(Moscow) - Russian federal and Chechen local authorities should immediately put a stop to the punitive house-burning and other human rights violations in Chechnya and bring those responsible to justice, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch has documented two new cases in Chechnya in which the homes of families related to suspected insurgents were torched by local law-enforcement officials as well as a public extrajudicial killing of a man suspected of providing food to insurgents.
On July 2, 2009, Human Rights Watch published a report, "‘What Your Children Do Will Touch Upon You': Punitive House-Burning in Chechnya", documenting a pattern of house burnings by security forces to punish families for the alleged involvement by their relatives in the insurgency.
"We have two more houses burned and at least one person killed just in the last couple of weeks," said Tanya Lokshina, deputy Moscow director at Human Rights Watch. "It's time for Russia's leaders to take a clear stand against this kind of brutal collective punishment instead of looking like they endorse it."
The two new cases of punitive house burnings documented by Human Rights Watch took place on June 29 and July 4, after the Kremlin gave Chechnya's president, Ramzan Kadyrov, authority to run counterinsurgency operations outside Chechnya, in neighboring Ingushetia. In one case, a daughter of the family, who reportedly had married a Chechen rebel, died under suspicious circumstances. The extrajudicial killing, supposedly of a man accused of selling food to the rebels, took place on July 7.
In the first new episode, Chechen law-enforcement personnel arrested 39-year-old Magomed Dadilov at his home in Shali on the evening of June 28. A relative told Human Rights Watch that four law-enforcement officers came for Dadilov when he was reciting his evening prayers and provided neither an arrest warrant nor an explanation for his arrest.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that at dawn the next day, a group of suspected Chechen law-enforcement personnel in masks and camouflage broke into the Dadilov family compound, locked all the family members inside one of the three houses on the compound, doused one of the other houses with gasoline, and set it on fire. Three families live on the compound, including 12 children between the ages of seven months and 14 years. All of them were screaming with fear as the law-enforcement personnel went about burning their home, the witnesses said.
Soon after the house was fully ablaze, the perpetrators left. Some of the family members called a local firefighter, a personal friend. He immediately came with several colleagues, and they put out the fire out before the walls and roof collapsed. The inside of the house was completely burned, however.
"The burning of this home fits the unmistakable, ghastly pattern that we and other groups have been documenting for some time," said Lokshina.
Dadilov was detained incommunicado for three days, then taken to the Shali district police department on July 1, where his detention was officially processed. At this writing, he is still being held on suspicion of participation in an illegal armed group and has had access to legal counsel.
A source close to the case said that Dadilov was held for the three-day period in an informal detention facility on the base of a patrol police unit, where he was reportedly coerced into providing a confession that he had assisted Abubakar Musliev, an alleged insurgent from Shali.
Musliev was killed on July 1 by security officials, according to official reports. The July 2 Human Rights Watch report includes an account of the burning of his family home, apparently as punishment for his activities, on August 28, 2008.
In the July 4 incident, armed law-enforcement personnel in Argun burned the home of the Yunusovs, whose 20-year-old daughter, Madina, recently married a man accused of involvement in the insurgency in Chechnya.
Two days earlier, on July 2, Madina Yunusova had been critically wounded in a special operation carried out by Chechen law-enforcement agencies in a house where she was staying in Staraya Sunzha, a village on the outskirts of Grozny. The law-enforcement personnel surrounded the home and killed Said-Selim Abdulkadyrov, alleged to be her husband.
Chechen law-enforcement agencies said that Abdulkadyrov was involved in a plot to assassinate Ramzan Kadyrov. Yunusova was taken into custody, placed under surveillance in a prison-type room of a hospital in Grozny, and reportedly underwent successful surgery for her wounds. However, she died under suspicious circumstances less than three days later.
According to the Yunusovs' relatives and neighbors, on July 3, police in Argun brought in her parents, Vakha and Laila, for several hours of interrogation about their daughter's connections to insurgents and then let them return home. A neighbor who witnessed the burning and others who spoke with the Yunusovs said that on July 4, between 3 and 4 a.m., a group of armed servicemen broke into the Yunusov family compound, locked the parents and two younger daughters, ages 4 and 6, in a shed, doused the house with gasoline from inside and set it on fire. Soon afterward, they unlocked the shed and left.
The Yunusovs managed to put the fire out with the help of their neighbors. The walls and roof remained intact, but Human Rights Watch observed that two of the rooms were badly burned. The family lost furniture, family memorabilia, money, and documents. The Yunusovs fled Argun several hours after the burning.
The next day, July 5, soon after dawn, Madina's corpse was delivered to her parents' already-burned home. The neighbors heard some noise and saw a group of law-enforcement officers knocking on the Yunusovs' gate. One of them reportedly said, "Where are your neighbors? We brought a corpse for them."
When informed that the Yunusovs were no longer in Argun, the officers took the body, which was wrapped in a shroud, from their vehicle and gave it to the neighbors, cautioning them not to unwrap it. The neighbors notified the Yunusovs, who buried the body.
The circumstances of Yunusova's death are unclear. Several patients at the hospital where she had been treated told Human Rights Watch that they saw her shortly after she arrived at the hospital. They said orderlies had told them that she had recovered from surgery and was healing well, and was talking and eating, but that she had cried out for her mother on the night of July 4. The other patients could not approach her room because it was heavily guarded by law-enforcement officers. The orderlies told the patients that Yunusova was alive when several law-enforcement officers in camouflage uniforms removed her from her room on a stretcher at dawn on July 5.
As with any death in custody, or that raises the possibility of official involvement, Russia is under a legal obligation to ensure that there is an effective investigation to determine any liability and responsibility for the death and, where appropriate, to ensure the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators.
"This is clearly a suspicious death, which needs to be fully investigated," said Lokshina.
Human Rights Watch also documented the extrajudicial killing of Abusubyan (Rizvan) Albekov, on July 7 in the village of Akhinchu-Borzoi in Kurchaloi district.
A local police officer named Ilyas came to Albekov's home in Akhinchu-Borzoi on July 6. Relatives told Human Rights Watch that when he did not find Albekov at home, Ilyas asked Albekov's daughter where he was and requested his cell phone number, which she provided. When Albekov did not return home in the evening, his worried relatives tried to reach him on his cell phone, but neither of his two cell phone numbers was working.
Several sources told Human Rights Watch that Kurchaloi district police personnel put up a roadblock that evening in the village of Dzhigurty and stopped Albekov and his 17-year-old son, Adis, when they drove through the village on their way home.
At about 1 a.m. on July 7, two cars drove through Akhinchu-Borzoi, circled the village and the law-enforcement officers in the cars rounded up about four young men. Several villagers, one of whom spoke with one of the young men, said that the drivers of the cars threw Albekov, who appeared to have been severely beaten, out of the car in front of the young men.
They asked Albekov, "Did you give a sheep to the rebels?" He shook his head and started begging incoherently for the release of his son. The drivers of the cars then shot Albekov and one said, "This is what's going to happen to anyone who helps the rebels!" Then they left, and the young men fled.
Later that day, a family member contacted the Kurchaloi district prosecutor's office, which sent officials to examine the body and question family members before the ritual washing and burial of the body. The next day, Albekov's family was threatened by Kurchaloi law-enforcement officers into signing a statement that Albekov had died of a stroke. The officers told the family that Adis would be also killed and all the relatives would suffer if they complained to any authorities or non-governmental agencies. The fate and whereabouts of Adis Albekov remains unknown.
"Reports of how Albekov was killed describe a cold-blooded extrajudicial execution," said Lokshina. "There needs to be a thorough and impartial investigation to bring those responsible to justice. Given the routine failure by Chechen authorities to hold perpetrators of crimes such as these accountable, the federal office of the prosecutor general should oversee the investigation."
Albekov's brother, Vakhazhi, was killed in October 2000 by a landmine in Chechnya. A third brother, Ramzan Albekov, filed a case against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2008 that Russia had violated his brother's right to life.