The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a strong resolution on the situation in Chechnya, condemning ongoing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by both parties to the conflict; urging Russian authorities to establish a genuine accountability process for these abuses; calling on the government to invite key U.N. thematic mechanisms, in particular the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; and insisting on an end to harassment of applicants to the European Court of Human Rights.
Chechnya continues to be the single largest human rights crisis in Europe and the only place on the continent where civilians are killed and "disappeared" on a daily basis as a result of an armed conflict.
The events of 2004 painfully disproved the Russian government's official position that the situation in Chechnya is normalizing. Chechens believed to be linked to the rebels who committed a series of horrendous attacks on civilians in Moscow, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia, including the massacre of hundreds of school children, their parents and teachers at Beslan, and assassinated Russian-installed president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov.
Russian and pro-Russian Chechen forces continued to be responsible for numerous arbitrary detentions during raids, looting, physical abuse of villagers, and extrajudicial executions. Those detained face beatings and other forms of torture, aimed at coercing confessions or information about Chechen rebel forces. The forces routinely extort money from detainees' relatives as a condition for release.
More than one million Russian soldiers have fought in the second war in Chechnya, which erupted in 1999, many returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder for which the government has not provided proper treatment. As a result, the Chechnya war not only causes tremendous human suffering in Chechnya but is also having a corrosive effect on Russian society as a whole.
"Chechenization" of the Conflict. As a result of Russia's policy of "Chechenization" of the conflict, in 2004, Chechen troops under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov, currently deputy prime minister of Chechnya increasingly took over law enforcement functions from Russian federal troops. They also replaced federal troops as the main perpetrators of human rights abuses. These troops run unofficial detention centers outside the control of Russia's ordinary organs of justice and are responsible for large numbers of cases of arbitrary detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.
Spike in Disappearances. "Disappearances" remain a hallmark of the conflict, and their frequency rose sharply in 2004. According to Vladimir Lukin, Russia's human rights ombudsman, some 1700 people in Chechnya were abducted during the year-approximately four persons every day. The Russian human rights group Memorial, which monitors events in about a quarter of Chechnya's territory, documented more than 400 "disappearances" during the year. The vast majority of the "disappearances" documented by Human Rights Watch and Memorial were committed by forces under Ramzan Kadyrov's control, although Russian federal forces were apparently responsible for about one-third of the cases.
Abuses Spreading to Ingushetia. The conflict continued to spill over into other regions of Russia. In June, Chechen rebels attacked police stations in several towns in Ingushetia and killed more than one hundred persons before retreating. Since, Russian troops have conducted numerous security operations in region and arbitrarily arrested dozens, several of whom subsequently "disappeared."
The choice of Beslan, North Ossetia, as the site for the September hostage taking and massacre of hundreds of school children, their teachers and patents, leaves little doubt that the perpetrators, believed to be linked to the Chechen rebels, sought to pull North Ossetia into the conflict. Although tension flared between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, which were involved in intercommunal armed conflict a decade ago, to the credit of the Russian and regional authorities, a new outbreak of violence was averted.
Continued Lack of Accountability. The Russian government continued to resist establishing any meaningful accountability process for crimes committed by forces under its control. Although the procuracy opened hundreds of criminal investigations into abuses by Russian and pro-Russian Chechen troops, in most cases officials failed to conduct even the most basic investigative steps, including questioning eyewitnesses and relatives. As a result, most investigations remained unsolved and almost none were sent to the courts.
Although Ramzan Kadyrov's forces are responsible for numerous egregious abuses, Human Rights Watch is not aware of any concerted or effective effort to bring abusive troops to justice. Despite the fact that human rights groups repeatedly warned the Russian government about abuses by his forces, Russian President Vladimir Putin decorated Ramzan Kadyrov as a Hero of Russia, thus implicitly endorsing his tactics.
Denial of Access for International Monitors. In the five years of the conflict, Russia has only partially complied with U.N. resolutions calling for deployment of U.N. thematic mechanisms. Although Russia facilitated visits to Chechnya for the Representatives of the Secretary-General on children in armed conflict and internally displaced persons, and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the government has yet to invite the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to the region. Despite the recent invitation to the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights to visit Chechnya, the need for visits by the thematic mechanisms remains pressing, as torture, extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" remain the hallmarks of the conflict.
Harassment of Applicants to the European Court of Human Rights. Harassment of applicants to the European Court of Human Rights continued to be a problem. Russia has yet to account for the fate of an applicant who "disappeared" in June 2002, and has failed to prosecute the troops that executed another applicant and her family in May 2003. Throughout 2004, nongovernmental groups that represent Chechen victims of human rights abuses before the Court continued to document new cases of threats against applicants or their families.
Abuses by Chechen Fighters. Chechen rebels committed numerous horrendous attacks on civilians in 2004. They are believed to be responsible for the massacre of hundreds of people in Beslan, blowing up two airplanes, a bomb attack on a Moscow metro station, and the assassination of pro-Russian Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov. Rebel fighters also continued their assassination campaign against civil servants and others who cooperated with the Moscow-appointed administration in Chechnya.
The Commission on Human Rights should:
- Condemn ongoing violations of human rights and humanitarian law by both parties to the conflict. The resolution should call on the Russian authorities to immediately put an end to arbitrary detention and to observe international and Russian legal standards; to end the use of torture and ill-treatment; to put an end to the pattern of enforced disappearances; to end extrajudicial executions; and to stop harassing and threatening applicants to the European Court of Human Rights. It should call on Chechen rebel leaders to cease all attacks on civilians, including retaliatory attacks on Chechen civilians who cooperate with the Russian authorities.
- Insist on accountability. The resolution should call on the Russian authorities to ensure meaningful investigations into all reported crimes by troops under its control against civilians in Chechnya or Ingushetia, and for the prosecution of the perpetrators; it should call on the Russian authorities to publish a detailed list of all current and past investigations into such abuses and indicate their current status; it should renew its call for a national commission of inquiry to document abuses by both sides to the conflict; and make clear that Russian authorities' continued failure to make progress on accountability will result in the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to document and produce an official record of abuses.
- Call on Russia to invite key U.N. thematic mechanisms, particularly the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. It should call on Russia to make good on its February 2005 promise to organize a visit to Chechnya for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.