Background Briefing

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“Disappearances” in Chechnya as a Crime against Humanity

An enforced disappearance takes place when a person is taken into custody by state agents, and the authorities subsequently deny that the victim is in their custody or conceal the victim’s whereabouts or fate in a way that places the victim beyond the protection of the law.8 Often victims of “disappearances” also suffer torture or are summarily executed. Typically those responsible for “disappearances” will try to avoid being called to account through cover-ups and by spreading misleading information about the facts.

International law recognizes that a widespread or systematic pattern of enforced disappearances constitutes a crime against humanity— an act or series of acts that outrage the conscience of humankind.9 A human rights violation may be classified as a crime against humanity in the context of an armed conflict or in times of peace. In modern jurisprudence the elements of “widespread or systematic” include the scale of the crime, the existence of specific patterns as to the identity of the perpetrators and the victims, the authorities’ knowledge about the crime or obligation to have such knowledge, and the actions taken by the authorities in response to this knowledge.

The available evidence shows that enforced disappearances in Chechnya are both widespread and systematic. According to government statistics, at least 2,090 people have “disappeared” since the conflict started in 1999; human rights groups estimate the figure to be between three thousand and five thousand.10 As this briefing paper shows, the victims are always civilians or individuals who, when taken from their homes, checkpoints or other locations, are unarmed—they are hors de combat. They are predominantly men between eighteen and forty years old, although, after several Chechen female suicide bombers targeted civilians in Russia, women have also increasingly become victims of “disappearances.” In two of the forty-three cases reflected in this briefing paper the victims were minors under eighteen years old.

In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators are unquestionably government agents—either federal forces or, as is increasingly the case, local Chechen security forces who are ultimately subordinate to the Russian federal Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Ministry of Defense. According to a Chechen official, 1,814 criminal investigations were opened into enforced disappearances, yet not a single one has resulted in a conviction.11 This demonstrates the Russian government’s awareness of the scale of the problem, even if it denies responsibility, and its utter lack of commitment to ending “disappearances” and holding their perpetrators accountable.

Under principles of international law, when a pattern of enforced disappearances amounts to a crime against humanity, any state may prosecute their perpetrators regardless of their nationality, the nationality of victims, or the place where the offense was committed.12 International law states that neither a head of state nor responsible government officials enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity.13 

The Declaration on Enforced Disappearances reaffirms this principle, known as universal jurisdiction, providing that “all States should take any lawful and appropriate action available to them to bring to justice all persons presumed responsible for an act of enforced disappearance, who are found to be in their jurisdiction or under their control.”14

A Widespread Pattern

Enforced disappearances have become an enduring hallmark of the conflict in Chechnya. In previous reports, Human Rights Watch documented hundreds of cases in which federal forces detained people during large-scale sweep operations or targeted raids, with authorities then denying any responsibility or knowledge of the detainees’ whereabouts.15


Official figures on “disappearances” in Chechnya are inconsistent and contradictory, and yet even the most modest official figures demonstrate the appalling scale of the problem.

  • At the end of December 2004, a representative of the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation claimed that since the beginning of the counterterrorist operation in 1999, 2,437 persons were abducted, and of those, 347 were released by the law enforcement agents, which suggests that 2,090 of them “disappeared.”16
  • In another December 2004 statement, Russian Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said that “disappearances” remain “the main problem in the republic” and that, according to the Chechen Prosecutor’s Office, there were 1,700 abductions in the first eleven months of 2004.17
  • Chechen President Alu Alkhanov stated in October 2004 that “according to the prosecutor’s data, up to seven people a day… ‘disappear’ in the republic.”18
  • Despite some official allegations that the number of “disappearances” declined in 2004, on January 16, 2005, Secretary of Economic and Public Security Council of Chechnya Rudnik Dudaev stated that “the past year in Chechnya has shown the greatest spike in the numbers registered of this type of crime.”19 He added that in 2004, about 500 people were abducted, and that the whereabouts of the majority of them are still unknown.

These official statements provide irrefutable evidence that the authorities—both local and federal—are fully aware of the problem of “disappearances” in Chechnya and its actual scale.

The Memorial Human Rights Center, a local human rights organization that has had offices in Chechnya since 2001, maintains a database on “disappearances” in Chechnya that currently contains 1,450 cases documented by its staff since the beginning of the conflict in 1999.20 While the “disappearances” rate has fluctuated over the years, Memorial has found that the rate did not decrease in 2004. In 2004 Memorial’s staff documented the abductions of 396 people, 207 of whom “disappeared.”21 Memorial monitors the situation in approximately one-fourth of the territory of Chechnya, so the actual number of “disappearances” may be several times higher, since circumstantial evidence suggests the situation is similar in areas not monitored by Memorial. Further, the organization emphasizes that the total number for 2004 is likely to increase, since many families report the “disappearance” of their relatives to Memorial months after their detention, after their own efforts to find the detainee have proven futile.

A Systematic Pattern: Perpetrators

Throughout the past four years, Human Rights Watch research has shown that “disappearances” are not random acts of criminality but rather follow a systematic pattern, whereby the victims are either civilians or hors de combat. The Russian government frequently claims that Chechen rebel forces are responsible for “disappearances,” but Human Rights Watch found clear evidence that federal or pro-Moscow Chechen law enforcement, military, or security agents and forces are responsible for the vast majority of these crimes.

In approximately one-third of the forty-three cases recently documented by Human Rights Watch, Russia’s federal forces carried out detentions that resulted in the “disappearance” of the victims. In many of these cases, witnesses indicated that the perpetrators ferried off their victims in armored personnel carriers (APCs), which are used only by Russian forces, spoke unaccented Russian, and, in cases when they did not wear masks, were of Russian appearance as well, all of which demonstrate involvement of Russia’s federal forces.

Some of these detentions were carried out in a manner reminiscent of the notorious sweep operations that happened throughout Chechnya in 2001-2002. For example, on the night of July 3, 2004, a large group of soldiers in two APCs arrived at the village of Assinovskaia in western Chechnya. The soldiers, who witnesses said were drunk, searched the house of the Ilaev family and took away all the males who had been staying in the house that night—Adlan Ilaev (b.1987) Inver Ilaev (b.1982), Rustam Ilaev (b. 1974), and Kazbek Bataev (b. 1983). The soldiers also took money, jewelry, a spare tire, and a car battery that they found in the house. Relatives learned through unofficial sources that the servicemen who carried out the operation were members of “military intelligence unit no. 12,” and that the four missing men had been seen in August 2004 by other detainees at the Khankala military base, located just outside Grozny. Although the local prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case into the abduction, so far the family has received no official information of the detainees’ fate or whereabouts.22

While in previous years, Russian forces were the main perpetrators of “disappearances,” over the last year they seem to have largely been replaced by Chechen security forces. Approximately two-thirds of the “disappearances” documented by Human Rights Watch in 2005 were perpetrated by or with the participation of Chechen security forces, most of which are effectively under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the assassinated president of Chechnya.23 In addition to Kadyrov’s forces, there are at least two other Chechen units—the Ministry of Defense special forces battalions Vostok (“East”), under the command of Sulim Yamadaev, and Zapad (“West”), under the command of Said-Magomed Kakiev. According to Memorial, the latter two are also responsible for human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances.24

Recently, Kadyrov publicly denied his units’ involvement in abductions and even threatened to sue human rights groups accusing them of such crimes.25 But in a number of cases documented by Human Rights Watch, the forces carrying out the detentions did not try to conceal their identity as members of Kadyrov’s forces. For example, in December 2004 a group that detained eight relatives of Aslan Maskhadov (see the case description below) openly claimed that they were acting under Ramzan Kadyrov’s orders.26 As the group was leaving the Krasnaia Turbina settlement in Grozny after detaining Maskhadov’s elderly sister, they were stopped at a checkpoint by a military intelligence unit. The commander of the unit later told the woman’s relatives that after he stopped the cars, he had called Ramzan Kadyrov on a portable radio, who told him that he himself had sent the group and ordered the unit to let them through.27 Ramzan Kadyrov, however, publicly denied his forces’ involvement in the abduction.28

In another case, relatives of eighteen-year-old “Suleiman S.” (not his real name), who was taken away from one of the villages in Gudermes region of eastern Chechnya in December 2004, told Human Rights Watch that they had recognized the unmasked men who carried out the detention as representatives of a local unit of Kadyrov’s Security Service.29

In many other cases, witnesses testified that the abductions were perpetrated both at night and during the day by large groups of armed men, arriving in several vehicles (including, on many occasions, silver VAZ-2199 cars, notorious in Chechnya as the cars used by Kadyrov’s forces) and speaking Chechen. It is inconceivable that ordinary criminals or Chechen rebel groups could so freely and openly stage the abduction of hundreds of people without interference of the authorities in areas of Chechnya that have been under Russian control since early 2000. Thus, direct and circumstantial evidence points to forces under Kadyrov’s command and other pro-Moscow Chechen units as the perpetrators of a great many “disappearances.”

Chechen troops seem to enjoy increasingly broad independence in Chechnya, but they are still under the formal control of the federal center, and oversight and responsibility for their actions ultimately lies with the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs. Moreover, by recently awarding Ramzan Kadyrov the title “Hero of Russia,” the leadership in Moscow has confirmed that it supports and approves of Kadyrov’s policies and methods in Chechnya.

Several statements by Russian and local Chechen authorities make clear that they are aware of the involvement of federal forces in abductions and “disappearances” in Chechnya, even as officials have often tried to attribute these crimes to Chechen fighters.

  • In March 2003, Prosecutor of Chechnya Vladimir Kravchenko reported to a closed meeting of military and security forces that he had concluded that of the 565 investigations opened into abductions in 2002, “about 300 cases included data on federal force involvement in ‘disappearances.’”30 
  • Akhmad Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya assassinated in 2004, also repeatedly cited the involvement of federal forces in “disappearances.” In an interview in late March 2003, he stated that in December 2002 and January 2003 those committing abductions were most often people “who drove around in APCs and Urals,” and added, “I don’t think Basaev drives an APC these days, does he?”31
  • In late January 2005, the commander of the Regional Operational Headquarters in Chechnya maintained that “unfortunately, besides the bandits, representatives of federal forces and law enforcement agencies also take part in the abductions of residents of the republic.”32

Perpetrators of crimes against humanity such as “disappearances” are criminally responsible for their acts. Given the particular seriousness of these crimes, international law sets out special rules of responsibility for them. Thus, criminal responsibility cannot be avoided by invoking that the suspect holds an official position including that of head of state. Military commanders or others with command authority are considered criminally responsible for “disappearances” carried out by their subordinates if they were aware—or should have been aware—of the abuses and failed to take effective measures to prevent them. The exception of due obedience to superior orders is not accepted as a justification for the commission of crimes against humanity. Finally, statutes of limitations do not run in the cases of crimes against humanity and those responsible do not benefit from refuge in third countries.

A Systematic Pattern: Victims

The victims of “disappearances” in Chechnya fall into three main categories described below.

Most victims of “disappearances” in cases documented by Human Rights Watch previously and during our 2005 research trip were males between the ages of eighteen and forty, from a variety of social and educational backgrounds, whom the authorities presumably believed were affiliated with or had information about rebel fighters.33

In a typical case, on the night of November 7, 2004, federal forces arrived on several APCs and UAZ jeeps in the village of Starye Atagi in central Chechnya. The soldiers broke into two houses in the village, and, holding the families at gunpoint, took away twenty-two-year-old Adam Demelkhanov and forty-four-year-old Badrudin Kantaev, without even checking the men’s documents. Both men have not been seen or heard from since then. The families of the men denied their involvement with rebel fighters. Demelkhanov was a second-year student at the Chechen State University, and Kantaev had worked as a carpenter, but during the month before his “disappearance” was at home, ill with serious tuberculosis. A neighbor later told the Demilkhanov family that he had led the forces to the house.34

Recently Russian and Chechen security forces have also increasingly targeted women—a trend that may be linked to the fact that a number of women were among the perpetrators of recent terrorist attacks in Russian cities.

For example, at the dawn of September 12, 2004, a large group of armed men detained thirty-seven-year-old Khalimat Sadulaeva, a mother of four, in her house in the town of Argun, about ten miles east of Grozny. Since then, the family has not received any official information about her whereabouts, although a contact at the Khankala military base told the family he had seen Sadulaeva there in January 2005. The family believes that the Federal Security Service, or FSB, was behind the “disappearance,” since shortly before the detention an FSB official at a local commandant’s office had asked Sadulaeva’s brother about her.35

On October 9, 2004, forty-seven-year-old Zalpa Mintaeva, also a mother of four, was taken from her house in Argun by a group of armed men speaking unaccented Russian. According to witnesses, the armed men first asked about male members of the household, and, having heard that there were no men in the house, told Mintaeva: “Then you’ll go with us, since you are the oldest.” Since then, the relatives have had no information about the woman’s fate or whereabouts despite their tireless efforts to find her.36

Finally, at least twelve people who “disappeared” over the last six months were relatives of rebel fighters. In October 2004, Russia’s prosecutor general suggested the adoption of a new antiterrorist law that would allow “counter-hostage-taking”—detaining rebel fighters’ relatives in order to force them to surrender.37 The initiative was supported by Chechen President Alu Alkhanov, who promised the implementation of such a law, should it be adopted.38 While the prosecutor general subsequently retracted his proposal, made at the State Duma in the aftermath of the Beslan atrocity, he sent a strong signal of approval for such a policy. Several cases documented by Human Rights Watch during the 2005 research trip to Chechnya provide evidence that security forces have adopted a policy of “counter-hostage-taking.”

The most renown “counter-hostage” operation occurred in December 2004, when members of Kadyrov’s forces abducted and “disappeared” eight of Aslan Maskhadov’s relatives.39 One of the eight, Maskhadov’s nephew Movlid Aguev, “reappeared” in January 2005 in the Nozhai-Yurt District Department of Internal Affairs (ROVD), being charged with participation in an “illegal armed formation,” but to date the whereabouts of the other seven remain unknown.40

While initially the authorities denied reports of the “disappearance” of Maskhadov’s relatives, and would not even acknowledge that they were missing, on February 18, 2005, Chechen President Alu Alkhanov confirmed the fact of the abductions. He announced that the prosecutor’s office had launched a criminal investigation, but has not thus far publicized any findings.41

In another illustrative case, on February 25, 2004, a group of armed men, some of whom spoke Russian and some Chechen, took fifty-two-year-old Aset Dombaeva and her fifty-eight-year-old husband from their house in Urus-Martan, in central Chechnya. Before they reached their destination, however, the men pushed Dombaeva’s husband out of the car and drove away. He returned home, but Dombaeva herself has been neither heard from nor seen since then. Several months earlier, in October 2003, Dombaeva’s son, who was, according to the relatives, a rebel fighter, also “disappeared” after he had been detained by federal forces. Dombaeva’s relatives believed that the elderly woman’s “disappearance” was linked to the “disappearance” of her son.42

Evidence of torture and killings in custody

Many of those who “disappear” in the custody of Russian or pro-Moscow Chechen forces also become victims of torture and extrajudicial executions. Bodies of people who had been previously taken into custody and then “disappeared” are regularly found in Chechnya. In one of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch in 2004, eight men “disappeared” after they were taken away during a large-scale sweep operation conducted by Russian forces on March 27, 2004, in the village of Duba-Yurt. Two weeks later the bodies of these men, bearing gunshot wounds to their heads and torsos, were found in a ravine fifteen miles northeast of Duba-Yurt. The criminal investigation opened into the case has so far produced no results.43

In a more recent case, a joint group of Russian and Chechen security forces “disappeared” two residents of Grozny in September 2004. The relatives’ search proved futile, but several months later they recognized the men among three bodies found on the outskirts of the city. The bodies bore gunshot wounds, and the victims’ hands were tied with metal wire.44

The testimony of detainees who were eventually released after being held in unacknowledged detention strongly suggests that torture in custody is rampant in Chechnya.

Human Rights Watch interviewed one such former detainee on the day following his release. The young man had been detained at the end of January 2005 by Russian security forces at a so-called mobile checkpoint and held for six days, during which time his relatives actively sought but received no information of his whereabouts. While in detention, the young man was held on the concrete floor of a tiny, unheated cell. He was handcuffed and had a plastic bag over his head the entire time.45 At the time of the interview he was in a state of shock, had difficulty speaking clearly and focusing his eyes; he said that his perpetrators had injected him with an unknown drug. He had bruises on his face and arms, and he could not move several of his fingers, which were heavily swollen. Notably, the family decided not to report the unlawful detention and torture to the authorities—as one of the relatives said, “In whatever state he is, since we found him alive I revoked my appeal [about the ‘disappearance’].”46

A Systematic Pattern: Impunity

Not a single person has been held fully accountable for a “disappearance” since the conflict began in 1999. The Russian government has utterly failed to establish a meaningful accountability process for abuses by Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces. Notably, after his visit to Chechnya in September 2004, Alvaro Gil Robles, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights dismissed Russian authorities’ assurances of their commitment to accountability, characterizing the situation as one of “complete impunity.”47 The overwhelming impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of “disappearances” has doubtless encouraged others to commit them.

In recent years, the civilian prosecutor’s office has begun opening criminal investigations into most of the abductions reported by victims’ relatives.48 In mid-February 2003, the prosecutor of Chechnya stated that his office was conducting 1,163 criminal investigations into the abductions of approximately 1,700 individuals in Chechnya.49 Two years later, on February 25, 2005, Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Jabrailov stated that the prosecutor's office had opened 1,814 criminal cases into the abductions of 2,540 people that occurred in the period from 1999 to 2005.50

The large number of criminal investigations of “disappearances” serves as yet further proof of the authorities’ awareness of the scale of the problem, especially since these figures are regularly made public and reported to the prosecutor general and Russian leadership.

The absolute lack of progress made in these investigations, however, is indicative of the authorities’ resistance to bringing perpetrators to justice. According to a list of convictions of servicemen for crimes against civilians, compiled by the Office of the Prosecutor General in 2004, not a single person has been convicted in relation to a “disappearance.”51 In January 2005, the prosecutor of Chechnya stated that “in the last year, seven members of law enforcement agencies were found criminally responsible for crimes related to abductions;” however, no details were provided and it is unclear whether even these seven were sentenced.52

Most of the criminal cases are closed or suspended after several months, “due to the impossibility of establishing the identity of the perpetrators.” According to Memorial, this happens in four-fifths of all cases opened by the prosecutor’s office. In December 2004, the head of the Southern Federal District Department of the Office of the Prosecutor noted that of the 1,783 criminal cases opened into abductions in Chechnya since the beginning of the counterterrorist operation, 1,469 had been suspended.53

In what is also a long-standing pattern, law enforcement agencies usually make no effort to conduct even the most rudimentary investigative actions, such as questioning witnesses or searching for a particular car that had allegedly been used by the perpetrators.54  Even in cases where the victims or witnesses have information that could easily lead to establishing the perpetrators, such as the names of unit commanders or the license plate number of the cars, the investigators take no action to utilize this information.

For example, after a group of Russian forces took away twenty-three-year-old Aslan Tazurkaev from the village of Novye Atagi in July 2004, his relatives noted the license plate numbers of the three cars and an APC used in the operation, and later on found out that at least some of the officials were from an FSB unit stationed near the village. However, when they tried to inquire at the FSB together with the head of the local administration, an officer there threatened to detain them should they show up again. A criminal investigation was opened into the abduction, but despite the substantial evidence and the availability of witnesses who had seen Tazurkaev in detention, the prosecutor’s office failed to establish the identity of the perpetrators or find the “disappeared” man.55

In some cases, when the evidence strongly suggests the involvement of Russian forces, the civilian procuracy tries to hand the case over to the military prosecutor, who in turn usually refuses to take it, and the case becomes stalled between the two institutions.

Even when detainees held in unacknowledged detention are released and the perpetrators established, no accountability process takes place. For example, according to Memorial, a few of the 189 persons released after being detained in 2004 were released due to the efforts of law enforcement officials or representatives of the Chechen administration.56 In all of these cases, the perpetrators were members of Russian or Chechen security forces; however, none of the cases resulted in security force members being held responsible for the “disappearances.”57

[8] Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, United Nations, G. A. res. 47/133, U.N.Doc. A/RES/47/133, December 18, 1992, Preamble.

[9] The U.N. Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance also terms “the systematic practice” of enforced disappearances to be “of the nature of a crime against humanity.” Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, Preamble. Although a non-binding standard, the Declaration reflects the consensus of the international community against this type of human rights violation and provides authoritative guidance as to the safeguards that must be implemented in order to prevent it. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) also provides that enforced disappearances are a crime against humanity “when committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” See, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, U.N. Doc. No. A/CONF. 183/9 (July 17, 1998), 37 I.L.M. 999, Article 7(1). Russia has not ratified the Rome Statute, but many of the definitions of crimes contained in the ICC are considered part of customary international law.

[10] Memorial human rights center, “Chechnya, 2004: Abductions and ‘Disappearances’ of People,” February 7, 2005 [online], (retrieved February 25, 2005).

[11] Chechen State Council Chairman Taus Jabrailov cited this figure in “1,800 People Disappear in Chechnya over 5 Years,” ITAR-TASS, February 25, 2005.

[12] Resolution 3074 (XXVIII) of the General Assembly of the United Nations clearly provides for universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity or war crimes. See Principles of International Co-Operation in the Detection, Arrest, Extradition and Punishment of Persons Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, General Assembly resolution 3074 (XXVIII), UN doc. A/9030/Add.1 (1973). The principle of universal jurisdiction is now part of customary international law, and is also reflected in international treaties and national legislation. Moreover, in certain circumstances, according to a rule known as aut dedere aut judicare (extradite or prosecute), a state is obligated to either exercise jurisdiction over a perpetrator or to extradite the person to a state able and willing to prosecute, or to surrender the person to an international criminal court with relevant jurisdiction. States are obliged not to extradite to countries where the individual would be at risk of torture. The ICC Statute emphasizes that “it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes.” Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Preamble.

[13] As was noted in the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, “the principle of international law, which under certain circumstances protects the representative of a state, cannot be applied to acts which are condemned as criminal by international law. The authors of these acts cannot shelter themselves behind their official position in order to be freed from punishment in appropriate proceedings.” Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals (with the dissenting opinion of the Soviet Member) - Nuremberg 30th September and 1st October 1946, Cmd. 6964, Misc. No.12 (London: H.M.S.O 1946), p. 41. The Tribunal applied the principle at least once to the perpetrator of enforced disappearances, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, who was convicted of committing this particular crime.

[14] Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, Article 14.

[15] See: Human Rights Watch "Into Harm's Way: Forced Return of Displaced People to Chechnya," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 15, No. 1(D), January 2003; Human Rights Watch "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.

[16] “Almost One Third of All Abductions of People in Russia are Committed in Southern Federal District,” ITAR-TASS, December 27, 2004. Russian authorities consider these incidents to be abductions, as provided for under article 126 of the criminal code.

[17] “Vladimir Lukin: During the Last Year, 1,700 Persons Were Abducted in Chechnya,”, December 10, 2004 [online], (retreived March 14, 2005). Mr. Lukin restated this statistics in a conversation with a Human Rights Watch researcher on February 11, 2005. This figure, however, appears to differ significantly from the figures released earlier by the Office of the Prosecutor General. In September 2004, the office told the Council of Europe’s High Commissioner for Human Rights that over the last three years, 1,749 criminal cases were opened into the abductions and subsequent “disappearances” of almost 2,300 people, see “Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil Robles: ‘Visits to Chechnya are Always Painful,’” Izvestia, September 30, 2004.

[18] Cited in I. Sukhov, “Stern, But Kind,” Vremia Novostei, October 26, 2004.

[19] “About 500 Persons Abducted in Chechnya over the Last Year: Secretary of Security Council Dudaev,” ITAR-TASS, January 16, 2005.

[20] Memorial Human Rights Center, “Incomplete List of Persons, Detained by Representatives of Federal Forces in the Zone of Armed Conflict in the Northern Caucasus and Subsequently ‘Disappeared,’” [online], (retrieved February 25, 2005).

[21] Memorial Human Rights Center, “Chechnya, 2004: Abductions and ‘Disappearances’ of People,” February 7, 2005 [online], (retrieved February 25, 2005). Memorial uses the term “abduction” when a person is “either walked or driven away, most often by armed men in masks and camouflage uniforms,” who do not identify themselves and do not inform the family of the person’s whereabouts. Memorial suggests that such incidents cannot be qualified as detentions since the perpetrators, presumed to be government agents, do not follow the procedure prescribed by the law. On the contrary, their actions constitute a crime provided for in the article 126 of the Russian criminal code.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Adlan, Inver and Rustam Ilaev, and Kazbek Bataev, Assinovskaia, February 8, 2005. For more details, see Appendix, the “disappearance” of Adlan Ilaev, Inver Ilaev, Rustam Ilaev and Kazbek Bataev. 

The Ilaev family home is on 50 Years of October Street. Military intelligence is known in Russian as GRU, the acronym for Glavnoe Razvedyvatelnoe Upravlenie, or main intelligence directorate.

[23] These forces include special police units of the Ministry of Interior of Chechnya and the Operative-Investigative Bureau of the North Caucasus Operational Department of the Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Interior in the Southern Federal District (ORB-2). Previously these forces were united under the Security Service of the President of the Chechen Republic. Formally, Kadyrov’s Security Service was disbanded by President Alkhanov in the beginning of 2005, leaving Kadyrov only the units of the so-called Special Regiment of Patrol Police, which is under the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Chechnya. However, this regiment has only 1,000 servicemen, while the Security Service had at least 3,000 men, and the Security Service de facto still has its units in dozens of Chechen villages. Moreover, many of the 15,000 Chechen policemen are effectively under the control of Ramzan Kadyrov, rather than the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to the former prime minister of Chechnya, Mikhail Babich, the overall strength of Chechen forces may currently be up to 30,000 servicemen. The figures are cited in I. Sukhov, “Real Hunters for Terrorists,” Vremia Novostei, February 25, 2005.

[24] Memorial Human Rights Center, “Chechnya, 2004: Abductions and ‘Disappearances’ of People.”

[25] “Ramzan Kadyrov Will Sue Human Rights Activists,” Novye Izvestia, February 14, 2005.

[26] Aslan Maskhadov was elected president of Chechnya in 1997 and was the leader of Chechen rebel forces. He was killed on March 8, 2005, by a joint group of Russian and Chechen security forces.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with the families of the “disappeared” relatives of Maskhadov, Grozny, January 31, 2005.

[28] See, e.g., I. Sukhov, “We Are at War, After All,” Vremia Novostei, February 18, 2005; V. Barinov, “Maskhadovs Are Missing,” Gazeta, February 1, 2005.

[29] Six days after the detention, the local prosecutor’s office gave the young man’s body back to the relatives, saying that the office had received it from members of Kadyrov’s security forces. They claimed that “Suleiman S.” was killed while setting an ambush, and provided no explanation to the family regarding his prior detention. His body bore bullet wounds. Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of “Suleiman S,” Gudermes, February 3, 2005. The victim’s real name is withheld to protect his relatives.

[30] S. Ofitova, “Scandalous Confession of the Prosecutor of the Republic,” Nezavisimaia Gazeta,” April 16, 2003.

[31] Akhmad Kadyrov’s radio interview on Echo of Moscow, March 26, 2003. Shamil Basaev is a leader of the most radical wing of Chechen rebel fighters and has acknowledged responsibility for such acts of terrorism as the massive seizure of hostages at the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in October 2002 and the seizure of school children, their parents, and teachers as hostages in Beslan in September 2004

[32] Cited in V. Barinov, “Maskhadovs Are Missing,” Gazeta, February 1, 2005.

[33] Of the eighty-seven cases documented in the Human Rights Watch report “Last Seen,” thirty-eight were males aged eighteen to thirty-five (in thirty-four cases the age of the victim was unknown). See Human Rights Watch, “Last Seen.”

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Adam Demelkhanov, Grozny, January 29, 2005. For more details, see Appendix, the “disappearance” of Adam Demelkhanov.

Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Badrudin Kantaev, Grozny, January 29, 2005. For more details, see Appendix, the “disappearance” of Badrudin Kantaev.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Khalimat Sadulaeva, Argun, January 30, 2004. For more details, see Appendix, the “disappearance” of Khalimat Sadulaeva.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Zalpa Mintaeva, Argun, January 30, 2004. For more details, see Appendix, the “disappearance” of Zalpa Mintaeva.

[37] “Prosecutor General Suggested Fighting Terrorism by ‘Counter-hostage-taking,”, October 29, 2004 [online], (retrieved February 28, 2005).

[38] “Alkhanov Supported the Prosecutor General’s Idea to Take Terrorists’ Relatives as Hostages,”, November 1, 2004 [online], (retrieved February 28, 2005).

[39] These include his sister Buchu Abdulkadyrova (b.1937), two of his brothers, Lecha Maskhadov (b.1936) and Lema Maskhadov (b.1949), his niece, Khadizhat Satueva (b. 1964) and her husband Usman Satuev (b. 1957), his nephew Ikhvan Magomedov (b. 1969), and two other relatives, Adam Rashiev (b.1950) and Movlid Aguev (b. 1969).

[40] Human Rights Watch interviews with the relatives of the “disappeared,” Grozny, January 30 and 31, 2004. For more details, see Appendix, the “disappearance” of eight relatives of Aslan Makhadov.

[41] “President of Chechnya Confirmed the Fact of Abduction of Maskhadov’s Relatives,” RIA-Novosti, February 18, 2005.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Aset Dombaeva, Urus-Martan, February 1, 2005. For more details, see Appendix, the “disappearance” of Aset Dombaeva.

[43] For more information, see “Russia: Nine Civilians Extrajudicially Executed in Chechnya,” Human Rights Watch press-release, April 13, 2004. Over the last year, Human Rights Watch has been monitoring the developments in the case.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with two relatives of one of the victims, Grozny, February 7, 2005. Names of witnesses and victims withheld to protect the witnesses.

[45] The witness said that the plastic bag had been tied to his neck with  tape, leaving a small slit at the bottom of the bag through which he could breathe.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview, February 1, 2005. Location of the interview and names of the victim and his relatives withheld to protect their safety.

[47] “Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil Robles: ‘”Visits to Chechnya are Always Painful,” Izvestia, September 30, 2004.

[48] Previously, in some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, after a “disappearance” was reported to law enforcement officials, they opened “searches” qualifying the “disappeared” as “missing persons,” despite clear evidence that the person had been detained. In these cases, officials use the applicants’ ignorance of legal technicalities to avoid opening a criminal investigation, which would require decisive action. The civilian prosecutor’s office has jurisdiction over the police, but has no legal authority to investigate abuses by members of the armed forces. The military prosecutor’s office has jurisdiction over crimes committed by those serving in the armed forces, such as the army, as well as by those serving in the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ armed forces, and Spetsnaz forces.

[49] Statistics cited in I. Maksakov, "Peace is Good, Says Alvaro Gil Robles,” Izvestia, February 13, 2003.

[50]1,800 People Disappear in Chechnya over 5 Years,” ITAR-TASS, February 25, 2005. The title of this article is illustrative of the official media’s efforts to understate the scale of the problem, even if it means misstating their sources.

[51]  Letter to V.P. Lukin, Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, from S. N. Fridinskii, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, No. 46/2-1535-04, August  20, 2004. A copy of the letter is on file with Human Rights Watch.

[52] Cited in V. Barinov, “Maskhadovs are Missing,” Gazeta, February 1, 2005.

[53] “Almost One Third of All Abductions of People in Russia are Committed in Southern Federal District,” ITAR-TASS, December 27, 2004.

[54] See Human Rights Watch, "Last Seen,” pp. 37-42; Human Rights Watch, "The `Dirty War' in Chechnya,” pp. 22-27.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Aslan Tazurkaev, Grozny, February 5, 2005. For more details, see Appendix, the “disappearance” of Aslan Tazurkaev.

[56] The vast majority either had ransoms paid by their relatives or were released by the perpetrators.

[57] Memorial Human Rights Center, “Chechnya, 2004: Abductions and ‘Disappearances’ of People.”

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