Russia has failed to conduct a thorough and credible investigation of the mass burial site. As a result of an inadequate identification procedure, the premature burial of thirty-four unidentified bodies, the failure to record and preserve important evidence, and inadequate autopsies of at least two-thirds of the bodies, important evidence that could have led to identification of the perpetrators has been lost. The inadequate investigative efforts in this case are typical of Russia's general failure to carry out meaningful investigations into widespread violations of human rights and humanitarian law that have been perpetrated by its troops over the course of the conflict in Chechnya.55
Information about the criminal investigation from official sources has been scant. The Associated Press reported that a criminal investigation was opened on February 25.56 On March 2, Interfax quoted Chernov as saying that his office and "other law enforcement agencies" had set up a special analysis group to participate in the investigation into the discovery of the bodies. According to Chernov, this group would analyze "the history of armed clashes between the federal forces and rebels in the Chechen capital" to see if they coincide with the times of death of those whose bodies were discovered. To his credit, Chernov said the group would also look into "current statements regarding the disappearance of local residents on the republic's territory" as "possibly some of these may have been buried in the village."57 No further information has been forthcoming since.
Russia has a duty under international human rights law to conduct an effective investigation into the summary executions and torture evidenced by the discoveries at Dachny.58 Russia's efforts toward this end look especiallymeager when judged by standards set out in two United Nations documents. The U.N. Economic and Social Council recommended in May 1989 that governments respect the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (the 1989 Principles), which provides a broad approach to the issue.59 In May 1991, the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch of the U.N. Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs published a Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (the 1991 manual), which details procedures for conducting investigations into extrajudicial executions.60
The 1989 principles provide, among other things, for the thorough, prompt, and impartial investigation of all extrajudicial executions. The purpose of the investigation shall be to determine the cause, manner, and time of death, the persons responsible, and any pattern or practice that may have caused that death. It shall include an adequate autopsy, collection and analysis of all physical and documentary evidence, and statements from witnesses.61 Where established procedures are inadequate, governments shall pursue investigations through an independent commission of inquiry or similar procedure.62
The 1989 U.N. Principles provide that those who conduct inquiries into suspicious deaths must "attempt to identify the deceased."63 The Russian government, however, did not take most of the steps normally taken to expedite the identification process. In particular, the Russian government failed to use its access to television, radio, and newspapers to provide the public with information about the discovery of the bodies, announce the exact days and the location at which the bodies would be displayed to relatives of missing persons, or urge people to come to view the bodies.
Most relatives of "disappeared" and missing persons found out that the bodies were on display by word of mouth and sometimes by pure coincidence. For example, an aunt of Magomed Malsagov found out about the bodies in this way and found the body of her nephew. She told Human Rights Watch that in early March:
We went to the telephone office to call my sister, [and saw] some women there, crying. We asked why they were crying. They told us that bodies, many bodies had been brought in. . . . So we thought: Let's go and have a look. . . . We went in, started to cry and went out again. We didn't find anything. Later we went back on [March] 3, I think, and found Umatgeri there, at the Ministry of Emergency Situations. We went again on [March] 4 in the morning and found Magomed.64
A relative of Turko Alaskhanov, who has been missing since November 26, 2000, also learned of the bodies by coincidence. She told Human Rights Watch that on March 2, 2001 she went to the police station adjacent to the base to try and obtain a passport for her fourteen-year-old son. She said:
I was standing in line when all sorts of women walked in that direction [indicates the base], there were many women. I asked: "Where are you going?" They said that "they put the bodies there. . . in a garage, those who have missing relatives are going there to identify [them]."65
She did not find the body of Alaskhanov among them.
By March 10, 2001 fourteen of the bodies on display at the MChS base had been identified. Instead of making efforts to inform interested persons that they might view the unidentified bodies for identification purposes, the remaining unidentified thirty-four bodies were hastily buried on that day. The Russian government and investigators made no prior announcement or explanation for the burial. While additional bodies were identified practically every day prior to March 10, only two more bodies have been identified since. Investigators might reasonably have expected that more bodies would be identified in subsequent days.
Chechnya procurator Chernov assured the media the Interfax news service that "the material we gathered is more than sufficient for any future identification, no matter how complicated it may turn out to be."66 However, investigators failed to save the clothes the bodies were found in-a primary way of identifying otherwise unrecognizable bodies as well as potentially important evidence. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, no equipment was available to investigators and pathologists to take dental X-rays and X-rays of skeletal irregularities. There is no evidence that investigators took other steps such as taking detailed photographs of facial structures and clothes, fingerprints, and samples for DNA testing, which would facilitate identification of bodies after burial.
Russian investigators failed to conduct adequate forensic examinations on at least two-thirds of the bodies that were recovered from Dachny village, and the Russian government failed to provide the appropriate resources for such examinations. Forensic examiners did not conduct full external examinations on each of the bodies, and nor did they remove clothing for testing or inspection by relatives, or remove rope, wire, and bullets from the bodies for later evidentiary use. Due to a lack of access to the examination reports, a full assessment of the forensic examinations was not possible at the time of this writing.
The U.N.'s 1991 manual includes a comprehensive checklist of the steps that should be following during a basic forensic postmortem examination. It recommends that medical investigators at the scene of a crime perform this series of steps, including photographing the body before it is moved as well as afterwards, recording the body's condition and position, examining the scene for blood, and storing the body in a secure refrigerated location. 67
It is clear that the bodies were not stored in cooling devices after removal from the village, because officials themselves complained about the lack of necessary equipment. While procuracy officials told journalists that the bodies at Dachny village were photographed and recorded on video68 and that a forensic pathologist participated in the recovery operation, it remains unclear what steps if any were taken to examine and preserve potentially crucial evidence from the burial site.69 An official involved in the recovery process spoke to Memorial about the lack of such equipment, and said that he did not have sufficient photo and video equipment to create a proper record of all the bodies.
Pathologists and investigators did not observe key elements recommended by the 1991 manual for the proper conduct of an autopsy, particularly concerning the need to remove clothing and "foreign objects" carefully and to preserve them for later evidentiary use, as well as the requirement of a thorough external examination. However, a comprehensive assessment of the examinations cannot be made at this point due to a lack of information about the examination and a failure, so far, by investigators to provide relatives of the deceased who have been identified with examination reports-as prescribed in the U.N. manual.
Photographs taken on March 10, 2001 of the thirty-four bodies that were not identified reveal that practically all of the corpses were clothed and that in a number of cases the arms remained tied behind their backs or in front of them even after the examination was completed. It is thus evident that items of clothing and "foreign objects," such as rope and wire, were not removed from the bodies. Procuracy officials at the MChS base told Memorial on February 28, 2001 that bullets were not removed from the bodies either. It is therefore highly unlikely that the forensic examiner was able to conduct an adequate external examination of these bodies.
It remains unclear how thoroughly the forensic pathologist was able to examine the clothing and those parts of the body that were not covered by clothing or easily accessible. It is unlikely that any radiography of the bodies was performed as the forensic examiner himself pointed out that he had no equipment that would have allowed X-rays.
The Russian government failed to provide investigators with sufficient expert staff and technical resources to conduct adequate examinations of each of the bodies. In an interview with Memorial, forensic examiner Makhmud Chumakov said that he, as the only forensic pathologist available, had to examine all the bodies. Considering that Chumakov had to examine forty-eight bodies, it is clear that he could not spend sufficient time with each. Furthermore, Chumakov told Memorial that his only equipment were rubber gloves and a scalpel, and that there were no devices to cool the bodies available.70
As of the time of this writing, it is too early to provide a comprehensive assessment of the efforts by investigators to track down and question relevant witnesses or to establish the identity of those responsible for the killings and dumping of the bodies at Dachny. However, the failure to save material evidence, such as clothes and bullets does not bode well. Crucially, the investigation is conducted by investigators from the civilian procuracy, which does not have the authority to question military servicemen. 71
The cases of sixteen of the seventeen people identified have all the characteristics of hundreds of other "disappearances" that have occurred during the current Chechnya conflict. Many of these "disappearances" are already under investigation but few have yielded any result. In fact, some of the "disappearances" of people whose bodies were found at Dachny village were already the subject of a drawn-out and ineffective criminal investigation prior to the discovery. For example, the Grozny city procuracy opened a criminal investigation into the "kidnapping" of Nura Lulueva and her two cousins in June 2000. After several months, the investigation was suspended even though investigators had not questioned Nura Lulueva's husband. In November 2000, the investigation was reopened only to be suspended again several months later.72
In its March 2001 report, Human Rights Watch concluded that investigations into many "disappearance" cases seemed "doomed to fail because they are assigned to the civilian procuracy which has no jurisdiction over military servicemen." It noted that the military procuracy often refused to cooperate with investigations. As the civilian Chechnya procuracy is conducting the investigation into the discovery of the bodies at Dachny village, it is highly likely that its investigators will encounter serious problems questioning relevant witnesses and suspects.
It was unclear what kind of investigation the procuracy is conducting with regard to the thirty-two unidentified bodies. Their premature burial and that of their clothes have significantly decreased the chances that these bodies will ever be identified. It appears unlikely that investigators will be able to establish the facts around their deaths without first establishing the identity of the bodies.55 Human Rights Watch, "Memorandum on Domestic Prosecutions for Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Chechnya," February 13, 2001. See also United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 2001/24, "Situation in the Republic of Chechnya of the Russian Federation," adopted April 20, 2001 (E/CN.4/RES/2001/24). 56 "Russia Military Takes Over Probe Into Chechen Corpses," Associated Press, February 26, 2001. 57 Interfax news agency, March 2, 2001, as cited in BBC Worldwide.
58 The International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) requires in article 3 that "each State Party undertakes to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity." The Soviet Union ratified the ICCPR on October 16, 1973. Russia, as the Soviet Union's successor state, is a state party to the convention. The European Convention for Human Rights contains a similar provision in article 13. Russia ratified the European Convention on May 5, 1998.
59 Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, E.S.C. res. 1989/65, annex, 1989 U.N. ESCOR Supp. (No. 1) at 52, U.N. Doc. E/1989/89 (1989).
60 United Nations, Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, (New York: United Nations Publications, 1991), E.91.IV.I.
61 Principle 9 of the 1989 Principles reads, "There shall be thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including eases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances. Governments shall maintain investigative offices and procedures to undertake such inquiries. The purpose of the investigation shall be to determine the cause, manner and time of death, the person responsible, and any pattern or practice which may have brought about that death. It shall include an adequate autopsy, collection and analysis of all physical and documentary evidence and statements from witnesses. The investigation shall distinguish between natural death, accidental death, suicide and homicide." U.N. Doc. E/1989/89 (1989).
62 Principle 11 of the 1989 Principles reads, "In cases in which the established investigative procedures are inadequate because of lack of expertise or impartiality, because of the importance of the matter or because of the apparent existence of a pattern of abuse, and in cases where there are complaints from the family of the victim about these inadequacies or other substantial reasons, Governments shall pursue investigations through an independent commission of inquiry or similar procedure. Members of such a commission shall be chosen for their recognized impartiality, competence and independence as individuals. In particular, they shall be independent of any institution, agency or person that may be the subject of the inquiry. The commission shall have the authority to obtain all information necessary to the inquiry and shall conduct the inquiry as provided for under these Principles." U.N. Doc. E/1989/89 (1989).
63 Principle 13 of the 1989 Principles reads, "The body of the deceased shall be available to those conducting the autopsy for a sufficient amount of time to enable a thorough investigation to be carried out. The autopsy shall, at a minimum, attempt to establish the identity of the deceased and the cause and manner of death. The time and place of death shall also be determined to the extent possible. Detailed colour photographs of the deceased shall be included in the autopsy report in order to document and support the findings of the investigation. The autopsy report must describe any and all injuries to the deceased including any evidence of torture." U.N. Doc. E/1989/89 (1989).
64 Human Rights Watch interview with "Liza L." (not her true name), Nazran, March 13, 2001.
65 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Sputnik camp for internally displaced persons, March 5, 2001.
66 Interfax news agency, March 2, 2001, as cited in BBC Worldwide.
67 United Nations, Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, p. 16-17.
68 Memorial Human Rights Center, "Bodies Near Khankala," March 5, 2001.
69 Indeed, a picture taken on February 25, 2001 of a group of investigators shows Chechnya procurator Chernov at the site filming a dead body.
70 Memorial Human Rights Center, "Bodies Near Khankala," March 5, 2001.
71 The civilian procuracy has jurisdiction over civilian police and OMON troops. Only the military procuracy has the authority to question and investigate servicemen serving in the Russian army, in the Ministry of Internal Affairs' internal troops, and Spetsnaz forces.
72 Human Rights Watch interviews with Said-Alvi Luluev, Moscow, October 19, 2000 and March 12, 2001.