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A Russian general recently appointed commander of the airborne troops of the Russian Federation was previously found by the European Court of Human Rights to have been responsible for a military operation in Chechnya that resulted in very serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today.

A former commander of Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Lt. General Vladimir Shamanov has been implicated in several episodes of grave human rights violations there, including the killing of civilians in the villages of Katyr-Yurt in 2000 and Alkhan-Yurt in 1999. Russia's Ministry of Defense announced his new appointment on May 25, 2009.

"Lt. General Shamanov presided over operations fraught with human rights violations and civilian casualties," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "He should be investigated, not promoted."

In a February 2005 ruling, the European Court of Human Rights found Shamanov responsible for a military operation in Katyr-Yurt in February 2000 that involved the "massive use of indiscriminate weapons," and that led to the loss of civilian lives and a violation of the right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

The Russian military heavily bombed Katyr -Yurt in that operation. The court found that Shamanov did not take requisite care in using heavy weapons in a populated area of the village, which Russian forces had declared a "safe zone." The ruling stated that "using this kind of weapon in a populated area, outside wartime and without prior evacuation of the civilians, is impossible to reconcile with the degree of caution expected from a law-enforcement body in a democratic society." 

Following the ruling, Russian authorities investigated the operation in Katyr-Yurt, but closed the investigation in 2007, having found no evidence of a crime. In December 2008, though, the Russian government informed the Council of Europe that the Investigative Committee, an agency of the prosecutor general's office, was examining the investigation and the decision to close it.

In Alkhan-Yurt, another Chechen village, Russian troops under Shamanov's command committed at least 14 killings that amounted to extrajudicial executions in December 1999. 

A Human Rights Watch report about the events in Alkhan-Yurt documented that on December 11, 1999, a group of residents from Alkhan-Yurt tried to meet with Shamanov, who was in the vicinity of the village at the time, to raise their concerns about the killings and other violence in Alkhan-Yurt. However, Shamanov refused to listen to the villagers and, one of the women in the group said, swore at them and threatened: "[Get] out of here or I will shoot you right now." Villagers informed Human Rights Watch that they pleaded with Shamanov to intervene to put an end to the killings but that after 10 minutes, the commander forced them to leave.

The Airborne Troops is a division within the Ministry of Defense tasked with attacking the enemy's rear and is essential in combat operations.

"A commander in this position should have a firm commitment to upholding international humanitarian law," said Cartner. "It's hard to understand how an officer with oversight for operations that have resulted in numerous violations of humanitarian law has been considered qualified to assume this role."

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