On November 25, 2016 lawyers of the MEMORIAL/EHRAC joint project together with an expert from the Civic Assistance Committee filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in regards with the case of “Golyanovo slaves”.
The applicants are sisters Fatima Musabaeva and Aliya Musabaeva from Kazakhstan and two citizens of Uzbekistan, Gulzhanar Nazanova and Bakiya Kasimova. At different times between years 2004 and 2007 they worked in shops located in “Golyanovo” Moscow District but de facto they were held as slaves.
When these women arrived in Moscow, their documents were taken away. They worked from early morning till late at night, often without any lunch or sleep breaks. They were not allowed to leave the shop premises. They were fed rotten vegetables and old food. For any little “mistake” like not selling expired food they were beaten up. All four women were raped in the shop, three women gave birth, one of them had an abortion under the supervision of the shop owner’s daughter. When inspections came, all “slaves” were hidden in the warehouse or given someone else’s documents.
The shops’ owners were never prosecuted in Russia. The women know nothing about the progress of the proceedings in Kazakhstan.
In their complaint to ECHR the lawyers claim that the “Golyanovo slaves” had their rights violated under several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights: Article 3 (Prohibition of torture), Article 4 (Prohibition of slavery and forced labour), Article 8 (Right to respect for private and family life), Article 13 (Right to an effective remedy) and Article 14 (Prohibition of discrimination).
The applicants are represented in ECHR by Kirill Koroteev, the Legal Director at the Memorial Human Rights Centre, Civic Asssistance employee Anastasia Denisova, and Jessica Gavron and Joanne Sawyer, lawyers of the European Human Rights Advocacy Center.
In 2007 Fatima Musabaeva, an orphan born in 1988, was offered a job in Moscow. At that time she was having financial difficulties and thus agreed. She was allocated to a grocery shop. The shop owners took her documents saying they would be more secure in the shop safe.
Fatima would usually wake up at 6 in the morning, clean the shop, pack the goods, serve customers at the cash desk. The shop owner, Zhanar Musabekova, would watch her during lunch and make her quickly gulp down the food when she considered the break to be over. Fatima’s shift would usually end at 2 a.m., she then was allowed a few hours of sleep in the warehouse.
If Fatima didn’t sell expired food other employees beat her up on Musabekova’s order. For 2 years Fatima wasn’t let out of the shop.
In 2009 Fatima asked Zhanar’s husband Rashid Musabekov who was the second shop owner to pay her for the two years of work. Instead of paying her he ordered his employees to beat her up.
During inspections employees were forced to wait in the warehouse.
In 2009 Fatima managed to escape from the shop. She came to the police station and filed a report against the shop owners. The policemen contacted the Musabekovs who took Fatima back to the shop.
After that Fatima was raped several times by the shop employees. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy named Rinat in 2010. The Musabekovs threatened to deal with Fatima’s sister Aliya who was working in the same shop if she told anyone about the working conditions. When Rinat turned 4 months he was taken away from his mother.
In 2010 Fatima managed to escape once again. This time she went straight back to her hometown Shymkent where she contacted the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Moscow. The organization members filed a report with the police. Musabekov and the assumed victims were interrogated but the criminal case initiation was denied. This decision was appealed against several times, investigation was reopened but eventually discontinued.
With the help of Shymkent police Fatima managed to have her son returned to her.
In 2007 18-year old Aliya Musabekova followed her sister Fatima to Moscow. She got a job in the same grocery shop and gave her documents to the shop owners. When she tried to spend time with her sister Fatima the shop owners and male employees beat her up. Aliya worked in the warehouse unloading and packing goods. She slept in a small 4x4m room with 11 other women. During inspections Aliya was given the documents of one of Musabekov’s daughters. In 2013 Aliya was raped by Zhanar Musabaeva’s brother Nurlan. In April Aliya was taken back to Shymkent where she gave birth to a boy.
Gulzhanar Nasanova, born in 1980, was offered a job of a shop assistant in Moscow in 2005. She agreed. She started out as a cleaner in the Musabekovs’ shop, then worked as a loader in the warehouse and a cashier. If she couldn’t sell something Rashid Musabekov’s daughters forced her to stand in boiling water, dyed and shaved her hair. During inspections Gulzhanar was kept in a hiding place behind the warehouse fridge.
Gulzhanar was raped by her colleague Davren. She became pregnant and had an abortion in a private clinic under the supervision of the shop owner’s daughter Gaziza Musabekova. When Musabekova left the room the doctor tried to find out who Gulzhanar was and how she got all those injuries but there wasn’t enough time to get the answer.
In 2012 Gulzhanar managed to escape and go to Kazakhstan.
Bakiya Kasimova, born in 1978, was offered a job in Moscow in 2003. She left Uzbekistan for Kazakhstan to meet Zhansula Istanbekova, owner of several shops in Moscow and sister of Zhanar Musabekova. Bakiya was hired.
Bakiya’s passport was taken away allegedly to settle migration issues. She started working in a shop on Novosibirskaya street and was later transferred to 15th Parkovaya street. The shop owner promised to pay her once the whole work term was over.
Bakiya became pregnant as a result of rape and gave birth to a girl named Kamilla. The baby was taken away from her right away. Later Bakiya was told that her daughter died at the age of two.
After she gave birth, Bakiya continued to work in the shop. She was constantly beaten up and raped. Bakiya gave birth to another baby in 2007, this time a boy named Baurzhan. Zhansula Istanbekova provided forged papers to the maternity clinic and Bakiya was given Baurzhan’s birth certificate. The boy was taken away from his mother after the birth.
In 2009 Bakiya ran away. She went to a police station outside the Golyanovo district.
Police officers refused to take her statement and sent her back to Golyanovo in accordance with the shop’s location. Bakiya ended up in the shop again. She was able to escape once more only when activists who were filming proofs of working conditions came to the shop. Bakiya received help in the Civic Assistance Committee. She went through a medical observation and was diagnosed with PTSD.
In 2008 a group of residents of the house on Novoslobodskaya street where one of the shops was located complained to local officials about the shop’s irregular operations. On November 21, 2008 the Golyanovo district administration confirmed that the shop was working in accordance with the law and that local officials were requested to maintain order in the shop and surrounding areas. In 2012 the shop was inspected by the EMERCOM Agency.
On October 30, 2012 a group of activists and journalists alerted by the relatives of the “Golyanovo slaves” visited the shop and captured the working conditions on video.
As early as November 4, a criminal case was opened, presumably in connection with unlawful imprisonment of several people including Bakiya Kasimova. However on November 6, the prosecutor’s office canceled the investigator’s decision and sent the case for further investigation.
The case was reopened and sent back again and again. The applicants were not informed about the process. Only in the summer of 2015 they were granted access to the materials of the pre-investigation check. On June 3, 2015 the investigator once again refused to initiate a criminal case. The applicants were informed about it.
The decision was appealed to court. The court held that the proceedings should be closed. Appeal of the decision resulted in nothing.
There was an attempt to prosecute Zhansula Istanbekova and her husband in Kazakhstan. But the applicants still don’t know if the investigation produced any results.
Julia Orlova, Memorial HRC