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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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Russia continues to bar most outside scrutiny of the conflict in Chechnya by international monitors and journalists. In an apparent attempt to limit the flow of information on human rights abuses from the region, authorities have also detained several Chechen human rights activists, one of whom has since "disappeared."

As of this writing, the Russian government was yet to invite the U.N. special rapporteurs on torture and extrajudicial executions to Chechnya, as required by two resolutions of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.34 It had also repeatedly postponed a joint visit by the special rapporteur on violence against women and the U.N. secretary-general's special representative on displaced persons. In late 2002, the Russian government refused to renew the mandate of the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya, forcing its staff to leave the region. The only international observers on the ground are three Council of Europe experts who work under the partial supervision of the Russian president's special envoy on human rights in Chechnya.

In March 2003, the Russian government for the tenth time denied Human Rights Watch official access to Chechnya. During his January 2003 trip to Washington D.C., presidential advisor Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Human Rights Watch that his office supported access to Chechnya for human rights and humanitarian nongovernmental organizations and would consider facilitating a visit for Human Rights Watch.35 However, after a follow-up meeting in Moscow to discuss the details of such a visit, Yastrzhembskii's staff informed Human Rights Watch that, due to "changed circumstances," permission would not be granted and that the office would "discontinue its dialogue" with Human Rights Watch.36 Previously, Human Rights Watch had approached the Russian government on nine occasions with requests to visit Chechnya. All requests, made to several government agencies, were denied or ignored.

In the past three months, Russian troops and government officials have detained or harassed several Chechen human rights activists, disrupting their fact-finding and advocacy work. These include:

    · Abduction of Imran Ezhiev. On March 15, 2003, armed and masked men speaking unaccented Russian stopped the car of Imran Ezhiev, who works for the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society and the Moscow Helsinki Group, near the village of Serzhen-Yurt. They handcuffed him, put a sack on his head, and threw him into their vehicle.37 For the next three days, the men interrogated him intensively about his work and political associations, and threatened him with torture and execution. After a local and international outcry, the abductors dumped Ezhiev on March 18 on the roadside in the middle of the night.38

    · Detention and possible disappearance of Sulumbek Tashtamirov, persecution of Sintar activists. Оn March 13, 2003, Ingush police detained Sulumbek Tashtamirov, head of a local human rights group, Sintar ("The Seedling"), after he participated in a referendum-related protest. The protest was held in the Satsita tent camp for displaced people in Ingushetia. Police officials later claimed Tashtamirov escaped from custody the next day. However, neither his relatives nor colleagues have seen him since, leading some to conclude that he "disappeared" in custody.39 Other Sintar activists who participated in the protest also reported repercussions. For example, "Elza E." told Human Rights Watch that Ingush police had detained her for several hours, interrogated and released her only after she signed a paper saying she would discontinue her activities at Sintar.40

34 Only one U.N. thematic mechanism, the special representative of the secretary general on children in armed conflict, has visited Chechnya.

35 Human Rights Watch conversation with Sergei Yastrzhembskii, Washington, January 29, 2003.

36 Human Rights Watch meeting with Yastrzhembskii's staff, February 27, 2003, and telephone conversation, March 11, 2003.

37 Human Rights Watch interview with Imran Ezhiev, Yandare camp, Ingushetia, March 22, 2003.

38 Ibid.

39 Human Rights Watch interview with "Elza E." and two other witnesses, Yandare camp, Ingushetia, March 22, 2003. "Elza E." is a pseudonym.

40 Human Rights Watch interview with Elza E., Yandare camp, Ingushetia, March 22, 2003.