Human Rights Watch released fresh evidence of Russian forces committing summary executions in a Chechen village.
Russia's brutal conduct in the war in Chechnya is currently being debated at the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, and will be the topic of a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe convening on Monday in Strasbourg.
"The debates in Geneva and Strasbourg must produce resolutions on Chechnya that hold Russia accountable for the crimes its forces have committed there," said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "Without a credible system for accountability, there is no reason to think these kinds of crimes will stop."
On February 6, as many as 3,000 Chechen fighters arrived in Gekhi-Chu en route to the mountains. At about 7:00 a.m. the next day, Russian forces bombed the village intensively with artillery, warplanes, and helicopters for several hours. Russian contract soldiers entered the village at about 1:00 p.m. and ordered civilians from their cellars-where they had sought shelter from the bombardment-ostensibly to check their documents.
Witnesses stated that the Chechen fighters had left Gekhi-Chu by dawn on February 7. However, the presence of such large numbers of fighters in a densely populated village exposed the civilian inhabitants to grave danger. Human Rights Watch condemned the Chechen fighters for this violation of international humanitarian law.
Magomed (53) described to Human Rights Watch how he and his two sons, Musa (21) and Ruslan (25) were ordered out of a cellar on Tsentralnaia Street at gunpoint by Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs troops (OMON). According to Magomed, OMON immediately took the two brothers aside, and forced them to strip to the waist and stand with their hands above their heads. Magomed told Human Rights Watch that he was standing about thirty meters away and saw what he believed was the summary execution of four young men, Adlan Israilov (32), Aslambek Israilov (28), Turpal Israilov (about 22), and Alik (about 20). Magomed said:
The Russians took out four men from another cellar and shot them; I saw the soldiers shoot but couldn't see at whom; there was a wall in the way. After the shooting, the soldiers who fired came over to us and took my sons and five other men away.
The father of three of the men who were executed, Uvais Israilov (70), went with Magomed to see the bodies of the four dead men. He told Human Rights Watch:
When we arrived we saw four bodies lying in a row . . . The four were shot in the back of the head at point blank range; there were burn marks on their hair. Each had identical bullet entrance wounds, but different exit wounds.
Magomed moved on to another street, but when he returned, a local woman, Zurat, told him that some men had been executed in her cowshed on Tsentralnaia Street. Magomed told Human Rights Watch he saw there the bodies of his younger son, Musa, and of a refugee whose name he did not know. Musa had been shot in the ear; the other man had been shot in the back of the head, with the bullet exiting through the cheek, and had been wounded in the arm. The men's boots and woolen socks had been removed.
Magomed stated that his elder son, Ruslan, had been seriously wounded by a shot in the back and left for dead. A female relative, Petimat (41), told Human Rights Watch that two fingers on Ruslan's left hand were missing. She believes he was shot from behind with his hands behind his back and that his fingers prevented the bullet from penetrating his head. She stated that the soldiers also shot Ruslan in the back, shattering his collar bone and that, like the other victims, his boots and socks had been removed. A local doctor treated his wounds later that day. Ruslan's current whereabouts are unknown.
Magomed told Human Rights Watch that he was unable to bury the bodies since there was nobody to wash and prepare them for proper burial. The following day, at about 9:00 a.m., he returned to the cowshed only to discover Russian troops loading the two corpses onto a tank. He approached them and said, "Give me back my son." He then offered one of the soldiers, who was about 35 and had the emblem of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs on his uniform, 400 rubles for his son's body. The soldier took the money, and the soldiers helped to unload the body of Musa and the other execution victim. Magomed stated that the commanding officer was about 45 and was dressed in a Russian army uniform.
Russian snipers shot indiscriminately at civilians in Gekhi-Chu. Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch alleged that snipers killed at least seven men. Human Rights Watch confirmed two such killings and the serious wounding of a thirty-two-year-old woman.
Aishad Makhajiyeva (38) described to Human Rights Watch how on February 7 a sniper shot her sister, Almat (32), in the head just after the shelling began. The bullet passed straight through the upper part of her brain and exited on the upper side of her head, toward the rear. Although conscious, Almat is paralyzed on the left side of her body and has difficulty speaking. She is currently convalescing in hospital in Nazran, Ingushetia.
Alkhazur Khuliev (57), described how on February 7 a Russian sniper shot dead an elderly villager, believed to be Naskho Visaitov (about 70). He told Human Rights Watch: "A sniper was standing about three meters from me . . . I heard him shout, 'I'll get him' [ya ego vedu] . . . I saw him shoot an old man . . . who was about one hundred meters away." The sniper, about 35 years old, was wearing a military uniform.
Sultan Kataev (59) stated that his uncle, Adlan Miev, (about 70) was shot by a sniper on February 6 in the chest and leg. Miev died of his wounds two days later in a hospital in the town of Urus-Martan.
The eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch all described in detail how soldiers returned repeatedly to the village to loot it, carting away livestock, electronic goods, carpets, clothes and other items of value.