Report dedicated to the next round of EU-Russia consultations on human rights

 

 

Combat on Terrorism and Human Rights in the North Caucasus

 

April-October 2008

 

 

Terrorism represents a real threat in contemporary Russia. The state has not only the right but the obligation to combat terrorism. However the events which unfolded in the North Caucasus (primarily in the Chechen Republic) in the fall of 1999 do not fall under the definition of “counter-terrorism operation” (CTO), as the Russian government claims. This is an armed conflict of non-international character (According to Protocol II of Geneva Conventions), during which large-scale military operations took place, involving capture and control over large territories. Both sides to the conflict violated norms of humanitarian law and human rights.

 

Methods of application of force which were chosen by the leadership and security services of the Russian Federation resulted in mass fatalities and grave violations of human rights in the region. Indiscriminate use of force, use of weapons of indiscriminate effect in settlements, intentional attacks on civilian population and civilian objects, mop up operations in towns and villages, illegal detentions, illegal prisons, torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances, hostage-taking and repressive actions in respect of relatives of fighters, impunity for committed crimes- all this refutes the arguments about counter-terrorist essence of the operation in Chechnya. From the very beginning the operation has been carried outside the legal framework and we should be rather speaking of large-scale state violence.

 

In the recent years the level of military confrontation has significantly reduced. Armed units of Chechen field commanders have suffered great losses, part of fighters took up jobs at security services of the Russian Federation. As a result many Russian officials announced victory in the Chechen Republic. Clearly this makes them come to the conclusion  that the above mentioned “methods of combat on terrorism”  are acceptable and can be applied elsewhere.

 

Contemporary legislation of the Russian Federation provides the officials responsible for combat on terror with unacceptably wide powers. Thus, the Federal law “On countering terrorism” allows to announce the regime of CTO on any territory. The law does not stipulate the necessity to define any, even most approximate limits to “the territory of CTO”. The borders of the “territory of CTO” are being defined by “the head” of the operation; it is not clear who appoints him (the law does not specify this) and he is accountable only to the director of Federal Security Service (FSB). Will that be one house or half of Russia is being decided by this unidentified “head”. Unlike the regime of emergency situations, the timeframe for CTO is being established “for the period of the operation”. None of the elected organs have the mandate to stop CTO or to extend it in time.  At the same time the limitations of rights and freedoms, stipulated by the CTO regime, are to a significant extent identical to the limitations imposed during the emergency situations regime.

 

Even having such enormous powers, the Russian officials permanently and systematically violate norms of law prohibiting illegal violence. Such practice is clearly supported by the highest authorities of Russia. Personnel of security services enjoy lack of control and impunity. Agencies of prosecution do not stop human rights violations, moreover, not infrequently themselves act as perpetrators of law. 

 

Presently in the North Caucasus the Russian state is confronted with armed underground, which resorts to terrorist methods in their combat. State security services in their turn pursue the policy of state terror. 

 

 

This year the number of casualties among Russia’s federal security services and military personnel rose over the summer period (when the activity of the militants is always intensified) in comparison with the same period of the preceding year[1].

Below you can find the data obtained by way of summing up the available casualties data of Russia’s federal security services and military personnel published in the media for the period of the three summer months (every summer we observe a significant intensification of the activity of the militants)[2].

 

 

Total in three summer months of 2008

 

Killed

 Injured

Chechnya

33

70

Ingushetia

29

75

Dagestan

11

13

Kabardino- Balkariya

9

11

Total

82

169

 

The summer 2007 number of casualties among Russian military officers and policemen serving in the conflict zone was given as 61 killed and 132 wounded, while the summer 2006 figures were 83 killed and 210 wounded. This undoubtedly means that in 2008 the number of fatal casualties has, sadly enough, reached the same level as it was two years ago which was the period of high activity of Basayev and Maskhadov. Special emphasis should also be given to the fact that the total casualties figure in the small republic of Ingushetia has for the first time ever surpassed the respective figures in Chechnya – 104 and 103 respectively.

This tendency had already been mentioned in May by the Commander General of the United Task Forces in the North Caucasus Major General N.I.Sivak. According to him, the number of casualties of the United Task Forces had not dropped in comparison to the first months of the previous years, on the contrary, a certain rise had been registered.

 The militants’ tactic was to avoid direct collisions, instead they opted for ambush attacks and mine detonations. Not being able to control any patch of the territory for a long time, they chose to occupy individual villages for a few hours accompanying their actions with various acts of intimidation – arsons targeting mainly governmental buildings, households of police officers and state authorities, violent attacks on and executions of government officials. The period from April to October 2008, had seen 5 such incidents of villages being occupied by the militants in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Representatives of the Russian Ministries of Defense and of Interior claim that the intensification of the militants’ activity in Ingushetia and Dagestan is allegedly due to the militants having been ousted from Chechnya. This, however, is not true. The armed groups opposing the Russian Federation have established a “grass-root” underground consisting mainly of local people in a number of the republics of the North Caucasus (the Republic of Chechnya, the Republic of Dagestan, the Republic of Ingushetia, the Republic of Kabardino-Balkariya). This becomes quite clear if we analyze who were the people killed in armed clashes with security servicemen and who was arrested in connection with participation in illegal armed groups.

Since autumn 2007 a radically religious extremist wing has  taken over the leadership of the militants, which makes it a principle to no longer limit the field of its activities to the territory of the Chechen Republic. There are many reasons for this, including the ignoring of mass human rights violations in the region by Western democratic governments. However, for many ordinary members of the militant underground the reason for joining armed underground is the simple desire to revenge for the unlawful violence committed against themselves or their family members, relatives, or acquaintances.

The rise in the number of terrorist attacks committed against representatives of the state authorities in Ingushetia is the direct consequence of the grave violations of human rights in the course of the fight against terrorism. The arbitrariness of the security and military forces stirs up indignation of the local people. The authorities suppress all peaceful and legal protest actions. The opposition has been deprived of any opportunity to address the society and the authorities using legal democratic means.

This, in turn, only contributes to the alienation of the society and the authorities,  and strengthens the support base for the armed underground. Citing the intensification of the militants’ activity as an excuse, various security and military authorities and forces have deployed a tremendous scale of uncontrolled activity in the region, often acting absolutely independently of each other and without proper coordination of their operations. This, in the end, plays into the hands of the armed underground. It is usually impossible to understand who is moving around in cars without number plates or keeping surveillance from such cars – the security forces or actually the militants themselves.  

 In August 2008 Memorial Human Rights Center published a report "Ingushetia: New Methods of Anti-Terror: A  License to Kill?". According to this report, a new tendency has emerged over the last 18 months for the personnel of security and military services to eliminate persons suspected of participation in illegal armed groups rather than detain them during special operations theoretically aimed at detention of such persons. In many cases eyewitnesses claim that the killed persons did not resist detention, moreover the officers had not even made any attempt of detaining them. In 2007 alone 26 persons suspected of participation in illegal armed groups were killed that way. Only three of them were said to have offered some kind of resistance to the law enforcement forces. In all the other cases we have sufficient evidence to believe that the suspects were killed in an imitation of fight. In the period from January till August 5, 2008,  Memorial has information about 26 people killed in Ingushetia, 12 of whom did not offer any resistance at the time of their allegedly attempted detention, according to eyewitnesses. Not infrequently representatives of security services plant the weapons to the killed right in front of the witnesses.

The overwhelming majority of crimes (with a tiny and marginal exception) committed by the representatives of the state authorities during counter-terror operations in Ingushetia remain unpunished. Here are few examples of such cases.

Not a single criminal case into the fact of abductions of civilians by officers of the security and military structures has been investigated. Nobody has been charged with criminal responsibility for the violations of the local resident’s rights in the course of the so-called counter-terrorist operations, for example, for the mass beatings of the residents of the village of Ali-Yurt in the course of a mop up operation on July 28, 2007.

No criminal proceedings have been initiated into the fact of the extrajudicial execution of Apti Dalakov in the town of Karabulak on September 2, 2007.

 A criminal case was initiated into the fact of the murder of the detained Murad Abdul-Kadyrovich Bogatyryov on September 8, 2007 at the district police department of the city of Malgobek, pursuant to Article 203 (Exceeding of Authority), yet the inquiry has been suspended "in connection with impossibility to identify person(s) to be charged with criminal responsibility".

 A criminal case has also been opened into the fact of the murder of the 6-year-old Rakhim Amriev on November 9, 2007 in the course of a special operation in the village of Chemulga, yet no-one has to date been charged with criminal responsibility.

In these circumstances the sinister term of "civil war" increasingly comes into use In his most frank interview to the Grani.Ru television project, Magomed Khazbiev, one of the leaders of the legal Ingush opposition gave his perspective of the situation: "Quite ordinary fellows choose to go out at night and avenge their brothers by eliminating anyone representative of security services whom they happen to come across".

In the Chechen Republic, despite the claims of the authorities that comprehensive stabilization has been achieved, they are unable to fully suppress the armed underground. The totalitarian system which has in practice been introduced in the republic has met with a strong protest reaction of a significant part of the younger generation.

 The Commander General of the United Task Forces in the North Caucasus Major General N.I.Sivak admitted in his interview that "the number of militants hiding in the mountainous regions of Chechnya is still quite large". And their ranks mostly consist of young people.

 On July 24 the President of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov held a meeting with the heads of local administration, the heads of the district police departments and the religious leaders of the republic which was dedicated to the situation of the Chechen youth. According to media reports, Kadyrov had among other things said: "It is not a secret that many of our civil authorities and directors have kin ties to young men who have gone into the woods. I know that they continue to maintain contact with them and even supply them with food sometimes. I am warning you: should such young people not be made to return home within 10 days from now, all chiefs and directors will go on trial. I forbid you to bury those, who are waging a war on us. If I only learn that someone from those in the woods  has been buried in any of the villages, no one will retain their position, be they a police chief, a head of administration or an imam of any mosque."

Possibly as a results of that meeting in early August the authorities of Argun, the third largest city in Chechnya, issued a resolution on the expulsion of the families of fighters from the city. On August 4, armed men arrived to such households and without presenting themselves ordered the family members to move out immediately. Two families succumbed to pressure and did actually leave. However, on August 6, apparently, having received respective orders from above, the mayor of the city spoke before the relatives of the young militants, this time not resorting to threats of expulsion, but attempting to persuade them in every way to make young people return from the woods.

 

Another method of exerting pressure on relatives were arsons of the houses of the families of the fighters. Memorial Human Rights Centre has information about 17 cases of such arsons taking place during the summer of 2008.

 

Over a number of years abductions and enforced disappearances ranked among the most widespread human rights violations in the North Caucasus region (primarily, in Chechnya and, to a lesser extent, in Ingushetia and Dagestan). In 2007 the number of instances of such crimes dropped drastically. However, since May 2008  Memorial has recorded a new rise in the number of such cases in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Over the period from May to September 2006 we have registered 23 cases of abductions. In most of cases there was serious evidence to suspect the involvement of state agents in the abduction. Four of the abducted people were found a few days later by their families in district police departments. By that time, the policemen would had already managed to obtain “confessions” from the people kept there resorting to illegal means and coercion. 11 of the abducted people were subsequently released by their abductors. 8 of the abducted people have disappeared without a trace.

Over the previous 5 months of 2008  Memorial has recorded 8 cases of abductions in Chechnya, only one of the abducted persons has disappeared without a trace. The rest of the victims of these abductions and their family members refused to provide Memorial with any details of what happened to them in detention. This is a widespread phenomenon in Chechnya, which indicative of the level of fear penetrating the society with regard to uncontrolled arbitrariness and impunity of the security forces.

In Dagestan cases of abductions and torture of local residents were mainly linked to the work of the Department for Combat of Organized Crime and the Department for Combat of Extremism and Criminal Terrorism of the Dagestan Ministry of Interior. In private conversations the officers of the above-mentioned agencies do not even attempt to conceal that they are resolved to continue "fighting terrorism" using illegal methods and violence as their means.

If before June 2007 the majority of people abducted in Dagestan would disappear without a trace, nowadays the usual situation is that the detained are discovered by their relatives within a few days of their disappearance in one of the district police departments or investigative detention facilities. By that time, the "temporarily disappeared" person would normally already have "confessed" to his involvement in terrorism-related crimes.

The practice of ‘temporary disappearance’ of suspects is characteristic not only of Dagestan but of other republics of the North Caucasus.

 

As a rule the security services try to obtain confessions  from  a “disappeared”  person usually with application of cruel beatings an torture. At this point defense lawyers are not being provided to suspects or a ‘lawyer on duty’ is being appointed who does not file complaints related to application of torture in respect of his defendant,  does not demand medical assistance to his client if necessary or forensic examination in order to document torture. At this point the relatives usually do not yet know about the whereabouts of the detainee and they cannot hire him an independent lawyer. Even in cases when the relatives do invite another lawyer, he is being denied access to his client until all necessary documents are being signed by the suspect.  Documentation regarding the date of detainment of such person are being backdated and oftentimes the official date of detainment is several days after the actual date when detainment took place.

 

Even if the lawyer knows that illegal methods have been applied to his client, he oftentimes would not send appeals about cruel treatment, being afraid for his or her own security. Very few individual lawyers dare to confront this system, but their complaints are being turned down, and their appeals to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation to the Ombudsman of Russia or to Member of Russian State Duma are left without attention.

 

Evidence provided under torture later becomes the main evidence of the suspect’s guilt in court. Even if the case is being processed by Jury trial, according to the Russian Criminal Procedural Code the issue of unacceptability of evidence is decided in the absence of Jury (article 335 of the Criminal Procedural Code RF). Judges prevent lawyers and the accused to raise the issue of torture and evidence provided as a result of it in the presence of Jury. Not knowing that the confessions have been provided under torture the Jury has difficulty passing a fair judgement.

 

Such a system leaves little chances for fair punishment of perpetrators and acquittal of innocent. Complaints sent by lawyers to federal supervision authorities are being forwarded to the republican supervision authorities, who cover violence and arbitrariness of law-enforcement agencies and security services.

 

Since summer 2008 we observe a new dangerous tendency. People and organizations who speak openly about human rights abuses in the North Caucasus are being intentionally attacked and persecuted.

On August 3 2008 in Grozny, unidentified armed men abducted kidnapped Mokhmadsalah (Mokhmadsalors) Denilovich Masayev. He had already been abducted earlier in 2006 in Chechnya and spent 4 months in an illegal detention facility. In March 2008 he was recognized as a victim in a criminal case opened into the fact of this kidnapping. Mr. Masayev had appealed to a number of human rights organizations (Memorial, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch) asking for their assistance in his efforts to achieve justice. On July 10, 2008 he gave an interview to Novaya Gazeta in which he accused Ramzan Kadyrov of implication in his illegal arrest and detention in a secret prison. Currently, the whereabouts of Masayev are unknown, as is his fate. However, from their conversations with officers of the police, his relatives have been able to infer that Mokhmadsalah was detained upon orders from the republican leadership. We have every reason to believe that his disappearance was a revenge on him for his refusal to succumb to pressure, like many others did, and openly demanding investigation of the violations committed against him.

On July 25, in Ingushetia, unidentified representatives of security services abducted the editor of the website of the MASHR human rights organisation Zurab Tsechoyev. Six hours later he was thrown out of a car and left lying on the road. Tsechoyev had suffered severe beatings and had to undergo a long course of treatment in hospital. By the end of the summer, the human rights activist was still hardly able to move around on his own because of the injuries he had sustained. According to his words, the abductors were beating him while hurling accusations of having allegedly posted on the Ingushetiya.Ru website lists containing addresses of the local law enforcement officers. Tsechoyev strongly denied his implication in such a publication, however, the abductors continued to subject him to torture demanding to know who exactly had passed on those lists to the website editorial board. A few hours later, having understood that Tsechoyev knows nothing about the matter, the abductors threw him out of the car onto the road, having previously demanded that he quits his work for the human rights organization.

  A criminal case was opened on this fact, yet the criminals have not to date been identified.

On August 12, the Moscow Municipal Court definitively banned the opposition website Ingushetiya.Ru on the pretext of its publishing materials containing extremist views and appeals. The site regularly published information on human rights violations in the course of counter-terrorism operations in Ingushetia. The court has ordered all Internet providers to block access to this website.

On August 13, 2008, near the office of the MASHR Human Rights Organization in the town of Karabulak in the Republic of Ingushetia, unidentified persons subjected to fire the leader of this organization, Magomed Mutsolgov. Fire was opened from a car driving without a number plate, almost point-blank yet above Mutsolgov's head. According to the latter, at least one person of those inside the car was wearing a police uniform. It is quite clear that the attack was nothing less but an open act of intimidation.

On August 31, the owner of the Ingushetiya.Ru website Magomed Yevloyev was detained by the police at the airport of the city of Magas in Ingushetia. Less than half an hour later he was shot in the temple inside the police car. This became the most scandalous and the most brazen crime committed by the authorities over the recent period. Currently, the investigation on the criminal case on the fact of his murder has been completed and it has been submitted to the court. Charges were brought up against the head of security guard of the Ingush Minister of Interior pursuant to Article 109 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Infliction of Death by Negligence). We have every reason to doubt the objectivity and the impartiality of the investigation.

In Dagestan, a campaign aimed at discrediting the human rights organization "Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights" was launched in spring 2008. This human rights organization is known for having given publicity to cases of abductions, torture and fabrication of criminal cases as well as for demanding from the authorities proper investigation and punishment for those guilty.

Newspapers quoting anonymous sources inside the law enforcement services, claimed that this organization had links with the militants, and provided deliberately false and misleading information about the members of the organization.

Representatives of the state authorities and the security forces have repeatedly attempted to intimidate the activists of this organization threatening with initiation of criminal proceedings against them or their relatives. The threats went beyond mere words. The family members and  friends of some of the activists had become victims of criminal prosecution. We know of cases of application of torture and fabrication of criminal cases against such people. One of such cases has already "fallen apart" and the defendant, Ilyas Dibirov, who was charged with participation in terrorist activities, was acquitted by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Dagestan. However, in September Dibirov again came under surveillance carried out by unidentified persons travelling in cars without number plates. It should also be noted that in the course of the investigation of the case against Ilyas Dibirov, threats against him had been repeatedly voiced by officers of the Ministry of Interior claiming that even if he would be acquitted by the court, they would find a way of taking him out into Chechnya and executing him there extrajudicially.

In summer 2008, the Chernovik newspaper came under persecution for having repeatedly written about the unlawful methods of anti-terrorist operations in Dagestan. One of such publications (the article entitled "No 1 Terrorists") claimed that the cause of the recent expansion of the terrorist underground lies in inadequately and unjustifiably cruel and indiscriminate methods employed by the authorities not only towards the actual terrorists but towards all the religious young people in the republic. In July the newspaper received a warning about the inadmissibility of extremist conduct and in August criminal proceedings were initiated against its editor-in-chief Nadira Isayeva pursuant to Part 2 of Article 280 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Code Public Appeals for a Forcible Change of the Constitutional System of the Russian Federation with the Use of Mass Media) and Part 1 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Incitement of National, Racial, or Religious Enmity). The grounds for such charges was the fact that among others the article quoted a piece of a statement by one of the leaders of fighters who referred to the topic discussed.

Over the period from April till October 9 the European Court for Human Rights has delivered decisions in 11 new cases concerning the applications from residents of Chechnya. All of these cases concerned human rights violations committed in the course of counter-terrorism operations.

Thus, the European Court has made 37 decisions in the cases of complaints from residents of the North Caucasus regions (Chechnya and Ingushetia) who suffered during the counter-terrorist operation. All decisions, accept for one, were in favor of the claimants.

In these decisions, ECHR has proclaimed Russia guilty of violating the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. ECHR has ruled that Russia was guilty of indiscriminate and disproportional application of force, abduction of people by state agents, disappearances of detainees, torture, summary executions and fatalities of civilian population as a result of explosions on landmines planted by military servicemen, destruction of property.

What measures are being taken by Russian authorities to implement the ECHR decisions?

 

Applicants are given monetary compensations in time and in full. Investigations into criminal cases are being reopened, but are being carried out formally and drag on for no good reason.

None of the officials who were clearly involved in perpetrating crimes have gone on trial. The whereabouts of people whose abduction by state agents was recognized by the ECHR have not been established. No amendments to normative acts outlining security services’ actions in areas of internal conflicts (anti-terrorism legislation, charters of armed forces). Meanwhile, the need for such changes results directly from some ECHR decisions.

Over the past years some applicants have been subject to pressure from authorities after they made their complaints; some were threatened and a few of them were abducted or killed.

 

 

Recommendations:



Peace and stability are inseparably linked to human rights issues. A clear illustration of this obvious truth is the situation in the North Caucasus.

 

Peace and stability there (which also includes the respect for the inalienable human rights) in the long-term perspective can be achieved only through political reform that ensures the formation of the authorities in the subjects of the Federation on the basis of the people's will. This political reform is not possible without an end to the suppression of the opposition and the violation of the freedom of speech.

 

Unreasonable restrictions on holding rallies and demonstrations must be removed. An integral part of such reform must also become a real fight against corruption.

 

However, it is clear that such policies can be implemented only if there is a political will in the Kremlin, and they should not be limited to the North Caucasus but should address all regions of Russia.

Currently, the Russian federal authorities lack this political will.

 

Therefore, now we can talk about only the first and minimally necessary steps.

 

These minimal steps should be measures aimed at ending the massive and systematic violation of human rights by law enforcement agencies, especially the Ministry of Interior and Federal Security Service of Russia, and removing climate of impunity for crimes against civilians, which is still prevalent in the North Caucasus.

 

Such measures should include the following in particular:

·         Carrying out adequate investigation into cases of human rights violations and bringing the perpetrators to accountability.

·         Having the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation conduct a comprehensive review of the activities of enforcement agencies and the prosecutor’s office in the region. In particular it is essential to look into all cases relevant to the participation of individuals in illegal armed formations, which have been investigated in those republics, and send those cases in which there is evidence of torture and illegal pressure against defendants for re-investigation and re-trial.

·         Putting an end to the widespread practice of “temporary disappearances” of detained persons. In order to decrease the risk of torture as well to guarantee the legal rights of the family members of the detained, it is essential to ensure that relatives of the detained or arrested are speedily informed on their whereabouts.

·         Instructing members of federal and local enforcement agencies and security services about the absolute necessity of respecting and observing human rights within the framework of their activities as well as about the accountability for following criminal orders of superior instances and employees.

·         Ensuring the compliance of the state counter-terrorism activities, both on the level of normative acts and on the level of practices, to the international human rights standards and the international humanitarian law, including the European Convention for Human rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Geneva Conventions, and the Council of Europe Guidelines on Human Rights and the Fight against Terrorism.

·         Providing adequate legal and judicial protection and due compensation to victims of human rights violations.

·         Effectively guaranteeing access to places of temporary and pre-trial detention for representatives of international humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC, in order to visit prisoners on conditions acceptable to those organizations.

·         Cooperating with the human rights protection mechanisms and agencies of the Council of Europe and the United Nations, including the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Commission and the treaty bodies of the Council of Europe and the UN.

·         Effectively cooperating with the Council of Europe Committee for Prevention of Torture.

·         Extending the necessary assistance to Russian and international human rights organizations in their human rights monitoring work in the North Caucasus. Cooperating with such organization in eliminating the climate of impunity and improving the human rights situation in the region.

 

 



[1] This data is taken from website “Voine net”  http://voinenet.ru/index.php?aid=17124

[2] These numbers are incomplete. We do not know how many injured people subsequently died, moreover, not all cases of attacks and explosions are reported by security services to media.