This report is devoted to the events connected with an operation by Russian Federation Ministry of Internal Affairs divisions in the village of Samashki on April 7-8. According to Anatoly Aleksandrovich Antonov,1 deputy commander of MVD forces in Chechnya, it was «the first completely independent military operation by MVD troops.»2 The operation and its consequences received wide attention in Russia and abroad.
On December 9, 1994, the President of the Russian Federation issued the Decree on Measures to Stop the Operation of Illegal Armed Formations in the Territory of the Chechen Republic and in the Ossetian-Ingush Conflict Zone." The decree instructed the RF government to «use all means available to guarantee state security, lawfulness, rights and freedoms of citizens, the guarding of public order, the fight against crime, the disarming of all illegal armed formations.»
On December 11, 1994, Ministry of Defense and MVD units began to enter the territory of Chechnya. Chechen armed formations resisted federal forces, and an undeclared war was under way in the Northern Caucasus.
The authors of this report consider the widescale military activities that followed this decree a non-international armed conflict, whose victims must be protected by strict observance of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and Protocol II additional to them. In accordance with these instruments, parties to the conflict are obliged to respect these and other laws and customary law on the conduct of war.
In response to news reports on gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law by both sides, beginning on December 15, 1994, a group headed by the RF Human Rights Ombudsman began working in Chechnya. Because no law existed regulating the activities of the Human Rights Ombudsman, appointed by the State Duma (or parliament), Sergei Kovalyev served this post without the benefit of any real rights and authority; he also did not have the staff necessary for such work in the conflict zone. For this reason, several Russian non-government human rights organizations (and mostly Memorial) took it upon themselves to assist the work of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Group and sent their members to work with the group.3
Beginning in March 1995, the Observer Mission’s (OM) work began under the leadership of Sergei Kovalyev. The mission got its start after the State Duma removed Mr. Kovalyev from the post of Human Rights Ombudsman. The Memorial Human Rights Center organized the group’s work. Other participants in the mission were representatives of Memorial chapters (Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Ryazan), the Human Rights Project Group, the Central Black Earth Region Human Rights Research Center, and State Duma deputies. The mission’s work was financed by the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation.
From January through March 1995, human rights organizations had visited the village of Samashki. Beginning April 6, 1995, two members of the OM, A.Blinushov (Memorial-Ryazan) and A.Guryanov (Memorial-Moscow), were in the village of Sernovodsk, located 9.5 kilometers from Samashki. They observed the shelling of Samashki from the top of the Sunzha hills. On April 8, they began interviewing villagers as they were fleeing Samashki, and on April 9, the OM interviewed people who had just fled Samashki on the road from the village to the eastern edge of Sernovodsk, and at the Samashki checkpoint (Post No. 13). In addition, whenever possible, the OM received information from MVD officials at Post No. 13.
Unfortunately, it was difficult to obtain information from the MVD commanders of the Samashki operation. For example, on one occasion several of the command’s representatives offered to meet with OM members and Duma deputies. B.Titenko, a Duma deputy, and A.Guryanov, a member of the OM, were taken to the field command point for Federal Troops’ Tactical Group No. 1, where they met with Lt.-Gen. A.A.Antonov, deputy commander of the United Federal Group of Forces in Chechnya, and Maj.-Gen. Mikhail Mikhailovich Alekseev, commander of Tactical Group No. 1,4 however they received no information whatsoever concerning the April 7-8 events in Samashki. On the following day, A.Guryanov and P.Kosov, an advisor to the president of Ingushetia, were flown by helicopter from Post No. 13 to the same command point, on the invitation of MVD Col.-Gen. A.S.Kulikov,5 head of the Untied Command Group of Forces on the Territory of the Chechen Republic. Gen. Kulikov stated that he would speak only to public officials («You’re a nobody to me»), and in particular, with S.Govorukhin, a Duma deputy who was to arrive on April 14. Moreover, «foreigners,» i.e., those who did not have Samashki propiskas (or obligatory residence permits), were forbidden access to Samashki.
Human rights organizations were able to visit Samashki only on April 12, along with a group of Duma deputies. From that point through the end of May, OM members visited the village and its surroundings many times — despite obstacles created for them — where they questioned residents, examined the destruction of homes, and evaluated the general scale of destruction. During their visit to Samashki on April 19, S.Kovalyev and Ya.Rachinsky, an OM member, together with a group of Duma deputies, met with officers from those MVD divisions that controlled the village and that had taken part in the April 7-8 events.
On April 19, A.Blinushov and Yu.Rybakov, a Duma deputy, visited the filtration point in Mozdok, where a group of villagers detained in Samashki had been brought. A.Guryanov, V.Lozinski and Duma deputy V.Borshchev attempted to visit a temporary holding center in the village of Assinovsky, where the other group of Samashki residents had been brought. The next day Sergei Kovalyev and Ya.Rachinsky also attempted to visit the holding area.
OM members visited Samashki in May and August and received additional testimony necessary for the preparation of this report.
The following sources were used in the preparation of this report:
— interviews with Samashki residents;
— information from members of human rights organizations who visited Samashki;
— evidence gathered during visits to the Mozdok filtration point;
— information gathered during interviews with MVD officials;
— evidence gathered by the Samashki village administration and confirmed to a certain degree by other sources;
— 221 statements sent by Samashki residents to S.Govorukhin, Chairman of the Duma Commission for Investigating the Causes and Circumstances of the Emergence of the Crisis in the Chechen Republic;
— responses to inquires made to MVD and procuracy officials;
— the mass media
— video recordings obtained from television companies and agencies and from the Chechnya Women’s Committee.