Human Rights Watch said that Russian troops went on a devastating rampage after capturing the village of Alkhan-Yurt, ten miles south-west of Grozny.
"Russian troops in Alkhan-Yurt are killing civilians and looting their property with what appears to be complete impunity," said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "It's a shocking case of Russian force's intentional violation of international law."
Human Rights Watch researchers today interviewed two men from Alkhan-Yurt who had traveled to neighboring Ingushetia to alert the international community of abuses committed by Russian forces in their village, and to deliver a desperate plea for help in ending the abuses. "The old people from our village told us to go everywhere, to the United Nations, to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to journalists, to the military procurators, to let them know that soldiers are abusing and humiliating them, and ask for help," one of the men told Human Rights Watch.
According to one of the two men, Omar Ilayev (not the man's true name), Russian troops entered the village of Alkhan-Yurt on December 1, after three days of heavy bombardment. Ilayev reported that the Russian forces then looted homes and summarily executed villagers, some of whom had attempted to stop the looting. Prior to his departure from the town, Ilayev had spoken to family members of Hanpasha Dudayev, aged about sixty, who reported that on the night of December 8, Russian troops entered Dudayev's home, killed him when he protested, and burned down his home with his body inside. Local villagers, including relatives of the victim who were interviewed by Ilayev, were later ordered to gather and bury his burned remains. Ilayev told Human Rights Watch that Hamid Hasuyev, about sixty, Isa Muradov, about forty-five, and Musa Gelkhayev, about twenty-five, were also killed in their homes by looting soldiers. Ilayev said that Alimpasha Assuyev, about twenty-five years old, and an unidentified refugee were killed after they had protested being beaten by soldiers in a cellar. Their relatives who witnesses the killings described what happened to Ilayev. Ilayev also gave Human Rights Watch a list of seventeen additional names of persons whose families had reported them being killed in Alkhan-Yurt between December 1 and 9, and claimed that there were many other killings that villagers know about, but whose families Ilayev had not been able to interview.
Ilayev had made five unsuccessful attempts to gain permission to reenter the village after Russian forces established control. He succeeded, together with two other villagers, on December 9--after bribing local soldiers with a bottle of vodka. Looting appears widespread in the town, and many homes in the town have been burned down by looting soldiers. When he drove past his own home, he noticed that the gates had been broken down: "Food, equipment, furniture, china, and other things are being taken away in trucks. They do not even open the gates [of the houses], they just run them down." Ilayev told Human Rights Watch that the soldiers allow people to leave their homes only between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. everyday, and are forcing people to remain in their homes or backyards for the remainder of the time. He described the behavior of Russian troops in his village as a "rampage," and said that the villagers were living in fear.
The events related by the two men were confirmed by a third man from Alkhan-Yurt, "Adam Deniyev," (not the man's true name) who was interviewed independently by Human Rights Watch and who had also recently left the village. Deniyev, aged thirty-four, confirmed numerous incidents of looting and the killing of Hanpasha Dudayev, who was his neighbor. He had spoken to Dudayev's family who told him that soldiers "were looting his house and when he asked them to stop, they shot him and threw his body in the house on fire." Deniyev also confirmed that villagers were confined in their homes. Russian television today showed footage of a devastated Alkhan-Yurt. Like the other two men, Adam had to pay a bribe to return to Alkhan-Yurt: "To go into Alkhan-Yurt it is about 100 or 150 rubles (U.S.$3.75-$5), to get out of Alkhan-Yurt is about 400 rubles (U.S.$15)."
"The shocking events in Alkhan-Yurt should serve as a wake-up call for Russia and the international community," said Cartner. "The abuses in Chechnya are mounting at an alarming rate. This kind of conduct is banned by the Geneva Conventions, to which Russia is a party."
The Geneva Conventions expressly ban looting, summary executions and other outrages against civilians. Human Rights Watch calls on the Russian command to investigate the events in Alkhan-Yurt and to take immediate steps to bring the conduct of its troops in line with the Geneva Conventions.