Background Briefing

Lack of Accountability

One of the main factors contributing to the widespread pattern of illegal detention and torture in Chechnya is the total lack of accountability for perpetrators.

The perpetrators themselves—be they ORB-2 personnel or Kadyrov’s forces—try to ensure that their abuses do not come to light by threatening their victims into silence. Indeed, few victims or witnesses dare to report instances of torture to the authorities, such as the prosecutor’s office, and in many cases refuse to speak to human rights organizations.

During our last two research missions to Chechnya Human Rights Watch found that witnesses were extremely scared to talk about their experiences, fearing retribution. Those who agreed to relate their story did so under strict condition that we withhold any details that would allow the authorities to identify them.

In many cases Human Rights Watch found that the perpetrators were so confident that there would be no consequences for their abuses that they did not wear masks or otherwise attempt to conceal their identity. In fact, a number of witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they knew their tormentors by name, or at least would be able to identify them. These witnesses, however, did not dare to report this information to prosecutorial authorities, and were, in some cases, considering personal revenge against the perpetrators.


In torture cases researched by Human Rights Watch prosecutors and courts took no action to bring the perpetrators to justice. In particular, those who had been tortured by ORB-2 personnel said that their injuries sustained as a result of torture were documented by doctors at SIZO-1, and that these documents were presented during court hearings. The courts, however, appeared to disregard this evidence altogether, and took no action to ensure that the allegations of torture were duly investigated and the perpetrators held to account.

The prosecutor’s office, which under Russian law should be the primary body to investigate allegations of torture in detention, also did little or nothing to address the allegations of torture in cases researched by Human Rights Watch. In rare cases where victims dared to launch a formal complaint with the prosecutor’s office, the prosecutors refused to open a criminal investigation, stating that the facts reported by the victim “have not been confirmed by the preliminary inquiry” conducted by the office.

For example, on June 5, 2006, 26-year-old Ruslan Lechaev complained to the Chechen Republic prosecutor’s office about being tortured by ORB-2 personnel and forced to incriminate himself. Two days later, he received a letter from one of the officials at the prosecutor’s office stating that there would be no investigation into the torture allegations. The letter stated that ORB-2 personnel denied ever using any “pressure” against Lechaev. It also referred to a medical report that allegedly stated that there were no injuries on Lechaev’s body. However, a medical report prepared by a doctor at SIZO-1 on June 23, 2006, when Lechaev was brought there, clearly stated that he had multiple bruises and hematomas on his neck, thighs, and wrists.30  

Russian authorities occasionally provide statistics on investigations and prosecutions of military and police personnel for crimes committed in the context of the conflict in Chechnya. The Memorial Human Rights Center and the International Helsinki Federation analyzed this data, and found that only a handful of cases reach trial and that the vast majority of the defendants are eventually acquitted, amnestied, or receive minimal or suspended sentences.31 Regarding torture, Human Rights Watch is aware of only one case in which an official was convicted for physically abusing someone in custody.32

The climate of impunity is worsened by the persistent efforts by Chechen and Russian authorities to close Chechnya to outside scrutiny. Most unlawful places of detention run by Kadyrov’s forces are off limits to journalists or international experts visiting the region. Moreover, in several instances when outside observers were allowed to visit these facilities, such as the Tsentoroi bases, the authorities removed the detainees from the premises prior to the visit. A number of witnesses told Human Rights Watch about being moved to another base or simply driven away and kept in cars for several hours when a “delegation” was expected to visit the base where they were being detained.

On May 1, 2006, a CPT delegation was denied access to the village of Tsentoroi, which led it to take “the exceptional measure of interrupting the visit,” which was resumed following assurances from the president of the Chechen Republic. The delegation gained access to Tsentoroi in the early afternoon of May 2.33


When visiting officials were allowed to meet with detainees in such lawful detention facilities such as ORB-2, they perceived that the detainees “did not feel they could speak freely.”34

Russia’s refusal to agree to the terms of reference of the UN special rapporteur on torture caused him to postpone indefinitely his visit to Russia and Chechnya, planned for October 2006. The refusal concerned the special rapporteur’s conducting unannounced visits to detention facilities and interviewing detainees in private.35

30 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Ruslan Lechaev, September 27, 2006, Grozny. Copies of both documents—the response from the prosecutor’s office and the original medical report—are on file with Human Rights Watch.

31 For a detailed analysis of Russia’s statistics on prosecutions of military and police personnel see e.g., the Memorial Human Rights Center, “Deceptive Justice: Situation on the investigation on crimes against civilians committed by members of the Federal Forces in the Chechen Republic during military operations 1999–2003,” 2003, (accessed November 7, 2006); International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, “Impunity: A Leading Force behind Continued Massive Violations in Chechnya,” May 19, 2005, (accessed November 7, 2006).

32 In 2005, the Oktiabrsky District Court in Grozny sentenced Sergei Lapin, a police officer from the city of Khanty Mansiisk, to 11 years of imprisonment in a strict regime prison colony for intentionally inflicting serious harm to the health of Zelimkhan Murdalov under aggravating circumstances (article 111, part 3 of the Russian criminal code); exceeding official authority under aggravating circumstances (article 286, part 3), and forgery by an official (article 292). The conviction, however, did not include a reference to Murdalov’s “disappearance,” although his whereabouts remain unknown to date.

33 “Visit by Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee to the North Caucasian region of the Russian Federation,” European Committee for Prevention of Torture (CPT) news flash, May 9, 2006, (accessed October 31, 2006).

34 The comment was made by Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights after his visits to the Russian Federation, including Chechnya, in 2004. See “Report by Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights, on his visits to the Russian Federation 15 to 30 July 2004 and 19 to 29 September 2004.”

35 “Special Rapporteur on Torture Regrets Postponement of Visit to Russian Federation,” UN press release, October 4, 2006, (accessed November 7, 2006).