however, this is often of little meaning to those directly harmed by violence. The mother of a young girl who lost her life in the siege asked, “Why do I have to turn to foreign institutions to find the truth? We are patriots.” Going forward, the Beslan School siege should serve as an example of the importance of resolving the grievances of those who have been victimized by violence, to minimise the harm and allow a process of healing to begin.