THE CHERNOKOZOVO DETENTION CENTER
During January and early February 2000, the remand prison at Chernokozovo, about sixty kilometers northwest of Grozny, was the principal destination for those detained in Chechnya. It quickly became infamous for savage torture of detainees. Forms of torture included prolonged beatings, beatings to the genitals and to the soles of the feet, rape, electric shocks, tear gas, and other methods. (52) Guards also subjected detainees to profound humiliation and degrading treatment. At least one person was beaten to death. Often prison guards and other law enforcement officers would use torture to coerce confessions or testimony; just as often, however, it had no apparent purpose.
Because of the extent and severity of the allegations of abuse at Chernokozovo, Human Rights Watch carried out a detailed investigation into the facility, confirming and collaborating accounts of beatings, torture, and rape there. Human Rights Watch calls for a full investigation by the Russian authorities of what happened at Chernokozovo in January and February 2000, for those responsible for human rights violations committed there to be brought to justice, and for compensation to be granted to victims or their relatives.
Human Rights Watch independently located and conducted interviews with nineteen former detainees from Chernokozovo, including two women. In addition, the Memorial Human Rights Center, a prominent Russian group with a research presence in Ingushetia, shared with Human Rights Watch their material from interviews with other former Chernokozovo detainees. Taken together, these lengthy interviews yield a detailed picture of the abuses detainees sustained. From the time they entered the Chernokozovo facility, when Russian guards would force them to run a gauntlet of guards who would beat them mercilessly, through their stay in cramped and sordid conditions, to the time they were released, detainees had no relief from torment.
Before 1991, the prison complex at Chernokozovo had a capacity of 1,500 prisoners, possibly as a post-conviction labor colony. It fell into a state of disrepair during the interbellum years and detainees said that in January and February 2000, only part of the complex was being used. (53) It was the only detention facility operating in Chechnya at the time, with its outer perimeters guarded by Ministry of Justice employees and with Ministry of Internal Affairs employees staffing it within. (54) Eventually the Ministry of Justice established full jurisdiction over it.
It is clear, however, that the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) presided over Chernokozovo from at least January 11 until early February, its most brutal phase. It is difficult to ascertain which MVD divisions were serving in the facility and perpetrating the abuse. Fearing identification and possible future retribution, Russian soldiers in Chechnya frequently wore camouflage uniforms with no division patches or pins that would identify them. However, six interviewees indicated that the Rostov OMON supplied the guards and commanded the facility during this period. (55)
Detainees described the area of the Chernokozovo prison where they were held as a single-story building, with cells along a corridor near the entrance to the building. Because guards forbade them from raising their eyes from the floor, most detainees had difficulty describing the facilities, but said that there were approximately eighteen cells along a corridor, and interrogation rooms were on the same corridor at the end of the hall. The guards had a duty room in the middle of the corridor. Other corridors branched off the hall but no detainee was able to describe where they led or what took place there. Women were held separately in at least two cells on or just off the main corridor.
Space does not permit a full description of the cramped, filthy, and sordid conditions detainees encountered in January and February 2000. Nearly every interviewee described severe overcrowding, sometimes more than thirty inmates for a cell meant for eight, often with no beds, let alone bedding. Food rations were extremely poor, there was no medical treatment, and for many there were no toilet facilities, not even a bucket in the cell. Despite the winter cold, many, if not all, of the cells were unheated.
The most serious abuse persisted at Chernokozovo for two months, even as news of it, provided by the few detainees who were able to bribe their way to liberty, began to spread. Conditions improved somewhat following the visit of a Russian "commission" during the first week of February, although many detainees were merely removed temporarily to conceal the extent of abuse. Shortly afterwards, the command of the facility rotated to another MVD division, the guards were replaced, structural improvements were made to the prison, including the addition of more cots for the detainees, and ill or injured detainees were transferred to the Naur district hospital. Detainees also noted an improvement in their treatment within the prison. As it embarked on the cleanup, Russian President Vladimir Putin's press secretary claimed that Chernokozovo was under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, although this was never formally confirmed. (56)
This "cleanup" coincided with growing international outrage at the reports of human rights violations in Chechnya, and the call by such institutions as the Council of Europe and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to send delegations to the republic. As international demand for access to Chernokozovo increased, many detainees were transferred to other facilities outside Chechnya, including regular prison facilities.
As of at least March, when the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) first visited Chernokozovo, the detention facility was referred to as a pre-trial detention center (sledstvennyi izolator, or SIZO), which falls under the authority of the Ministry of Justice under Russian law. (57)
Beatings and other torture at Chernokozovo
From early January until the change of command in early February, detainees at Chernokozovo were subjected to constant and severe beatings and many forms of torture. Beatings began as soon as the detainees arrived at the facility, and continued throughout their stay. Some of the beatings and torture seemed to be associated with interrogations of detainees; many others appear to have be a consequence of gratuitous cruelty, vengeance, or a desire to have "fun" on the part of the guards.
The Human Corridor
When we just arrived in Chernokozovo, we were welcomed to hell, and it really was hell. (58)
All former detainees from Chernokozovo interviewed by Human Rights Watch gave very similar accounts about their arrival at the facility. They were met by a group of guards who formed a human corridor of two lines. Guards forced the detainees to run, their hands behind their heads, through this gauntlet while beating them with rubber batons, hammers, and rifle butts. Some of the guards wore masks. "Alvi Khanaev," who was brought to Chernokozovo on January 19, described this intake process:
There were about twenty of them [guards], ten on each side. Some of them were masked, some had rubber sticks.... I was the third [to go through]. There was some officer ordering "next." Each of us had to jump out of the vehicle, put his hands behind his head with his head down, and run. As we ran through the corridor, the soldiers were kicking us and beating us with rubber sticks and whatever they had in their hands. (59)
"Alimkhan Visaev," who arrived at Chernokozovo in late January, gave a very similar account of the scene: "We were ordered to run down the corridor with our hands behind our head. The soldiers were standing in two lines outside. We had to run through them, being hit with batons and kicked." (60)When twenty-one-year-old "Issa Akhmadov" arrived at Chernokozovo in early January, the corridor was not yet ready, and so detainees were beaten as it was being prepared:
We were kept [waiting] for twenty minutes.... We learned later that they were preparing the corridor from the vehicle to the jail. About fifteen or twenty soldiers were standing in two lines, with their rubber sticks. When each of us stepped out [of the vehicle], the soldier pushed us with his gun. They then beat us with rubber night sticks and made us lay down. Then one [soldier] asked whether the corridor was ready. Others replied that it was, and we were ordered one by one to run through to the building. When I was running through the corridor, each soldier hit me with his stick. (61)
At least one person, thirty-two year-old Aindi Kovtorashvilli, died from beatings while "running the corridor." According to his relatives, Kovtorashvilli had a serious shrapnel wound to his head when he was detained on January 11 in Tolstoy-Yurt. After a three-week search for Kovtorashvilli, an aunt finally located his body at the morgue at the Mozdok military base. (62)
Human Rights Watch interviewed separately three men who were transported with Kovtorashvilli from Tolstoy-Yurt to Chernokozovo and who witnessed the beating that appeared to kill him. "Abdul Jambekov" related to Human Rights Watch how Kovtorashvilli died January 11, soon after their arrival in Chernokozovo:
His name was Aindi, I do not know his surname. He was wounded, he had shrapnel in his head and couldn't talk. We only spent several hours on the bus while riding from Tolstoy-Yurt. I don't know anything else about him. He was in front of me on the bus. They called out his name, but he was like a small child because of his injuries and someone needed to help him.
So I tried to help him, and then one guy with a mask said "I said, one by one," and because I tried to go with him they struck me, then they started beating him. Then it was my turn.... They just pulled him like a dust broom and just threw his body away, in front of us. It was useless even trying to bandage him, he was dead. (63)
"Issa Habuliev" told Human Rights Watch that he was transported from Tolstoy-Yurt to Chernokozovo on January 11 with Kovtorashvilli, whom he identified only as a man with a Georgian last name and a gangrenous head wound. According to "Habuliev," "He was wounded, but while crossing the gauntlet they continued to beat him. He died right there, he was right next to me."
A third witness who had arrived on the same bus from Tolstoy-Yurt confirmed the death of Kovtarashvilli:
[A man] who was wounded, they beat him on the head, so that he died. He was about 180 [centimeters tall].... He was in the first group to come out of the bus. He had an open wound on his head, he was confused, he didn't understand anything. He had received one blow on the place on his head where he was injured, he fell down and then three more guys [guards] came and surrounded him and started to violently beat him. When I looked at him he was bleeding, there was a puddle of blood around him.... When I came through [the gauntlet] he was still alive, they said to stand up but he couldn't, and that is why they got angry and then constantly beat him. (64)
When Kovtorashvilli's aunt saw the body at the morgue she noted that, "My nephew had a hole in his head. His hands had been fractured, and on the body there were traces of beatings." (65)
"Fatimah Akhmedova," a female detainee at Chernokozovo, witnessed the brutal beating of a retarded fourteen-year-old boy when she arrived at Chernokozovo on February 1. After she was allowed to walk through the corridor of soldiers without being beaten, the soldiers called for the young boy:
I heard the soldiers say, "You brought us a clown here, let the clown go next," referring to the fourteen-year-old. I started to explain that he really could not comprehend what was happening, and asked [the soldiers] not to beat him. Then I looked back and I saw the soldiers putting on their masks. They started to beat the boy with batons, and they kicked him. The boy screamed, calling for his mother and asking for God's help. [He] was beaten for an hour. He was bleeding from the mouth, and had a head injury and was having trouble breathing. Then, when the boy was laying flat on the ground, they kicked him and said, "Why are you bleeding? Stand up!" Then I fainted, and a soldier took me to the doctor. (66)
Torture in the Context of Interrogations
Prisoners taken for interrogation were beaten and tortured, both on the way to interrogation and, according to some, during questioning in the interrogation room itself. Beatings prior to questioning were aimed at "softening up" a suspect to encourage compliance during questioning. Guards and interrogators also sought to humiliate detainees, forcing them to crawl into interrogation rooms and to address staff with abject humility. Torture worsened at night, when many interrogations seemed to take place and when the guards utterly ran amok. While in some cases documented by Human Rights Watch beatings did not take place during interrogations, case investigators probably had knowledge of their occurrence and took no effective action to prevent them or punish the perpetrators.
According to multiple Human Rights Watch interviewees, questioning took place in two rooms located at the end of the main corridor of prison cells. As is standard practice elsewhere in Russia, prisoners were forbidden to look up as they walked along the corridor. Guards, some wearing masks, forbade prisoners from making eye contact with them. Detainees were sometimes called for multiple questioning, and thus were subjected to beatings and other abuse several times. (67) Guards also meted out beatings as they took prisoners to locations within the facility other than the interrogation room.
Several detainees said that guards tortured them during interrogations in an attempt to force them to give information, confess, or sign a statement or other documents prepared by the authorities. "Abdul Jambekov" was interrogated, beaten, and humiliated in Chernokozovo, where he was detained from January 11 until February 18:
They took me from the cell, asked me when I was arrested and for certain facts. They read me the interrogation report and I signed it, because it was my own words. Then they brought me the warrant for my arrest, and I refused to sign that. They started to beat me, and said that they would shoot me if I didn't sign. There were four of them, two behind me and two in front. Those sitting had no ID, but those walking around had badges on. They beat me with truncheons and sticks, also with iron tubes. They did this whenever you didn't answer their question. There were two guys behind me, they had masks on, and they were ready, just waiting to beat you if you didn't answer their questions. They wanted me to sign a piece of paper. I asked if it was possible to read, even to look at the papers that I was supposed to sign but they didn't let me. They said I should just sign it." (68)
"Jambekov" also described the humiliation guards subjected him to:
They would make us say "Comrade Colonel, let me crawl to you" but he wasn't a colonel, that was just his dream. After they beat us, they made us say "thank you," and if you couldn't even stand then they would still make you say "thank you" and crawl away. (69)
As of early May, "Jambekov" still suffered from the medical consequences of the beatings in detention. According to his mother, X-rays taken in April revealed three broken ribs, and the doctor's diagnoses also included prolapsed kidneys, problems with his liver, and an irregular heartbeat. She also reported that "Jambekov" had developed a stammer and has other neurological ailments (confusion, headaches), which his doctor attributed to beatings sustained to the head. (70)
Guards at Chernokozovo often focused their beatings on the testicles of male inmates, causing excruciating pain and long-term health problems for their victims. According to "Yakub Tasuev," "They asked if I was married or not. If someone was unmarried, they said 'You will never have children,' and kicked them [in the testicles]." (71) "Sultan Eldarbiev" told Human Rights Watch that on February 7, as he was being taken for questioning around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., he saw guards beating two men in the genital area:
I saw a man during questioning, crouched naked with his hands over his head. I turned and saw [another] naked man. Two men [guards] separated his legs. [Another man] tried to force him to sign a [confession] saying he was a fighter, cut off heads, traded in people. They kicked down on his genitals, saying "You will sign it! You will sign it!" (72)
Human Rights Watch located and interviewed separately the man whom "Sultan Eldarbiev" saw being kicked in that incident. "Ali Baigiraev," aged thirty-four, described how guards took him from his cell late at night on February 7, and openly discussed whether or not to rape him before administering a brutal beating:
It was February 7, late at night. I was lying on the floor, two guards held my legs while another kicked me in the testicles. I would lose consciousness and come to, I lost consciousness four times. They hit me around the head, there was blood. They would beat me unconscious and wait until I came round: "He's woken up," and they would come in and beat me [again]. (73)
"Baigiraev" lost a testicle as a result of injuries sustained during the February 7 beatings. He was still recovering in the hospital, more than two months after the beating, when he was interviewed by Human Rights Watch. (74)
According to "Baigiraev," the second man mentioned by "Sultan Eldarbiev" was a twenty-seven-year-old man from Staraia Sunzha district of Grozny: "I didn't understand [at the time] what was happening, but I saw this naked man. I saw guards holding the man on a chair, and he was screaming like he was being castrated. He told me later that they held his testicles with pliers, and beat him there with batons." (75)
Thirty-two-year-old "Ibrahim Aziev" told Human Rights Watch that guards beat his feet during interrogation on January 21:
When I was taken for questioning, the investigator tried to force me to sign a confession, this happened on my second day at Chernokozovo [January 21]. On the way to, during, and on the way back from questioning I was beaten with rubber sticks on my shoulders and back. [Then] they made me lie on the ground, with my feet raised, and beat the soles of my feet. They wanted me to sign an article 208 confession, saying I participated in the fighting. (76)
"Ibrahim Aziev" was unable to walk for two weeks after his release because of the pain caused by the falanga beatings.
Thirty-two-year-old "Yakub Tasuev" also told Human Rights Watch how he had experienced falanga torture at Chernokozovo in early February:
They used the iron part of their sticks [batons] to beat me on the bottom of my feet. They put a cloth in my mouth so I couldn't scream, and they handcuffed me. They made me lay down on my stomach with my head under the table. They took off my boots and socks, and beat my soles, especially on the heels. Then they made me stand against the wall with my hands up, lifted my shirt and beat me on the kidneys with the sticks.... These beatings took place mostly in the interrogation room, but also in the corridor on the way to interrogation. (77)
"Sultan Eldarbiev" told Human Rights Watch that one of the men in his cell, a twenty-five-year-old man from the Karpinsky district of Grozny, was beaten so badly on his feet that he could no longer walk: "He couldn't walk, he had been beaten on the soles of his feet and had broken ribs. His feet were black and he had open wounds on the soles of his feet." (78)
Several detainees said that electric shocks were used during the interrogations. According to "Umar Khakimov," who was held in Chernokozovo from February 5 to 12:
They also used electric power, they made you touch the wires. They just give you the wires and you are not allowed to see what it is, you just have to grab it. When I touched the wires, I felt like my eyes were going to pop out. This was in the interrogation room. They made you stand with your hands up. Two soldiers hold you from behind and make you touch the wires. They shocked me like this once. After the interrogation, they took me back to my cell. I was unable to walk out because of the pain, and had to crawl back. (79)
"Sultan Eldarbiev" was also subjected to electric shock:
They tried to make me sign confessions that we were wahhabis, (80) fighters, that we were supporting the fighters. I did not sign. They used electric shock to make me sign, but I did not do it. I was forced to put my back to the wall. Two guards stood next to me, my hands were on my head. There were two cables, and they held the cables to my body. I felt I was going crazy, I fell unconscious once. I was afraid my heart would stop beating. They splashed water in my face. Two or three times during the interrogation, they shocked me. (81)
"Alimkhan Visaev," detained in Chernokozovo for eighteen days from late January and early February, was brutally beaten during interrogation the first day he was transferred to Chernokozovo:
The interrogator was in camouflage, he was a high-ranking officer.... When my name was called, I had to leave the cell with my hands behind my head until the guard locked the cell. I was then brought to the interrogation room, while the soldier accompanying me beat me with his rubber stick. When I entered the interrogation room, I was ordered to sit on a chair. I was asked whether I was a fighter, and where I was hiding weapons.
There were two guards, one on each side and the interrogator behind his desk facing me. One guard had a gun, the other had a baton. They would ask questions and I would reply, the interrogator then would say, "Answer now!" and the soldiers were beating me. I was hit with the rifle butt on my neck, with a bat on my back, and [they] hit me on the head, shoulders and ribs with the baton.
I was interrogated for a half hour or more. When I said, "No I'm not a fighter," they said, "Now you'll remember," and beat me. The interrogation room had concrete walls, three meters wide and four meters long, with a chair and a desk for the interrogator and a chair for the detainee. I was taken for interrogation three of four times, with the same questions and the same beatings, but different interrogators. I saw the interrogator's face, but the guards wore masks. (82)
"Issa Akhmadov" was interrogated first on January 17, the day he was transferred to Chernokozovo.
I noticed it was getting dark. I made my evening and night prayers. Just as I finished, I was called out again. As I stepped out of the cell, I was struck in the back of the neck and fell to the floor. They ordered me to crawl along the corridor, which was twenty meters long. I tried to crawl and one of the soldiers was kicking me in the kidney, and another in the shoulder. A third was walking behind me, with a gun pointing at me. This way I was made to crawl through the corridor and enter the investigator's office. (83)
During questioning "Akhmadov" was accused of being a fighter:
They asked me what fighters I knew, I said I had seen Basayev and others on TV but did not know any fighters myself. Then the interrogator told the soldiers to take me away. It lasted about twenty minutes. On the way back to the cell, I was beaten again by three soldiers. They beat me against the wall, threw me against the floor and beat me on the head. I was put back in the cell and the next one was taken. (84)
The day after his interrogation, "Akhmadov" and his cellmates were ordered to leave their cell for a security check. In the corridor, the men were forced to walk through a gauntlet of guards, one of whom struck Akhmadov with a hammer, causing him pain for months. He described the incident to Human Rights Watch:
They were checking the jail to see if we were trying to escape. They made us run to the cold room...with fifteen soldiers beating us there and back. Among the soldiers were two with big metal [sledge] hammers. When I was running from the cell to the cold room, I was struck by the hammer on my backbone, and on the way back I was struck on my leg. The other men that were there with me had ribs broken, shoulder blades broken, or a knee broken. (85)
When interviewed by Human Rights Watch almost one month after this incident, "Akhmadov" still bore the signs of the injury. He walked with extreme difficulty, and was on strong painkillers to control his constant back pain. His cellmate, twenty-year-old "Adem Hasuev," independently described the same incident. (86)
"Movsar Larsanov," detained in Chernokozovo from mid-January until March 1, noted that he was beaten and humiliated as he was taken to and from the interrogation room, but not during questioning.
As soon as you would leave the cell, they would beat you, they would shout at you the whole time. As soon as you came to the room...first they would beat you and then you would have to lie down on the floor and crawl to them. You would have to say, "Request permission to crawl." Me personally, they beat me on the knees, with clubs, and on the kidneys. They kicked me in the chest [and I fell]. I stood up and they beat me again, they kickedme in the chest and said stand up, and again, and again, and again, until I couldn't stand up any more. (87)
"Akhmed Isaev," held in Chernokozovo from January 19 to 30, had a very similar experience that confirmed the practice described by "Larsanov." He was beaten on the way to and from interrogation, but the case investigator, whom he described as a man with a reddish beard, did not harm him:
[On January 19], we were taken for interrogation one by one. When the door was opened and somebody was called out, he had to step out of the cell, fall on his knees, put his hand behind his head and face against the wall. Two or three guards were beating us. They were wearing masks and did not let us look into their eyes. I was shown the opened door which was about fifteen meters away. I was ordered to fall down and crawl.
They ordered me...when I reached the door, to...say the words, "Citizen Officer, thank you for seeing me. I am [gives name]. According to your order, I have crawled up here." They also said that the faster I would crawl, the less hits I would get. They laughed, saying I crawled like a "Wahhabi."
I reached the door, entered the room, and one guard beat me with an iron rod.... The interrogation lasted about forty minutes. I was beaten when I entered the room, and when it was over. There were two people in the room, and two guards outside the room. The one who asked the questions had a knitted cap and reddish beard. Each of us had been interrogated and then sent to a different cell. (88)
Like Isaev, "Alvi Khanaev," was brought to Chernokozovo on January 19 and said he was questioned by a man with a reddish beard who did not harm him. He also was beaten before being interrogated, and was forced to strip before the questioning began, which he said took place at 5:00 a.m. "Khanaev" stressed to Human Rights Watch that he remained stripped of his clothes during the interrogation, but that "[the prosecutor's] attitude towards me was not one of animosity." At the end of the questioning, "Khanaev" begged the investigator to ask the guards not to beat him on the way back to the cell. The investigator's secretary indicated to the guards not to harm Khanaev, but they beat him and the other men on the way to the cell anyway. (89)
Night Beatings: "They were out of control" (90)
At night guards at Chernokozovo were apparently given free reign for wanton abuse and humiliation. It was then that the most brutal treatment occurred. Many detainees noted that the playing of loud music would signal the start of the "night time regime," when guards, often inebriated, would conducted mock interrogations, during which they would mete out severe beatings or other forms of torture to those who did not comply. They would also force detainees to engage in humiliating acts. "Magomed Habuev," reflecting on the nighttime regime, commented, "During the day, you might be beaten with clubs, but at night, there was no way to be able to deal with that kind of torture." (91)
"Ali Baigiraev"described being brutally beaten at night, during which time he said beatings were more severe than those during the day. On the night of February 7:
It was a beating, not an interrogation. They took me out of the cell, I don't know how many there were. Three or four were beating me with sticks and kicking me. By the time I reached the interrogation room, I was already very weak. When I entered the room, there were about ten people. They didn't ask any questions, they started beating me. They beat me, beat me, beat me, and I fell down. Only after I fell down did they start asking questions. But you have no strength to answer, because they put you against the wall and start beating you again.
They beat me on the head, saying I was very strong. Then they banged my head against the wall. The last time I regained consciousness, I started sitting up and I saw the feet of the soldiers, and they said, "He's coming to. They asked me if I had children. I said I did and they answered, "You won't have any more," and they kicked me in my private parts. Then I lost consciousness again. I didn't regain consciousness, I just heard them saying, "Let's drag him into the cell." They ordered me to stand up but I couldn't. They dragged me into the cell. My jacket and hat remained in the interrogation room and I never got them back. (92)
"Aslanbek Digaev," detained from January 25 until February 18 in Chernokozovo, showed a Human Rights Watch researcher a scar on his head that extended from the level of his ear up towards the crown of his head, the result, he said, of a blow from the butt of a rifle which he received during a nighttime mock interrogation.
There was also unofficial "questioning," when they were drunk, in the same interrogation rooms, with no papers. They would act as if they were generals. I [can't count] the number of times I was taken for "unofficial questioning." At 7:00 p.m., they turned on the music, and it lasted until morning. I have scars on my head, my nose and ribs were broken. [My head] was bleeding.... They were maniacs, they enjoyed it. (93)
At night, primarily, guards played abusive "games" with the prisoners. Many detainees described being forced to perform humiliating acts for guards, often when the guards were drunk. Guards rode on top of "Aslanbek Digaev" while he was on his hands and knees. He described this to Human Rights Watch, "They forced us to kneel down, in the corridor, and sat on top of us, and would act as if they were in a car. They played these kinds of games in the corridor." (94)
"Abdul Jambekov" also reported being forced by guards to participate in humiliating "games":
They also had a separate room, it was covered with blood, at the end of the hall. There were some broken chairs in there. They rode people there, sitting on top of them, beating them with clubs. They made me crawl, saying that I would have to crawl such a distance in such a time. If not, then you had to do it again. We were taken there one by one, they beat me, and others. (95)
Describing this humiliation, "Jambekov" became visibly distressed and physically agitated.
Others described how the guards forced them to run up and down the corridor; if the guards were not satisfied with the speed, they made the detainee repeat the exercise. (96) Another interviewee described how guards piled detainees on top of each other in the corridor, so that they were laying across each other two by two. The guards then beat them when this "tower" collapsed. (97)
Another form of torture which was reportedly administered at Chernokozovo was the application of a heated brick to the body of detainees. Forty-four-year-old "Magomed Kantiev" told Human Rights Watch that guards had burned him with heated bricks on his back on several occasions:
I was forced to strip to the waist, and lie on the floor. Then the guards would put an ordinary house brick which they had heated with a lamp on my back, and another soldier would stand on the brick. I was subjected to this on numerous occasions. Whether the brick left burns depended on how much it had been heated. At some point I had blisters on my back.... Day by day, they get better. But there are still psychological scars, they will not heal. (98)
Most former detainees reported that they were forced to stand in exhausting positions, such as with their hands above their heads facing a wall, for extended periods of time, sometimes for an entire day. Guards beat those who failed to sustain this position. At least two of those interviewed indicated that rather than put their hands against the wall, they were ordered to stand facing the wall with their palms facing backwards. (99)
Guards regularly checked cells to make sure detainees were standing in the ordered positions. According to "Akhmed Isaev":
At 6:00 a.m., we were woken up, sometimes earlier. We were allowed to go to bed at 11:00 p.m. We had to stand the whole day long. The cell was very small, and when the guards looked through the peep hole they could not see one corner. We took turns going to this corner to get some rest. We had to face the wall and keep our hands up, the whole day. (100)
"Alvi Khanaev" confirmed that those who could not endure standing attempted to hide in the corner. "Naturally, from time to time we dropped our hands, because it was impossible to stand like this, although we knew we would be punished." (101)
Guards punished not only those who dropped their arms, but sometimes also the entire cell. "Adem Hasuev" told Human Rights Watch: "Sometimes, you get tired and drop your hands, in this case, they beat everyone." (102) According to "Alimkhan Visaev," "[t]he soldiers watched us through the peep hole. If we dropped our hands or sat down, we would be taken out and beaten. One man [from Grozny], sat down once, he was taken out and beaten brutally." (103)
"Ali Baigiraev" and his cellmates were forced to stand as a punishment, after one of them had been examined by a visiting Russian delegation on February 9 or 10. "They made all the people in the cell stand with their hands up all night. But I couldn't stand on [any] feet, so the others were ordered to keep us standing, otherwise they would also be beaten, all of them." (104)
Prison guards frequently used teargas in the cells of detainees, causing coughing fits and breathing problems for the unprotected inmates. Eight detainees, including Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky, confirmed the use of teargas at Chernokozovo in interviews with Human Rights Watch. Twenty-four-year old "Akhmed Isaev" (not his real name) explained: "They asked us if we wanted to smoke, and when someone went to the door to take the cigarettes they would spray teargas inside instead of [giving] the cigarettes. They did this about six different times." (105)
At other times, guards used teargas to punish detainees when they violated the rigid rules of the facility. One detainee related how his cell was sprayed with teargas when the detainees could no longer endure the physical demands placed upon them: "They would do this when someone let down their hands or sat down. The guard would open the peephole and say, 'Hah, you are sitting down, now I'm going to get you,' and spray the gas." (106)
Reports of rape at Chernokozovo emerged, despite the strong taboo in Chechen culture against revealing instances of sexual assault. Chechnya's Muslim culture and national traditions strictly regulate relations between men and women, and inappropriate behavior is subject to severe and often violent sanctions. Unmarried women who have been raped are unlikely to be able to marry, and married women who are raped are likely to be divorced by their husbands. In the patriarchal and homophobic Chechen society, rape and sexual assault of men is particularly difficult to discuss. Yet more than half of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch alleged that guards raped and sexually assaulted male and female detainees at Chernokozovo, although these allegations require further confirmation. Although none of the interviewees explicitly stated that he or she was a victim of rape, several did describe abuse rising to the level of sexual assault and provided credible evidence of rape in the facility.
Some women were forced to strip in front of the male guards. "Fatimah Akhmedova" described to Human Rights Watch one incident of forced nudity during an interrogation at Chernokozovo:
On the first day of February at around midnight or so, I was called out for questioning. They forced me to strip and [accused me of being a fighter or sniper]. I was questioned by eight people, three were doctors in military uniforms, two of those [doctors] were brought to me when I was sick. I was stripped only for questioning. I saw all of them, one looked like an Uzbek. They questioned me for one half hour, they shouted and swore at me, that if I didn't tell the truth they would keep me there until I died. I was taken out once on [February 1] and three times on the second day.
Male prisoners also reported incidents of forced nudity, usually in the context of severe torture to the genital area. (107) Sexual violence in the form of forced nudity served to inflict psychological humiliation upon detainees, and added to Chernokozovo's environment of terror and intimidation. (108) Forced nudity also served as a precursor to additional sexual violence described by male and female detainees.
"Alvi Khanaev," who was transferred to Chernokozovo on January 19, reported that one woman arrested with him was raped the first night they spent at Chernokozovo.
The woman that was with us in the vehicle [name withheld] was forty-two years old and has four children, she is from Tolstoy-Yurt. That evening, when men were interrogated, that woman was beaten mercilessly. Judging from the noise, I could guess that she was being beaten with the rubber sticks, she was beaten. She was beaten for ten or fifteen minutes, with some pauses of one or two minutes. Then, for half an hour we didn't hear her at all. We could hear everything that was going on in the jail, but could not see everything. In half an hour, we understood that she had been raped. The soldiers were using bad language and this lasted for about thirty minutes. Then everything stopped.
Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm independently this or several other accounts of rape of women. The difficulties inherent in documenting such abuse are enormous. In the patriarchal and homophobic Chechen society, speaking of rape and sexual assault is taboo. Women detainees may have feared to admit that any of the women were raped in the facility, aware of the social stigma and shame associated with rape.
Human Rights Watch did gather detailed testimony relating to physical evidence of anal rape of men in Chernokozovo. "Ibrahim Aziev" claimed that his cellmate told him that he had been raped on January 23, the day before Aziev arrived at Chernokozovo. Aziev described the victim as young, about fifteen years old, and attractive. "When I saw him, he was just like a corpse. He was breathing, but nothing more. They didn't take him again while I was there. He said he was raped, those were his words." (109)
"Sultan Eldarbiev," held in Chernokozovo from February 5 until February 11, said that a man from his cell was sodomized with a truncheon.
They raped with a baton a thirty-two or thirty-three-year-old, [name withheld]. When he was brought round, he was brought to our cell naked, with his clothes in his hands. There was dried blood leading from his anus, he didn't sign [a confession]. I was in cell 16. (110)
"Ali Baigiraev," who was held in the same cell with "Sultan Eldarbiev," and who had been severely beaten in the genitals, was himself threatened with rape:
I heard the soldiers say while they were kicking me on the floor, "Let's fuck him." Then they said "Let's not dirty ourselves" (Ne budem pachkatsia). When I was taken for "questioning" I was beaten and they said "Let's fuck him." "Let's question him," I was taken from the cell, and by the time I got to the questioning room, I was already only half-conscious. I was taken from this room to another where they said they would fuck me. (111)
Several interviewees said that guards gave male rape victims a woman's name as a nickname, and teased them later about the rape. "Alvi Khanaev" told Human Rights Watch that on several occasions he heard guards tease and beat men in the corridor. He described one incident that began with guards ordering the victim out of his cell:
You could hear everything. Then the soldiers ordered him to undress. Then... something was done to him, [sodomy]. We heard him say, "please, please, don't!" This continued for about five minutes. After all this happened, the victim said, "You have killed me." They renamed him Alla, they said, "From now on, you will be Alla, a woman." (112)
Possibly describing the same incident, "Alimkhan Visaev" said that his cellmate had been raped during the last week of January or the first week of February.
They took one of the men from my cell and raped him. They gave him a nickname, Tania or Natasha. He was about twenty years old…. They raped him and threw him into our cell, and the next day they took him to a different cell. The man cried "It hurts, it hurts, don't do it....You have killed me." (113)
As international attention focused on the human rights violations in Chechnya, intergovernmental organizations--particularly the Council of Europe--began to pressure Russia to accept official visiting delegations to the region. At about the same time, Russian authorities orchestrated a cleanup of Chernokozovo. Clearly aware by this time that inmates were being tortured, the authorities improved somewhat the physical conditions, and by February 10, ensured that the guards who had perpetrated the worst abuses were rotated out. At the same time, Moscow authorities vehemently denied any abuse had taken place in Chernokozovo, and delayed the international community's access to the facility. Improvements, at first, were cosmetic, and inmates were merely taken out temporarily to conceal from the first round of visitors the degree of overcrowding and to hide some of the inmates who had been severely abused.This pattern was repeated prior to the February 24-March 3 trip by the CPT to Chechnya, which included a visit to Chernokozovo. Then, as more international bodies demanded and received access to Chernokozovo, conditions improved radically; indeed, by April it had become a showcase.
The Russian Commission Visit
During the first week of February, a government commission visited Chernokozovo; it appeared to consist of military staff, but its exact composition and agenda remain unclear. (114) The visitors sought out and found prisoners who had been beaten, even though many inmates had been temporarily transferred out in advance, took special interest in those who had visible signs of injury, and in some cases attempted to document suspected abuse. However, inmates had been forewarned not complain about abuse and those who did were later beaten.
"Salman Sulumov" told Human Rights Watch that before the visit, he was held for three days in a train car, and returned to the facility after the commission left:
When I spent four days at Chernokozovo [approximately February 4], we heard they were expecting some commission. We were [taken] to a train. After [three days], we were brought back to Chernokozovo.... They kept us in the cell one day, then loaded us on the vehicles again where we spent a whole day. Maybe they were hiding us from another commission. Then, we were returned back to the cell. (115)
"Bislan Magomadov," who was present at Chernokozovo for the "commission" visit, emphasized that guards had threatened inmates not to speak candidly about their treatment:
They prepared the cells before the commission came, they made some cots. I don't know what the commission was, but they came from Moscow. They asked how we were fed, whether we go through beatings, what our life was like. But we couldn't complain and could not tell the truth. The guards had told us, "if you complain, we will punish you." We heard that the commission arrived and the same day we were warned that we couldn't complain. (116)
A man who identified himself as the chief of the prison and who accompanied the visitors had been tipped off that an inmate in cell 17, "Aslan Aslanov," had been beaten. While in cell 17, this man examined "Aslanov" and upon the latter's suggestion, examined "Movsar Larsanov" as well. "Larsanov" told Human Rights Watch:
When they examined ["Aslanov"] they saw traces of beatings...At this time, [the Russian leading the delegation] said, "I am the chief of this prison." He made me take off my clothes from the waist up, and asked me if I had been beaten. I said no. But he said, "I am not new to this." He didn't say anything to the guards. (117)
Another detainee, "Ali Baigiraev," had been brutally beaten two days prior to the commission visit. Yet when the commission examined him, at first he denied that he had been beaten, fearing reprisals should he tell the truth:
I first said I just fell down, but then they took us to a private room and made an investigation. They made us tell them about the beatings.... All those who went through severe beatings had to sign a statement [documenting the beatings]. But I think it was just a formality, those responsible will not be punished. (118)
"Baigiraev's" cellmate was brutally beaten in reprisal for telling the commission the cause of his injuries. The commission had examined the young man, who was from the village of Ishcherskaia, because he was visibly bruised. "Umar Khakimov," another cellmate, told Human Rights Watch, "When the commission came he complained. He was bruised, and that is why they questioned him. He was questioned by a general, and the general ordered all those on duty when he was beaten to come and he yelled at them, saying, 'Do you think you will remain unpunished?'" (119)
"Ali Baigiraev" confirmed this account:
After the commission left, the soldiers learned that [the man from Ishcherskaia] complained and took him out and beat him again. They wanted him to sign a paper with the same confession because the previous one was taken away by the prosecutor. They beat him twice that night. (120)
On February 10, the personnel staffing Chernokozovo were rotated out and Major General Mikhail S. Nazarkin of the Penal Enforcement Department became director of the facility. (121) Most interviewees told Human Rights Watch that abuses lessened after February 10.
International Outrage and Russian Denial
Just before the change in command, details about conditions and unspeakable abuse in the center were leaked to journalists in Ingushetia, allegedly by a guard who had served in Chernokozovo. (122) The second week of February, the guard's letter "to the world" appeared in Ingushetia, dated February 3, which described the beating of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky as well as the torture and rape of other detainees. (123) Around the same time, released detainees began making their way to Ingushetia, and confirmed the extent of the torture. (124)
An international scandal brewed, to which Russian authorities later responded with a chorus of denial. On February 14, presidential press secretary Sergei Yasterzhembsky refuted claims of torture in Chernokozovo; four days later he told reporters that they were "misinforming the public" by reporting the abuses. (125) The Ministry of Justice issued a press release stating that "cases of violence, harassment, torture, and even shootings of persons kept in the investigation ward located in the residential area of Chernokozovo…do not correspond to the [sic] reality and grossly distort the real state of affairs." (126) On March 1, after Andrei Babitsky had been released and made public the treatment to which he was subjected, Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Rushailo responded with snide skepticism. "All of [Babitsky's] stories about 250 blows with a baton--I seriously doubt them, as I think we all do." (127)
Meanwhile, the facility underwent further renovation--it was painted, improvements were made in the food rations, and detainees were transferred to other locations to relieve the severe overcrowding in anticipation of expected international delegations. For example, on February 22, "Movsar Larsanov," was transferred to the Chervlyonnaia railway station, where he spent seven days in prisoner transport train carriages, known as "Stolypin Carriages." (128)
They took twenty-four of us by [prisoner transport vehicles], they took us in the morning, that was on the February 22, because on February 21, at night, we were shaved, they made a prozharka [i.e. their clothes were sterilized]. In Chervlyonnaia, there were other people there when we arrived. We were in carriages. (129)
Seven days later, "Movsar Larsanov" was returned to Chernokozovo, whereupon other detainees told him that in his absence, another commission had visited Chernokozovo. This commission, most likely the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), was comprised of international experts as well as Russians.
In a separate investigation of the cover-up in advance of the CPT visit, Amnesty International also established that "on 25 or 26 February, just a few days before the CPT official visit to Chernokozovo, the Russian authorities reportedly removed about 300 men and women detainees--almost the entire population of Chernokozovo--from the camp to another location in the village of Stanitsa Chervlyonnaya in Chechnya. It is believed that the 300 detainees were removed from the camp by the authorities to hide the real scale of atrocities committed in Chernokozovo." (130)
The CPT was granted permission to visit Chernokozovo during its February 26-March 3 trip to the North Caucasus. In preliminary observations, it expressed satisfaction that at the time of its visit "persons detained in this establishment are not being physically ill-treated." (131) However, the delegation also stated that "many persons detained at Chernokozovo were physically ill-treated in the establishment during the period December 1999 to early February 2000," and described the same methods detailed in this report. The statement explicitly requested an investigation by Russian authorities. (132) If the Russian authorities have initiated such an investigation, its results have not been made public.
Russian authorities finally allowed a group of foreign journalists access to Chernokozovo on February 29. The journalists were allowed to talk to a few selected inmates, who denied they had been abused. One of them was "Movsar Larsanov," who later told Human Rights Watch that he had not told the journalists about his transfer to Chervlyonnaya, nor the full extent of the abuses in Chernokozovo, out of fear of retribution from the guards. (133)
Nevertheless, it quickly became clear to the journalists visiting the facility that they were witnessing a cover-up. According to one journalist, who kept away from the guards, the inmates confirmed that the camp "had been transformed in the space of a week in preparation for the arrival of foreign visitors." One detainee muttered to the journalists, "Before that it was like a horror film in here. Everything you hear about this camp is true. They beat people terribly." (134)
On February 17, 2000, then-acting president Vladimir Putin appointed Vladimir Kalamanov as special representative for human rights in Chechnya, amidst the uproar over Chernokozovo as well as international humanitarian law violations in Chechnya. In the wake of visits by the CPT and foreign journalists, and less than two weeks into his job, Kalamanov claimed that there had been no torture in Chernokozovo; he continued to categorically deny the allegations on other occasions. (135) To his credit, by July Kalamanov's mission in Znamenskoye had helped to secure the release and amnesty of more than 200 inmates at Chernokozovo and other detention centers. (136)