Russia's conduct in Chechnya has not improved and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly must not restore Russia's voting rights. In a memorandum, Human Rights Watch documented the arbitrary detention, torture, "disappearances," and extortion of Chechnya residents by Russian forces. The organization also charged the Russian government with failing to hold accountable those responsible for these violations, and for the atrocities Russian forces committed earlier in the war.
"No one should be fooled by Russian claims that the situation in Chechnya is 'normal,'" said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "Every minute of the day, people in Chechnya live in fear of being arrested and tortured. There's nothing normal about that."
The eight-page memorandum is based on almost one hundred interviews with Chechnya residents, who detailed human rights violations they endured or witnessed in the past six months. Many had been detained by Russian forces in sweep operations or at checkpoints for not having the right residence permit; one woman was hauled off because soldiers found a photograph of her in traditional dress, standing with a bearded man.
Russian forces frequently hold detainees in makeshift facilities such as pits in the ground or oil tanks. Detainees are routinely tortured-through severe beatings and, sometimes, electric shock. One man told us he was tortured throughout his five-week stay in a pit in August and September. Russian forces extort the relatives of detainees for bribes, sometimes thousands of dollars, in exchange for their loved ones.
Many Chechens simply disappear in Russian custody, with their corpses turning up in unmarked graves weeks or months later. Armed men in masks believed to be Russian security forces burst into homes at night, hauling off young men who are never heard from again.
The memorandum also describes how Chechen forces have attacked and threatened civilian administrators who work with the Russian government in Chechnya. They have also attacked Russian positions in heavily populated areas, causing civilian deaths and casualties.
"Russia hasn't delivered on its promises to the Council of Europe, particularly on accountability," said Cartner. "There is simply no reason to reward Moscow, and restoring voting rights would do just that."
Human Rights Watch urged the Parliamentary Assembly to:
Deplore ongoing abuses, committed overwhelmingly by Russian government forces, call for vigorous, transparent, and effective prosecutions of those responsible, and call for Council of Europe monitoring of this process;
Refrain from approving the voting rights of the Russian delegation;
Recommend that the Committee of Ministers initiate proceedings for the suspension of Russia from the Council of Europe;
Renew its call on member states to file suit against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights; and
Ensure that Council of Europe experts working in Chechnya with the Russian government make available to residents information on how to file an individual claim against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights.