Lapunov v Russia (third party intervention)
Maksim Grigoryevich Lapunov claimed before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), that he had been seized by police, unlawfully detained and tortured in custody because of his sexual orientation, and that no effective investigation into the matter had been carried out.
Mr Lapunov was abducted from his workplace in Chechnya. Over the course of nearly two weeks in March 2017, he was held incommunicado, threatened, subjected to an attempted sexual assault and repeated beatings, and forced by police to identify other homosexual men.
Russian authorities failed to provide him with the necessary personal protection, and, despite his repeated requests, failed to investigate the case or prosecute anyone. He eventually left Russia.
Mr Lapunov’s ordeal was consistent with wider reports (from NGOs and others) of organised and premeditated “anti-gay purges” led by public agents in Chechnya in 2017, reports which also highlighted the Russian State’s systemic failure to acknowledge the discriminatory nature of these actions.
REDRESS, together with other NGOs, submitted a joint third-party intervention on 16 April 2020.
The interveners invited the ECtHR to adopt the approach already taken by several international and regional bodies by making specific findings on the vulnerability of LGBTIQ+ persons and establishing that discriminatory motives can constitute an integral part of a violation of Article 3 ECHR itself.
The interveners also emphasised that, to be effective, the investigation of torture and ill-treatment based on prejudice should ensure that the discriminatory element of torture is examined and all relevant evidence gathered, such that the investigation can lead to the identification and prosecution of those responsible.
European Court of Human Rights (Chamber, Third Section), 12 September 2023.
The ECtHR held that the severe physical and psychological violence to which Mr Lapunov was subjected, which left him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, amounted to torture under Article 3 ECHR.
The Court identified various shortcomings in the conduct of the investigation, including a lack of independence, and also emphasised that States have “an additional duty to take all reasonable steps to unmask any bias motive”, which the State investigators had failed to do. These factors resulted in the investigation being ineffective, in violation of the State’s obligations under Article 3.
The decision is significant because it confirmed that Mr Lapunov had been subjected to “targeted violence solely on account of his sexual orientation”, and that no reasonable steps appeared to have been taken to investigate the role played by “homophobic motives” in his torture. Noting the background context of “anti-gay purges” which took place in 2017, the ECtHR concluded that the torture had been driven by discriminatory motives, in violation of Article 14 and Article 3.
REDRESS’s joint intervention had encouraged the Court to find that the discriminatory motive was an inherent part of Article 3 itself. However, the Court did not adopt this approach. Instead, the Court found that the Article 3 violation had been motivated by “homophobic attitudes”, and therefore was also in breach of Article 14.
The judgement can be found here: ECtHR Chamber judgment (12 September 2023)
Case name: Lapunov v Russia (Application no. 28834/19)
Court/Body: European Court of Human Rights
Date intervention filed: 16 April 2020
Current status: Decision reached
Date of final decision: 12 September 2023
Discrimination means treating someone less favourably based on a reason (or ‘ground’) protected by law, such as race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation describes a pattern of physical, romantic, emotional and/or relational attraction – or lack of attraction – to people of a particular gender, or to people regardless of their gender.