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Human Rights Situation in Chechnya
Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper to the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights
April 7, 2003
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In prior years most abuses committed by Russian forces occurred during large-scale military sweep operations.4 But in the past year abuses generally occurred during night raids, when armed men in masks burst into the homes of unsuspecting Chechens and, without identifying themselves, took away one or more inhabitants, usually male. In most cases, these people are never seen again; in some cases, their corpses are subsequently found.

Although Russian government officials have routinely blamed Chechen rebel fighters for the raids, much evidence suggests that in many cases Russian forces are in fact responsible-a view recently expressed by Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya.5 The armed men often arrive on armored personnel carriers (APCs) and other military vehicles that are used only by Russian troops and they frequently speak unaccented Russian, which is distinct from the accented Russian often spoken by those who live in the Northern Caucasus. Also, the frequency of such incidents and size of the armed groups seem to indicate Russian involvement. Of the 185 case descriptions in the unpublished government reports, in thirty-eight cases, involving sixty-four victims, the report describes the same three factors.

Extrajudicial executions
Human Rights Watch documented the killings of five men in Chechnya in 2003. In most cases, Russian forces had detained the men days or weeks before their relatives discovered their corpses.

In a disturbing new trend, Russian forces increasingly resort to blowing up the bodies of executed Chechens-a crude ploy that eradicates signs of torture, obscures the cause of death, and makes identification of the corpse extremely difficult. Human Rights Watch documented three such cases. Memorial, a Russian nongovernmental human rights organization with permanent offices in Chechnya and Ingushetia, documented thirty-eight cases in January and February in which the corpses of Chechens were found; in twenty of these cases, the bodies had been blown up.6

Below is one of the execution cases Human Rights Watch documented:7

    · Execution of "Kharon K." and attempted execution of "Aslanbek K."8 On the morning of February 16, 2003, a group of about fifteen armed and masked men in uniforms riding in military vehicles arrived at the home of the K. family. According to "Malika K.," the men searched the house and took away her two sons, Kharon and Aslanbek. The men, who spoke unaccented Russian, refused to look at the brothers' identity documents, insisting their papers would be examined "at the department."

      The armed men took the brothers to an ad hoc detention center in Grozny, where they separated them. Aslanbek K. was held in a cellar, where his guards questioned and beat him. They beat him with a rifle butt on his face, legs, and kidneys, and broke his nose in several places with a heavy metal flashlight.9

      It is unclear when Kharon K. was killed; on February 17, the guards loaded his corpse, and Aslanbek K., onto a car and drove them to a nearby district. There, the guards tied the two together, placed them under a large slab of concrete in an abandoned chemical plant, and put explosives between their bodies. They then fired a bullet at Aslanbek's head but missed, causing only a superficial wound. After the armed men left, apparently thinking he was dead, Aslanbek K. managed to free himself before the explosives went off, and return home.10

Forced disappearances
Human Rights Watch documented the forced disappearances of forty-four men, twenty-six of which occurred between late December 2002 and late February 2003-about three "disappearances" per week. Human Rights Watch and Memorial have documented hundreds of forced disappearances since the resumption of hostilities in Chechnya in September 1999.11 Memorial's database of "disappearances" currently contains information on more than 600 cases. These figures reflect only a fraction of the actual number of "disappearances." For example, the unpublished government reports stated there were 126 "abductions" in January and February 2003 alone; the accompanying case descriptions strongly suggest involvement of federal forces in most of the cases. In mid-February 2003, the procurator of Chechnya stated that the procuracy was conducting 1,163 criminal investigations into the abductions of approximately 1,700 individuals in Chechnya.12

In the majority of cases Human Rights Watch documented in March 2003, the victims "disappeared" after armed men detained them during night raids at their homes, though some were detained at checkpoints. In all of these cases, relatives conducted extensive but fruitless searches, and in most cases, criminal investigations are pending.

Below are two recent examples.

    · Alik Mazhiev (b. 1948), Khasan Mazhiev (b.1974), Khusein Mazhiev (b.1975) and Arbi Mazhiev (b.1983). On the night of January 4, 2003, several dozen masked and armed men simultaneously burst into the Mazhiev family's three apartments on Yablochnaia Street in Grozny. Aishat Mazhieva told Human Rights Watch that the men arrived on armored personnel carriers (APCs) and other military vehicles, and took her husband and youngest son, a ballet dancer with the "Vainakh" dance group that had recently toured in Paris, Moscow, and Warsaw. 13 Other armed men detained her two other sons in adjacent apartments, where they lived with their respective families. The armed men took all four Mazhievs away, and despite numerous attempts by Mazhieva to find her husband and three sons their fate remained unknown as of this writing. The procuracy of Chechnya opened a criminal investigation into the "disappearances."14

    · Sharpudi Israilov (b.1973) and Adlan Dovtaev (b.1971). On December 30, 2002, Sharpudi Israilov drove from the village of Tolstoi-Yurt, where he had received his new passport, to his home village of Kulary together with three local police officers. As they passed a checkpoint near Chernoreche, an APC drove out of a nearby forest and opened fire on their vehicle, killing one of the policemen and wounding Israilov and one other man. The soldiers put Israilov and the two policemen in the APC, and threw the third policeman's dead body on top. Five other detainees, including Adlan Dovtaev, were already inside the APC. According to a relative, Dovtaev had been detained minutes earlier as he passed through the checkpoint.15 The men were taken to Khankala military base where Russian soldiers interrogated, beat, and tortured them with electric shocks. On January 1, 2003, soldiers took Israilov and Dovtaev away and the other detainees did not see them again. In the next few days, the six other detainees were released and informed Israilov's and Dovtaev's relatives that they had been in custody together at Khankala military base.16 Both families filed a complaint with the procuracy, which opened a criminal investigation. At the time of the interview, the relatives had no information on the fate and whereabouts of Sharpudi Israilov and Adlan Dovtaev. 17

Many survivors of torture and ill-treatment in Chechnya are extremely reluctant to talk about their experiences for fear of arrest or reprisal. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch interviewed at great length five victims of torture and also received detailed accounts of the torture of seven other victims.18 In most of these cases, Russian soldiers tried to force the detainees to confess to involvement in the December 27, 2002, attack on the main government building in Grozny.

Torture and ill-treatment are most prevalent in unofficial places of detention, such as pits and basements at the Khankala and DON-2 military bases. Due to their unofficial status, these detention centers are immune from international scrutiny; neither the International Committee of the Red Cross nor the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has visited them. Methods of torture most frequently described by detainees include prolonged beatings, often with rifle butts, straps or clubs, electric shock, and asphyxiation.

Below are two examples.

    · "Musa M." and three other men at Khankala military base. At the end of January 2003, federal servicemen stopped Musa M. and three of his friends near the hospital in the village of Alkhan-Kala. They put them in an APC and took them to Khankala military base, where they were held in a cellar for eight days. Musa M. told Human Rights Watch that in the APC the soldiers placed dark plastic bags over their heads and interrogated them.19 At the military base, soldiers held the men in a cellar, where they handcuffed them and placed plastic bags over their heads, in an attempt to force them to confess to the December 2002 bombing of the government building in Grozny. They beat Musa M. and the other men on the kidneys with a sixteen-kilogram weight, subjected them to electric shocks, suspended them from the ceiling by their hands and beat them with a strap, poured boiling water on their backs and arms, and threatened them with rape and execution.20 The men were released after a relative, who is an official with the Chechen police, intervened on their behalf.

    · "Ruslan R." On February 28, 2003, Ruslan R. was washing his car in the yard of his house in Grozny, when Russian soldiers in several military vehicles drove up to the gate and detained him.21 Ruslan R. told Human Rights Watch that they placed a bag over his head and drove him away. For the next three days, he was kept in a very small room, cuffed to a radiator in between two safes. The soldiers took Ruslan R. out of his makeshift cell three times a day for questioning, beating him on the head and subjecting him to electric shock. At the time of the interview, four days after his release, a Human Rights Watch researcher noticed welts and swelling on his head.22

4 See for example, Human Rights Watch, "Swept Under: Torture, Forced Disappearances, and Extrajudicial Killings During Sweep Operations in Chechnya," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 14 no. 2 (D), February 2002.

5 Echo of Moscow, see transcript at: (accessed March 31, 2003). It is unlikely that dozens of armed rebel forces on numerous vehicles would be able freely to drive through areas that are under nominal Russian control on a regular basis without notice, or without being stopped or attacked by Russian forces.

6 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksandr Cherkassov, researcher for Memorial, Moscow, April 2, 2003.

7 Three other cases are on file with Human Rights Watch.

8 "Kharon K." and "Aslanbek K." are pseudonyms. The names of the men and other details are on file with Human Rights Watch. Other details about the brothers' detention and ordeal have been omitted to protect the family. This case was among those included in the case descriptions of the unpublished government reports.

9 Human Rights Watch interviews with "Malika K." and Aslanbek K. Date and location on file with Human Rights Watch. "Malika K." is a pseudonym.

10 Ibid. Aslanbek K. was able to extinguish the fuse before the explosives went off. He was able to retrieve his brother's corpse.

11 For previous Human Rights Watch reports on forced disappearances in Chechnya, see: "Into Harm's Way: Forced Return of Displaced People to Chechnya," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 15, No. 1(D), January 2003; "Last Seen: Disappearances in Chechnya," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol.14, No. 3 (D), April 2002; Human Rights Watch, "Swept Under: Torture, Forced Disappearances, and Extrajudicial Killings During Sweep Operations In Chechnya," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 14, No. 2 (D), February 2002; and Human Rights Watch, "The `Dirty War' in Chechnya: Forced Disappearances, Torture, and Summary Executions," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 13, no. 1(D), March 2001.

12 The statistics were cited in I. Maksakov, "Mir - eto khorosho, skazal Alvaro Khil Robles" (Peace is good, says Alvaro Gil Robles), Izvestiia, February 13, 2003.

13 Human Rights Watch interview with Aishat Mazhieva, Nazran, Ingushetia, March 24, 2003.

14 This case was among those included in the case descriptions of the unpublished government reports.

15 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Adlan Dovtaev, Nazran, Ingushetia, March 21, 2003.

16 Human Rights Watch interview with Tabarik Israilova, Nazran, Ingushetia, March 21, 2003.

17 The unpublished government report also details the case, apparently based on the testimony of one of the released detainees. It mentions the detention of nine men (four names are given), the killing of the Chechen police officer, and the fact that one other detainee was wounded. According to the report, all detainees were taken to Khankala. The description focuses on the detention, but does not mention the subsequent fate of the detainees.

18 One of the most notorious episodes of torture in Chechnya took place in the early months of the current conflict at the remand prison at Chernokozovo, which was the principal destination for detainees during January and early February 2000. See Human Rights Watch, Welcome to Hell: Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and Extortion in Chechnya (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2000); in July, 2001 Human Rights Watch also documented torture endured by those detained during a series of exceptionally harsh sweep operations in the villages of Sernovodsk, Assinovskaia, and Alkhan-Kala, see "Swept Under: Torture, Forced Disappearances, and Extrajudicial Killings During Sweep Operations in Chechnya," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 14 no. 2 (D), February 2002.

19 Human Rights Watch interview with "Musa M.," Nazran, Ingushetia, March 22, 2003. "Musa M." is a pseudonym.

20 Ibid.

21 Human Rights Watch interview with "Ruslan R.," undisclosed location, March 7, 2003. "Ruslan R." is a pseudonym.

22 Ibid.