By the Russian Side
The systematic nature of human rights and humanitarian law violations throughout the conflict is matched by a systematic failure to punish such abuses. The Russian military procuracies have taken some steps to investigate abuse related strictly to common crimes committed against civilians, apart from hostilities or other military operations. But the Russian military and Russian politicians refuse to acknowledge the need to punish individuals for indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and attacks on civilians that took place during hostilities and other military-type operations. Moreover, during the August 1996 peace negotiations, the Russian side reportedly balked at the notion of including accountability on the agenda, and the efforts of Russian investigatory agencies throughout 1995 and 1996 resulted in a mere handful of convictions. This is shocking given the widespread nature of the abuse.
In June 1996, the Chechen procuracy65 investigated and forwarded 342 cases of crimes allegedly committed throughout the war by Russian soldiers to the Military Procuracy in Grozny (which has jurisdiction over the army) and the Inter-regional Northern Caucasus Procuracy (which has jurisdiction over MVD troops and special forces), with a request to investigate them as criminal cases. The largest number of such cases related to alleged direct attacks on civilians (e.g. murders, shootings of shepherds, cutting off of ears, dropping corpses from helicopters). Human Rights Watch/Helsinki took detailed testimony from multiple witnesses to two summary executions in March in the village of Nagorno that were among this group of cases.66
Russian military procuracies have failed to cooperate fully with their Chechen counterparts in order to conduct further investigation of the cases.67 Procurator General Serbiyev told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that " a federal delegation came to negotiate with the [us]. This delegation did not include FSB, military procuracy, or the MVD. We discussed organizational questions twice with them, such as having some representatives of the federal government on the commission travel in Chechnya to become acquainted with the situation. Then the commission left."68
Both procuracies returned more than half of these cases to the Chechen procuracy "for further investigation," although in some cases only military personnel with unfettered access to military bases and archives could hope to conduct such an investigation effectively. The rest of the cases were closed for lack of evidence or were not processed at all. Similarly, the June 30 letter from the Inter-regional Northern Caucasus Procuracy to the Chechen procuracy detailing the beatings of ninety-one Chechen detainees incredibly instructed the Chechen procuracy to determine who had beaten the men, ignoring the fact that the victims were blindfolded and that only a military records book could reveal who had convoy duty on the dates of the beatings.69
The office of the main military procuracy of the Russian Federation, reportedly on its own initiative, opened and investigated 1,500 criminal cases against men serving in Chechnya, of which 300 were sent to military courts, more than350 dismissed, and 600 suspended for "objective" reasons; about seventy men were amnestied.70 The majority of these cases involved "premeditated murders, breaches of rules for handling arms, thefts of arms and ammunition, dodging military service and other general criminal offences." According to the International Helsinki Federation, of the twenty-seven convictions of conscripts and kontraktniki71 reported by the Russian Federation Military Procuracy, most involved breaches of military discipline, drunkenness and the like, and only six of these twenty-seven involved crimes against the civilian population.72
Concerning accountability for war-related crimes, we emphatically underscore the need for criminal and disciplinary penalties for indiscriminate firing, attacks on civilians, hostage-taking, using civilians as human shields, and the like. To give two more recent examples of the latter, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki took credible testimony of two incidents in Samashki, on March 15 and 17, 1996, during which Russian forces, to protect themselves from enemy fire, forced civilians to ride through the village on armored personnel carriers;73 and in Grozny, where from August 9 to 11 about one hundred pinned-down Russian troops took up defensive positions in Hospital No. 9,74 and in effect forced the hospital staff and patients to accompany the troops out of their position, to protect them from Chechen fire. This testimony supplements a wealth of similar reports systematically gathered by Memorial.75 As of this writing, no effort has been made to investigate or prosecute these crimes. In response to a November 1996 Memorial letter requesting the Main Military Procuracy to investigate the use of human shields in Samashki and Grozny, the Main Military Procuracy stated that the report had been sent to the North Caucasus Military Procuracy "to attach to mass media reports" on the incidents.76
By the Chechen Side
The Chechen authorities have no apparent intention to punish their own for such acts as the Budyennovsk and Kizlyar hostage seizures; they apparently do not view these as violations of customary rules of war that they were obliged to uphold. Chechen Procurator General Khavazh Serbiyev attempted to deflect the need for holding presidential candidate Shamil Basayev accountable for the Budyennovsk raid, stating, "Shamil Basayev carried out a raid to Budyonnovsk in the period of military actions with the aim of forcing the leadership to stop the war in Chechnya.... Proceeding from this, Basayev's act cannot be qualified as terrorism."77 The procurator of the Vedeno district, for example, told Human RightsWatch/Helsinki, "We were criticized for our military operation in Budyennovsk, but we fight with what we have," suggesting that customary rules of warfare have no validity.
Concerning the ill-treatment of Russian prisoners, action was apparently taken to punish those responsible for torture and other cruel treatment. For example, Minister of Internal Affairs Kazbek Makhashov told Memorial that the conduct of the Starye Achkoi camp staff was criminal,78 that some of the guards had been shot, and that a search was underway for the chief of the camp. DGB chief Abu Movsayev, however, denied that any wrongdoing had taken place at the camp.79 The Memorial report asserts that commander Adam Beybulatov punished those responsible for torturing a group of sixteen prisoners captured by his unit in Grozny in August 1996. The report does not indicate of what exactly the punishment consisted.80
Current public discussion of an amnesty for rebel fighters and for servicemen who evaded service in Chechnya and other conflict zones has so far excluded those who committed serious crimes, which includes crimes against civilians. However because this amnesty draft is so deeply flawed (see discussion above), it would surely be a mistake to allow this document to serve as reassurance that the Russian side or Chechen side will prosecute those servicemen-including officers-who committed grave crimes against civilians during the course of hostilities or other military operations. This kind of amnesty utterly ignores the relevance of the Geneva Conventions and the OSCE Code of Military Conduct.
65 Since the list was compiled by the former pro-Moscow procuracy, claims of anti-Russian bias in bringing the cases are not compelling.
66 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interviews with Sergei Davligov, Magomed Jafar, Alpat Aigumova, Nugai Saliyev, and Seip Saidulayev, Grozny, October 20, 1996. The victims were twenty-eight-year-old Iskhan Aigumov and his brother, Sultan, thirty-one years old and a father of four.
67 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview with Khavazh Serbiyev, October 20, 1996.
68 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interview, October 20, 1996.
69 The letter was signed by N.T. Saprunov, procurator for the Interregional Northern Caucasus Procuracy. We are grateful to Procurator General Khavazh Serbiyev for sharing this letter, which is on file at Human Rights Watch/Helsinki.
70 Alexandra Akayeva and Alexander Chuikov, "Main Military Prosecutor's Office Opened about 1,500 Criminal Cases against Servicemen from Federal Group of Forces," RIA Novosti (Moscow), October 25, 1996.
71 A kontraktnik, as distinct from a conscript, is a soldier hired on contract by the Russian armed forces.
72 See, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, "Report to the OSCE: The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Fact-Finding Mission to Chechnya; October 1-11, 1996.
73 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interviews with Baudi Ilyasov and Aladdin Makuyev, Samashki, October 14, 1996.
74 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki interviews with Sakhar Bazayeva and Movsar Khalambulatov (deputy chief doctor of Hospital No. 9), Grozny, October 13, 1996.
75 Memorial, Behind the Backs of Civilians. The report also documents another case of Russian use of human shields in Grozny's 15th micro district.
76 Letter from A.P. Sinitsyn, Miltary Procurator for the Second Department of the Main Military Procuracy, dated December 10, 1996
77 RIA Novosti, January 7, 1997. It is thus a great misfortune that the massive hostage seizures -Budyennovsk in 1995 and Kizlyar in 1996-were conventionally classified as "terrorism" rather than a violation of humanitarian law. Under international humanitarian law, the taking of civilian hostages and violating the sanctity of such civilian structures as hospitals for military gain is categorically forbidden.
78 See above.
79 See Memorial, Unknown Soldier, p. 32, footnote 3.
80 Ibid, p. 33