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U.N. Should Censure Russia Over Chechnya Abuses

Three “Disappearances” a Week Documented

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights should adopt a strong resolution condemning abuses in Chechnya and Russia’s failure to investigate them, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a briefing paper published today for the commission, Human Rights Watch said that abuses by Russia’s forces appear to be on the rise. Based on more than fifty interviews conducted in the region in late March, the briefing paper details new cases of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and torture.

The Russian government has not complied with resolutions on Chechnya adopted by the Commission in 2000 and 2001.

“The Commission cannot turn a blind eye to atrocities that have continued unabated for three and a half years,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. “If it is to uphold its authority and credibility on human rights, the commission has to take Russia to task.”

During its March mission Human Rights Watch documented the forced disappearances of forty-four men. Twenty-six of the disappearances occurred between late December 2002 and late February 2003—an average of about three “disappearances” per week. In all cases, the individuals “disappeared” after being taken into custody by federal forces. Human Rights Watch also documented five extrajudicial killings and twelve cases of torture, all of which occurred after December 2002.

Unpublished government statistics on incidents of violent crimes in Chechnya confirm the high level of violence there. According to these statistics, which were made available to Human Rights Watch, in 2002 1,132 civilians were killed in Chechnya, or between ten and fifteen times the murder rate for Moscow. Another report, providing crime statistics for the first months of 2003, stated that for January and February there were seventy murders, 126 abductions, and twenty-five cases in which human corpses were found. Accompanying the statistics are detailed descriptions of more than 185 crimes in Chechnya committed in January and February 2003. In thirty-eight of these, involving sixty-four victims, federal forces are implicated by the involvement of armored personnel carriers (which Chechens rebels do not use), and of large numbers of uniformed men speaking Russian without a Northern Caucasus accent.

“Both our research and the official data on crime in Chechnya belie the Russian government’s claims of normalization in the region,” said Andersen.

Human Rights Watch said that a commission resolution should call on Russia to:

  • invigorate the domestic accountability process;
  • publish a comprehesive, detailed list of investigation into abuses;
  • issue invitations to relevant U.N. human rights monitors; and
  • agree to an OSCE presence in Chechnya with a strong human rights mandate.

Last year, the commission narrowly defeated a resolution on Chechnya. Russian authorities interpreted the resolution’s failure as a signal that the international community now endorsed its actions in Chechnya.

“The commission has to stand up for its principles, and say resoundingly that it does not endorse Russia’s abusive actions in Chechnya,” said Andersen.

Several cases from the Human Rights Watch briefing paper:

  • On the night of January 4, 2003, several dozen masked and armed men, who arrived on armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles, simultaneously burst into the Mazhiev family’s three apartments in Grozny. Aishat Mazhieva told Human Rights Watch that the men took away her husband and youngest son, a ballet dancer with the “Vainakh” dance group, and her two other sons who lived in adjacent apartments with their families. Despite numerous attempts by Mazhieva to find her husband and three sons their fate remained unknown.
  • “Malika K.” told Human Rights Watch that on February 16, 2003, a group of about fifteen armed and masked men in uniforms riding in military vehicles and speaking unaccented Russian took away her two sons, “Kharon” and “Aslanbek.” The armed men took the brothers to an ad hoc detention center in Grozny, where they questioned Aslanbek K., beating him with a rifle butt on his face, legs, and kidneys; they broke his nose in several places with a heavy metal flashlight. It is unclear when Kharon was killed; on February 17, the guards loaded Aslanbek K. and his brother’s corpse in a car and drove them to a an abandoned chemical plant where they tied the two together, placed them under a large slab of concrete and put explosives between their bodies. Before leaving, they fired a bullet at Aslanbek’s head but missed, causing only a superficial wound. Aslanbek K. managed to free himself before the explosives went off, and return home.

To read Human Rights Watch’s briefing paper on the human rights situation in Chechnya, please see: Human Rights Situation in Chechnya.

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