Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper

On the Situation of Ethnic Chechens in Moscow

Submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), on the occasion of its review of Russia's seventeenth periodic report

February 24, 2003

"The saddest thing is that we ran away from all this when we left Chechnya to come to Moscow. But I don't know how we're going to continue living here, because the sweep operations, the detainments and the disappearances have started in Moscow now. To be honest, I'm anxious when I leave the house. When my son goes to work or any member of the family goes out, my heart starts to thump and only when everybody is home in the evening do I calm down again. But I'm never fully calm now whether I'm at home or not or when somebody is out of the house because I know what can happen. I don't trust anybody anymore in Moscow: neither the soldiers nor the police—nobody."

Makka Shidaeva to Human Rights Watch.1

"Your wanting to register in Moscow is the same as going to the White House and asking to live there."

Registration official to a Chechen woman.2


Chechens in Moscow have long been the target of police abuse. But the mass hostage taking at a Moscow theater by Chechen rebel fighters in October 2002 triggered an intense police crackdown and widespread discrimination against ethnic Chechens living in Moscow. Although Russia's President Vladimir Putin to his credit warned against an anti-Chechen sentiment during the hostage crisis, Moscow's police nonetheless stepped up identity checks and arbitrarily detained hundreds of Chechens, fingerprinting and photographing them. Police officers planted drugs and ammunition on Chechens, and then solicited bribes from them in exchange for not pressing charges. Police officials at registration offices routinely refused to register Chechens for obligatory resident permits, frequently referring to "instructions from above." Police also exerted pressure on Moscow landlords to evict Chechen tenants. Chechen parents of school-aged children frequently complained that Moscow schools threatened to close their doors to Chechen children who lacked residence permits, although most children were able to continue to attend classes.

The fallout from the hostage crisis came in the context of a longstanding but unaddressed problem of police harassment of ethnic minorities and migrants in Moscow. For more than a decade, Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations have documented the police's discriminatory and predatory enforcement of Moscow's civilian registration system, including extortion of bribes, beatings, invasion of privacy, and destruction of identity documents.3 Although evidence of such abuses has repeatedly been brought to the attention of the Russian government, and in particular to Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov, the authorities have persistently failed to take effective steps to stop them.

At times of security emergencies, Moscow police routinely intensify this abuse. Although this trend started with the political crisis in 1993, it was most acute in the aftermath of the 1999 bombings of several apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which the Russian government blamed on Chechen terrorists. In the wake of those attacks, police dragged more than twenty thousand Chechens to police stations, photographing and fingerprinting many of them. They also planted drugs and ammunition in the clothes or apartments of dozens of Chechens, and prosecuted them on groundless charges.4

This briefing paper is based on interviews with eleven ethnic Chechens who suffered human rights abuses in the wake of the hostage taking and several lawyers who represent them; staff members of Civic Assistance, a leading Russian nongovernmental organization that works on refugee and displacement issues5; and staff at the office of Aslambek Aslakhanov, a member of Russia's State Duma who has received hundreds of complaints from Chechens about abuses in Moscow since late October 2002. Human Rights Watch also examined publications in Russian and international press on this topic.6

This paper aims to contribute to the upcoming review by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ("the Committee") of the Russian government's ("the government") compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination ("the Convention"), in March 2003. It does not purport to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the government's implementation of the Convention. We recognize the existence of other significant violations of the Convention taking place in Russia that are beyond the scope of this paper.

The cases presented in this paper indicate a pattern of racially motivated discrimination and harassment against ethnic Chechens in Moscow that violates Convention obligations contained in Articles 5, 6, and 7. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to take account of this pattern in its consideration of Russia, and submits that the government should be called upon to undertake immediate measures to end it. In particular, the government should:

  • Investigate promptly and impartially incidents of racially motivated discrimination and harassment of ethnic Chechens and other vulnerable groups, and duly discipline and, where appropriate, prosecute state officials and agents implicated in such acts. The state must also enforce and strengthen existing laws prohibiting such discrimination by private persons;
  • Adopt effective measures to prevent and punish manifestations of racial bias in the criminal justice system, including through independent oversight mechanisms to ensure equal treatment and adequate application of the law, but also through training of law enforcement officials and the judiciary about the binding nature of international and domestic prohibitions of discrimination;
  • Conduct studies of access for Chechens and other minorities to education, housing, employment, health-care and social services, and establish effective mechanisms for addressing discrimination in these fields;
  • At the highest levels, the government should speak out against racial discrimination and harassment of ethnic Chechens and others, and make clear that such acts have no place in Russian society.

Arbitrary Identity Checks and Detention

Moscow police have stepped up their routine identity checks of civilians at metro stations and on the streets, frequently stopping individuals with dark skin, as well as visiting the private apartments where Chechens live. When they find fault with identity documents or registration papers, police routinely take their holders to the police precinct, where they are often searched, photographed, questioned, fingerprinted, and shaken down for money. Some evidence suggests that this increased police activity is the result of explicit, but unwritten, orders from higher-ranking police officials . For example, a police official at one Moscow registration office told a Civic Assistance activist that he and his colleagues are under informal orders to regularly visit apartments where Chechens are known to live. He had received the order from his direct supervisor and did not know where it originated. Human Rights Watch documented the following example:

  • On October 30, a group of fifteen police officers detained Aelita Shidaeva at the cafe where she worked. The police officers, regular clients at the cafe, already knew Shidaeva and came looking for her specifically. The officers put all staff and customers against the wall and took Shidaeva to the Marinski Park precinct. Shidaeva's mother told Human Rights Watch that, for the next seven hours, police officers questioned and intimidated her, trying to force her to admit to having been in contact with the hostage takers. The officers also unsuccessfully tried to tear her temporary registration papers, which she had apparently laminated, and told her they "didn't need any Chechens here." Shidaeva's co-workers called her mother, who then went to the police station to ask about her daughter. The police officers denied holding Shidaeva and threatened to lock her up if she did not leave immediately. The mother left and alerted several journalists and human rights workers, who then called the police precinct. Shidaeva was released that same evening. Later, she told her mother that she had seen police officers dragging a middle-aged Chechen man through a corridor at the police precinct. The man had been seriously beaten, could not stand on his feet, and had cried out: "Let me go, what have I done to you, don't beat me."7

Planting of drugs or weapons

Russian human rights groups have received increasing numbers of complaints of police planting drugs and weapons since the hostage taking. An aide to State Duma deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov told Human Rights Watch that as of February 9, 2003, his office was pursuing fifty-six written complaints but that they have received more than three hundred from Chechens since late October 2002.8 Civic Assistance has documented nine new cases of planting of evidence.9

The planting by police of drugs and weapons on Chechens first became widespread in the aftermath of the September 1999 apartment bombings. Over the next four months, Civic Assistance and Memorial Human Rights Center documented over fifty such incidents. Although the practice subsided significantly in 2000, it never completely ended and human rights groups continued to receive occasional complaints about new incidents in 2001 and 2002.

The Russian authorities have done little to address the issue. Prosecutors routinely press charges against the victims of the practice despite overwhelming evidence that they were groundless, and, as a rule, Moscow courts convict them. For example, most of the fifty cases Civic Assistance and Memorial documented in 1999 and early 2000 ended in conviction. Many other cases never make it to the courts as relatives of the detainees bribed law enforcement officials to avoid charges.10 According to Aslakhanov's office, as of this writing, only one Moscow police officer had been convicted for planting evidence on a Chechen.11

Human Rights Watch has documented several such cases since the October hostage taking:

  • On October 27, at about 3:00 p.m., three police officers came to the Gadaev family's apartment and checked the papers of those present. According to a relative, when the officers discovered that twenty-six-year-old Islam Gadaev's temporary registration had expired, they took him to police precinct No. 162. Gadaev spent the next seven hours in a police cell before his interrogation. In the interrogation room, Gadaev was surrounded by three or four policemen and felt someone slipping something into his pocket. When he tried to check what it was, the officers put his arms behind his back and put him to the floor. They then pulled a package he had not seen before out of his pocket. Police investigators later determined that the package contained 0.1 grams of heroin and charged Gadaev with possession of drugs. Gadaev is currently awaiting trial and continues to assert his innocence.12

  • Police detained "Ali Bashirov" (not his real name) twice in the weeks after the hostage taking. On October 26, police took Bashirov from his bed and brought him to the police precinct No. 77, where they fingerprinted and photographed him. A procuracy official, a friend of Bashirov's, released him seven hours later but warned him that police would arrest him again and plant evidence on him if he did not leave the area. Indeed, police detained Bashirov again on November 7. A neighbor who witnessed the detention and followed the police officers to the precinct told Human Rights Watch that plainclothes police officers grabbed Bashirov as he pulled into a courtyard to have lunch at his sister's house, and drove him to the police precinct.13 Bashirov later told his sister that, at the precinct, the officers "found" 0.06 grams of heroin on him. He did not specify when the drugs were planted. In the indictment, the police asserted that Bashirov was on foot and walked unsteadily and that officers took him to a nearby hotel where they searched him and found the drugs.14 In his interview with Human Rights Watch, the neighbor disputed the police's version of events, saying that Bashirov had been driving a car and did not appear intoxicated.15 Police officers initially promised Bashirov they would not press charges if he paid them a U.S.$3,000 bribe, which he could not afford. The procuracy official, who released Bashirov the first time, told his sister that he could not help this time, as he would risk losing his job.16 As of this writing, Bashirov remains in custody and is awaiting trial.

Obstruction of Registration of Chechens in Moscow

Chechens have faced increased difficulties complying with Moscow's registration requirements since the hostage crisis. Under Russian law, all permanent and temporary residents, as well as visitors, must register with the police within three days of their arrival in Moscow. While federal rules had intended a registration system based on simple notification, Moscow's registration rules amount to a licensing system.17 Many Chechens who tried to register after the hostage crisis told Human Rights Watch, Civic Assistance, and Aslakhanov's office that officials informed them they had received orders not to register any Chechens, and that they would face consequences if they did. Although a police official at one registration office confirmed the existence of such an oral order to a Civic Assistance activist, a few Chechens have been able to register with the help of local human rights groups. The vast majority of the unregistered Chechens living Moscow, however, are unable to register.

  • The temporary registration of the Dadaev family expired in mid-October 2002. On October 25, as the hostage crisis was still ongoing, Zarema Dadaeva tried to renew their registration at her local police precinct in southern Moscow, but was turned down. In subsequent weeks, she made two more unsuccessful attempts. Eventually, registration officials said they would reregister the Dadaev family if their landlord agreed to submit a letter in which he accepted personal responsibility for any crimes the Dadaevs might commit while living in the landlord's apartment. The landlord agreed to write such a letter. After he submitted the letter to the police, officers detained Dadaeva in a routine identity check at a metro station. They took her to the precinct where she had repeatedly tried to register, and put her in a cell. After Civic Assistance intervened, police released Dadaeva and told her to come back for her temporary registration papers later. On December 3, Dadaeva went to the police precinct again. The registration officer scolded her for complaining about him and his colleagues, saying: "You don't know me, I'm a good man but if I register you I get into trouble..." Nonetheless, he eventually registered Dadaeva and her family that same day.18
  • "Kheda Murdalova" (not her real name) and her family came to Moscow in 2000 but attempted to register only in early November 2002, after the principal of her children's school insisted that she present their registration papers. At the police precinct, registration officials told her that they would not register her and threatened her with serious consequences if she did not return to Chechnya within ten days. In the following days, Murdalova returned to the police precinct several more times to try to secure registration. On one occasion, the head of the registration office told her that he was under order not to register any Chechens and that he risked losing his job if he did not enforce it. As the ten-day deadline drew near, police officials started phoning Murdalova several times a day telling her to report to the police precinct. For weeks, she was afraid to go. When she did go on January 20, registration officials again refused to register her.19

Harrassment of Unregistered Chechens in Schools

In the aftermath of the hostage taking, teachers at some Moscow schools warned parents of Chechen pupils that their children would no longer be welcome at school if they did not present valid registration papers. Some teachers referred to "orders from above," but the Moscow department of education denied the existence of such an order.20 Chechen children have also experienced increased harassment since the hostage crisis. In one case, a teacher paraded a Chechen child in front of her class, announcing that she was a Chechen.

  • Zarema Dadaeva, her husband, three children, and two nephews have lived in Moscow for three years. Dadaeva's son and nephew attend a local school. After the hostage crisis, the schoolmaster told Dadaeva's son and nephew that they would not be allowed to continue attending the school if they did not bring their registration documents the next day. The Dadaevs' temporary registration papers, however, had expired in October 2002 and officials at the registration office had refused to renew them. Dadaeva contacted Civic Assistance and asked its activists to intervene on her behalf. After Civic Assistance raised the issue with the schoolmaster, the latter called Dadaeva to apologize and said she had acted under pressure from the district department of education.21 Dadaeva's other children, who attend different schools, have not had similar problems.
  • In early November, the principal of another school told Kheda Murdalova's three children to present valid registration papers or face expulsion. Murdalova, who had not registered prior to the hostage taking, has since unsuccessfully tried to register. As of this writing, her children have been able to continue to attend their school. However, a teacher recently told Murdalova's daughter that police officials had told the principal the family would "soon be thrown out of their apartment" and that that would "solve the problem."22

To avoid harassment, many Chechen children do not reveal their ethnic background to their peers. Civic Assistance believes harassment by peers and teachers has become more frequent since the hostage taking.

  • On October 25, as the hostage taking was still ongoing, a teacher at a Moscow school paraded a Chechen girl in front of her class and told the other pupils she was a Chechen. According to her caregiver, that day the teacher asked eleven-year-old Isita Gerikhanova to step up in front of the class and told the other children: "I want you to know that Isita is Chechen." Gerikhanov's caregiver understood that this was done to make the girl feel uncomfortable. Gerikhanova had concealed her ethnicity until then to avoid harassment. In response to a call from Civic Assistance to the school, the principal dismissed the incident, saying Gerikhanova had misunderstood her teacher. Gerikhanova continues to attend the school and reports that her teacher has treated her well since.23

Pressure on Landlords to Evict Chechen Tenants

According to Civic Assistance, police harassment of Moscow landlords renting apartments to unregistered Chechens increased since the hostage crisis. As a result, the number of evictions of Chechens in Moscow has risen significantly.

  • In early November, Kheda Murdalova went to the local police precinct to obtain Moscow registration papers. Registration officials declined and told her to leave Moscow within ten days. Later, Murdalova learned that the officials had summoned her landlords for questioning, fined them one hundred rubles for renting their apartment to unregistered Chechens, and gave them ten days to evict Murdalova. The officers threatened the landlords with additional fines if they refused. The landlords subsequently asked Murdalova to leave the apartment before spring. As of this writing, registration officials continued to harass the landlord about his failure to evict Murdalova.24
  • When the Dadaev family tried to renew their temporary registration papers in late October and early November 2002, police officials demanded that their landlord submit a letter in which he accepted personal responsibility for any crimes the Dadaevs might commit during their stay in his apartment. The landlord later told the Dadaevs that two police officers had warned him not to rent the apartment to the Dadaevs because they are Chechen.25

1 Human Rights Watch interview with Makka Shidaeva, Moscow, November 14, 2002.

2 Human Rights Watch interview with "Kheda Murdalova" (not her real name), Moscow, January 20, 2003.

3 Human Rights Watch, "Crime or Simply Punishment? Racist Attacks by Moscow Law Enforcement," A Human Rights Watch Report , Vol. 7, No. 12(D), September 1995. Amnesty International, Failure to Protect Asylum Seekers , AI-index: EUR 46/003/1997, April 1997. Human Rights Watch, "Moscow: Open Season, Closed City," A Human Rights Watch Report , Vol. 9, No. 10 (D), September 1997.

4 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001: Events of 2000 , (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2000), p. 317.

5 Civic Assistance received more than forty complaints from Chechens in Moscow since late October 2002. It provides details on the substance of complaints it received from Chechens in Moscow between October 23 and December 2002 on its website (, accessed February 7, 2003).

6 "Chechens Feel the Heat in Post-Siege Moscow," The Moscow Times , October 30, 2002; Anna Politkovskaya, "Teror: antivikhr: proshla tret'ia nedelia posle Dubrovki. I tret'iu nedel'iu idiot eta dikaia operatsia," Novaya , November 11, 2002 (http://2002.NovayaGazeta.Ru/nomer/2002/83n/n83n-s00.shtml, accessed February 19, 2003); Anastasia Naryshkina, "Chechens being ousted from Moscow", Vremia Novostei , November 6, 2002; "V Podmoskov'e nachalis' chechenskie pogromi," Novosti Rossii , November 1, 2002 (, accessed February 19, 2003); Sarah Karush, "Human Rights Advocates: Moscow Police target Chechens, detaining scores, killing one," Associated Press Newswires , January 28, 2003; David Filipov, "As Moscow rounds up Chechens, bias issues arise dozens held; reprisal is seen," The Boston Globe , November 17, 2002; Jonathan Steele, "Moscow Police turn against Chechens," The Guardian , November 5, 2002; Sharon Lafraniere, "Chechens complain of harassment in wake of rebel standoff, human rights activists say police looking for possible accomplices exhort money from law-abiding Chechens," The Grand Rapids Press , November 4, 2002; Sharon Lafraniere, "Moscow's Chechens complain of abuse: police accused of campaign of harassment in wake of theater hostage crisis," The Washington Post , November 1, 2002; Eric Engleman, "Chechens in Moscow say they're subject to police visits, harassment after hostage crisis," Associated Press Newswires , October 31, 2002.

7 Human Rights Watch interview with Makka Shidaeva, Moscow, November 14, 2002.

8 Human rights Watch interview with Zelimkhan Bashaev, an aide to Aslambek Aslakhanov, October 30, 2002 and February 3, 2003.

9 See (accessed February 7, 2003).

10 In cases Human Rights Watch is aware of, the amount of the bribe varied from several hundred to many thousands of dollars. Zelimkhan Bashaev, the aide to Aslakhanov, estimated that the going rate to avoid a criminal case from being opened cost up to U.S.$1,000. Once a criminal case is opened, the cost of a bribe shoots up to over U.S.$5,000. Telephone interview with Zelimkhan Bashaev, February 3, 2003.

11 Ibid.

12 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Zelimkhan Bashaev, Moscow, October 30, 2002, and February 3, 2003.

13 Human Rights Watch interview, Moscow, November 15, 2002. The witness requested to remain anonymous.

14 Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Bashirov's sister, Moscow, November 15, 2002.

15 Human Rights Watch interview, Moscow, November 15, 2002. The witness requested to remain anonymous.

16 Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Bashirov's sister, Moscow, November 15, 2002.

17 For a more detailed description, see Human Rights Watch, "Moscow: Open Season, Closed City."

18 Human Rights Watch interview with Zarema Dadaeva, January 17, 2003

19 Human Rights Watch interview with Kheda Shagrievna, January 20, 2003

20 Letter to Svetlana Gannushkina of Civic Assistance from E. Kurnishova, Deputy Chair, Moscow City Department of Education, dated November 29, 2002.

21 Human Rights Watch interview with Zarema Dadaeva, Moscow, January 17, 2003

22 Human Rights Watch interview with Kheda Murdalova, Moscow, January 20, 2003.

23 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Khava Mezhidova, Moscow, October 29, 2002.

24 Human Rights Watch interview with Kheda Murdalova, Moscow, January 20, 2003.

25 Human Rights Watch interview with Zarema Dadaeva, Moscow, January 17, 2003.