A man came, calling himself an investigator from the military procuracy. I decided not to talk to him- it's no use . . . He had guards in white and blue camouflage uniforms around him. I couldn't bear to see soldiers at that time and even more than that, an investigator from the procuracy.
A full appraisal of the Russian authorities' investigation into the Aldi massacre would be premature, since the investigation appears to be ongoing. When news of the massacre first broke in early February, Russian authorities issued a blanket denial, although an investigation got underway several weeks later. An ongoing investigation is reportedly currently being handled by the civilian procuracy, which as of this writing has indicted no one in relation to the massacre at Aldi. No commander or serviceman was suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
There are reliable reasons for concern about the nature of the Russian investigative effort. First, there is no political commitment to justice for abuses in Chechnya. Instead, the government has a long record of denying abuses and assailing the credibility of those who bring forth reliable information about them. Not a single soldier, officer, or military commander faced prosecution for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed during the Chechen war of 1994 to 1996, nor have any been prosecuted for some of the heinous crimes committed in Chechnyaprior to February 5, 2000. Second, investigative agencies are taking none of the necessary steps to ensure the cooperation and trust of Aldi residents, who want justice but now deeply fear and mistrust Russian law enforcement agencies.
The Russian Authorities' Public Response to the Aldi Massacre
The Russian government's initial public response to news of the massacre in Aldi-the third known major massacre of Chechen civilians by Russian soldiers in the conflict- was to deny anything had occurred.102 Typical of the military's public response to the initial Human Rights Watch press release on the Aldi killings- "More than Sixty Civilians Murdered in Chechen Capital," of February 23, 2000- was the following statement, attributed to Deputy Commander of the Russian Interior Ministry Troops Lieutenant General Stanislav Kavun, by Interfax news agency on February 24:
These assertions are nothing but a concoction not supported by fact or any proof. The statements from this human rights organization, based solely on verbal accounts from unnamed witnesses, should be seen as a provocation whose goal is to discredit the federal forces' operation against the terrorists in Chechnya.103
The Procuracy Investigation
On March 10, Human Rights Watch staff met with the military procurator of the Russian Federation, Yury Diomin.104 During that meeting, Diomin stated that he had "never heard of Aldi" and that he regretted "the time I have wasted" investigating reports of human rights abuses by international organizations. He also accused refugees of spreading "fairy tales" about abuses committed by Russian forces in Chechnya.
Aldi residents paint an altogether different picture, and told Human Rights Watch researchers that at least two investigative groups, one from the Federal Security Service (FSB)105 and the other from the military procuracy itself, had visited Aldi by March 10. On April 19, Vladimir Kalamanov, the presidential special representative on Chechnya, told Human Rights Watch that three prosecutors were investigating the Aldi massacre and that their findings should be available within two months.106
By the end of March, the military procuracy announced that it found that no crimes had been committed by servicemen under its jurisdiction and transferred the case to the civilian procuracy. In an April 21 reply to a leading Russian human rights group, Memorial, the North Caucasus Military Procuracy denied that Russian Ministry of Defense or Interior Ministry troops were involved in the Aldi killings. The acting deputy procurator, S.G. Dolzhenko wrote that in the course of the military procuracy's investigation, they established that:
The so-called "mop-up" operation in the village of Aldi on February 5 and 10, 2000 was undertaken by OMON units of the city of St. Petersburg and Riazan province, which are not under the supervision of the military procurator.107
Dolzhenko wrote that the military procuracy passed on details of the case to the civilian Grozny city procurator.
At the very least that body appears to recognize the gravity of the crimes committed at Aldi. Reportedly, for each of at least thirteen victims of the massacre, it has allegedly issued individual informal certificates stating that a criminal investigation was underway. In May, Human Rights Watch researchers obtained a copy of one of these thirteen certificates, which are little more than undated slips of paper. Notably, the language on the certificates makes it clear that Ministry of Defense troops as well as police are implicated in the massacre. The slip reads:
On February 5, 2000, the mass murder of civilians took place during a passport inspection by sub-units of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation in the village of New Aldi, Zavadskoi district, Grozny. Included among the victims was:
Khadzhimuradov, Alvi Germanovich, born in 1942
Accordingly, the General Office of the Procurator General of the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus is conducting an investigation.
Investigator for Especially Important Matters
General Office of the General Procurator of the Russian Federation of the North Caucasus
These certificates were reportedly given to close relatives of the victims who agreed to allow Russian authorities to exhume their deceased relatives' graves. The legal purpose of the certificates remains unclear.
Aldi Residents' Reaction to Russian Investigators
Russian authorities have not taken any measures to gain the trust of local residents who have much to fear in speaking to Russian law enforcement agencies. Witnesses to the crimes in Aldi interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers exhibited great fear and reluctance to speak openly about what they have witnessed. Several interviewees who were crucial witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they maintained silence or gave incomplete information when Russian investigators came to Aldi to question them, precisely because they were too afraid to speak openly. Indeed, some witnesses interpreted repeated questioning by Russian military procurators as to whether they would recognize the soldiers as a direct threat to their lives: soldiers had returned to Aldi several days after the massacre not only to loot, but to directly threaten residents with reprisals should they speak out about what they witnessed.
The arrival of Russian investigators ended a wait of several days by the relatives of the victims for someone from the outside to acknowledge what had taken place. However, the appearance of armed Russian military investigators with armed military escorts served to intimidate and deter witnesses from coming forward and relating what they know. Further, there has been no public pledge by the Russian authorities of protection to potential witnesses to encourage them to come forward, and it is unlikely that any provisions have been made for witness protection.
One Aldi resident who requested anonymity stated that on February 14, the first investigators came to Aldi. These investigators reportedly said they were from the FSB. This witness told Human Rights Watch:
On February 14, a commission came and introduced themselves as members of the FSB. One was Chechen, "Ruslan." They came at 9:00 a.m. and for six hours they carried out an investigation on our block. They filmed graves, questioned witnesses, and were surprised saying "this could not have happened." I noticed that people were afraid to talk about their close relatives who had been killed.
[The men from the FSB] took me aside in the street and questioned me at 11:00 a.m. . . . They asked whether fighters were there, if parachute bombs were dropped on Aldi, what the soldiers on the fifthwere asking, and which emblems were on their uniforms. They asked if I remembered the number plates on the APCs and whether we would recognize them. This was the most frightening question.108
This same witness stated that another investigative group came two days later, on February 16, reportedly from Mozdok. The witness stated that they were looking for a passport and were there to investigate crimes committed on February 5. This witness stated that the investigators talked with a group of Aldi residents on Voronezhskaia Street near Aldi's polyclinic, reportedly asking them why they did not want to hand over the passport allegedly belonging to one of the soldiers involved in the February 5 killings, and asking why "people don't want to tell the truth."109
This witness stated that a third investigative group came on March 19, some of whom were also FSB officers. The witness stated that these officers allegedly asked a number of different questions:
They recorded my voice on a tape, what the soldiers shouted, what names they used, what tattoos, would I recognize their faces. They stressed, "Were they Russians? Were they not disguised fighters?"
I said that I wouldn't recognize the soldiers. They asked me if I said this because I am scared. I replied only that they had fair hair and blue eyes.110
A different witness, who also requested anonymity, told Human Rights Watch that:
Two men, two meters tall, with thick necks in military uniform came several times to Aldi, I think they were pretending to be journalists. They were asking for witnesses, [they had] tape recorders, pistols, and armed guards. I saw them on February 12 and 15, but didn't speak to them. I recognized the voices of the soldiers, the guards of the journalists, to be the same as those who came into my house on February 5.111
A third witness, speaking under guarantee of anonymity, stated that around February 14, an investigator from the military procuracy came to Aldi. This witness told Human Rights Watch that:
A man came, calling himself an investigator from the military procuracy. I decided not to talk to him, it's no use . . . He had guards in white and blue camouflage uniforms around him. I couldn't bear to see soldiers at that time and even more than that, an investigator from the procuracy.112
Following the massacre, Aldi residents collectively decided not to bury the bodies immediately, as would be appropriate according to Muslim tradition, but to instead to keep the victims' bodies inside homes so their deaths could be documented.
A French correspondent who traveled to Aldi on March 25 told Human Rights Watch that the people of Aldi were frightened by the investigators' questions, and moreover that they feared the soldiers may return.113
On April 25, the United Nations passed a resolution calling for the formation of an independent national commission of inquiry to investigate alleged war crimes in Chechnya. There are already two Russian commissions in existence whose ostensible purpose is to investigate war crimes in Chechnya. The first is a Duma commission headedby deputy Alexander Tkachev, composed of members of the Russian State Duma, the second, a purportedly independent commission, is headed by Pavel Krasheninnikov, a former minister of justice, and is composed of a variety of Duma deputies, journalists and other figures.114 At the time of this writing neither commission has approached either Human Rights Watch or Memorial, two of the leading authorities on human rights abuses during the current conflict, for information.
102 See, for example, "No Happiness Remains" and "Civilian Killings in the Staropromyslovsky District of Grozny"
103 Interfax news agency, Moscow, February 24, 2000.
104 The military procuracy has jurisdiction for investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by Ministry of Defense troops and by Internal Affairs Troops, which are under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
105 In Russian, Federalnaia Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, the successor agency to the KGB.
106 Meeting between Vladimir Kalamanov and Human Rights Watch staff, Moscow, April 19, 2000. In a May 30 letter to Human Rights Watch, Kalamanov's office stated that the only Russian forces present in Aldi on February 5 were OMON units.
107 Letter from acting deputy procurator of the Military Procuracy of the North Caucasus, S.G. Dolzhenko to Oleg Orlov, Chair of Memorial, a Russian human rights organization, April 21, 2000.
108 Human Rights Watch interview, Ingushetia, March 23, 2000.
111 Human Rights Watch interview, Karabulak, Ingushetia, March 5, 2000.
112 Human Rights Watch interview, Karabulak, Ingushetia, March 27, 2000.
113 Human Rights Watch interview, Nazran, Ingushetia, March 25, 2000.
114 This commission, known formally as the National Public Commission for the Investigation of Violations of the Law and Observance of Human Rights in the North Caucasus (in Russian, Natsionalnaia obshchestvennaia komissia po rassledovaniu pravonarushenii i sobliudeniu prav cheloveka na severnom kavkaze) is composed of the following persons:
Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair; Aleksandr Urmanov, executive secretary; Ella Alexandrovna Pamfilova, the leader of the Civic Dignity Party (in Russian, Dvizhenie za grazhdanstvennoe dostoinstvo); Vladimir Zorin, the deputy leader of the executive committee of the Our Home is Russia party; Mikhail Kozhokin, the chief editor of Izvestia newspaper; Yury Polekov, a writer; Vladimir Rashnikov, the general director of a private company, "Magnetogorsky Metalurgichesky Kombinat"; and Eduard Khachukaev, the president of the Diatex company.