Chechnya: Human Right Center "MEMORIAL"

Appeal the Members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly

September 25. 2000

Dear ladies and gentlemen,
We urge you again to pay careful attention to the human rights situation in the armed conflict zone in the Chechen Republic. In April this year the Council of Europe adopted a strict resolution on Chechnya. We are grateful to the Parliamentary Assembly for its firm position in relation to the tragic events in the North Caucasus. In our letter addressed to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly at the end of June we had to state, regrettably, that most of the appeals, recommendations and demands which these resolutions contained had not been met. So we have to reiterate that no tangible improvement of the human rights situation in the Chechen Republic has been achieved so far.

Grozny. Chechen Republic Online©In July-September 2000, the Chechen units continued guerrilla war on the largest part of the Chechen territory. While official reports claim that Russian federal casualties in Chechnya have decreased each month, in fact, many Russian soldiers, including young conscripts and Ministry of Interior forces, have been killed by mines and artillery fire. According to the First Deputy Head of the Russian Army General Headquarters, Colonel-general Valery Manilov, 115 Ministry of Defence servicemen and Ministry of Interior (MVD) troops were killed in Chechnya in July, 74 - in August, and 47 - in the first three weeks of September. However, casualty figures are underestimated. In particular, they do not take into account those servicemen who died in hospitals from wounds. Besides, it is common for different official agencies to give contradictory information. Thus, on August 30, the Russian Minister of Interior stated that 14 police had been killed in Chechnya in the previous week, while General Manilov mentioned that only 8 police had been killed in the same period. The greatest casualty rates were registered in early July, when on July 2, in Argun, Gudermes, Urus-Martan, and the village of Naiber near the federal quarters kamikaze-drivers blew up automobiles stuffed with explosives. As commandant's offices, checkpoints and quarters of the federal forces are placed in or near large cities and villages, such attacks and counterattacks endanger many civilians. Neither of the sides would take civilians' safety into account.

Thus, on July 2, at dawn, a federal column of vehicles was attacked. Soon this area was encircled, and a sweep operation began in the afternoon. During the sweep operation federal servicemen threw hand grenades into basements, engaged in looting, extortion, abuse and humiliation of local civilians. Late on the same afternoon, near the building where the local Provisional Office of Internal Affairs (police department) is located, a suicidal driver drove a car loaded with explosives into the building, broke the fence and blew up the car, killing two servicemen and one local woman. According to local residents, this incident was immediately followed by violent random artillery fire that killed a local woman and wounded thirteen other civilians, including a 72-year-old man and a 13-year-old girl. The western part of Urus-Martan was shelled from helicopters and armoured vehicles.

Sometimes, villages that are at a distance from the military quarters are also shelled. We have been informed that in July and August there was massive shelling of the villages of Yermolovskaya, Agishty (the military procuracy denies any involvement of Russian troops in the shelling), Assinovskaya, Tangi-Chu, and suburban areas of Grozny - Chernorechye and Novye Aldi. As a result, local residents were killed and wounded, and buildings were destroyed. In September, an overnight artillery fire destroyed a refugee centre which was supposed to serve as temporary housing for nearly two thousand refugees, including those returning to Chechnya from Ingushetia. The military claimed that they started the fire because Chechen fighters had allegedly entered the refugee centre.This list of shelling incidents is far from being exhaustive. Moreover, some of such incidents that occur in mountainous villages do not reach us. After Maskhadov declared that Chechen units would enter large Chechen cities and villages on July 14, the flow of refugees to Ingushetia increased dramatically. In August and September, the number of people leaving Chechnya exceeded again the number of those who were coming back.

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly has urged the Russian government to enter in a political dialogue without any preconditions or limitations with the whole spectrum of representatives of the Chechen people, including representatives of lawfully elected Chechen authorities, with the goal of attaining a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict. No progress has been made so far; the Russian authorities have flatly denied any possibility of negotiations with the opposite side. We are extremely concerned over the fate of Ruslan Alikhadjiyev, the Chair of Parliament of Ichkeria Republic. Mr. Alikhadjiyev is a respected politician, proponent of the Chechen independence, who, however, never took part in armed fighting and was open to dialogue. In May, Alikhadjiyev was seized by federal forces in his mother's home and disappeared afterwards. The Russian procuracy denies the fact of his arrest. Moreover, on September 21, at the Duma hearings, deputy Procurator General said that, according to his information, Ruslan Alikhadjiyev was killed in September by the Chechen fighters who had kidnapped him. This is an example of obvious and cynical lie. According to many witnesses, Mr. Alikhadjiyev's arrest involved armoured vehicles and military trucks, helicopters hovering over the house, and blocking of neighbouring houses. A few of Mr. Alikhadjiyev's neighbours and relatives were arrested at the same time, but released on the next day. Besides, Colonel-general Manilov mentioned at his press-conference on May 25 that a number of Chechen field commanders and guerrilla leaders were arrested in May, including Ruslan Alikhadjiyev.

Disappearances of people continue in Chechnya. These people are not kidnapped by bandits or terrorists, but are, in fact, arrested by those who engage in "anti-terrorist operations." Since the beginning of the military operation in Chechnya, relatives of people arrested by the Ministry of Interior (MVD) or the Federal Security Service (FSB), are unable for a long time to obtain any information on the reason of arrest, place of detention, any charges brought against the arrested individual, etc. Those who have been arrested in this manner have absolutely no access to legal council or defence attorney. Most people who thus "disappear" are found later, after a few weeks or even months, in pre-trial detention houses or temporary detention centres. However, there have been a number of cases when people were never seen again after their "disappearance." We can say that many people were, in fact, kidnapped by the federal police and security forces. More and more burial sites are discovered in Chechnya containing bodies of people who have been arrested at different times by federal police and security troops. The bodies bear traces of violent death and torture. For example, at Duba-Yurt checkpoint alone - one of many checkpoints - three groups of arrested men disappeared without trace. These men had been arrested in winter and spring, in the presence of witnesses. Three bodies of the arrested men were later found in the vicinity of Tangi-Chu village. It is still unknown what happened to the other 16 arrested men. None of the official agencies where the relatives appealed made any meaningful effort at searching for the disappearances of punishing the perpetrators. Similar cases abound, "disappearances" continue.

The following are just a few examples related to the recent period. On June 28, in Grozny servicemen arrested three young men, local residents Murad Lyanov, Islam Dombayev, and Timur Tabzhanov. The three young men had just left Timur Tabzhanov's house at 53, Sadovaya Street, one of them was carrying a guitar. Federal troops who came in an APC (armoured personnel vehicle), number T-110, arrested the young men and took them on board of the APC to the nearest military unit. The arrested men's parents appealed to the local provisional MVD (police) department. The police investigator immediately determined that the arrested men had been transferred from the local military unit to the military base in Khankala. However, the relatives were unable to obtain any information there.

On August 18, the mothers of the three young men received an official answer from the Grozny procuracy, saying that: "The investigation found that the said individuals had been arrested during an "ambush" operation in Sadovaya Street in Grozny by Pskov OMON (riot police) and 8th Special Military Brigade of MVD. On the same night, the arrested were brought to the quarters of the 8th MVD Special Brigade. As of now, the servicemen of the 8th MVD Special Military Brigade have refused to appear before the investigation, and thus have not been questioned in relation to this case. Consequently, it is unknown what happened to the arrested young men." At present, neither the Grozny procuracy, nor the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Ensuring Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic, have been able to find out what happened to the kidnapped young men.

On August 8, the federal riot police arrested two men, Balaudi Mamayev and Aslan Akhmadov, in the village of Samashki, in the presence of witnesses. The arrested men were beaten with butts of firearms, pushed into an APC and taken to the administrative building in the same village, where the MVD unit was located. Vera Khurdakova, a local woman who lives in the vicinity of the administrative building, reported having heard terrible screams from the building at night. The mothers of the arrested men appealed to all official agencies in Chechnya, but were unable to find out anything concerning the destiny or whereabouts of theirs sons.

On August 23, there was a "sweep operation" in Katyr-Yurt. The military servicemen arrested at least 16 individuals. Four of them, Supyan Gemirkhanov, Aslambek Gemirkhanov, Timur Tulikov and a fourth man whom we have not been able to identify, had fought in the previous Chechen war in 1994-96. Although they have not participated in the current military campaign, the servicemen nevertheless took them to the western outskirts of the village and detained in the building of a mill. According to witnesses, the men were beaten with outrageous cruelty. The beatings and torture continued for four hours. On the next morning, they were put in an APC and taken to an unknown destination. The servicemen released other arrested individuals only after their relatives paid 500 or more roubles for each of them.

The list of examples can be continued. However, we have not heard of a single case of the perpetrators being found and punished. On September 13, at the outskirts of Starye Atagi village three burials were found and excavated. The head of village administration and procuracy officials were present at the excavation. One of the burials contained the bodies of three men arrested by the servicemen on December 20 last year at the checkpoint near the village. The men were an uncle and his two nephews, Imran Kuntayev, Adam Sadayev and Adnan Abdurzakov. Another burial contained two bodies of unidentified men who were killed recently. Traces of beating and torture could be easily seen on the bodies, and one man's face was badly disfigured. The third burial contained the body of Edelbek Isayev, a young man who was taken from the hospital in Starye Atagi during the sweep operation on September 7 this year. Isayev had been wounded in March during the shelling of the village of Khankeloi in Shatoi province. His father and brother were killed in the shelling, and he was evacuated to Starye Atagi by the federal troops, and was treated in the local hospital until September 7, when federal servicemen took him away during the sweep operation. Later his body bearing evidence of torture was discovered in the burial.

Still in September, another similar burial site was discovered on the outskirts of the village of Gekhi. The bodies of Musayev brothers were found in the burial. Ali and Umar Musayev were arrested during a sweep operation in the village following the blow-up of an APC on the outskirts of the village on August 8. We regret to say that no one is likely to be punished for these crimes.

In late winter and spring this year, the attention of mass media and international organisations focused on the situation of prisoners in Chernokozovo detention centre. As a result, the use of torture stopped in Chernokozovo, beatings decreased, and living conditions improved. However, along with improvements in official detention facilities, accessible to international observers, violence, cruelty, torture and even summary executions continue in other institutions, such as temporary detention houses with provincial MVD offices (out of which the one in Urus-Martan is the most notorious), and to various unofficial prisons. These secret unofficial prisons cause our grave concern. The people detained in such prisons are not on official records either as detained or as arrested. One such prison is located in the military base in Khankala. Most detainees there are kept either in ground pits or in trucks and railway carriages designed for transportation of prisoners. Russian federal TV channels have often broadcast reports showing people suspected of participation in illegal armed units being brought to Khankala military base. The procuracy, the Chechen civil administration and the Office of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Ensuring Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic are all aware of the existence of this secret prison. However, it continues to operate. The base in Khankala is not the only place where they have an illegal prison. Such prisons exist in many placements of military units and MVD special forces.

Severe and massive violations are related to the practice of the so-called "sweep operations" in Chechen cities and villages. >Such operations are often undertaken in response to the Chechen fighters blowing up a military vehicle or shooting in the vicinity of a particular village. All of the villagers are punished for it. It happened in Shuani in late July and early August, in Turty-Hutor on August 26, in Chernorechye on August 30 and September 1, in Gekhi on August 8, in Starye Atagi on September 6,7 and 8, and in other locations. The sweep operations have been associated with shooting, looting, arson, beatings of local residents. Men were taken away from the village to ad-hoc filtration camps near the village, where they were beaten and tortured. Some of them, as we now know, were killed.

As of now, no courts operate in the Chechen Republic, which means that the Chechen citizens are deprived of the main mechanism of protecting their rights. This also results in increased periods of detention. Courts in other parts of the Russian Federation refuse to consider complaints related to the violation of legitimate rights of citizens in the Chechen Republic. >Since the summer, the restored Collegium of Lawyers (The Bar Association) of 39 lawyers has been operating in the Chechen Republic. This, undoubtedly, has a potentially positive effect on the human rights situation in Chechnya. However, legal assistance remains totally inaccessible to most Chechen citizens who need it. On the one hand, the number of practising lawyers is manifestly insufficient. On the other hand, most victims, relatives of detainees and prisoners, as well as many others, cannot afford to pay a legal fee. Another problem is due to the fact that the only pre-trial detention facility (investigation prison) in Chechnya is located in Chernokozovo (Naurski District of Chechnya), while investigators are often based in Mosdok (North Ossetia). Defence attorneys of Chernokozovo detainees have to travel long distances inside Chechnya and to cross the Chechen border. Under the current circumstances, this travel may be difficult and dangerous. Defence attorneys often find it hard or impossible to get an appointment with procuracy officials or investigators.

Military servicemen and police at many checkpoints engage openly in extortion, soliciting bribes from vehicles passing through the checkpoint. They target buses and trucks in the first place. In some cases a bribe may free the driver from any inspection of the vehicle. Military servicemen and police sent to Chechnya from different parts of Russia are often rude with local people at checkpoints, use obscenities, verbally abuse older people and women. They often relate to Chechen men in a way that is likely to provoke anger and aggression. It is noteworthy that guards at checkpoints, as a rule, wear uniforms without insignia, making it impossible to tell their rank or affiliation. They often refuse to identify themselves when asked to.

Looting of local residents' homes by federal military servicemen and police remain a widespread phenomenon in Chechnya. Very often, such looting is committed openly, from the taking of smaller valuables, such as money and jewellery, to organised transportation of voluminous goods stolen from homes. Such systematic looting can only happen if it is tolerated or even encouraged and supported by military commanders.

Ethnolinguistic Groups in the Caucasus RegionStabilisation in Chechnya, as well as establishment of normal relations between the local population and federal authorities are impossible without a credible and impartial inquiry into the numerous violations committed by federal military servicemen and police towards the non-combatant population of the Chechen Republic. However, the federal procuracy officials demonstrate an unwillingness to investigate crimes against peaceful civilians committed by the federal troops during the armed conflict. The officials continue to deny intentional killing, looting and arson by servicemen in the village of Alkhan-Yurt in December 1999. However, there is a video film documenting the transportation of the stolen goods by federal servicemen. This incident was witnessed by Nikolai Koshman, representative of the Russian Government in Chechnya, filmed by TV reporters and broadcast on the Russian television. There has been no progress in the investigation of the massacre of non-combatants in Staropromyslovski area of Grozny, committed by Russian military servicemen and police in January and February this year. The investigation of the massacre in Novy Aldi has been hindered by unnecessary delays. No one has been prosecuted as of now. No charges have been brought in the case of torture and beatings of detainees and prisoners in Chernokozovo detention centre and in provisional detention facilities. No serviceman has been prosecuted for kidnapping and "disappearances" of civilians.

According to official information provided by the Russian federal procuracy, as of September 20, only 16 out of 540 criminal prosecution cases against servicemen in Chechnya are related to crimes against civilians, and only four have gone to court. Anyone who has impartial information on the situation in Chechnya would find such a small number of prosecutions ridiculous as compared to the vast number of diverse crimes committed by servicemen against non-combatants. In contrast, another official figure may be quoted here. The report on the operation of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Ensuring Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic, published in July 2000, says that as of July 1, the Special Representative and his staff accepted 5689 appeals. Over 50 per cent of the appeals were related to detention and disappearance of family members, limitations of the freedom of movement, violence, abuse on behalf of military servicemen and police, arbitrary arrests, beatings and unlawful detention. As of mid-September, according to our data, the Office of the Special Representative has already accepted over 8,000 appeals. Some of the complainants were received by a military procuracy official. However, between July and mid-September, the procuracy opened only two new criminal investigations on crimes against Chechen civilians. Four out of 16 such cases were closed either for lack of evidence of a crime or on the ground that it was impossible to identify the perpetrator.

The developments in Chechnya have a negative impact on all aspects of life in Russia, and endanger Russia's progress towards building a state based on the rule of law. We appeal to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly to go beyond declarations, symbolic acts and small concessions, and to retain its firm position in relation to our government regarding the current events in Chechnya, focusing consistently on their progress.

On behalf of the Human Rights "Memorial" Centre Board Chair of the Board, Oleg Orlov.

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