Despite the nominal end of large-scale fighting in Chechnya, Russian security forces continue to detain hundreds of non-combatants in their ongoing operations against Chechen rebel forces. While most of those detained are subsequently released after periods in acknowledged detention, dozens remain unaccounted for- "disappeared"- and are not seen alive by their families again. Relatives' inquiries to Russian authorities as to their whereabouts are met with denials that the "disappeared" persons were ever in custody. The unacknowledged detention of civilians places them outside the protection of the law, making them vulnerable to extrajudicial execution and torture.
Families of the "disappeared" make enormous efforts to visit police stations, military bases, and detention centers throughout Chechnya and elsewhere in the Russian Federation, lodging petitions and complaints with officials at all levels. It is not uncommon for a family to be searching for more than one "disappeared" relative. Some of the "disappeared" are later found dead in makeshift temporary graves, sometimes bearing signs of torture. Most are never heard from again, denying their relatives even a body to grieve over.
This report covers eighty-seven new cases of "disappearance" documented by Human Rights Watch since its last report on "disappearances" in Chechnya in March 2001.1 Eighty of these took place in 2001, a scale belying any notion that forced disappearances of civilians in Chechnya is a problem of the past. The rise in the number of "disappearances" during targeted raids on private residences is a particularly disturbing development. While the majority of forced disappearances in the March 2001 report took place during large-scale "sweep" operations and at checkpoints, almost half the cases in the present report occurred during raids targeting particular individuals. The raids often took place before dawn and generally involved masked and heavily armed Russian security personnel without identifiable insignia traveling in unmarked armored personnel carriers (APCs).
The elements that make up a forced disappearance-chiefly the unlawful and unacknowledged deprivation of liberty by the government-and the torture and killing that frequently result, are prohibited under international human rights law. Despite its international legal obligations, Russia is failing to prevent "disappearances" by its security forces, and failing properly to investigate and prosecute such cases after they occur. The response of the civilian and military procuracies-the agencies charged with the investigation and prosecution of "disappearances"-remains inadequate, allowing abusive security personnel to act with impunity.
Since March 2001, there have been cosmetic improvements in the response of the civilian procuracy to complaints of "disappearance": most complaints now lead to investigations being formally being opened, and far fewer problems relating to access to the civilian procuracy are being reported by relatives. However, the main obstacles to accountability remain. The civilian procuracy has jurisdiction over the police, but has no legal authority to investigate abuses by members of the armed forces. It also receives little cooperation from the military and security services, including in some cases concerted obstruction by top officials, who transfer service personnel out of Chechnya to evade investigations. The civilian and military procuracies do not conduct aggressive investigations, and few investigations lead to prosecutions. To date, not a single serviceman or officer has been convicted for their involvement in a forced disappearance. Relatives still have little access to the military procuracy, even at a local level.
A decree issued March 29, 2002 by Gen. Vladimir Moltenskoi, commander of the United Group of Forces in Chechnya, implicitly acknowledged that certain factors were facilitating impunity for abuses committed by federal forces in Chechnya. Among other things, the decree required military personnel on search-and-seizure operations in private homes to identify themselves, and reinforced the requirement that procuracy and other civilian officials be present during targeted operations and sweep operations. That requirement had been introduced in July 2001 in the much-lauded Decree No. 46, to improve civilian procuracy oversight over security forces during sweep operations. But to date, Decree No. 46 appears to have had little impact. The decree requires that civilian procuracy officials and other local officials be present during sweeps when detentions occur, and that a written record be kept of the names of detainees and places of detention. In practice, the decree has been regularly ignored. This report documents four cases of "disappearances" during sweep operations since the decree came into effect on July 25, 2001; some of these were multiple disappearances. Moreover, the decree apparently does not apply to targeted raids, the use of which is on the increase: of the thirty-six "disappearances" that took place during targeted raids documented in this report, ten took place since July 25, 2001. The March 29 decree, issued by Gen. Moltenskoi, addressed this point by requiring the presence of civilian officials during targeted operations; as of this writing, it was too early to determine the impact it has had.
The Office of the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation on Human rights in Chechnya, at the time headed by Vladimir Kalamanov, has been stymied by its lack of authority. The office in January 2002 publicly criticized the failure of the security forces to comply with Decree No. 46, but the Russian government has not acted on this criticism.2 Its coordinated efforts, including those through its working group with the civilian and military procuracies, have created a positive dialogue but borne little fruit. Russian security forces currently commit abuses with impunity in Chechnya. Creating accountability is the key to any effort to curb "disappearances," torture, and killings flourishing in this climate. Russian authorities must ensure that the civilian and military procuracies are both able and willing to carry out effective investigations, that both branches of the procuracy receive full cooperation from the security services, and that the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished in accordance with the seriousness of their crimes.
1 Human Rights Watch, "The `Dirty War' in Chechnya: Forced Disappearances, Torture, and Summary Executions," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 13, No 1(D), March 2001.
Council of Europe, "Addendum
to the sixteenth interim report by the Secretary-General on the presence