As U.S. President Bill Clinton arrives in Moscow for a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Human Rights Watch has released a report detailing the massacre of at least sixty Chechen civilians in the Grozny suburb of Aldi in February.
Human Rights Watch previously documented the events in Aldi in a February 23 press release, but the new report documents in detail the killings of forty of the victims, along with six cases of rape, and the widespread arson and looting of civilian homes.
"The Russian government has not undertaken any serious investigation of these horrendous crimes," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "President Clinton should put this at the head of his agenda with President Putin."
Russian authorities have themselves admitted that special riot police units (in Russian, OMON) from the city of St. Petersburg and Riazan province were in Aldi on February 5. The military procurator passed the case over to the Grozny civilian procurator, stating that OMON units do not fall under his supervision. Three civilian procurators are currently investigating the killings.
The failure to address what amounts to war crimes in Aldi directly contradicts Putin's statement on May 29 that "all violations of the law in Chechnya will be stamped out in the most severe fashion regardless of who committed them."
Human Rights Watch called on President Clinton to set a deadline for President Putin to start prosecutions against Russian forces for the massacre in Aldi. President Putin should also demonstrate significant and measurable progress towards implementing the April 2000 U.N. Commission on Human Rights resolution on Chechnya. This resolution included a call to the Russian government to "establish urgently, according to recognized international standards, a national, broad-based and independent commission of inquiry." Neither the Duma (parliament) commission headed by Alexander Tkachev, nor the commission of inquiry headed by former minster of justice, Pavel Krashenninikov, meet internationally recognized standards on commissions of inquiry.
Russian forces began shelling Aldi in earnest on February 3, using cluster bombs against a civilian objects. Reconnaissance units of Russian conscript soldiers entered the village on February 4, warning the local residents to come out from their cellars and to have their documents ready for inspection the next day.
On February 5, 2000, Russian riot police and contract soldiers entered Aldi and went from house to house executing civilians. Some killings were accompanied by demands for money or jewelry, serving as a pretext for execution if the amount was insufficient. Others victims lacked identity papers. Several witnesses stated that the soldiers forcibly removed the victims' gold teeth or stole jewelry from corpses.
Despite the great cultural stigma attached to rape in Chechnya's predominantly Muslim communities, second-hand reports of the rape of women by Russian soldiers in Aldi on February 5 have surfaced. Several women spoke to Human Rights Watch researchers about six cases of rape. This suggests that the actual number of incidents could be many more. In one incident, soldiers reportedly gang-raped four women and strangled three of them, leaving the fourth for dead.
Russian soldiers torched many homes of Chechen civilians in Aldi. While soldiers engaged in some pillage on February 5, the pillage on a massive scale took place during the following week. Witnesses stated that soldiers returned in large numbers on February 10 and in broad daylight brazenly stripped their homes of valuables.
Because the Russian government has shown a clear lack of political will to vigorously investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the Aldi massacre, a national commission of inquiry is likely to be inadequate. Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they had withheld information from Russian investigators in Aldi for fear of reprisals.
"Only an international commission of inquiry could enjoy the trust of eyewitnesses and of victims' relatives," said Cartner. "Until such an international commission is formed, with the ability to recommend prosecutions, it's not likely that those who are guilty of the Aldi atrocities will ever be punished."