Background Briefing

Torture by units under the effective command of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov

Background note on the structure of forces under Kadyrov’s effective command

Most Chechen government law enforcement and security units originate from the personal security service of the late Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, which was headed by his son, Ramzan, who has since become prime minister of Chechnya.11 After Akhmad Kadyrov’s assassination in 2004, this security service was disbanded, and its personnel were gradually reassigned to different branches of the Ministry of Interior of the Chechen Republic, including the Second Regiment of the Checkpoint Guard Service of the Police (PPSM-2) and the Oil Protection Unit (“Neftepolk”) of the Extra-departmental Protection Service (UVO). They were also assigned to the Anti-Terrorism Center (ATC), which itself was disbanded in April 2006, with personnel reassigned to two battalions of Interior Troops of the Russian Federal Ministry of Interior.12

Despite changes in formal affiliation, these units continue to be loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov personally and to some of his closest allies, such as Adam Demilkhanov, head of the Oil Protection Unit and currently the vice prime minister of the Chechen government.13

These units operate in a questionable legal framework. PPSM-2 and the Oil Protection Unit routinely participate in security operations, even though they do not appear to be authorized by law to do so, and make use of ATC bases, even after the ATC was disbanded.14 More important, PPSM-2, the Oil Protection Regiment, and ATC personnel detain people, holding them secretly at unlawful detention facilities, and use illegal methods of interrogation, including torture and ill-treatment.

Another law enforcement structure in Chechnya are the local police departments (ROVD), whose top personnel for the most part were installed by Kadyrov to ensure his control over the police force.15 ROVD personnel process detainees within the criminal justice system and have lawful detention facilities, but personnel at some police stations—for example, in the villages of Kurchaloi, Shali, and Achkhoi-Martan—have become notorious for torture of detainees. For example, during our last two research trips to Chechnya, Human Rights Watch documented eight cases of people who had been detained and tortured by personnel of the Achkhoi-Martan ROVD.

Despite the gradual “legalization” of Kadyrov’s forces, detention at their facilities—both official and unlawful—and torture continue unabated to date. During our September 2006 mission to the region Human Rights Watch documented 82 cases of torture by these forces, 54 of which happened in 2006. The most recent of these cases were from summer and early fall of 2006.16

Torture in secret detention

Kadyrov’s units hold and torture detainees in premises that are not lawful places of detention. The detention has no legal framework, and detainees cannot exercise their rights guaranteed by Russian and international law, including access to lawyers or medical professionals. In the vast majority of cases, the family has no information of the detainee’s whereabouts, unless they manage to obtain it through personal contacts with Kadyrov’s forces.

In most cases, people detained by these forces are released without any formal charges brought against them—they are simply warned to keep complete silence about their ordeal unless they want to face even harsher consequences.

In some cases Kadyrov’s forces use short-term, unlawful detention and torture to obtain information that could be useful in their counterterrorism operations against Chechen rebels. In others, torture is used to punish or intimidate families whose relative has joined the rebel movement (even if the relative had been killed, arrested, or surrendered to the authorities), people who sought justice for abuses by Kadyrov’s forces, and individuals suspected of collaborating with Chechen rebels.

In a number of cases documented by Human Rights Watch, Kadyrov’s forces also held former or active rebel fighters, but instead of prosecuting them forced them, under torture and threats of execution, to join their ranks. Finally, in a large number of cases documented by Human Rights Watch and other organizations, Kadyrov’s forces seized and ill-treated, including through torture, relatives of rebel fighters and kept them hostage in order to force such rebels to surrender.

Human Rights Watch obtained detailed descriptions of at least 10 unlawful detention facilities—for the most part bases or private houses owned or used by regional commanders loyal to Kadyrov — in towns and villages throughout Chechnya. They include at least two different bases located in Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentoroi; the ATC headquarters in the city of Gudermes; ATC bases in the villages of Tsotsin-Yurt, Mairtup, Geldagen, Novogroznyi, and Avtury; and facilities run by the Oil Protection Unit in Grozny and the village of Jalka.

Most detainees whom Human Rights Watch interviewed spent from several days to several weeks in detention. Those detained as hostages to compel the surrender of their relatives were held considerably longer, sometimes for many months. For example, seven relatives of Aslan Maskhadov were tortured at the Tsentoroi base, where they were held for six months, from early December 2004 to late May 2005.17

With very few exceptions, all interviewees who were detained by Kadyrov’s forces told Human Rights Watch that they had been brutally tortured. The most common methods of torture they described were the use of electric shocks and beatings through punching, kicking and the use of clubs. Victims, interviewed separately, consistently described the administration of electric shocks through a portable device with a handle for producing electricity and wires that the torturers attached to the victims’ fingers, toes, ears, or other body parts.

The following two cases illustrate the typical pattern of detention and torture by Kadyrov’s forces.

Illegal detention and torture of “Magomed M.” and four of his fellow villagers

In early June 2006, Kadyrov’s forces detained five young males, including 24-year-old Magomed M., from a village in central-eastern Chechnya.18

Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch that Kadyrov’s forces brought him and the four other men to one of Kadyrov’s bases on the outskirts of the village of Tsentoroi. Personnel at first put them in a boiler room on the base, and soon thereafter the base commander took three of the detainees out to a nearby field for questioning. Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch:

There were three or four personnel there—the same ones who brought us to the base. They kept asking about a rebel fighter from our area—they said we should know him since we are the same age. I knew nothing about the man, but they wouldn’t believe me. They kept kicking me and beating me with sticks; it lasted for five or six hours.19

Magomed M. said that he was taken out for questioning and severely beaten every day during his detention.

Relatives of the five detainees learned of their whereabouts through a contact in Kadyrov’s forces and managed to secure their release; four of the men were released the day following their detention, and Magomed M., several days later. “Before releasing me they warned me not to say a single word about my detention,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise, they said they would take me away again and I would disappear.”20

After his release Magomed M. spent more than three weeks in a hospital, where he said doctors documented his injuries, including multiple hematomas on his body, kidney damage, and a concussion.

Illegal detention and torture of Khamid Kh.

One night in early April 2006 a group of about ten armed, masked men broke into the house of an elderly construction worker, Khamid Kh., in a village in western Chechnya. They asked his name, and, without providing any explanations, put a bag over his head and drove him away.

The abductors brought Khamid Kh. to a local ATC base and put him in a room where they immediately started interrogating him, accusing him of providing food and weapons to rebels. He told Human Rights Watch:

They started kicking me, and then brought an ‘infernal machine’ to give me electric shocks. They attached the wires to my toes and kept cranking the handle to release the current. I couldn’t bear it. I was begging: “Give me any paper – I’ll sign it, I’ll sign anything.”21

The ATC personnel released Khamid Kh. the next day. He spent the following two weeks in a hospital with serious heart problems that he believed resulted from the electric shock torture. Although Khamid Kh. said he remembered and would have recognized his torturers, he had no intention to seek justice as he was warned that only “keeping his mouth shut” would guarantee his safety.22

11 This was called the Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, or Security Service, and was known by the acronym, SB.

12 Announcing this latest change, Ramzan Kadyrov confirmed the evolution of his personal militia, saying “The [SB] was reformed into the [ATC], and, now, on the basis of the [ATC], two new battalions under the authority of federal structures are formed.” See “Ramzan Kadyrov obiavil ‘kadyrovtsev’ vne zakona,”, April 29, 2006, (accessed May 25, 2006).

13 Reports by the Memorial Human Rights Center repeatedly emphasized this close connection. For example, on April 1, 2005, Memorial states that “despite the reorganization of the SB and its incorporation into the Ministry of Interior structures, many personnel continue wearing uniforms with ‘Security Service’ insignia.” Chronicle of Violence, (accessed November 4, 2006). On May 1, 2005, in a report documenting the beating of a local administration chief by Kadyrovtsy in the village of Duba-Yurt, the Memorial noted that the personnel “was subordinate personally to R. Kadyrov—that’s how they identified themselves.” Memorial Human Rights Center, Chronicle of Violence,” (accessed October 29, 2006).

14 Officially, PPSM-2 is supposed to be carrying out the functions of regular patrolling and road police, while the Oil Protection Unit is charged with guarding Chechnya’s petroleum resources. Legislation governing PPSM units states their basic functions as “safeguarding the personal safety of citizens, guarding civil order and providing for civil defense, preventing and suppressing crimes and civil violations on the streets, public transport facilities, and other public places.” Amendment to the Order of the Ministry of Interior of the Russian Federation of from April 13, 1993 (No.166), “Primernoe polozhenie o stroevikh podrazdeleniakh patrulno-postovoi sluzhbi militsii obshchestvennoi bezopasnosti (mestnoi militsii) Rossiskoi Federatasii,” §1.1, (accessed February 16, 2006). The Russian Federal Law on the Police suggests that the Extra-departmental Protection Service (UVO) is limited to protecting specific objects designated by the Russian government. In the case of the Oil Protection Unit, these objects are linked to the operation of Chechnya’s regional oil company, Grozneftegaz. See Russian Federal Law on the Police April 18, 1991, No. 1026-I, (accessed October 31, 2006).

15 ROVD is the Russian acronym for raionnoe otdelenie vnutrennykh del. Since 2004, Ramzan Kadyrov has been gradually replacing the heads of local police department with people loyal to him. For example, in early 2005 he appointed the new head of Achkhoi-Martan ROVD. See the Memorial Human Rights Center, Chronicle of Violence, March 4, 2005, (accessed October 29, 2006). In August 2005, Kadyrov replaced the head of Kurchaloi ROVD with his “friend and a close ally.” See the Memorial Human Rights Center, Chronicle of Violence,  September 21, 2005, (accessed October 29, 2006).

16 Specifically, at bases in Tsentoroi and Jalka, see below.

17 The case of Aslan Maskhadov’s relatives was documented in Human Rights Watch, Worse than a War, pp. 25-28.  Maskhadov’s relatives were released. In addition, the mother, sister, and  wife of Maskhadov’s close ally, Vakhid Murdashev, were held at the Tsentoroi base and then at the ATC headquarters in Gudermes for five months from November 2004 to April 2005. Three brothers—Adam, Kureish and Movla Chersiev—were initially detained by the Oil Protection Unit and then spent five months in the Gudermes ATC facility, while ATC personnel  tried to force their relative, a well-known rebel, to surrender. According to information received by Human Rights Watch the Murdashev relatives and the Chersiev brothers  were not subjected to torture. Human Rights Watch interviews, September 2006, Chechnya.

18 Human Rights Watch interview with Magomed M. (not his real name), September 26, 2006, Chechnya, (exact location withheld to protect the witness).

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Human Rights Watch interview with Khamid Kh., April 27, 2006, Chechnya.

22 Ibid.