For the most part, the international community reacted to the discovery of the mass dumping ground and botched investigation with a deafening silence. The Council of Europe missed an opportunity to use its unique position as the only international organization with a field presence in Chechnya to press authoritatively for an effective investigation. Its staff did not visit the grave site, view the bodies, or scrutinize the investigation. In sharp contrast with its very public demands for thorough and transparent investigations when similar graves were discovered in Kosovo in 1999 and 2000, governments and multilateral organizations made no widely circulated public statements. The U.S. and the OSCE, whose Assistance Group for Chechnya has a specific human rights mandate, made no public statements on the issue at all.73 The European Union issued a statement calling for a thorough investigation but made no effort topublicize it. On April 20, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning summary executions and forced disappearances in Chechnya, and called for thorough investigations of such crimes.
The Council of Europe was well positioned to respond in a meaningful manner to the discovery of the mass dumping ground. In the week following the discovery, several council officials traveled to Chechnya, but did not visit the mass dumping ground or view any of the bodies that had been recovered from it.
From February 27 to 29, 2001, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles visited Chechnya, traveling to Znamenskoe, Gudermes, and the Khankala military base, less than one kilometer from the site of the dumping ground. Gil-Robles raised the mass dumping ground and the need for a thorough investigation, including forensic examinations, in his meetings with Russian officials.74 He did not visit Dachny village or view any of the sixteen bodies that were on display at the time of his visit. In a March 3 meeting with Russian nongovernmental organizations and Human Rights Watch, Gil-Robles explained that he had pressed for Mr. Kalamanov to visit the mass dumping ground, with the expectation that this would serve to strengthen Mr. Kalamanov's authority vis a vis the police the military to inspect other sites of human rights violations, including military bases and encampments. Gil-Robles believed this would create a precedent that would be followed in any future cases of atrocities, whereas a Council of Europe visit by a layman with no expertise in forensic matters would set no precedent.75
Three Council of Europe experts have been seconded to the office of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Human Rights in Chechnya, Mr. Vladimir Kalamanov, since June 2000. These experts were in Chechnya part of the time, from February 24 to March 10, when the bodies were recovered from Dachny village and laid out at the MChS base. Although since their arrival in Chechnya the experts have traveled to numerous locations throughout Chechnya, they did not visit Dachny village or the MChS base due to a belief at the Council of Europe that their lack of expertise in forensic matters meant that little would be gained by such a visit.76 The seventh interim report on the Council of Europe experts' activities refers to the mass grave only in an addendum of reports and activities by other international organizations.77
Human Rights Watch had called on the Council of Europe to closely monitor the investigation of the mass dumping ground immediately after its discovery became public.78 Visits by Mr. Gil-Robles and the Council of Europeexperts to Dachny village or the MChS base could have made an important contribution to a meaningful investigation of the mass dumping ground. In addition to the significance of such a visit as a signal of the importance accorded a serious investigation, as simple observers they would have been able independently to confirm basic information about the state of the bodies; in particular, that the hands and legs were tied, or that the faces had been blindfolded; that they bore gunshot wounds (bandaged or not); and whether most wore civilian clothes or camouflage uniforms. This would have helped the Council of Europe reach an independent conclusion about whether those found had been victims of extrajudicial executions. They could have spoken directly to forensic examiners and investigators about progress made on the investigation, with a view to establishing whether initial steps in the investigation were consistent with international standards. This would also have enabled them more authoritatively and accurately to assess the need for cooling devices to preserve the bodies; for additional equipment for the forensic examiner; and for additional forensic examiners.79 Furthermore, such a visit would have enabled them more authoritatively to insist on a thorough and transparent investigation in meetings with top Russian officials, and to make the investigation a priority issue.
While enhancing Mr. Kalamanov's status is laudable, this is not an end in itself but a means to an important end: an effective domestic accountability process. The botched investigation into the mass dumping ground was only the most recent example of the failure of this process, and underscores the need for scrutiny not only by domestic but also international institutions.
During his visit Mr. Gil-Robles proposed the establishment of a Joint Working Group-comprising Mr. Kalamanov's office, the Council of Europe experts, and procuracy officials-that would meet monthly to track progress of investigations and prosecutions. Human Rights Watch welcomes this endeavor.
The European Union and several associated countries issued a statement on the discovery of the grave urging a thorough and transparent investigation.80 However, as the statement was not widely circulated, even among E.U. agencies and outposts, it had little impact. In fact, several E.U. diplomats in Moscow and capitals did not know of the statement's existence.
Issued March 8, 2001 at the Permanent Council of the OSCE, the statement expresses the E.U.'s alarm at the discovery of the graves, and urges the Russian authorities to "complete a transparent and comprehensive investigation" and to provide detailed information. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the E.U. did not offer technical assistance to the Russian government to investigate the mass dumping ground.
On April 20, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning human rights violations in Chechnya perpetrated by federal forces, citing "forced disappearances, extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, torture, and other inhuman and degrading treatment." The resolution, the second of its kind in two years, called on Russia to "ensure that both civilian and military prosecutor's offices undertake systematic, credible and exhaustive criminal investigations and prosecutions" of all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. It reiterated its requirement, also made in last year's UNCHR resolution, for Russia to establish a "national broad-based and independent commission of inquiry" into abuse, with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice and preventing impunity. Despite Russia's failure to create such a commission or ensure effective prosecutionsafter the April 2000 resolution, the commission declined to call for the creation of an international commission of inquiry.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, called for a thorough investigation of the mass grave site in a statement to the 57th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights on March 29, 2001.81 Robinson stated that "cases such as the mass grave in Zdorovie discovered earlier this year, less than a kilometer from the main military base in Chechnya, must be followed up and thoroughly investigated." In the same statement, Robinson expressed concern over the problem of impunity but did not mention the fact that numerous "disappearances" continue to take place.73 On April 11, 1995, the OSCE established the Assistance Group to Chechnya. Its mandate, explicitly reaffirmed by all OSCE member states, including Russia, at the November 1999 Istanbul Summit, provides that it will, among other things, "promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms," and "facilitate the delivery to the region by international and nongovernmental organizations of humanitarian aid for victims of the crisis, wherever they may be located." The Assistance Group enjoys "all possible freedom of movement on the territory of the Chechen Republic and also on the territory of neighboring subjects of the Russian Federation, if so required for the performance of its tasks." The OSCE Assistance Group left the region when hostilities broke out in September 1999; as of this writing, the Russian government has impeded the group's redeploymentby insisting on control over the group's security arrangements and on vetting of all local and expatriate staff.
74 Report by Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights, on his visit to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Chechnya (25th February to the 4th March 2001) for the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, pp. 7: "During my visit to Chechnya, the Chief Public Prosecutor, Mr. Tchernov, informed me that investigations were currently being conducted in Zdorovie, following the discovery there of a mass grave. 16 bodies have so far been recovered, with more still expected. I insisted that all attention be directed at this matter, from the top down, and that forensic examinations be conducted immediately with a view to establishing the time and cause of the deaths and the identities of the corpses. The relevant authorities assured me of their readiness to carry out such an investigation without delay and to keep me informed of its developments. Ominously, representatives of Memorial have claimed that a number of families of persons detained for many months by the federal forces had already identified their relatives amongst the victims."
75 Alvaro Gil-Robles, in a March 3, 2001 meeting with Human Rights Watch and Russian nongovernmental organizations, Moscow.
76 Human Rights Watch meeting with Jan Kleijssen, chef de cabinet, office of the secretary general, Strasbourg, April 26, 2001.
77 Seventh interim report by the secretary-general on the presence of the Council of Europe's experts in the Office of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for ensuring Human Rights and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Chechen Republic, Period from 1 to 31 March 2001, SG/Inf(2001)12/17 April 2001.
78 Letter to Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer dated February 26, 2001.
79 In a meeting with Human Rights Watch and Russian nongovernmental organizations on March 3, 2001, Mr. Gil-Robles expressed concern about the lack of resources available to the Chechnya procuracy, and the impact this has on forensic examinations.
80 E.U. Statement on Chechnya, Permanent Council No. 325 (8 March 2001), PC.DEL/135/01.
81 Introductory Statement by Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report on the Situation in the Republic of Chechnya of the Russian Federation (E/CN.4/2001/36), Geneva, March 29, 2001.