Appeal to the UN Commission for Human Rights
Dear Members of the Commission:
We appeal to you out of our profound concern for the life, safety, health, and dignity of hundreds of thousands of people in the armed conflict zone in Chechnya and THE adjacent regions of the Russian Federation, and for the future of democracy in Russia. The current armed conflict in Chechnya continues, and two years ago it acquired the nature of guerilla warfare.
Federal forces continue to subject the mountainous regions of Chechnya to artillery fire and aerial bombardment, and to conduct sweeps or "mop-ups" [zachistiki, or lit. "cleansings"] of population centers. The Chechen fighters in turn continue to attack military convoys and places where federal troops are deployed. Soldiers of the Russian army and agents of the Interior Ministry [the police] are dying from land-mines and shelling. Neither of the combatting sides want to concern themselves with the safety of civilians in their actions. Human rights are being grossly violated everywhere throughout Chechnya.
Russian official propaganda claims that the war in Chechnya is a component of the battle against international terrorism that the civilized world is now waging. The Russian leadership demands that the world community support the actions of Russian troops in Chechnya.
But the world community must know and take into account that the attacks, sabotage, and terrorist acts committed by the armed formation in opposition to the federal forces of the Russian Federation are being met with terror against the civilian population of Chechnya. These actions cannot be justified in any way. Using such methods only compromises the struggle with terrorism, and enlarges the support base for the fighters.
Now, when the battle against terrorism has been launched, the international community should clearly and unambiguously condemn the methods by which Russia is applying armed force in Chechnya.
The actions of the Russian armed forces often bear all the signs of a demonstrative action of vengeance aimed at the civilian population.
We will cite just three examples from the large number of such facts we have recorded in the last year:
November 29, 2001, Urus-Martan. A female suicide-bomber approached a group of soldiers, including the military commander of the district, and set off an explosive device hidden under her clothes. The commander and two soldiers were killed. Throughout December 2001, federal forces blew up a number of homes of families of people in Urus-Martan District whom they suspected of ties with the fighters. Before they blew up the houses, they would expel people from their homes and threw them on the street. Some of the males in these families were detained and taken to an unknown location. The bodies of four of those taken were later discovered with marks of torture and violent death (see Memorial Human Rights Center report "Using Terror Against Terror").
On January 8, 2002, a Russian soldier tripped up some land mines located between the villages of Chiri-Yurt and Novyye Atagi. Some soldiers who served with the soldier killed by the mine detained the first three men they could find, nearest to the villages of Staryye and Novyye Atagi. The next day, the mutilated corpses of two residents of Novyye and Staryye Atagi, Ruslan Shaipov and Mayor Musayev, were found on the outskirts of the village. The body of the third person detained, a 16-year-old resident of Novyye Atagi, was discovered by local villagers on January 17.
On February 12, 2002, near the village of Tsotsin-Yurt, a Russian armored vehicle exploded on a mine, two soldiers were killed, and one was wounded. That same evening, the outlying areas of the village were shelled with artillery fire, causing a man and woman to be killed (Saydali Davletukayev and Lyuba Davletukayeva); another woman, Zareta Davletukayeva and a two-year-old child were wounded.
No one was punished for such "revenge acts."
"Mop-ups" of villages continue to be accompanied by beatings of civilian residents, insults, and detention leading to the "disappearance" of people. Looting almost always takes place during these sweeps.
The word zachistka means a special operation during which a population center is blockaded, and without a prosecutor's warrant, and without witnesses, house-to-house searches are conducted by soldiers and police, and all suspicious persons are detained. Officially, these "sweeps" are called "special operations to verify the registration of persons according to domicile and to expose persons involved in unlawful armed formations."
Often during these sweeps, mass detentions are made of local residents. The detainees are taken to temporary "filtration points" located outside a city or village, where they are subjected to beatings and torture. In this way, federal forces try to get information about who in the village is supporting the fighters, where weapons are hidden, and so on. Often, these people detained end up "disappeared".
Soldiers behave crudely while engaging in these sweeps, they humiliate the villagers and sometimes beat them. Increasingly in recent months, these mop-ups have been accompanied by coarse mistreatment of women (Villagers interviewed are reporting sexual taunts, tearing of dresses, pushing, etc. apparently stopping short of rape. Cultural taboos usually prohibit people from reporting the rape of women. It is significant that increasingly, Memorial is hearing reports of such sexual harassment.). The looting that goes on during the sweeps is well-organized. The soldiers openly carry all the valuables out of peoples' homes and load them up into trucks. Often the soldiers extort money from the owners of the home they are checking, and threaten that they will take away all the young men of that family to a "filtration point" if they don't pay up.
The victims of such sweeps and the heads of the local government administration constantly appeal to official agencies with their complaints.
We cannot say the federal government has not reacted.
On May 24, 2001, Lt. Gen. V. Moltensky, Acting Commander of the Group of Forces in the Northern Caucasus, issued order No. 145, directed at reducing the scale of abuse and violence during the mop-ups. According to this order, the commanders of the divisions and sub-divisions of the federal forces, during the conduct of special operations in population centers, must cooperate with the heads of the local administration, the military commanders, and the heads of the village police departments. Prosecutors must be present during these operations.
In June and July 2001 in the villages of Kurchaloyev and Achkoi-Martan Districts, the usual sweeps were conducted, accompanied by violence, looting, beatings, murder, and disappearances. The requirements of Lt. Gen. Moltensky's order were not fulfilled.
There was a visible public reaction both in Russia and abroad. Afterwards, on July 25, 2001, the Prosecutor General of Russian issued order No. 46, in which for the first time, he acknowledged that the situation with compliance of human rights during sweeps was not good. Moreover, this order not only repeated some of the clauses of the order of Lt. Gen. Moltensky, it contained additional elements:
- to maintain a precise record of all those detained;
- to report accurately to whom and when the detainees were transferred;
- to notify relatives of the reasons for the detentions and the place of detention;
- to verify quickly complaints about violence against citizens, about looting, extortion, etc.
We know of only a few cases when sweeps were conducted under these rules. There are many more examples of non-compliance with these orders. Sweeps carried out after the Prosecutor General's order in a number of villages from August-October 2001 (Staryye and Novyye Atagi, Chiri-Yurt, Alleroi, Alkhazurovo) were carried out just as before with looting, destruction of property, beating of detainees, and disappearances.
Beginning in November 2001, the behavior of the soldiers during sweeps became even more brutal. Even Vladimir Kalamanov, Special Representative of the Russian Federation President for Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the Chechen Republic, was forced to admit this. Thus, on February 7, 2002, in an interview with Rossiskaya gazeta, he stated that "the last three troops' operations (December 2001-January 2002 in the villages of Tsotsin-Yurt, Bachi-Yurt, and the city of Argun) were conducted with an enormous number of violations." Special Presidential Representative Kalamanov even raised the question "why is it that we have people disappearing after each operation? These aren't phantoms, these are Russian citizens, local villagers."
We should note that earlier, Special Presidential Representative Kalamanov had said that detainees were supposedly not disappearing.
The presence of one or more officials from the prosecutor's office during the sweeps cannot significantly change the situation. Those who try to stop the commission of crimes often encounter strong resistance from the military. The Command of the Group of Forces in the Chechen Republic, as a rule, totally denies the facts of crimes committed during sweeps, and does not try to seriously investigate the reasons for what happens and to prevent the repetition of such crimes.
An example is the sweep of Tsotsin-Yurt from December 30, 2001 to January 3, 2002. On January 12, 2002, at a meeting with Lt. Gen. V.I. Moltensky, Commander of the Group of Forces in the Chechen Republic, members of Memorial Society turned over materials about murders, looting, and beating of civilians during the course of the "special operations." However, the Commander stated that he himself observed the conduct of the operation directly on the scene in Tsotsin-Yurt, and called the human rights activists' information "untrue".
Yet in February 2002, the prosecutor's office was forced to open up seven criminal cases, based on Memorial's materials about facts of brutal assaults by federal forces on the residents of Tsotsin-Yurt. Moreover, three cases of disappearances and murders of detainees were also opposed. Thus, the Commander either did not possess information about what was going on in the troops he commanded, or he was trying to cover up criminals.
The soldiers and police who enter the homes during the sweeps never identify themselves to the occupants, and they cover their faces with masks. The armored personnel carriers in which they travel usually have no license plates, or they deliberately smear the license plates with mud or paint. Accordingly, after the sweeps it is hard to identify who precisely committed the atrocities against the villagers.
Human rights organizations tried to get the federal forces command in Chechnya to take at least the following measures:
We must note with satisfaction, that on March 27, 2002 the Commander of the Group of Forces in the Chechen Republic issued an order, which at last required officials in charge of the special operations in villages and settlements to observe the abovementioned conditions.
However, serious improvement will only occur if wide-scale 'sweep' operations are curbed. For a year, government officials have repeatedly stated that in the near future, these wide-scale sweeps of cities and villages will be ended. But such actions, which spill over into collective punishment of the population, continue to this day.
Federal forces continue to brutally mistreat detainees and arrested persons in Chechnya
While the situation has improved in official detention areas for detainees and arrested persons (investigation isolation cells and temporary isolation lock-ups), the violence, brutality, torture and even extra-judicial executions have been transferred to other places – to the so-called "temporary filtration points" and unofficial places serving as detention sites for persons picked up [during military operations] which are located at areas where military units and special units of the Interior Ministry are deployed.
Temporary "filtration points" (The term "filtration point" is used by federal forces in Chechnya, including by Lt. Gen. V.I. Moltensky, Commander of the Unified Group of Forces in the Chechen Republic, at a meeting with representatives of human rights groups in the village of Znamenskoye on January 12, 2002) are usually set up outside villages and cities during sweeps. Detainees are transported here and interrogated here. The legal status of such "filtration points" is not defined in any way. There are no regulations governing the functioning of such "filtration points". Not a single law or regulation in effect which regulates the activity of facilities for holding people, or detention under guard or any other type of compulsory detention or limitation of the physical freedom of citizens, contains the concept of the "filtration point," and consequently, their creation is unlawful.
Besides harsh beatings, detainees are often tortured with electric shock (with the aid of special equipment) at these "filtration points". Most of those detained during "filtration" are usually released after a certain amount of time. Some of them are sent to temporary lock-ups and to investigation isolation cells. However, during many of the sweeps, federal forces transported some of the detainees with being jailed at federal military bases. The existence of unofficial, secret jails on army bases or in special units of the Interior Ministry provokes particular alarm. Those held in these places are not registered officially anywhere as either detainees or arrested persons. Most of those held in such places are kept in open pits in the ground. The people brought here are not logged anywhere, and it is from these places that people disappear.
The scale of trafficking in people in today's Chechnya is far greater than under Maskhadov's rule.
It has become standard practice for people to purchase the release of their relatives detained by federal forces through the paying of bribes.
People are disappearing in Chechnya. In most cases, they have not been kidnapped by bandits or terrorists, but on the contrary, are detained by those who are conducting "counter-terrorist operations," that is, the military and the Interior Ministry agents.
Often in Chechnya when a person is detained by soldiers, Interior Ministry agents, or Federal Security Service [FSB] agents, their relatives cannot find out about the reason for the detention, or the place of detention, or the charges being made, etc. for a long time. Of course it goes without saying that persons detained in this manner cannot make use of the services of lawyers.
Most of the disappeared persons are found in a few days, weeks or even months in investigation isolation cells or in temporary lock-ups. Unfortunately, there are many cases when the people detained by federal disappear without a trace. Sometimes, local villagers discover the bodies of persons previously detained with marks of torture or violent death. The following are several examples from a long list of such incidents:
A year ago, in the ruins of a settlement of dachas (cottages) known as Dachnoye, near the main Russian military base of Khankala, in a suburb of Grozny, a dump was found (no other word is suitable to describe this) of the bodies of victims of extra-judicial executions. According to the official version of the story, more than 50 bodies were found. Most of them bore signs of torture. About half of the bodies were identified by relatives. Memorial knows the names of the absolute majority of the persons identified, including four women. They were all detained not in military combat, but during sweeps and at checkpoints, at different times and different places.
Soon afterwards, in March 2001, another mass grave was accidentally discovered right on the territory of the military base itself. The bodies of four persons were found, who had disappeared the previous day during a sweep of the city of Argun. At that time, 11 persons had disappeared after being detained by military.
These examples, and many other analogous cases, prove that this is a question not of the isolated crimes of undisciplined soldiers, but about the existence of criminal organized groups within the state's power ministries, which function as "death squads".
Russian government officials promised a year ago to conduct a thorough investigation. However, those guilty of the atrocities have not been found in the last year. Worse, the machinery of death has not been halted. In the last year, people have continued to disappear during sweeps after being detained by federal forces.
Such disappearances have taken part as follows:
In the city of Argun (in March, April, December 2001 and in January 2002)
In the village of Tsotsin-Yurt (in May, June, September, October, December 2001 and in January 2002)
In the village of Kurchaloy (in June 2001)
In the village of Chiri-Yurt (in September 2001)
In the village of Alkhazurovo (in October 2001)
In the village of Chechen-Aul (in December 2001)
In the village of Gekhi (in January 2002)
In the village of Bachi-Yurt (in January 2002)
In the village of Proletarskoye (in February 2002)
In the village of Staryye Atagi (in September 2001 and in February and March 2002)
And the list could be continued.
Soldiers returned to relatives the bodies of some of those detained, the remains of others were founded by villagers, but most have disappeared without a trace.
People are kidnapped from their homes and during night raids by federal forces.
Thus in December 1991 alone, in Urus-Martan District alone, 16 people were detained and disappeared. Some of those who disappeared were held on the third floor of the district military command post, where the district department of the Federal Security Service is located. The bodies of four of these 16 persons, with marks of torture, were discovered by local residents at the fork in the road.
Murders continued this month as well.
On March 2, 2002, at about noon, while witnesses looked on, soldiers came in armored vehicles and seized four local inhabitants of Argun and took them to an unknown destination. Their names were Alpi Bargrayev, Beslan Bekhayev, Shamil Idrisov, and Alikhan Muzeyev. Within an hour, relatives filed written petitions with various officials, although no information about the fate of the detainees was received for two days.
On the morning of March 4, they learned that four bodies of persons killed were laid out in the courtyard of the military command post, with numerous bullet wounds. Relatives identified the bodies as those of the men who had disappeared two days earlier. Military officials said that these were fighters who had died in combat on the night of March 3-4. The military version does not hold up to criticism – and not only because of the discrepancy in the dates and the witnesses' testimonies. On all four bodies, the wrists bore marks of being wrapped with barbed wire while still alive, and there were signs of torture.
No one was punished for these crimes.
As before, at many checkpoints on roads, soldiers and police are openly extorting money from drivers of cars passing through.
We should also note that the joint patrol of Russian military and Chechen police at a number of checkpoints has reduced the incidence of violent abuses committed against civilians. Also, the reduction of a number of checkpoints in some districts of Chechnya also had a positive effect on the human rights situation.
The stabilization of the situation in Chechnya, the establishment of normal relations there between the population and representatives of the federal government agencies is impossible without a serious and objective investigation of the numerous crimes committed by soldiers and Interior Ministry agents and the FSB against the civilian population of Chechnya.
It must be noted that in the last year, there has been an increase in the number of criminal cases opened on evidence of crimes against civilians. This became possible only because of the pressure of international organizations.
However, for anyone who has objective information about the situation in Chechnya, it is entirely evident that the number of criminal cases of this type remains small by comparison to the number of the most diverse types of crimes committed by soldiers against the civilian population. Furthermore, in the absolute majority of cases, investigations have been suspended. The number of investigated crimes remains a small portion of the overall number of criminal cases.
Not a single investigation has been completed into the mass murders of civilians committed by federal forces in Staropromyslovsky District of Grozny, in Alkhan-Yurt, and in Novyye Aldy. Not a single case of a disappeared person has been investigated.
Not a single official who has led a sweep operation during which massive crimes were committed, has been made accountable.
In March 2002, the Chief Military Prosecutor of Russia reported that during the period of armed conflict in Chechnya, the military prosecutor's office had investigated 129 criminal cases about offenses committed by soldiers against the civilian population. As a result of these investigations, 30 soldiers were convicted and another 44 cases have been completed and turned over to the courts.
These statistics, at first glance, indicated successful work by the military prosecutor. However, if these are viewed within the overall context of the investigation of crimes committed by federal forces, the situation looks different.
The overall number of crimes committed by federal troops against the civilian population, subject to investigation by territorial and military prosecutor's offices, is enormous. Thus, according to V. Kalamanov's bureau, more than 23,000 people have brought complaints to his office, with a substantial number of them complaints about serious crimes. According to the statistics of another official Russian body, the Government of the Chechen Republic, the number of residents of the Republic who have disappeared in the armed conflict from 1999-2002 is at least 2000. Non-governmental organizations also have information testifying to the same thing, although it is not complete, for example the "Chronicle of Violence" kept by Memorial Human Rights Center has reports of the murder of 1,049 civilians from the period of July 2000-March 2000. The total number of criminal cases opened up by the prosecutor is a fraction of this total (i.e. about 100).
In the majority of cases, when the soldier perpetrators are not seized at the place of the crime or when there is no other indisputable evidence that the crimes were committed by the soldiers of a certain specific military unit, a criminal case is opened and investigated by the territorial civilian prosecutor's office. At the current time, the territorial prosecutor's office has many times more cases than the military prosecutor. Moreover, the territorial prosecutor's office does not have the possibility to interrogate soldiers or conduct investigations on military bases. Therefore, in the overwhelming majority of cases, investigators cannot manage to prove the link between the crimes committed and the army, Interior Ministry troops, or the FSB, with the degree of certainty required to compel the military prosecutor to take up the criminal case themselves. Thus, the military prosecutor can refuse to take cases where the investigation is made difficult or is undesirable for some other reason. Thus, the territorial prosecutor's office has about 400 cases of disappearances, but the military prosecutor has only 9. Furthermore, three quarters of such cases under the jurisdiction of the territorial prosecutor are suspended "in connection with the impossibility of establishing the persons who should be summoned as accused" – for that, in most cases, they would have to work with the military officers. The staff of the territorial prosecutor's office is clearly insufficient to investigate such a large mass of criminal cases, therefore effective work is almost impossible.
These difficulties – the artificial separation between the jurisdiction of the military and civilian prosecutors' offices and the insufficient staff and resources – could undoubtedly be overcome if the top leadership of the country had the political will to investigate the crimes committed against the civilian population and to punish the guilty.
Courts have begun to work in several districts of Chechnya.
The judicial system in the Chechen Republic has been partially restored, although it does not encompass all districts of Chechnya. Unfortunately, until now, the courts in the Chechen Republic have not been a full-fledged mechanism for protecting human rights. Some district courts are located far from the territories of their own districts, which, under the conditions of Chechnya today, creates significant hurdles for citizens. But the main insufficiency is that the courts in Chechnya are not fully staffed. Because of this, they can take for review only those criminal cases involving charges for crimes whose maximum sentence of punishment is not greater than five years. Thus, not a single criminal case on charges of abuse of office, murder, looting or other severe crimes committed as a result of the current conflict are not reviewed by the courts on the territory of the Chechen Republic.
In civil proceedings, judges can review citizens' suits for the recovery of material damage only for a sum not exceeding 9,000 rubles, which is the equivalent of 330 Euro. This means essentially that the majority of lawsuits for material damage caused by military operations as a result of conducting the "anti-terrorist operation" cannot be accepted by the courts of the Chechen Republic.
At its 56th Session, the UN Commission on Human Rights called on the Government of the Russian Federation to create immediately in accordance with recognized international standards an independent National Commission for the immediate investigation of the alleged human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law in the Russian Federation.
In response to these calls, a National Public Commission was created in Russia headed by the former Russian Minister of Justice, Pavel Krasheninnikov. Memorial Human Rights Center has sent all the materials we have available containing evidence of human rights violations and crimes against the civilian population in the Chechen Republic.
However, in our view, neither the procedure for establishing this commission, nor its composition, enable us to say that it corresponds to acceptable international standards for such national commissions. We do not know if this national commission headed by Justice Krasheninnikov has done anything concrete to investigate violations and to bring those guilty of atrocities to accountability.
Civilians in the Chechen Republic also suffer from the actions of the Chechen fighters. They often die from acts of sabotage aimed at Russian federal troops.
Here are three examples just from March 2002:
On March 5, in the area of the village of Belgatoi, a 62-year-old resident, Rustyom Zakayev, was killed by a home-made explosive device set by the fighters.
On March 8, in the city of Urus-Martan, fighters tried to blow up a car in which police officers were riding. None of the police suffered, but civilians who happened to be nearby, Rukiyat Bashtayeva, 90, was killed and Ibragim, her four-year-old grandson, was injured and another woman was brought to the hospital in critical condition.
On March 10, in Grozny, two soldiers were killed from an explosive device set by the fighters, and a woman who was nearby was also killed.
Some of the armed formations that oppose federal forces have used in combat the tactic of terror against anyone who speaks out for cooperating with Russian government agencies.
Fighters blow up the buildings of district administrations, they stage assaults on chiefs of administration of districts, cities, and villages. Today, the chiefs of the rural administrations in Chechnya are sometimes the only government agencies somehow defending the interests of the villagers.
Memorial Society Human Rights Center staff persons witnessed one of these attacks.
On September 10, 2001, near the village of Ilaskhan-Yurt, Makhkal Taramov, chief of the administration of Kurchaloyev District, and his deputy, Shaip Lomaliyev, were shelled from a passing car. At that moment another car overtook Taramov's car, in which five residents of the village of Tsentoroi. This car then wound up being shelled, and four of the passengers were killed, and the fifth was hospitalized in serious condition. Taramov himself was not hurt but his deputy and his driver were also wounded. It was not the first attack on Taramov.
According to Russian wire services, in March 2002 alone, two chiefs of rural administrations have been killed.
On March 20, the chief of administration of Gordali Nozhai-Yurt District was shot and killed.
On March 23, Akhmed Bokov, chief of the administration of the village of Katyr-Yurt in the Achkhoi-Martan District and his wife were shot to death while riding in their vehicle.
Members of the families of the local Chechen police, which are part of the Russian Interior Ministry, have died at the hands of Chechen fighters.
Thus, on March 20 in Grozny, the wife and foster daughter of Suleyman Alimkhanov, an officer of the Directorate of Interior, were shot dead in their home. Then, when several policemen came to the house to investigate, a mine set by fighters was blown up and several policemen were wounded.
Religious figures that are disliked by the fighters have also been attacked. People who speak out for cooperation with the federal government are murdered.
Thus on May 6, 2001, in the village of Tevzan in the Veden District, unidentified persons in masks killed seven local residents. Among those murdered were two school employees, Ramzan Ilyasov and Badruddi Akhmadov. All of those killed were known for their active pro-Russian positions. Some of them were murdered with particular brutality. For example, Vakha Israilov had his abdomen gutted with a knife, and his wife, who rushed to his aid, was thrown backward with such force that she knocked the back of her head on a bathtub and suffered head trauma.
As far as we know, terror against civilians is committed mainly by members of units belonging to the so-called "fundamentalist wing" of the Chechen armed formations. Barayev's band served as the most vivid example of such a formation. The subordinates of this field commander regularly committed murders of people they disliked in Barayev's native village of Alkhan-Kala.
For example, on April 18, 2001, some members of this band attacked a car coming out of this village in which Viktor Popkov, a human rights activist, was riding. Popkov was on a humanitarian mission in Chechnya, and was accompanied by a doctor, Roza Muzarova. The two were severely wounded; the driver sustained light wounds. On June 2, Viktor Popkov died in a military hospital.
But even after the destruction of the Barayev band and Barayev's own death in June 2001, fundamentalist fighters (for example, the Akhmadov group) continue to commit crimes against civilians.
For example on March 12, 2002, in the village of Goyty, Khamzat Gonchayev, 54, chief of the Council of Elders of Urus-Martan District, was shot to death at the gates of his home. He had actively proposed cooperating with the federal government.
It is abundantly clear that the actions of the federal forces are hardly effective in combatting terrorism and establishing peace and stability in the region. Morever, they are leading to the opposite result.
At the onset of the current conflict, a significant portion of the population of Chechnya, exhausted from the lawlessness and banditry, were prepared to accept the entry of the federal forces on the territory of Chechnya, as the lesser of two evils. People hoped that in the occupied territory, a regime would be established would bring about at least some sort of order and personal security.
But these hopes were not destined to be fulfilled. We have observed that the attitude of the population to the federal forces, which means to the Russian government as well, has become more and more negative. The reason for this is the abuse and violence unleashed by federal forces in the occupied territories.
We appeal to the Commission on Human Rights with the request to take the following measures: