Human Rights Watch charged that Russian camp guards are torturing, beating, and on occasion raping Chechen civilians at a "filtration camp" inside Chechnya.
The organization has received credible testimony to this effect from several former detainees from the Chernokozovo camp near Grozny. It also said that Russian forces in recent weeks had arbitrarily detained hundreds of Chechen civilians, mostly men, and expressed concern about their fate.
"What's happening in these filtration camps is unspeakable," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "We saw the same kind of torture and ill-treatment in filtration camps during the last Chechen war. The Russians must not get away with committing these abuses for a second time."
Three men who were recently released from the filtration camp at Chernokozovo described to Human Rights Watch in separate interviews the brutal abuses they suffered at the camp. Their testimonies were mutually collaborating and very detailed. The men are believed to be among the first to be released from the filtration camps after mass arrests started in mid-January. All three men were released after their families paid substantial bribes to Russian officials.
The three men were each detained in mid-January at various checkpoints in Chechnya. Twenty-one-year-old "Issa" (not his real name) told Human Rights Watch that he and ten other detainees were taken in a truck to Chernokozovo on January 17. As they descended from the vehicle, they were made to run through a corridor of rubber truncheon-wielding camp guards. He said: "About fifteen or twenty soldiers were standing in two lines with rubber sticks. ... When I was running through the corridor, each soldier beat me with the sticks.... They made us undress and started checking our clothes. They took away the clothes they liked: my jacket, watch, money, hat, and gold ring were taken. For a week, I had to sit in the jail almost naked. An old man in the jail gave me some old clothes when he was released."
The other two men interviewed by Human Rights Watch gave similar accounts of being forced to run a gauntlet of camp guards and being stripped of their clothes and valuables. Issa told Human Rights Watch that on the second day of his detention, he and other inmates were again forced to run through a corridor, but this time, two of the guards had heavy metal hammers: "Before I got hit by the hammer, I thought nothing could be worse than the rubber sticks. Then I realized the rubber stick was nothing in comparison with the hammer." Issa was hit in the back with a heavy hammer and still suffered from severe back pain four weeks later.
All three men said camp officials had tortured them during repeated interrogations at the camp. Twenty-four-year-old "Akmed" (not his real name) said: "Each time we went to the interrogation room or were called out for some other purpose, we were beaten. The guards were wearing masks and would not let us look in their eyes. [Before the door of the interrogation room] I was ordered to fall down and crawl. They ordered me to take off my hat when I reached the door, and introduce myself: ‘Citizen Officer, thank you for seeing me. I am [name]. According to your order, I have crawled here.' ... I reached the room, and one guard beat me with an iron stick."
Issa told Human Rights Watch that out of twenty-one days he spent at Chernokozovo, he was not beaten on only three or four days. Two of the men also alleged that on several occasions guards had sprayed tear gas into the cells and that detainees were ordered to keep standing the entire day, with their hands raised. Thirty-eight-year-old "Waha" (not his real name) said that the sixteen detainees in his cell were forced to relieve themselves on the floor because there were no toilet facilities available.
All three men also told stories of rape. Waha gave detailed information about two rapes in the camp. On the second day of his detention, Waha heard the screams of a forty-two-year-old mother of four from Tolstoy-Yurt with whom he had arrived at the camp. "The woman was beaten mercilessly," Waha told Human Rights Watch. "From the noise, I could guess she was being beaten with rubber sticks. She was beaten for fifteen minutes. Then for one half hour we didn't hear from her at all. We could hear everything that was going on in the jail, but couldn't see. In one half hour, we understood she was being raped. She was begging them not to do it. The soldiers were using bad language and this lasted for some time. Then everything stopped."
Waha also said that men were raped at the camp: "They called one man out of his cell. They took him out and without saying anything, they started beating him very cruelly with their feet and truncheons. We could hear everything. Then the soldiers ordered him to undress. Then they laid him on something, maybe they tied him to something. Something was done to him, an act like pedophiles do, sodomy. We heard him say, ‘Please, please, this is not necessary.' After all this happened, the victim said, ‘You have killed me.' There were two or three such cases, the same thing happened twice to that same person, and I think another man. They renamed him Alla, they said, ‘From now on you will be Alla, a woman.'"
The three witnesses were released in late January or early February after relatives had offered bribes ranging from one to four thousand rubles (approximately forty to one hundred and sixty U.S. dollars) to camp officials.
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about a wave of arrests, mainly of Chechen men, following the retreat of Chechen fighters from the capital, Grozny. Russian soldiers have arbitrarily detained hundreds of men, depriving them of basic procedural rights and taking them away to undisclosed places of detention. Human Rights Watch has received reports of mass arrests from villages and towns throughout Chechnya. On February 3, Russian soldiers arrested nearly 300 wounded, including many wounded Chechen fighters but also civilians, from the village of Alkhan-Khala. Among those arrested in Alkhan-Kala were the Chechen minister of health, Umar Gambiev, together with five surgeons and a number of nurses.
"In many of these cases, the arrest appears to be based solely on the ethnic background of the men," said Cartner. "Such collective punishment for Chechen males is absolutely unacceptable."
Human Rights Watch called upon the Russian authorities immediately to put an end to the abuses in the filtration camps and to allow a permanent international monitoring presence to monitor the conduct of Russian authorities in the camps. It condemned Russia's decision to deny Mary Robinson, the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights, access to the region. The rights organization demanded that the Russian authorities immediately inform the family members of detained persons of their whereabouts and allow the families and legal representatives access to persons in detention.
A Human Rights Watch analysis of filtration camps from the last Chechnya war is now available at https://www.hrw.org/campaigns/russia/chechnya/filtration95.htm
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