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Respecting Rights in the Response to Militant Attacks in Dagestan

20 Dead, Dozens Wounded in Horrific Attacks

The aftermath of an armed militant attack in Makhachkala, Dagestan, in southern Russia, on June 23, 2024. © 2024 Aleksandr Chernykh/Kommersant/Sipa via AP Photo

On June 23, armed militants—apparently supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS)attacked the two largest cities in Dagestan, in Russia’s North Caucasus region. By day’s end, a church and a synagogue were in flames and a Russian Orthodox priest killed in Derbent, and in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital, a church and a police checkpoint near a synagogue were attacked. At least 15 law enforcement personnel and four local residents were killed, and dozens were wounded.

Experts widely link the attacks to failings on the part of security services and the federal government in addressing domestic threats amidst Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In November 2023, Russian authorities failed to prevent or adequately respond to antisemitic mob attacks in Dagestan and other regions of the North Caucasus. Those acts included the takeover of the Makhachkala airport by a mob hunting for Israeli passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv; an attack on a hotel after false rumors it was housing “Israeli refugees”; an arson attack on a Jewish community center under construction; and the use of antisemitic language by protesters at two pro-Palestine rallies. 

Russia’s authorities should ensure an effective investigation capable of identifying those responsible for Sunday’s horrific attacks and holding them accountable, while fulfilling their responsibility to protect people from militant attacks.

But will they do so in a way that respects human rights?

Authorities’ response to the monstrous attack in March on a concert hall in the outskirts of Moscow, in which militants killed at least 140 people and ISIS claimed responsibility, show otherwise. Russian authorities tortured and shared recordings of the torture of at least two men of Tajik origin held as suspects for the crime. Security services followed up with abusive raids against Tajiks and other Central Asian migrants. Many faced arbitrary dismissals from jobs, physical intimidation accompanied by anti-migrant slurs and slogans, and xenophobic violence, including destruction of migrant-owned propertybeatings by groups of people, and attacks with pepper spray and knives.

For over two decades, Russian authorities have been intermittently battling militant Islamist insurgencies in Dagestan. Their response has included abduction-style detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, and forcible displacement of local residents.

In responding to this week’s attacks, Russian authorities should uphold their human rights obligations instead of perpetuating a climate of lawlessness and impunity for abuses. This, among other things, risks only contributing to sympathy for ISIS and other extremist groups, especially among local youth. 

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