REPUBLIC OF CHECHNYA, ARGUN
"DISAPPEARANCES" OF DETAINEES
"DISAPPEARED" FOUND IN UNMARKED GRAVES
In discussing events in Chechnya recently, the Russian media regularly touches on the problems of political regulation, returning refugees and rebuilding the economy.
We believe that the fundamental problems here are neither economic nor political. The most important issue in Chechnya today is one of human rights and, above all, the most basic human right of all, the right to life.
People are disappearing in Chechnya. They are not being kidnapped by bandits, but are being detained by the very same members of the federal armed forces who, according to official reports, are in Chechnya to establish constitutional law and order.
The Government of the Republic of Chechnya has a list of over 1,200 people who have disappeared without trace. More recently the even higher number of 2,000 has been quoted. The Chechnya Interior Ministry has more than 700 investigations open on people who have disappeared without trace. The Public Prosecutor has around 400 criminal investigations going on into the "disappearance" of people. Moreover, none of these lists claim to be complete and they are continuing to grow (see appendix, "How people disappear in Chechnya").
Chechnya currently has a population of about 600,000 people, in relation to which 1,000 or 2,000 is a huge number of people to disappear. For the equivalent to happen in the mega polis of Moscow several tens of thousands of people would have to disappear; about as many, as "disappeared" and were shot in the "great terror" from 1937 to 1938.
We shall try to show how this is happening by using as an example the town of Argun. All of the problems of Chechnya as a whole can be found in Argun. Like a fragment of a hologram, the situation in Argun represents a small-scale copy of the overall situation.
So-called "mopping-up" operations are regularly carried out in Argun. During these operations, people "disappear" and are killed and robbed.
People "disappeared" during the "mopping-up" operation in the middle of last December. Federal troops arrested four policemen on 15 December 2001, who then disappeared.
"Disappearances" and killings accompanied the next "mopping-up" operation at the start of January 2002 (see the appendix, "'Mopping-up' Operation in Argun, 3 to 7 January 2002").
The most recent "mopping-up" operation took place here at the end of February and there were no such similar excesses. In the words of the regional public prosecutor, Timshin, he "put one of my men in each armoured personnel carrier". In other words, the presence of observers from the public prosecutor's office had an effect. However, on the last day of the "mopping-up" operation, some soldiers, described by the public prosecutor as "just passing through", took away one of the local residents, who then "disappeared".
A NEW GRAVE IN ARGUN
Sometimes people are "found". On 2 March, another man was found in Argun who had "disappeared" during a "mopping-up" operation a year ago.
Yashurkaev Abdul-Vakhab Sulimovich, born 1940 and a resident of Argun, was arrested during a "mopping-up" operation carried out by federal troops in Argun between 11 and 14 March 2001 and "disappeared". In total, 11 people disappeared after being detained in the operation.
On 13 March 2001, in Khankaly, the main federal military base in Chechnya, a grave was found containing the bodies of four of the 11 "disappeared" from Argun. The bodies all bore signs of a violent death and the military prosecutor opened an investigation (No. 14/33/0132-01) into the discovery.
The Argun inter-regional public prosecutor's office for the Republic of Chechnya opened an investigation on 23 March (No. 45031) into the kidnapping of these 11 people under Article 126, paragraphs (a) and (g) of the Russian Criminal Code (kidnapping of two or more people by a number of people acting by prior agreement). On 11 May 2001, the investigation was transferred to the military prosecutor's office (v/ch 20102).
The relatives of those who had disappeared made enquiries with various official bodies, but were unable to obtain any information on A-V.S. Yashurkaev.
In March 2001, rumours circulated in Argun that the bodies of the rest of the "disappeared" were buried near a grain elevator. However, no grave was found and it is likely that this information was put about by members of the federal armed forces.
One year later, the relatives finally obtained details of the grave near the elevator.
On 2 March 2002, three bodies were exhumed. One of them was identified as that of Yashurkaev Abdul-Vakhab Sulimovich. On 3 March 2002, the remains of A-V.S. Yashurkaev were handed over to his relatives.
How A-V. Yashkuraev was found
On 28 February 2002, some youths who were minding cattle not far from the grain elevator on the edge of Argun noticed that some stray dogs were digging in the ground and trying to drag something out. On closer inspection they realised that it was a human leg. They went immediately to the commandant's office and told the women there, who passed the news on to people who were searching for missing relatives. A crowd soon gathered around the commandant's office, demanding that a search of the site be carried out. As there was no visible response from the public prosecutor's office, the crowd stayed there from 1 to 2 March. Only at 4.00pm on 2 March were they invited to identify the bodies. According to the public prosecutor from the inter-regional public prosecutor's office, Rostislav Viktorovich Timshin, it took almost three days for sappers to open a way through to the burial site.
There they found three shallow graves no more than 50 centimetres deep. Two had been exposed, obviously by the dogs. Bones had been picked bear and the skulls were missing. Also, no clothes were found. The corpse in the third grave was well preserved. Zalpa Yashurkaeva identified her husband, Yashurkaev Abdul-Vakhid Sulimovich (born 1940) from surgical scars. He had been taken away by Russian soldiers during the "mopping-up" operation from 11 to 14 March 2001. His head was also missing and the edge of the wound on his neck was ragged. The remains of his trousers were found next to the body, to which were stuck pieces of skull and teeth.
According to the public prosecutor R.V. Timshin, all three were killed and buried at the same time.
Statement of Yashurkaeva Zalpa, widow of Yashurkaev Abdul-Vakhab
The corpse was headless and there were knife wounds on the body. The body was preserved as if he had only died a week ago. There were blue weals on his legs and across his ribs as if they had beaten him with clubs. The body was clean, as if they had washed him. On his chest was hair from his beard. The left shoulder had been smashed and you could see the bones.
When he had the operation, he had a skin graft and they took 58 centimetres of skin from his leg. I recognised him by the marks from the operation.
The others: the bones of one had been separated; the bones of the lower half of the other one's body had remained together and the muscles were still there on the legs below the knees. It looked as though the flesh had been cut from the bones. Maybe the dogs had gnawed them. They weren't able to identify anyone else. There were no heads.
The youths saw that the dogs were digging up something and pulling at it. They went up, pulled at it and realised that it was a human leg. They went to the commandant's office and said there were bodies behind the flour factory. That was on Thursday (28 February). But the soldiers wouldn't let us get there. For three days they said there were no bodies. We said we wouldn't leave until they were exhumed. On 2 March at 4.00pm two armoured personnel carriers went out there with Masaev (a policeman), Eldiev Khusein (who is looking for his missing first cousin) and Idrisov Kharon (the deputy commandant). They dug them up and brought them back to the commandant's office. There were no clothes. They brought some trousers along with my husband, but they weren't his. They said they were by his head. They must have pulled them over his head and then blown him up. There were bone fragments from his skull and teeth (in the remains of the trousers). The cloth fell to pieces when you touched it. In the empty hole they found a piece of bandage and a sock. The sock was as good as new. They told us that there are another 24 sites that they are treating with suspicion, but that they are not going to check them until they have finished dealing with four men who were taken away on 2 March from their homes and whose bodies were handed over on 2 March.
There are more than 60 people from the village who have been taken away, who have "disappeared" and have not been found.
A FURTHER DISAPPEARANCE IN ARGUN
On 5 March the Russian Novosti press agency reported that
A policeman, a schoolboy and two local people have been killed in Argun. The news was reported to the Russian Novosti press agency on Tuesday at the regional operations headquarters in charge of the counter-terrorist operations in the northern Caucasus.
On Monday at around 0730 Moscow time, in a street in the town, police found the bodies of two local people, a policeman and a schoolboy, with signs of gunshot and shrapnel wounds. A grenade launcher, two Kalashnikov machine-guns and an 82mm calibre mortar bomb were removed from the scene.
An investigation was opened.
The next day, Interfax reported somewhat different information about the same event.
In the Chechen town of Argun, (10 km east of Grozny), Bislan Bikhaev, a local policeman, was killed. His body was found with multiple gunshot wounds on the edge of the town, near a derelict meat factory. This report was given to Interfax by the Administration for Internal Affairs for the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Chechnya.
Four days ago B. Bikhaev was taken from his home by a group of armed men in camouflaged uniforms, the Administration for Internal Affairs said. Along with his body, three more bodies were found, with gunshot wounds. They have since been identified.
To put it mildly, these reports are contradictory. But on 5 March, the press service for the Privolzhsky region internal forces produced what appeared to be an exhaustive and complete account of what had happened.
During the night from 3 to 4 March, scouts from an operational brigade of the Privolzhsky region of internal troops for the Ministry of internal affairs, staking out an industrial area to the south of Argun from where federal military helicopters had been fired on a number of times the previous day, came across a group of armed men trying to make their way covertly along Sakharozavodskaya street. Having got close to the group, the scouts opened fire on their target with machine guns and grenade launchers and began to pursue the fighters. At this point the soldiers came under fire from a second group of bandits who were covering the withdrawal of the first. During the fire fight, the brigade used its mortars. The skirmish lasted for about an hour. At dawn, an operational investigation group from the town's temporary internal affairs department, military counter-intelligence officers and investigator's from the procurator's office in Argun arrived. Four fighters were found dead along with the remains of another three bodies. Two Kalashnikov machine-guns had been abandoned along with an RPG-18 and an RPG-22 grenade launcher and a home made explosive device made from and 82 mm mortar bomb and several machine-gun magazines with 7.62 and 5.45 mm bullets. As well as military equipment, a pack of photographs was found, showing the attacks on the helicopters carried out by the bandits during the previous few days. Traces of blood and drag marks point to at least another three fighters having been wounded. All the trophies picked up at the site of the battle were handed over to the temporary internal affairs department in Argun. According to operations information which is available, the fighters who were wiped out were part of a group under field commander Yakub. There were no losses among the soldiers and officers of the privolzhsky operational brigade. Press-service for the Privolzhsky region internal troops for the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.
What actually happened?
On Saturday 2 March at around midday, four Argun residents were seized and taken away to an unknown destination by soldiers who arrived in armoured vehicles. The residents were: Bekhaev Beslan, born 1974, Muzaev Alikhan, born 1979, Idrisov Shamil, born 1984, and Bargaev Apti, born 1983. According to their relatives, three were seized in their homes, and Idrisov was seized at a nearby crossroads. It appears that the soldiers simply grabbed the first people they could find. The soldiers were in all likelihood internal ministry troops from the 34th shumilovskaya region operational brigade. Within an hour, relatives had made written statements to various official authorities: to the town administration, the military commandant's office and the inter-regional prosecutor's office. However, for two days they were unable to obtain any information. By chance on 4 March at the offices of the town administration, they heard that four bodies were lying in the courtyard of the military commandant's office with multiple gunshot wounds. The relatives identified them as those who had been arrested and who had "disappeared" two days earlier. According to the soldiers, they were fighters who had been killed in a skirmish during the night of 3 March, from Sunday to Monday.
Photographs of the bodies immediately after they were handed over to relatives.
The bodies of four residents of Argun, arrested by federal troops at around midday on 2 March 2002 were handed over to relatives on 4 March in the courtyard of the regional military commandant's office.
In the photographs: Apti Bargaev, born 1983 (1), Beslan Bekhaev, born 1974 (2), Shamil Idrisov, born 1984 (3), Alikhan Muzaev, born 1979 (4).
The soldiers' explanation of events contains several anomalies. These include: the fact that the date of the arrests and the "skirmish" do not coincide; the absence of any shrapnel wounds on the bodies; the only wounds are bullet wounds to the chest; stab wounds and signs of beatings and having been forced to kneel for long periods.
Inspection of the body of Muzaev revealed stab wounds to his legs.
For the last hours of their lives these people were tied up. The wrists of all of them show marks from being tied up with wire while they were still alive. It is difficult to fight while your hands are tied. They were wearing only light clothing and were in T-shirts. One was only in his underwear. These are clothes for the daytime, but in March it is cold at night. Tight short jeans are not fighting clothes and sandals are not the footwear you need to run through mud at night.
The bodies of B. Bekhaev and A. Bargaev. A. Bargaev's wrist shows clearly visible marks from having been tied up for an extended period (probably with wire). Similar marks were on all four bodies.
All this leads one to doubt the successful routing of a group of "troops of field commander Yakub". Information gathered by Human Rights Centre "Memorial" confirms that firstly what took place was the unlawful arrest and extra-judicial execution of four young people. And secondly, there was a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the facts and to present the crime as a triumph in the "counter-terrorist operations".
How the four residents of Argun "disappeared" and how they were found
On 2 March, at 12.00 noon, the following were arrested in their homes and taken to an unknown destination: Bislan Bekhaev, born 1974, Alikhan Muzaev, born 1979 and Apti Bargaev, born 1983, all from Voroshilov street, and Shamil Idrisov, born 1984, from Ustagordoevskaya street. When Apti Bargaev was put into a vehicle, his father asked the soldiers who their senior officer was. They pointed him towards a UAZ truck near the town administration building, two blocks from their house. His father went up to the vehicle and asked the general who was sitting there why they were arresting his son. The general replied that they were going to check his details against their computer database and would then release him. The general did not introduce himself and did not say where exactly they would carry out this check. Not believing his explanation, the relatives immediately made a statement to the town administration. Together with officers from the administration, they spent two days, all of Saturday and Sunday, nearby at the offices of the temporary department of internal affairs, the commandant's office and the public prosecutor's office, which are all in the same location. Officers of all of these departments told them they had no information about the fate of their children as the "mopping-up" operation was being carried out by soldiers who were "just passing through".
On Monday, in the morning of 4 March, it became known that four bodies were at the commandant's office. According to the public prosecutor, Timshin, soldiers from the 34th brigade of internal ministry troops, based at the grain elevator, had turned up and said that in the night they had killed four fighters in a fire fight and had picked up their weapons: machine-guns, two grenade launchers and equipment for setting an ambush. Everything was handed over to the prosecutor and documented. In the afternoon, the bodies were identified and it was established that they were Bislan Bekhaev, Alikhan Muzaev, Apti Bargaev and Shamil Idrisov. A criminal investigation was opened into their deaths, however, no-one has yet been charged.
According to neighbours and friends, none of these young people were connected with the fighters. Apti Bargaev had arrived two weeks previously from Ingushetia and had been supposed to get married ten days later.
I bathed and cleaned Muzaev Alikhan. There were knife wounds on his legs. They were made before he died. There was blood. His skull was smashed. He had clearly been dragged by the hair before he died. On the crown of his head there was almost no hair. There was a large bruise on his left hand. The skin on his cheekbone was torn. His knees were swollen and it looked as if he had been forced to kneel for a long period.
Bargaev Aptil had one deep wound below the stomach on the left, and three deep wounds around his waist. One right into the spine was up to five centimetres deep. They looked as though they had been made with a knife. Above his eyebrows there were two spots and the skin was torn. On his left side and left temple there were large bruises. We were unable to straighten out his arms and legs; they were already locked.
We collected the bodies and spoke with the senior investigator from the prosecutor's office. He is called Sasha. But he said to me: they called us at 7.00am and said to us that they had been involved in an attack during the night from Sunday to Monday. When we arrived there were four bodies and by all four there were weapons.
I asked him (Sasha), how they could have been fighting between Sunday and Monday if they were arrested on Saturday. Their arms bear marks from having been tied. How could they fight if they were tied up? I think their legs were tied as well.
Apti had a burn on his back as if they had pressed a piece of red-hot metal against him about ten centimetres long. The bullet wounds happened later than the knife wounds. On his left side beneath the shoulder the skin was torn, as if they had dragged him along. On his left little finger there is a cut as if it had been bored through with something. On his wrists there were scratch marks and signs that they had been tied.
When they were arrested, there was a UAZ truck standing by the administration building. There was a general sitting there who was in charge of them all. I asked him where they were taking our sons. The general replied that they were going to check them against the computer and would bring them back.
Father of Alikhan
Each of them had three knife wounds to the back. Above the knees there were other knife wounds. There were also wounds on their buttocks. On my son, there were no wounds at all on the front of his body, only on the back. 16 bullet wounds. 7.62 calibre bullets. He had been beaten heavily. There were even bruises under his armpits and there were holes, which looked as if they had been made with a knife.
The first people to see the bodies were builders working at the commandant's office. It was morning and they saw the bodies being dumped into a room at the commandant's office. One of the workers recognised Shamil. Then the soldiers chased them away.
All of this has been allowed to happen by the lack of a command structure for the armed forces operating in Chechnya. Attempts by the public prosecutor's office to establish control over so-called "special operations" and the places where detainees are temporarily held, all get sabotaged. Meanwhile, the lack of control means that special forces aim to imitate results for their operations rather than getting actual results, and this is what happened in the case of the "night time fire fight in Argun".
P.S. RECENT EVENTS IN ARGUN
On 10 March 2002 at 10.00 am, three Argun residents were again taken away to an unknown destination (probably by soldiers from the 34th internal troop brigade, based on the edge of the town near the flour factory). They arrived in four armoured personnel carriers and a "Ural" car. One of those taken away was a doctor and physiotherapist from the local hospital, Tausultanov Mairbek, born 1948.
On 11 March, three Argun residents were arrested and taken away to an unknown destination. One of them, Khadzhimuradov Lechi, born 1983, was suffering from tuberculosis and was taken away without shoes or warm clothing. The other two were arrested near "khutor Murushkin".
On 12 March 2002, a charred corpse was delivered to the town commandant's office and Argun residents searching for their relatives went to identify it. The body has not yet been identified.