Continued enforced disappearances in Chechnya are of interest to the committee because they place civilians outside the protection of the law, making them particularly vulnerable to torture. In a number of cases documented by Human Rights Watch during its recent missions and earlier, relatives of the disappeared later found the bodies of their loved ones in unmarked graves or other locations. In most cases, the bodies bore marks of torture.
Some of those detained by Kadyrovs forces later disappear without a trace. Based on extensive research, Human Rights Watch concluded in 2005 that enforced disappearances in Chechnya are so widespread and systematic that they constitute crimes against humanity.23 Memorial documented 316 cases of abductions in 2005. Of those, 127 disappeared without a trace and 23 were found dead, their bodies bearing marks of execution.24 While the number of reported cases of disappearances decreased in 2006, hundreds of people disappeared by Kadyrovs forces remain unaccounted for to date, and Human Rights Watch continued to document new cases of disappearances, the latest of which took place in September 2006.
In an illustrative case, Balaudi Melkaev (b. 1967), a resident of the village of Valerik, disappeared after he had been detained by ATC personnel.
Around midnight on December 16, 2005, a group of eight or nine armed Chechen men in camouflage uniforms arrived at the Melkaev residence in Valerik in three cars.25 The men, two of whom wore masks, searched the house and seized Balaudi Melkaev, taking him away barefoot. The same night, the armed men abducted another resident of the village, Ilias Murtazaliev.
While the men did not identify themselves and did not tell the family where they were taking Melkaev, his relatives later found out that the men who drove him away produced documents at a nearby checkpoint identifying them as ATC staff.26
On December 17, 2005, the relatives of both men went to the ATC headquarters in Gudermes to inquire about Melkaev and Murtazaliev with two ATC officers they knew. The officers confirmed that both men were under suspicion at the base, accepted warm clothes the relatives had brought for them, and suggested that the relatives speak with the ATC commander, Muslim Iliasov.
One of Melkaevs relatives managed to meet with Iliasov, who provided no information but promised that both men would be returned home the next day. Indeed, on December 18 ATC personnel drove home Ilias Murtazaliev, but not Balaudi Melkaev. Murtazalievs father told Melkaevs relatives that his son had been beaten while in detention and had returned home in a confused and distressed state, believing that he had been away for a month.27
When Melkaevs relatives again inquired with their ATC contacts about Balaudis fate, they were told that he had been taken to Khankala military base. However, personnel at Khankala denied that Melkaev had been brought there. One of Melkaevs relatives told Human Rights Watch, I did not believe a single word [of the ATC personnel]they just thought Khankala was inaccessible and we wouldnt go there to search. But we did, and also checked through our contacts there, and he was not at the base.28
Melkaevs relatives appealed again to the ATC commander Iliasov, who sent them away; they also wrote to Ramzan Kadyrov, but received no response. The family also appealed to the prosecutors office requesting it to open a criminal investigation into the abduction.
In April 2006, the Chechen prosecutors office informed the family in writing that on February 23, 2006 it had opened a criminal investigation, but the document stated that the investigation had been opened into the murder, rather than the abduction, of Balaudi Melkaev. Despite the relatives efforts, they did not manage to get the prosecutors office to provide any further information, including whether and why they had reasons to believe that Melkaev had been killed or to provide any details.29 As of late September 2006, the family had received no further information on the fate or whereabouts of Balavdi Melkaev.
23 See Human Rights Watch, Worse than a War.
24 The Memorial Human Rights Center, On the situation of residents of the Chechen Republic, July 2005-July 2006, http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/N-Caucas/dGan/index.htm (accessed on October 31, 2006).
25 They were: a VAZ-2199 without registration plates, an UAZ-451 (also called a tabletka) (registration no. 351), and a VAZ- 21010.
26 Human Rights Watch interviews with relatives of Balavdi Melkaev, Valerik, April 27, 2006 and September 27, 2006.
29 Ibid. A copy of the statement is on file with Human Rights Watch.