Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed more than thirty-five people about the massacre in Aldi and neighboring Chernorechie. The interviewees either witnessed the murders, discovered the dead bodies, or were the close relatives of victims. Most interviewees also bore witness to arson and pillage in Aldi. All interviews took place in Ingushetia, the republic of Russia that borders Chechnya to the west. In most cases interviews were conducted privately and separately.
Whenever possible, Human Rights Watch researchers travel directly to the site of human rights abuses to see for themselves the scene of the alleged crimes; in Chechnya this has not been possible. Russian authorities have repeatedly denied requests from Human Rights Watch for access to Chechnya despite issuing public statements to the contrary.1
For example, on February 18, according to the Russian news agency, Interfax, First Deputy Chief of Staff General Valerii Manilov said in a press conference that "the Ministry of Defense was prepared to help Human Rights Watch gain access to Chechnya and to assist in monitoring the situation in Chechnya as much as possible." General Manilov accused Human Rights Watch of publishing reports that were "mainly based on rumors," and stated "that is why we have agreed to assist Human Rights Watch in obtaining first-hand information."2 On March 10, General Manilov told Human Rights Watch staff that it "makes sense to look at widening the sphere of the activity of Human Rights Watch," 3 but refrained from making a clear commitment about access.
Vladimir Kalamanov, President Vladimir Putin's special representative on Chechnya, told Human Rights Watch that he was "taking titanic steps to get Human Rights Watch access to Chechnya, as well as for other international and domestic human rights organizations."4 Regrettably, despite these statements of intent, Human Rights Watch does not have access to Chechnya as of this writing.
Because of this lack of access, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed those witnesses who either were internally displaced in Ingushetia, or who were prepared to make the hazardous journey from Grozny in order to tell their story. This journey meant running a gauntlet of Russian checkpoints within Chechnya and at the border withIngushetia, as well as travel through an active combat zone.5 Several witnesses communicated through an intermediary their desire to talk to Human Rights Watch but declined to travel, citing the risks to their safety.1 Human Rights Watch wrote to the Ministry of Defense on November 17, 1999 and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on April 12, 2000 requesting access to Chechnya. The Ministry of Defense declined Human Rights Watch's request; we received no reply from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2 Interfax news agency, as cited by BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, February 18, 2000. 3 Human Rights Watch meeting with General Manilov, Moscow, March 10, 2000. 4 Human Rights Watch meeting with Vladimir Kalamanov, Moscow, Russia, April 19, 2000. 5 On January 11, 2000, Russian authorities imposed a blanket travel ban on Chechen males aged between ten and sixty from traveling outside of the republic (see Human Rights Watch press release, "Russia Closes Chechnya Border to Male Civilians; Blanket Ban Traps Men in War Zone," January 12, 2000). Although this ban was rescinded within days of its inception, likely due to international pressure, restrictions on the movement of Chechen civilians, in particular males, have continued to be enforced. Further, Chechen civilians have faced severe beatings, extortion, sexual harassment of women, verbal taunting, and arbitrary detention at checkpoints. (See, for example, Human Rights Watch press releases: "Bribery and Abuse along New Escape Route out of Chechnya: Russian Soldiers at Checkpoints Extorting and Beating Chechens," December 14, 1999; "More Evidence of Rape by Russian Forces in Chechnya," March 30, 2000.) Press releases are available at www.hrw.org.