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White House Photo-Op with Ex-Commander Linked to Chechnya Abuses

Human Rights Watch expressed profound concern at President George Bush’s Oval Office reception of Russian Major-General Vladimir Shamanov on March 27.

As a former commander of Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Shamanov is implicated in grave human rights abuses, including the killing of civilians in the villages of Alkhan-Yurt in 1999 and Katyr-Yurt in 2000, and the illegal detention and torture of detainees in 2000.

“The Bush administration shouldn’t work with those who have such an obvious and direct connection to human rights abuses, let alone receive him at the Oval Office,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

In a communication today with Human Rights Watch, the White House acknowledged that working with Shamanov had been an error that would be addressed.

In December 1999, Russian troops under Shamanov’s command committed at least 14 killings which amounted to extrajudicial executions in Alkhan-Yurt in Chechnya. Evidence collected by Human Rights Watch documents that Shamonov was aware that his troops were perpetrating abuses in Alkhan-Yurt but that he failed to take any steps to stop it.

Human Rights Watch’s 1999 report on Alkhan Yurt documented that on December 11, 1999 a group of residents from Alkhan-Yurt attempted to meet with Shamanov, who was in the vicinity of the village at the time, to raise their concerns about the continuing abuses in Alkhan-Yurt. However, Shamanov refused to listen to the villagers and, according to one of the women in the group, swore at them and threatened: "[G]et out of here or I will shoot you right now." Witnesses informed Human Rights Watch that the villagers pleaded with Shamanov to stop the killings but after about 10 minutes the commander forced them to leave.

In its February 2005 ruling in Isayeva v Russia, the European Court of Human Rights found Shamanov responsible for a military operation which involved the “massive use of indiscriminate weapons” and which led to the loss of civilian lives in the village of Katyr-Yurt in February 2000.

Over the course of several months in early 2000, Human Rights Watch received several allegations of abuses on a military base in Tangi-Chu by troops under the command Shamanov. Multiple witnesses told us that detainees were being held in pits at this military base and were systematically tortured and ill-treated. We interviewed several survivors of this place of detention, who recounted being beaten repeatedly and subjected to electric shock. The protracted period of time over which these abuses were taking place and the considerable numbers of allegations of abuse suggest that Shamanov either knew or should have known about them but failed to prevent these actions or punish the perpetrators.

The kinds of human rights abuses Shamanov’s troops were implicated in – indiscriminate bombing and shelling, extrajudicial executions, and torture – were widespread in Chechnya particularly in the early phases of the second Chechnya war. The US government expressed concern about them, including by supporting resolutions on Chechnya in 2000 and 20001 at the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Shamanov, an assistant to the Russian Minister of Defense and who together with General Robert Fogelsong co-chairs the US-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs was in Washington for a meeting of the Joint Commission yesterday. President Bush received him in the Oval Office on March 27 and posed with Shamanov for a photograph.

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