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The systematic beatings, torture, and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are only part of the abuses suffered by detainees in Chechnya. Detainees are held for extended periods of time in incommunicado detention, given no access to legal counsel, and are not informed of the status of proceedings against them.

The Russian government has not declared a state of emergency and has given no notice of derogation from its obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms or under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Without any extraordinary legislation, the regular provisions of the Russian criminal code and code of criminal procedure are applicable, as are international human rights standards. (229)

Prolonged Incommunicado Detention and "Disappearances"

He's nowhere. Not among the living, not among the dead

A woman about her missing nephew.
If I knew he was dead, I would cry three days, mourn, and be able to move on, but this way, I don't know, I know he's alive, but don't know where he is.
A father about his missing fifteen-year-old son.

Russian authorities withhold information about whom they have in custody, and do not allow detainees to communicate with their families or others, even those held for many months. After large-scale arrests began in February 2000, Human Rights Watch researchers in Ingushetia were constantly contacted by anxious individuals desperate for assistance in learning the fate of their relatives whom Russian authorities had detained. Informal lists of detainees rumored to be in different facilities circulate but are not a source of reliable information. (230) Relatives sometimes learned the whereabouts of their loved ones by paying bribes. Many maintain a steady vigil outside the detention centers where they believe their relatives may be detained. (231)

Relatives travel to detention facilities throughout Chechnya and parts of southern Russia seeking information in vain. Zina and Roza Iznaurova searched for their thirty-four-year-old brother, Yakub Iznaurov, at eight different facilites in Chechnya and other parts of southern Russia. According to the Iznaurovas, OMON detained Yakub Iznaurov on February 5, 2000, during a passport check, claiming they would return him shortly. (232) The Iznaurovas watched as OMON loaded their brother--together with neighbors Islam Asuev (age twenty-six), Magomed Gabangaev (age forty-nine), and Said-Emin Jamaldaev (age twenty-nine)--into a prisoner transport vehicle, pulled knit caps over their eyes, and tied their hands with wire. 

Yakub Iznaurov's sisters and other relatives searched for him throughout Chechnya, including at detention centers in Chernokozovo, Tolstoy Yurt, Chervlyonnaya, Gudermes, Znamenskoye, Grozny, and outside Chechnya in Mozdok, Pyatigorsk, Vladikavkaz, and Nalchik. Guards at Khankala would not allow them near the premises to ask authorities about him. The authorities at all of these facilites refused to give the Iznaurov family information about Yakub Iznaurov's whereabouts, or of the other three men detained with him. 

On some occasions, prison officials conceal that they are holding particular individuals. For example, on January 16, 2000, Chernokozovo officials denied to Marina Jambekova that they were holding her son "Abdul Jambekov." Jambekov confirmed to Human Rights Watch, after his release, that, in fact, he was in Chernokozovo at that time. "Marina Jambekova" subsequently approached authorities in and around Tolstoy Yurt, Znamenskoye, and Naur, who were rude and refused to give her any information.

"Marina Jambekova" subsequently went to Chernokozovo every day for eight days. Together with several other women also searching for their relatives, she wrote a joint appeal to the prosecutor asking for a brief meeting, which went unanswered. "Marina Jambekova" eventually found out that her son was in Chernokozovo, and was able to give guards food packages for him, for which she received receipts with his signature. (233)

"Marina Jambekova" again lost track of her son on February 18, when he was transferred; Chernokozovo authorities refused to disclose his destination. On Feburary 21, she tried to try to find her son at the Pyatigorsk pre-trial facility. Authorities there denied he was there, when indeed he was. (234) She remained unaware of his whereabouts until March 15, when she received a letter from her son, who at that time was pre-trial detention in Stavropol (he was transferred there on February 22). "Marina Jambekova" eventually paid U.S. $2,000 to secure the release of her son, and charges against him were dropped when he was "amnestied" on May 3, 2000. 

Denial of access to legal counsel

Russian authorities routinely and in almost all cases deny detainees in Chechnya access to counsel. Furthermore, they often fail to inform detainees of any charges against them, and forbid detainees from reading the charges against them. (235) Massive intimidation in custody and lack of even a pretense of due process rendered virtually impossible the ability to challenge the legality of custody or seek redress for due process violations.

Russian law and and international standards uphold the individual's right to competent legal assistance from the moment of detention and during interrogation. (236) Access to counsel in this context is an important safeguard to prevent torture, ill-treatment, and other means of coercing confessions, all of which affect detainees in Chechnya. Effective legal counsel can also be important so that a suspect can be advised on how and whether to challenge the basis for detention. 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, following its rapporteur's visit to Chernokozovo on March 11, objected to detainees' lack of access to legal counsel. (237) Special Representative Kalamanov responded with skepticism to the allegation, but made a "personal commitment" to ensure that detainees would obtain it. (238) Legal representation continued to be a priority for Special Representative Kalamanov as late as July 2000, and as of this writing Council of Europe experts and Special Representative Kalamanov were still trying to organize legal representation for detainees. (239)

Of the thirty-five former detainees interviewed, only one said that he was ever offered the advice of a lawyer while in custody. The vast majority scoffed when Human Rights Watch asked if they had requested a lawyer. "Idris Batukaev," who was detained in Mozdok for more than three months, gave a typical response: "How dare I [ask for a lawyer], when at the same time they put a gun to my head or threatened to cut my ears off. I didn't dare ask." (240)"Abu Uruskhanov," who was held at the Urus-Martan internat laughed, "There were no lawyers there." (241)

"Movsar Larsanov," the one detainee who was offered access to counsel, rejected it, skeptical that the legal assistance would be genuine. When he was interrogated at Chernokozovo on January 29, "[the investigator] said I could have a lawyer. I said I didn't need one. It would be useless [when at other times] they said, 'who are you, you are nothing.'" (242)

Most interviewees shared "Movsar Larsanov's" skepticism about seeking access to counsel. In one egregious case, when "Magomed Kantiev" was taken for interrogation there were two men present, a major and a colonel, who told "Kantiev" that he was being charged with article 208(2) of the Russian criminal code, which deals with the organization of and participation in illegal armed formations. "There was a guy who said I could sign the papers or not, it made no difference. I signed the sanktsia (detention orders) on detention for two months." The "major and colonel" did not give "Kantiev" a copy of the document with the charges against him. When asked if he was provided a lawyer, "Kantiev" laughed, and said, "Where would I get a lawyer? Even if you wanted one there aren't any. I didn't ask for one, they said themselves it was useless to ask for a lawyer." 

Law enforcement officials also routinely failed to inform detainees about the nature and cause of the charges against them. In those cases when detainees were informed they had been charged, law enforcement officials would not allow them to read, let alone have a copy, of the charges. "Movsar Larsanov," for example, told Human Rights Watch:

The procurator said the case was under investigation, that I had been charged, as though I were a fighter, with article 208, but they couldn't prove it. From the beginning they told me that I had been charged. They gave me the warrant and I signed the paper. But they didn't give me a copy of the charges or the warrant, they didn't even give me enough time to read what I was signing. (243)

"Abdul Jambekov" had a similar experience. He was beaten during interrogation to coerce him into signing a report. (244) He signed the report which was in his own words, but the guards started to beat him when he refused to sign the warrant: "They wanted me to sign a piece of paper. I asked if it was possible to read, even to look at the papers that I was supposed to sign but they didn't let me. They said I should just sign it." (245)

Most, however, were simply never informed about the status of the charges (if any) against them. "Aslanbek Digaev" was detained from January 23 to May 3 after being taken from his house ostensibly to check his identity. He told Human Rights Watch: "I always asked them to explain to me who I was, was I convicted, was I charged, was I detained, what stage the proceedings were. The only explanation I got was that 'you are a bandit-terrorist. To be Chechen, that's your crime.'" (246)