Background Briefing


In 2006 Human Rights Watch conducted two investigative missions to Chechnya, focusing specifically on the issues of torture and unlawful detention. Based on interviews with victims of abuses, their relatives and, in some cases, their lawyers, we gathered information—and in some cases documented in detail—on the torture of 115 persons between July 2004 and September 2006. The present briefing paper summarizes this research.

While statistics on the scale of illegal detention and torture in Chechnya are unavailable, our research, taken together with that of the Memorial Human Rights Center and Nizhnii Novgorod Committee against Torture—two Russian human rights nongovernmental organizations—strongly suggests that torture and ill-treatment in detention in Chechnya are systematic.1

In the majority of cases documented by Human Rights Watch, pro-Moscow Chechen forces under the effective command of Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov—known as “Kadyrovsty”—were responsible for the abuses; we also documented torture by personnel of the Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2) of the North Caucasus Operative Department of Chief Directorate of the Federal Ministry of Interior in the Southern Federal District.

Torture and other forms of ill treatment by ORB-2 personnel appear aimed at coercing confessions from detainees, which then lead to fabricated criminal charges and court convictions. Kadyrovtsy, by contrast, resort to such treatment to secure incriminating information about rebel forces from detainees whom they subsequently release or force to join their ranks. They have also taken hostage and mistreated relatives of alleged rebel fighters.

Many interviewees said they were detained and tortured by Kadyrovtsy in unlawful detention facilities run by these forces. Such facilities, which exist throughout Chechnya, are clearly illegal under Russian and international law. Their “secret” nature makes detainees particularly vulnerable to abuse.

In the majority of cases we documented, victims of unlawful detention and torture were young males. We also documented a number of cases where the victims were women, elderly, disabled people, and minors, the youngest of whom was 13 years old.

Methods of torture used against the detainees include prolonged beatings, often with boots, sticks, plastic bottles filled with water or sand, and heavy rubber-coated cables; inflicting of burns with open fire or red-hot metal rods and wires, and widespread use of electric shocks. In addition, a number of interviewees told Human Rights Watch about psychological pressure, such as threats or imitation of execution or sexual abuse, as well as threats to harm their relatives.

This briefing paper has been prepared in advance of the U.N. Committee against Torture’s examination of the fourth periodic report of the Russian Federation. Since 2002, when the committee examined the Russian Federation’s third periodic report, Human Rights Watch has conducted regular visits to the North Caucasus to document continued human rights violations in the Chechen Republic and neighboring republics perpetrated by all sides to the armed conflict there. In research prior to 2006 Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of torture, ill-treatment, and enforced disappearances by Russia’s federal forces and by Kadyrovtsy. These findings have been summarized in Human Rights Watch’s earlier publications.2

There have been many changes in Chechnya since the committee’s examination of Russia’s third periodic report. Beginning in 2003, under a policy known as “Chechenization” of the conflict, day-to-day law enforcement operations, including counterterrorism, have increasingly become the responsibility of Kadyrov’s forces. At present there are almost no more large-scale “sweep” operations, which, as the committee noted in its 2002 concluding observations on Russia’s third periodic report, would give rise to arbitrary detentions and “disappearances” by federal forces. More common today are targeted raids ostensibly aimed at apprehending rebel fighters and their supporters. 

We were pleased to note the committee’s many detailed and highly relevant questions regarding Chechnya in its list of issues drawn up in advance of the upcoming review of Russia’s fourth periodic report. We hope the present briefing paper will help inform the committee’s examination of Russia—particularly on points 39-42 on the list of issues—and the conclusions and recommendations resulting from its review.

The names of most victims and witnesses interviewed for this briefing paper have been disguised with names and initials (which do not reflect real names) in the interest of the security of the individuals concerned. For the same reason we have also withheld certain details that might identify them, such as precise dates of detention, the names of villages where they reside, and the like.

1  An analysis of cases summarized in Chronicle of Violence –an internet bulletin published by the Memorial Human Rights Center that documents human rights violations in Chechnya and neighboring republics—shows that from January 2005 to the beginning of October 2006, Memorial documented 277 cases of torture in Chechnya. The regularly updated Chronicle of Violence is available at: Memorial has four regional offices in Chechnya and an office in Nazran, Ingushetia. Its staff emphasize that the actual number of torture incidents is likely to be several times higher, as the organization covers only about 25-30 percent of Chechnya, and because in many cases victims request that their cases not be publicized. Human Rights Watch has not compared cases researched by our respective organizations to determine whether, and if so the degree to which, they overlap. According to Memorial, “the use of torture at both legal and unofficial places of detention in Chechnya is not just a system, but a rule, while the unwillingness of victims to speak out proves the effectiveness of this system of terrorizing the population.” Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a senior staff member of the Memorial Human Rights Center, October 30, 2006. Experts from the Nizhnii Novgorod Committee against Torture agree, based on their research in Chechnya and information provided by lawyers working on criminal cases there, that for “as many criminal cases there are in Chechnya, there are as many cases of torture or ill-treatment.” Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a senior staff member of Nizhnii Novgorod Committee against Torture, October 30, 2006.  


2 See e.g. Human Rights Watch, Worse than a War: Disappearances in Chechnya—a Crime Against Humanity, March 2005,; Into Harm's Way: Forced Return of Displaced People to Chechnya,  vol. 15, no. 1(D), January 2003,; Russia: Last Seen: Disappearances in Chechnya,  vol.14, no. 3 (D), April 2002,;  Russia: Swept Under: Torture, Forced Disappearances, and Extrajudicial Killings During Sweep Operations In Chechnya,  vol. 14, no. 2 (D), February 2002,