By Russian Forces
Throughout the war, Russian forces systematically beat, tortured or otherwise mistreated Chechens in captivity, blatantly violating Russia's obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Russian forces held Chechens in so-called filtration camps or "filtration points." Russian and international human rights organizations and inter-governmental organizations condemned torture in these camps.38 By the summer of 1996, most official filtration points in and near Chechnya were closed, but recent Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interviews with victims confirm that Russian forces, obviously undaunted by any threat of being held criminally responsible for their actions, had continued to torture Chechen captives at PAP-1, the one remaining official filtration camp in Grozny,39 at "unofficial" filtration points, at the Khankala military base,40 and in the filtration point in Piatigorsk. Because so many Chechens may remain in detention, and because the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs has failed to respond adequately to documentation of torture in detention, the subject warrants the continued attention of the international community.
I.K. was detained in PAP-1 filtration camp in Grozny in May 1996. He reported to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that he and about seventeen other men were detained by Russian troops as they were repairing heating pipes in the center of Grozny. Upon his arrival at PAP-1 he was beaten for a half-hour, mostly across his back, kidneys, and ribs. Upon his release he was forced to sign a statement claiming that he had not been beaten. He told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki how he had been seized:
It was morning, 9:00 a.m.. They were MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] troops wearing spotted, camouflage uniforms. I don't know how many there were, but the entire neighborhood was surrounded. They jumped out. They took everyone who was in the neighborhood at the time, about seventeen or twenty. They gave it to us with rifle butts, made us lie on the ground. Took our documents, then they loaded us up on the car and took us to the GUOSH [operations headquarters].41
Once at the operations headquarters, the captives were put in a cell. Each man was later called for questioning: "They would put a sweater on our heads and lead us off somewhere," I.K told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki. "They would ask us what we were doing, who had hired us. When they questioned us, their tone was all right. But when we got back outside they decided we were rebels." Toward evening, the group was taken to PAP-I. "They loaded us into APCs. Nine of us in one APC. When they reached PAP-I,
They unloaded us. Put us on our knees. They lifted each of us up and looked at our faces. They also beat us up. All of us. With no reason, just like that. Not on the face, mostly on the ribs, back, and kidneys. They beat me on the ribs, I don't know if I was cut, but it hurt for two or three months. They also said profane things. Then they brought us all to a cell, and called us out one by one for questioning. The cell was about five square meters, and there were nine of us in it. Then after we were questioned they put us in different cells.
During questioning they said that we could leave the "filter" only if our relatives brought weapons or [Russian] prisoners for exchange. The next day when it got dark we signed a paper that said we weren't beaten, that we have no complaints. They put a sweater on our heads and led us out the door. They kept all my documents. My driver's licence and car registration. They gave my passport back.42
A certain Dr. Shamashan, who treated I.K. in Grozny after his release confirmed that a rib had been broken, that he had suffered damage to his chest cage and multiple contusions and bruises, and that he must have been beaten routinely.43
Movsar Tembulatov, chief doctor of city Hospital No. 9 in Grozny, described to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki the case of a thirty-year-old patient who had sought treatment in early 1996 after having been severely beaten in a filtration point, presumably PAP-1. The man had been hung horizontally "like a sheep" and beaten all over. Dr. Tembulatov testified that the man's groin and hips were completely black and that he had sustained broken ribs.44
Russian forces detained thirty-nine-year-old Saidash Shamakhurov at the Khankala base, beat him for twelve days, causing him to lose consciousness repeatedly, breaking four ribs, inflicting bruises and multiple contusions, and causing open wounds in the area under his shoulders and around his kidneys. In addition to beating Mr. Shamakhurov, the Russian military interrogators reportedly stuck needles under his fingernails and forced him to the ground in a split while kicking him. His tormentors, who wore masks, were attempting to make him confess to being a rebel commander and to reveal the locations of Russian prisoners of war. At one point during his detention, a senior Russian officer visited Mr. Shamakhurov, and clearly had knowledge of the torture he had been subjected to but apparently did nothing to stop it or to punish the perpetrators.
Mr. Shamakhurov told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that he was seized in the village of Gikalovo, in the Urus-Martan district, on April 7:
After they looked at my documents, the senior person in the group told me I had to go to Khankala to get more details on my identification. I drove myself to the base, two guys in masks and one conscript got in the car with me, and the car was surrounded. When we got to the checkpoint at Khankala, after we drove in, they blindfolded me and put me in the back seat . . . And right away, with no questions asked, without any warning, they started hitting me with their automatic butts - on my kidneys, they were kicking me, demanding that I get on my knees. Each time I would say that there must be some misunderstanding, that I was a deeply peaceful person.
They were asking me, "Where are the rebels? Where are the prisoners?" I said, "How should I know? You have your secrets and they have theirs." They blindfolded me and started to beat me. They forced me down into a split and started kicking me. Pulled out my hair. They broke four of my ribs and pulled out my hair. They literally took me by the hair and beat my face on the ground. When I lost consciousness they dragged me to some underground cell - I never figured out what it was - and I lay there for two days. On the third day, when I regained consciousness, they brought me there again. They put a tape recorder down and demanded, "Ask your !@#$-ing commander to exchange you for fifteen soldiers and forty-eight construction workers." I said, "How can I ask a rebel commander that if you can't agree on it among yourselves?" Every time I would say something they would start beating me up. They said that if [the Chechen side] was interested in saving my life, they would go for the exchange. They would punch and kick. Usually they would take me and hit me on the head, but I don't know what they had in their hands. It wasn't their fist. They would hit me and when I would fall they would pick me up by the hair and [smash] my face to the ground.
They would push needles under my fingernails. Right under my fingernails, until they turned black. Look, you can see the marks they left. I couldn't see what [the needles] looked like because I was blindfolded. They would stop only when you lost consciousness.
It seemed there was an investigator, because he was asking questions. He was wearing a mask. The people who brought me there were also wearing masks. They kept me blindfolded. They were trying to prove that I was related to some of the rebels. I said that one of my distant relatives was married to the[rebel] commander's younger brother. . . Then the same picture: again they beat me up and gave me a piece of black bread and tea once a day.
They told me nothing whatsoever about where I was and on what grounds I was being detained. . . Once, on the 17th or 18th [of April] someone came to see me in my cell, probably an officer, and asked how they were treating me, how they were feeding me and said, "`I'm sorry, but I can't give you any information [about your case]." I told him what they did to me. I had cuts and bruises, on my face. I told him they pulled out my hair, broke my ribs and my clothes were all bloody. He saw it perfectly well. He saw the shape I was in. They had to hold me up the first week, I couldn't stand up. He said that kind of treatment would stop. But it continued after he left. And that officer never came back again.45
On April 27, Mr. Shamakhurov was exchanged for a conscript whose mother had lobbied General Tikhomirov's office very actively for the release of her son. He required two months of hospital treatment and a month of bed rest to recover: "My whole body was sick and I had an i.v. My arms and legs were black and blue, . . . my ribs were broken, my kidneys were damaged. There was damage under my shoulder blade, and the skin was torn over my kidneys. For a month and a half I was in a hospital [in Chechnya] and for two weeks in a hospital in Nalchik."46
While his tormentors wore masks, Mr. Shamakhurov believed they were not regular MVD or Ministry of Defense troops, but rather from a special intelligence unit under the Presidential Guards. One of the many times the captors tried to force him to make a tape recording begging to be exchanged, his captors assured him that he could be exchanged only under their conditions, "We have nothing to do with the federal command, with Tikhomirov or Zavgayev, none of them will be able to get you away from us. We answer to [Gen. Alexander] Korzhakov [head of the Presidential Guards]. The only thing you can do is beg the rebel commander to agree to our conditions," they said, according to Mr. Shamakhurov.
Russian forces returned Mr. Shamakhurov's car three days later, in exchange for $2,000 and a conscript who had been held prisoner. "At first they wanted $3,500. Then they brought the car for $2,000 and a soldier. They were afraid. The senior person in their group who met with our people was afraid for his own safety. Our guys started a manhunt for them and their two APCs [after I was returned]. [The Russian group] found out about it, and that's why they returned the car.
Ramzan Akhmedov told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that every day of his thirteen day detention at Khankala, where he was kept in a railroad tank car, he was beaten with a sack over his head. His captors subjected him to a mock execution and skinned his thigh with a knife. Mr. Akhmedov was seized at a Russian checkpoint between Goiti and Starye Atagi:
We were driving. It was the afternoon. We didn't have our documents with us; some of us had our military i.d. cards [from their service in the Soviet military]. We were in the village defense. Our commander drove up, but they wouldn't let him near us. They didn't say anything. They tied our hands and put a sack over our heads, immediately put three of us in an APC and took us away. I didn't even know where we were.
They took us to a railroad car, a tank car. It was ten or twelve meters deep, about ten meters wide. it was wet and filthy. It was all metal, there were no windows. It was right on the Khankala base. In the morning they took me to be questioned. My hands were tied the whole time, until the moment I was exchanged. I don't know who questioned us. They never took their masks off. And we had masks on. After the questioning they would bring me back to the tank car.
[We knew we were at Khankala] because the MVD soldiers said we were at Khankala. And we knew for sure when we heard a helicopter near by, [like] an airport.
They gave us something to eat only on the third day. If I asked them for water they would come and start beating me up. Right from the first day. They beat me up before the interrogation. They would kick me, all over. There were a few men with clubs, some of them kicked. They beat me on the head - everywhere. I was black and blue all over when I [was released]. There was a scar on my eye from when they hit me on the head and in the eye. Every day they would pretend to shoot me but miss. Standing up and lying down. I would be sitting down and they would hold [the gun] right at my forehead. [Even through the sack] you could tell they were putting it [on my forehead].
They tortured me with a knife. They put a knife through [my leg] once . . . They stuck the knife in and pulled it out. They did it slowly , and twice they cut [my skin off], like stripes . . .on the second leg. It was a flat knife. It left a scar. This was the fourth or fifth day. The beatings were every day, if not every hour. Sometimes before the interrogation, sometimes after, it didn't make a difference. When they knifed me, their commander - the one who was always questioning us - was nearby. A major or colonel or something. I don't know his name. Why would they say their names if they don't even take off their masks? He was nearby but would talk as though he wasn't. He said to look and see what was wrong with my leg, but he knew what they were doing. Then a medical instructor tied it up and rubbed some iodine on it.
They would untie our hands for us to eat. They would leave the lid from a soldier's mess-kit with some porridge and slops. For three of us they would fill [the lid] halfway. There were metal benches [to sleep on], about twenty centimeters wide and four meters long. 47
Mr. Akhmedov and the two others who were kept in the tank car (in addition to the corpses of two Chechens) were exchanged, on March 28, 1996, for five Russian soldiers who reportedly had gone AWOL and were captured by Chechens.
Sultan Kacheyev, the Chechen commander who participated in Mr. Akhmedov's exchange, described to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki the corpses of two Chechens, bruised presumably as the result of beatings, who were exchanged along with Mr. Akhmedov for Russian soldiers:
Every day they would tell us that our guys were getting a bath, that they were being fed, and the like. Eleven APCs came for the exchange, and there were four of us, unarmed . "The slightest move and we'll open fire," they said. "If another car comes - we're opening fire. And when they opened the hatch . . .For all the blood and guts I've seen during this war - I've been through it all - but what I saw there, tears [came out of my eyes]. One was all black and blue and swollen. He had a bayonet wound.48
At Samashki and Piatigorsk
Before Russian troops re-took control over Samashki in March, they warned civilians to evacuate. Russian troops later detained ninety-one men who had attempted to leave the village after these warnings. Among them was Murat Ganiyev, who told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that a group of seventy-five men had been held in a sand pit near the village checkpoint and beaten by soldiers before being transported to Piatigorsk, where he himself was blindfolded and beaten before being sent on to Stavropol. He reported that the beatings had caused bruises and open cuts so bad that hisshirt had been covered with blood. The details of his detention and beatings and the beatings he witnessed49 were confirmed in a June 31 letter from N.T. Saprunov, a military procurator from the Inter-regional Caucasus Military Procuracy to the Chechnya procuracy. The letter stated that of ninety-one Chechen detainees in the Stavropol and Piatigorsk pre-trial facilities, half had sustained open bleeding, cuts, hematomas (mostly to the back, face and legs), and internal bleeding due to beatings inflicted during transport to Piatigorsk.
Mr. Ganiyev, who lives in Kalininkskii oblast, outside Chechnya, told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that he attempted to leave Samashki on March 15:
[T]hey said that all the civilians should leave [the village] because it was going to be stormed. I wanted to leave and went over to the Russian checkpoint No. 13. . . . [ I was on a bus.] They told all the men to get off the bus. They sat me in a military car and took me to a pit, and from there, by helicopter to Piatigorsk, and I was there for a month and a half in jail. The pit was a sand pit, like for a construction site. They would call us one by one, and if they didn't like your face, they would beat you up. Not me, but the others. I saw it [happen]. Later in Stavropol they told us that we had resisted and that's why they beat us up. But our hands were tied behind our backs, how could we resist? They blindfolded me with my own scarf. How could I have resisted? They tied my hands when they put us on the helicopter. It was very tight and my hands hurt to this day. They beat us with clubs on our legs, knees, and they still hurt, and it's still hard for me to walk.
They beat me up in Piatigorsk, as soon as we got off the helicopter. They unloaded us from the helicopter around 4:00 p.m. They ran across our backs, did whatever they wanted. They stole our fur hats, leather jackets, even our shoes. If you had money or anything gold, they took that too. Five men would take you, beat you and throw you into a car. They put us in a cell and beat us up again. We were blindfolded.
In the morning they took us to Stavropol - forty-six of us - and beat us in the [truck] too. We were in a prison transport truck [avtozek]. In Stavropol they didn't beat us, they treated us well. The head of the prison warned the guards right away not to touch us. They fed us three times a day, gave us time outside every day, except on Friday, that was bath day.
A doctor came to see us, took blood samples from our veins and fingerprints. The doctors asked us where we had been beaten, because we all had bruises all over. All my skin was bruised and my shirt was full of blood from the cuts on my body. My legs were swollen throughout the month and a half we were in jail, and I still can't walk right. The doctor would examine ten of us at a time, all of us had been beaten. One of them, his nose was broken. [The doctor] gave us some aspirin and would come to see us every day, except weekends.
In Stavropol they asked detailed questions about who I was. They asked if any of us were fighters. "Say who they are, and we'll let you out," they would say. I told them I didn't know anything, I'm from Kalininskii oblast, I came [to Chechnya] recently for my mother's funeral and the war started. I'm neither here nor there. I was defending my home. I told them I wasn't a fighter. I have bad vision. It was bad when I served in the army and it's worse now. They said that if I said I was a fighter they would release the other forty-six. The only thing they gave us to sign was our release papers.50
By the Chechen Side
During its mission, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was unfortunately unable to interview Russian federal soldiers or civilians who had been held by the Chechen side.51 We rely therefore on the observations made by the Memorial Human Rights Center Search Project. The Search Project identified many cases and camp locations and time periods where inmates were treated well, and also pointed out cases in which inmates were beaten or tortured. As an example of the latter, Minister of Interior Kazbek Makhashov acknowledged that Chechen guards had beaten inmates at the camp that had evacuated from Stayi Achkoi to the mountains during the period from March to May 1996.52 A group of sixteen prisoners captured by Adam Beybulatov's unit in Grozny in August 1996 were reportedly tortured during the time they were detained in Shali.53
The Memorial report notes several cases in which the Chechen beat, tortured or summarily executed Russian prisoners early on in the war. In particular, at some point after January 27, 1995, Russian prisoners held in the Shali DGB (Chechnya Department of State Security) pretrial detention facility were beaten. Notably, the took place after the first Chechens were released from Russian filtration camps and it had become evident that they had been beaten and tortured there. On May 27 1995, field commander Ruslan Gelayev threatened to kill five Russian prisoners per day until Russian forces ceased the bombing of the Chechen mountain stronghold of Shatoi. According to the Memorial report and numerous press reports the Chechen side executed eight Russian prisoners in carrying out this threat. The report also notes two other deaths among prisoners in 1995, attributing them to the lack of centralization of prisoners and the failure of a comprehensive exchange to take place following the July 1995 cease-fire. The report does not indicated whether or not they had been tortured or executed.54
38 See, Memorial Human Rights Center, Conditions in Detention in Chechen Republic Conflict Zone. Treatment of Detainees (Moscow, 1995).
39 PAP-1 was closed in June 1996.
40 By mid-January 1997, the Russian base at Khankala had been entirely dismantled; the area was turned over to Chechen forces for use as a Chechen military base.
41 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview with I.K., Grozny, October 13, 1996.
43 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview, Grozny, October 13, 1996.
44 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview, Grozny, October 13, 1996.
45 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview with Alakhazurovo, October 21, 1996
47 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview, Starye Atagi, October 18, 1996.
48 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview, Starye Atagi, October 18, 1996.
49 The beatings he witnessed in Piatigorsk were by sound only, as he was blindfolded. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview, Samashki, October 14, 1996.
50 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview with Mr. Ganiyev, Samashki, October 14, 1996.
51 Major Gen. Nikolai Shvetsov, then co-commander of the central joint kommandatura, declined our request for assistance in locating two Russian prisoners released during our field mission, expressing fear that interviewing them - with all guarantees of anonymity, if the soldiers so desired - with the purpose of documenting their conditions in detention would "hinder the process of return." Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview, Grozny, October 21, 1996.
52 See Memorial, The Unknown Soldier, p. 32.
53 Ibid, p. 33
54 Ibid, p. 30-31