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Memorandum on Accountability for Humanitarian Law Violations in Chechnya
September 13, 2000
Human Rights Watch firmly believes that Russian domestic agencies have not established a meaningful accountability process, required by the United Nations, to bring to justice those responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Chechnya war.
In September 1999, Russian forces began a military campaign to regain political control of Chechnya. A series of bombings in Russia, which the government blamed on Chechen forces, and the summer 1999 Chechen invasion of Dagestan sparked the armed conflict, the second in the past five years.
Both parties to the conflict committed serious abuses in a brutal war that is costing thousands of civilian lives, displacing tens of thousands of people, and causing serious damage to civilian homes and infrastructure. Chechen forces have violated humanitarian law by summarily executing servicemen they have captured, physically abusing civilians, and violating civilian immunity. But the overwhelming majority of abuse has been committed by Russian forces. They perpetrated three major massacres--in the village of Alkhan-Yurt (December 1999) and in the Staropromyslovski (January 2000) and Aldi (February 2000) districts of Grozny, Chechnya's capital--that cost at least 130 civilian lives; they have killed or maimed thousands of civilians through indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing; and they have rounded up and systematically tortured untold numbers of civilians suspected of collaborating with Chechen rebels. Human Rights Watch documented in detail these violations during field presence in Ingushetia from November 1999 through May 2000.
Russian forces committed similar violations of international humanitarian law during the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya. Under pressure from the international community, the Russian government made a commitment to investigate these abuses and hold accountable their perpetrators. Four years later, it failed to live up to this commitment. It would be a tragic derogation of duty should the international community again fail to insist on a credible, impartial and transparent accountability process.
Governments and international organizations repeatedly called on Russia to halt and investigate the atrocities in the current war. On April 25, 2000 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution deploring abuses in Chechnya and calling on Russia to investigate them.
The April 25 resolution called on Russia to take specific action to investigate violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and to cooperate with intergovernmental and nongovernmental agencies seeking to conduct their own inquiries.
The Russian government rejected the resolution and refused to implement its chief requirements in a transparent manner. Five months after the resolution's adoption, Russia has made no meaningful progress toward establishing accountability for abuse. It has effectively denied access to the conflict zone for thematic rapporteurs but has, to its credit, permitted limited access to Council of Europe representatives. Below we discuss the inadequacy of the Russian response to key requirements specified by the Commission in the resolution.
Calls upon the Government of the Russian Federation to establish urgently, according to recognized international standards, a national, broad-based and independent commission of inquiry to investigate promptly alleged violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law committed in the Republic of Chechnya in order to establish the truth and identify those responsible, with a view to bringing them to justice and preventing impunity. (Resolution paragraph 4)
Russia has not created a national commission of inquiry nor has it, through law enforcement agencies or other special institutions, established accountability or prevented impunity. There are currently three bodies, in addition to regular law enforcement agencies, that are concerned with human rights issues in Chechnya: the Office of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Ensuring Human and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic, headed by Vladimir Kalamanov; a purportedly independent commission headed by former Justice Minister Pavel Krashenninikov; and a State Duma commission headed by Alexander Tkachev.
None of these agencies can be seen as meeting the international standards for independent commissions of inquiry. (A summary of such standards developed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is attached.) At best, they are authorized to forward complaints about serious abuse to law enforcement agencies and request information about action taken. Their priorities, while laudable, do not lie in establishing the full truth about and accountability for some of the worst abuses in the war--summary executions and torture. They cannot, for example, subpoena evidence and witnesses, they do not submit evidence to prosecutorial authorities, and they do not appear to have the full cooperation of prosecutorial agencies.
President Vladimir Putin appointed Mr. Kalamanov in response to international outcry about atrocities and torture in Chechnya. Mr. Kalamanov has established an office in Znamenskoe, in northern Chechnya; to its credit, the office has been instrumental in securing the release of dozens of Chechen detainees in Russian custody and in restoring to hundreds of civilians identity documents that were lost, confiscated or destroyed. It also responds to individual complaints, prioritizing those that regard food, housing, pensions, identity papers, and compensation. Mr. Kalamanov's office has entered into a collaborative relationship with the Council of Europe, with three Council of Europe experts resident in his office in Znamenskoe, Chechnya; it also accepts technical assistance from the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch values our dialogue with Mr. Kalamanov and his staff, and sincerely believes that his efforts are making a positive contribution. However, Mr. Kalamanov's office in no way can be considered a national commission of inquiry. While it has provided human rights organizations with useful information about procuracy investigations into abuses, it does not investigate complaints of abuse by Russian forces. Nor does it appear to have the authority to compel the procuracy to investigate meritorious cases. Moreover, it has chosen to prioritize other issues that are worthy, but that do not contribute to a meaningful accountability process.
The commission headed by Mr. Krashenninikov is an unregistered nongovernmental organization funded by private donors that has no investigatory authority or function. Its mandate includes the examination of human rights violations in the North Caucasus in the 1990s; other parts of its mandate and planned activities are highly laudable, but are unfortunately unrelated to accountability. These include lowering interethnic tensions in Russian society and maintaining contact with international and Russian organizations and NGOs engaged in the crisis in the North Caucasus. The commission receives complaints from individuals, which it forwards to the relevant government agencies. It plans to establish legal aid centers in Moscow, Chechnya, and other regions of Russia to broaden its information-gathering capacity, but lacks resources to do so.
Led by Alexander Tkachev, the State Duma Commission on Normalizing the Socio-Political Situation and Human Rights in Chechnya has sixteen members, nine of whom are resident in Chechnya, and an office in Gudermes. The commission is to be involved in useful initiatives to ensure funds for reconstruction and to reestablish the social welfare infrastructure. They forward complaints--on issues ranging from pensions, housing, and unemployment to abuse by law enforcement agencies--to the appropriate state agencies and request information about action on such complaints.
Human Rights Watch has advocated for an independent, international commission of inquiry because domestic investigative agencies have proven either incapable or unwilling to undertake rigorous, impartial investigations into atrocities in Chechnya or to prosecute their authors. The military procuracy(1) has closed its investigation into the Alkhan-Yurt massacre, claiming that it found "no evidence of a crime." Notably, the procuracy limited its investigation to the period of time leading up to the Russian seizure of Alkhan-Yurt on December 2, 1999. Our research indicates that this was the date on which the abuses began. The military procuracy failed to open an investigation on Staropromyslovski; it transferred the investigation of Aldi to the civilian procuracy, claiming that servicemen under its jurisdiction were not involved in the sweep operation there. The civilian procuracy has opened a criminal case into the death of one civilian at Staropromyslovski (Human Rights Watch documented fifty-one civilian deaths in that massacre); it chose to refer us to the Grozny city procuracy to obtain information on the Alkhan Yurt, Aldi and Staropromyslovski investigations. If the procuracy general or any regional procuracy has undertaken an investigation into systematic torture of detainees at the infamous Chernokozovo detention center in January and early February, it has not made available any information on the progress of its efforts. In March 2000, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture requested the Russian authorities to carry out such an investigation within three months; it is entirely unknown whether the Russian government has complied with this mandatory request.
Procuracy investigations lack transparency, an essential part of any credible accountability process. Occasionally the procuracy makes available figures on the number of cases under investigation in Chechnya, but leaves obscured the nature of the crimes under investigation, and whether they were perpetrated against civilians. According to Mr. Kalamanov, for example, the civilian procuracy has opened twenty criminal cases in reference to Alkhan Yurt, but the nature of the crimes under investigation is entirely unclear.
Supports the requests made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, The Secretary-General of the Council of Europe and the Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for international involvement, and urges the Government of the Russian Federation to agree to the requests of those organizations to deploy staff in the region in line with their mandates. (Resolution paragraph 3)
As mentioned above, Russia has entered into a cooperative relationship with the Council of Europe through the latter's deployment of three experts to Mr. Kalamanov's office.(2) The Russian government has, however, stubbornly and persistently refused to allow the redeployment of the OSCE Assistance Group by objecting to its security requirements. The group has had a mandate to be present in the region since 1995. Its mandate was reaffirmed by all OSCE member states, including the Russian government, at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit.
Urges the government of the Russian Federation to cooperate with the special mechanisms of the Commission [i.e., the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on internally displaced persons and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict] and, in particular to give favorable consideration to the requests already presented to undertake visits in the region as a matter of priority. (Resolution paragraph 8)
As of this early September, the Russian government has not responded to requests filed by the special rapporteurs by issuing invitations to visit the region. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to a request, filed in April, by the special rapporteurs on torture and violence against women for an invitation to visit the region by noting that they were welcome, but stating that the visit could not take place at the time due to an allegedly unsatisfactory security situation. A subsequent request by the Special Rapporteur on torture remains unanswered. The ministry underscored that any visit would have to be unrelated to the CHR resolution. No invitations have been forthcoming for the other special rapporteurs or special representatives.
Calls upon the Government of the Russian Federation to give free and effective access in the Republic of Chechnya by international and regional organizations, in particular the ICRC, to all places of detention, . . . . (Resolution paragraph 10)
Free and unfettered access to Chechnya is essential for organizations that seek to document human rights violations and press for accountability. To its credit, the government has consented to ICRC full access to all detention facilities under its control in Chechnya and in other regions of Russia where detainees are held in relation to the armed conflict. Access has improved for local humanitarian groups, journalists, and human rights groups. The government has not, however, responded positively to Human Rights Watch's many requests for access. The experience of nongovernmental actors operating in Chechnya belies the security concerns that have allegedly prevented deployment of the U.N. special mechanisms.
Welcomes the invitation extended by the Government of the Russian Federation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights for a return visit in two to three months. (Resolution paragraph 12)
During the High Commissioner's April visit to Russia, which included three days in the North Caucasus, Foreign Minister Ivanov extended an oral invitation to the High Commissioner to return review progress in resolving many of the issues she had raised. No formal invitation from the ministry has been issued, however, in the five months since her visit.
1. The military procuracy investigates crimes believed to have been committed by people serving in the Ministry of Defense forces and in the Ministry of Internal Affairs Internal Troops. The civilian procuracy investigates crimes believed to have been committed by those who serve in all other Ministry of Internal Affairs agencies, including the riot police, rapid reaction forces, and special task forces, which are often deployed in Chechnya for mop-up and other operations.
2. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also provides ad hoc technical and training assistance to Mr. Kalamanov's staff, albeit not with staff deployed in the region.