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Update Note on Chechnya
(New York, September 24, 2001) The Commission's April 20 resolution on Chechnya rejected the notion, now espoused by some, that fighting terrorism could ever justify sacrificing human rights protections. Resolution 2001/24 condemned terrorist attacks related to the Chechnya conflict and breaches of humanitarian law perpetrated by Chechen forces, as well as certain methods often used by Russian federal forces in Chechnya. In calling for a national commission of inquiry into Russian abuses and for the deployment of thematic mandates, the Commission emphasized the need for transparency; by calling on the Russian government to undertake systematic, credible, and exhaustive criminal investigations into abuses, it embraced the rule of law. It is difficult to imagine a more thorough rejection of ends justifying the means.

Regrettably, since the adoption of 2001/24, Russian forces' methods in Chechnya remain arbitrary and brutal, and the Russian authorities have made no significant progress toward accountability and toward access for certain U.N. thematic mechanisms. In response to a series of attacks by Chechen forces this summer, federal forces conducted a series of sweep operations in three villages that involved the arbitrary detention of hundreds of villagers; many were tortured, and several were the victims of extrajudicial execution or forced disappearance. In July 2001, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 victims and eyewitnesses of these abuses.

Russian forces conducted a sweep operation of Sernovodsk on July 2 after a mine explosion killed five soldiers the previous day. They arbitrarily detained an estimated 620 villagers and internally displaced people; they seized people without regard to their identity or identity documents, which suggests that the apprehensions were not based on suspicion of specific involvement in the explosion. Throughout the following two days in nearby Assinovskaia, federal forces swept through the village, detaining about 400 people in the same manner they had in Sernovodsk. Several interviewed by Human Rights Watch quoted soldiers as saying they had an order to detain all males between the ages of six and sixty. In both sweeps most detainees were released later that day, but many were tortured throughout the course of the day; some were sent on to Achkoi-Martan for further questioning.

Human Rights Watch interviewed eight people who described in detail beatings and electroshock torture by federal forces seeking information about the explosions. Among them was "Khamaz Yusupov," who described to Human Rights Watch beatings and electroshock torture to his ears, teeth, and arms. His description of electroshock was consistent with that given by several other victims. Two teenager brothers told Human Rights Watch about two days of torture in Achkoi-Martan. They described electroshock to their kidneys, mouth, and ears; one brother endured such treatment to his genitals as well. One of the teenagers also described in detail how a masked agent forced his mouth open while another filed his tooth, causing unbearable pain. A Human Rights Watch researcher viewed the injuries from the beatings the brothers had endured.

In June Russian forces clashed with Chechen fighters in Alkhan-Kala, killing a top Chechen field commander. During the operation, federal forces detained hundreds of villagers-many were tortured and at least six were extrajudicially executed. Among the six were Rustam Razhepov and Daud Vitaev, whom eyewitnesses said were detained by federal forces in the latter's home; villagers later found the bodies in a pit with six other corpses.

This pattern of violations by federal forces gives reason to closely monitor the sweep operation that followed renewed fighting in Gudermes last week, during which at least 400 people were detained.

Thorough investigations and exhaustive prosecutions have not been a priority for the Russian authorities. In May, Russia provided to the Council of Europe the first apparently comprehensive list of 358 Chechnya-related investigations to date. Human Rights Watch's analysis of the list reveals that more than half, or 190, cases have been suspended, and that only 18 percent are currently considered active cases. Only 41 of the 358 cases opened are for murder (18 of which have been suspended), yet more than 130 civilians alone were extrajudicially executed in three massacres of 1999 and 2000. Torture of detainees is routine in Chechnya, yet not a single investigation has ensued. The most frequently reported violations are disappearances, which account for 110 (or 31 percent) of the cases on the list; an overwhelming majority (79 percent) has been suspended.

Very few cases have progressed to the courts. On September 20, Rossiskaia gazeta published a list of 11 convictions of servicemen to date: five resulted in active prison sentences, of which two were for murder. In most cases, neither the convictions nor the investigations by the military procuracy appear to relate to torture, summary execution, arbitrary detention, or forced disappearance.