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II. Background

Note on Ingushetia

Ingushetia, the smallest of Russia’s republics in the North Caucasus, covers an area of 3, 210 sq km (1, 240 sq mi), and has a population of approximately 300,000.2 With Chechnya to the east, North Ossetia to the north and west, and Georgia along its southern border, Ingushetia has been a frontier land between Chechnya and its neighbors to the west.3

Although the Ingush and Chechen cultures are distinct, their extensive record of contact has kept their cultural and religious developments inextricably linked. Until the sixteenth century, the Ingush inhabited the middle and highland areas of the Assa Valley, but throughout the following two centuries, driven by climate change and repeated Russian incursions, they migrated from the Caucasus Mountains into the plains, where further association with the Chechen people continued.4

During the Soviet era, the two nations were merged (from 1917-1924, 1934-1944 and 1957-1991), divided as autonomous provinces (1924-34), and, for a time, even legally abolished (1944-56) when both nations faced a mass deportation. The forced deportations during World War II claimed the lives of one quarter to perhaps even one half of their populations.5 When Chechnya declared its independence in 1991, Ingushetia formed a republic within the Russian Federation.

Ingush and Chechens are also close linguistically, religiously, and socially. Although the two languages are formally distinct, they are sufficiently similar that Chechens and Ingush can easily understand each other; fluency in Russian is also widespread within both nations. The Ingush and Chechen converted to Islam in the 17th to early 19th centuries; both follow one of the two traditional Sufi orders: the Qadiri and the Naqshbandi. The Ingush orders maintain close ties with their local co-religionists in Chechnya.6 Ancient mountain traditions still play a significant role in the life of both nations. The two nations share a similar social organization in the form tribal and clan divisions. The latter still acts as a significant determinant of one’s social relationships and conduct.7

Ingushetia is now a refuge not only for persons displaced by the Chechen conflict but also for Ingush people displaced from the 1992 conflict in North Ossetia. In November of that year, Ingush and Ossetians clashed over the disputed Prigorodnyi district, which both ethnic groups claimed as their own.8 The conflict brought about the destruction of a total of 2,728 Ingush and 848 Ossetian homes, and drove between 43,000 and 64,000 people from their homes.9 While the majority of the displaced Ossetians have since returned to their homes, successive decrees to return the Ingush displaced persons to Ossetia have been met with little success. Only 11,000 to 12,000 Ingush have been able to return; the rest continue to inhabit the Maiskoe district region in caravans and informal settlements.10

The Plight of Internally Displaced People in Ingushetia

Since the beginning of the second Chechen conflict in 1999, Ingushetia has hosted thousands of internally displaced persons fleeing the conflict zone.

According to official figures, 308,000 displaced persons have been registered in Ingushetia since September 1999.11 Many of them subsequently left for other regions, and some have returned to Chechnya. During periods of the most intensive fighting, however, the displaced have almost outnumbered the population of Ingushetia.

Figures on the current number of displaced persons in Ingushetia vary significantly. Government officials, including Ingush President Murat Ziazikov, said in July 2003 that there were about 62,000 displaced persons in Ingushetia.12 Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)—the main provider of humanitarian assistance in the region—said that more than 84,000 internally displaced people were registered in Ingushetia as of July 1, 2003.13 Most displaced Chechens live in “spontaneous settlements”—abandoned factories and collective farms, or in private homes. Approximately 15,000 continue to live in five big tent camps, where they have now been for four years.14

Although Russian authorities stopped officially registering newly arriving displaced persons in April 2001, Chechen internally displaced persons enjoyed relative safety and stability in Ingushetia until 2002, when a change in Ingush political leadership brought changes in policy toward displaced persons. While the former Ingush president, Ruslan Aushev, welcomed the displaced people and repeatedly spoke out against forced returns, his successor, Murat Ziazikov, a former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) general, was eager to demonstrate his loyalty to the federal government. Shortly after his election in April 2002, federal authorities adopted a detailed plan for the return of the displaced persons to Chechnya.

Russian authorities also viewed the presence of thousands of displaced persons in Ingushetia as a serious obstacle to their new Chechnya strategy, which consisted of blocking independent scrutiny of conditions in Chechnya and zealously persuading the outside world that the situation there is normalizing. With—at that time—more than 150,000 people unwilling to return home the claims of normalization sounded unconvincing. Moreover, displaced persons, retaining close ties with Chechnya, remained one of the major sources of information regarding conditions in Chechnya for the media, human rights groups, and other observers unable to gain access to Chechnya.

After a relatively slow start in the summer of 2002, the campaign to pressure displaced persons to return to Chechnya intensified in the late fall, following the October hostage-taking by Chechen rebels in a Moscow theater.15 Intending to close the tent camps by the end of the year, federal and local migration authorities, supported by the FSB and the Chechen government committee on displaced persons, put enormous pressure on tent dwellers, using a combination of threats and incentives. Above all, officials threatened those reluctant to leave with arrest on false charges and promised to start conducting sweep operations in Ingushetia in order to apprehend fighters hiding among displaced persons.16

An international diplomatic and media outcry, in addition to logistical difficulties (lack of housing in Chechnya and problems with relocating thousands of people in the middle of winter), ultimately prevented the closure of the camps, yet the plan was not abandoned.

In the late winter and the spring of 2003, federal and local migration authorities adopted a different strategy. They started arbitrarily taking hundreds of displaced persons in the tent camps off camp registration lists, resulting in their eviction from government-sponsored housing. Without financial means to arrange for other housing, most of the deregistered people had no choice but to return to Chechnya.17

In addition, the authorities deliberately obstructed the efforts of humanitarian agencies to build alternative shelter for the displaced in Ingushetia. In February 2003, Ingush authorities halted a project to build housing for about 3,000 people and refused to allow the resettlement of displaced persons living in tents into some 180 houses already built by the humanitarian nongovernmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the town of Sleptsovskaia. As of this writing, the houses remained unoccupied, despite the organization’s numerous attempts to solve the problem with Ingush authorities.18

In the summer of 2003, in anticipation of the presidential elections in Chechnya scheduled for October 5, 2003, Russian authorities announced a new deadline for the closure of tent camps and started using an even more aggressive carrot-and-stick return policy.

The government promised that at the end of September 2003 it would start paying compensation for destroyed housing and property.19 The authorities have suggested, however, that only people residing in Chechnya will receive compensation at this time, while those living in other regions will be considered “later on.”20 For many Chechen families who lost everything during the war and have suffered almost four years of tent life, the hope of receiving up to 350,000 rubles (more than U.S.$10,000) serves as a major incentive to return, even though the security situation in Chechnya remains daunting. While offering this powerful inducement to return, the Russian government has failed to provide accurate information about the security situation in Chechnya.

As for the “stick” element of the policy, the summer security operations in Ingushetia and other incidents of violence and abuse have instilled fear in Chechen displaced persons. People see the deteriorating security situation in Ingushetia as a clear demonstration of Russia’s resolute plan to force them back to Chechnya by making Ingushetia an equally unsafe place.

The actions by Russian authorities to compel internally displaced people to return to Chechnya violate Russia’s obligations under international law. Chechen displaced persons have the right under article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)21 to choose their place of residence; by compelling them to return to Chechnya, Russia is violating that right. Deliberate deregistration of internally displaced persons absent any cause or due process leading to their eviction is a violation of the right to adequate housing under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.22 This abuse is exacerbated by the refusal of authorities to allow the internally displaced people access to alternative housing in Ingushetia. The campaign to pressure displaced persons to leave Ingushetia is inconsistent with numerous provisions of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, including the right not to be forcibly returned to a place where one would be at risk, and to be provided with essential food, water, and shelter.23

The Security Situation in Ingushetia

Against the background of the four-year armed conflict raging just a few kilometers away, the security situation inside Ingushetia had remained surprisingly stable.

Since late 1999, when large numbers of Chechen displaced persons started settling in Ingushetia, federal and Ingush authorities repeatedly claimed that rebel fighters pushed out of Chechnya found safe refuge in settlements and tent camps, hiding among the internally displaced people.24 Nonetheless, although law enforcement agencies have occasionally reported the detention of suspected terrorists or discovery of arms and ammunition depots in Ingushetia, no large-scale operations were conducted in the republic. The Russian military presence was almost non-existent there, and the activity of Chechen rebels mostly imperceptible.

The only large clash between federal forces and Chechen rebels took place in September 2002, when almost two hundred Chechen fighters, coming from Georgia, attempted to break through the village of Galashki, in eastern Ingushetia, and cross the administrative border with Chechnya. They shot down a Russian helicopter and killed at least seventeen soldiers.25

The security situation in Ingushetia has been deteriorating since late 2002, however. The insistent efforts to pressure back thousands of internally displaced persons has created a climate of fear and instability. At the same time, both federal and Chechen forces seemed to have increased their activity there.

The Ingush Ministry of Internal Affairs was particularly alarmed by numerous attacks on law enforcement personnel. According to an Ingush government official, at least eleven Ingush policemen were shot dead in the past year “in criminal incidents related to Chechnya in one way or another.”26

After the October 2002 hostage crisis in Moscow, Russian federal troops set up positions near all major tent camps. Some were later removed, while some, including the one near the Satsita camp, are still in place. In the spring of 2003, additional federal border subunits appeared in the mountainous areas of Ingushetia, such as in the area of the Shandon gorge, becoming another indication of Russia’s decision to broaden the scope of its “counterterrorist operation.”27

In January and February 2003, Ingush law enforcement agencies (apparently supported by the FSB) conducted at least three operations targeting Chechen displaced persons. After one of these operations, conducted in early January in the Satsita tent camp, one person “disappeared” and another’s mutilated corpse was later returned to relatives.28

The frequency and intensity of the operations in Ingushetia reached an alarming level in the summer of 2003. While previously the sweep-type operations were a very rare occurrence, in June 2003 alone, seven operations of this kind were carried out in displaced persons’ settlements and Ingush villages. Throughout all of 2002, only twenty-two people were arrested in Ingushetia in the course of anti-terrorist operations. By contrast, during the first three weeks of June 2003 alone, eleven people were detained.29 Moreover, for the first time Ingush civilians fell victim to abuses perpetrated by federal forces in Ingushetia.

At the same time, in recent months, Chechen rebels (as well as criminal gangs) were reportedly responsible for an unprecedented number of attacks on Russian troops on Ingush territory.

For example, five Russian soldiers were killed on July 30, 2003, when a truck carrying federal servicemen was blown up by a remote-controlled explosive device near the village of Galashki.[30] While a search for rebels was underway, policemen discovered and neutralized a twenty-five-kilogram explosive device in the center of the town of Malgobek.[31] On August 4, 2003, the Ingush Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that it had prevented another attack near the same town, when a traffic police unit discovered a homemade device containing eight kilograms of an explosive chemical planted near a filling station.32 Several days later, rebel forces attacked a convoy of Russian troops near the village of Nesterovskaia, killing six servicemen and injuring seven more.33

There were no apparent cause-and-effect connections between the rebel attacks and the Russian operations; in most cases the Russian authorities did not attempt to connect their security operations in and around IDP settlements and Ingush villages to a specific attack or ambush. In fact, only one of the operations described below resulted in seizure of weapons and arrest of alleged arms dealers, and none of the operations led to the apprehension of suspected Chechen rebels.

Developments in Chechnya

For more than a year, Russian authorities have been claiming that the situation in Chechnya has normalized and that the people displaced by the conflict can safely return home. In reality, the situation in Chechnya has shown no signs of stabilization—the republic remains an active conflict zone, with both sides responsible for serious human rights and humanitarian law violations.

In 2003, Russian authorities took several steps that were supposed to advance the stabilization process. They adopted an amnesty law encouraging the surrender of rebel forces,34 and promised to pay compensation for houses and property destroyed during the war.35 The constitutional referendum held in March 2003 and presidential elections scheduled to take place on October 5, 2003 have been hailed by the government as the major landmarks on the way to a political solution of the Chechnya problem.

None of these steps has visibly changed the dynamics of the conflict, however.

The amnesty did not prompt a large-scale surrender of rebel forcesaccording to the Chechen procuracy, only 126 former fighters were amnestied as of August 18, 2003.36 The number is insignificant, considering that several thousand rebel fighters are currently operating in Chechnya.37 Instead of welcoming the gesture, Chechen forces marked the announcement of the amnesty with the largest open attack on federal troops since the beginning of this year, storming the town of Argun.38 At the same time, by extending the amnesty to federal servicemen, the Russian government has created yet another tool for shielding its troops from accountability for crimes committed in Chechnya.39

As mentioned above, the promises to pay compensation appear to have been designed as an effective measure for pressuring internally displaced persons to return to Chechnya, rather than as a remedy for past abuse or a step toward normalization.

As for political stabilization, many independent observers, including leading Russian human rights defender Liudmila Alekseeva, believed that the March referendum was flawed and expressed serious doubts that the October elections could be fair and democratic.40 Moreover, although the number of abuses, especially forced disappearances, had decreased slightly during several weeks before and after the referendum, it then skyrocketed again. The Chechen minister of internal affairs admitted that in the month following the referendum nearly fifty people disappeared in Chechnya.41 In mid-August he released new figures, saying that nearly 400 people disappeared in Chechnya since the beginning of the year.42 During its missions to the region, Human Rights Watch as well as other human rights organizations, continued to document cases of summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention, and looting in Chechnya.43

Instead of advancing stability, the announcement of presidential elections seemed to have incited a new escalation of violence in Chechnya. In the summer of 2003, reports of armed clashes involving large groups of rebels and leading to numerous deaths on both sides appeared virtually every day. Official field reports confirmed that the situation was far from stable. For example, in a weekly report on August 11, 2003, representatives of the United Federal Group of Forces reported that federal positions came under fire on twenty-one occasions, nine armed clashes took place, and about 140 explosive devices were disarmed. Federal forces, for their part, reportedly killed thirty-six rebel fighters and arrested fifty others. SU-24 fighter-bombers and SU-25 ground attack aircraft completed thirty-four missions, and helicopters completed about 500.44

Recent developments in Chechnya clearly demonstrate that Russian authorities cannot guarantee the security of returnees, and by compelling internally displaced to leave Ingushetia, the authorities deliberately put their lives and safety at risk.

2 “Ingushetia: CIS and Baltic Political Geography”, The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2003, at (retrieved September 3, 2003).

3 Johanna Nichols,The Ingush (with notes on the Chechen): Background information, University of California, Berkeley, February 1997, at (retrieved September 3, 2003).

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Yavus Akhmadov, et al. “Islam in the North Caucasus: A People Divided, Religion in the North Caucasus,” WRNI, 1999-2001, (retrieved September 3,2003).

7 Johanna Nichols, The Ingush (with notes on the Chechen): Background information.

8 Human Rights Watch, The Ingush-Ossetian Conflict in the Prigorodnyi Region (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996), p. 1.

9The Memorial Human Rights Center, Two years after the War. 1994 [Online] (retrieved on September 17, 2003).

10Galina Kovalskaia, Alexander Sorin, “Zone of Risky Living,” Ezhenedelnyi Zhurnal, #1, January, 2003.

11 ITAR-TASS World service, citing Ingush acting Prime Minister Timur Mogushkov, June 17, 2003.

12 Cited in “Over 62,000 Chechen refugees are accommodated in Ingushetia,” ITAR-TASS World Service, July 25, 2003.

13 See “Over 84,000 refugees from Chechnya registered in Ingushetia – UN,” Interfax, July 8, 2003.

14 Regarding the number of displaced persons still living in tent camps, even officials from different governmental agencies give different figures. For example, on July 24, 2003, Head of the Russian Interior Ministry's Federal Migration Service Igor Yunash told Interfax news agency that 13,000 displaced persons live in tent camps in Ingushetia (See “Tent camps in Ingushetia may cease to exist by fall – Federal Migration Service,” Interfax, July 24, 2003). The day before, however, Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Iliasov told ITAR-TASS news agency that 18,000 internally displaced live in the camps (See “Some 18,000 refugees from Chechnya now live in tent camps in Ingushetia,” ITAR-TASS, July 23, 2003).

15 On October 23, 2002, about fifty Chechens took hundreds of civilians hostage in a Moscow theater. The act resulted in the deaths of 129, mostly due to the effects of a debilitating gas that Russian special forces used in their rescue operation.

16 For more details, see “Into Harm’s Way: Forced Return of Displaced People to Chechnya.”

17 See Human Rights Watch, “On the Human Rights Situation in Chechnya,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper to the 59th Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, April 7, 2003.

18 Ibid. See also Médecins Sans Frontières, “Chronology of developments in Ingushetia,” at: (retrieved August 23, 2003).

19 See, for example, “Statement by Russian Minister for Chechnya Stanislav Ilyasov,” ITAR-TASS World service, August 25, 2003.

20 See Chechen Prime Minister Anatolii Popov’s interview with Russian Ren-TV, August 14, 2003.

21 Article 12(1) of the ICCPR states that “everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.” Although the ICCPR does permit derogation on this right during times of public emergency or armed conflict, those limits must be provided for in law, and include only those limits strictly required by the situation.

22 Article 11(1) of the ICESCR states that “the States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”

23 For example, Principle 15 states that internally displaced persons have “the right to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where their life safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk;” Principle 18 of the Guiding Principles states that “at the minimum, regardless of the circumstances, without discrimination, competent authorities shall provide internally displaced persons with and ensure safe access to: essential food and potable water, basic shelter and housing, appropriate clothing, and essential medical services and sanitation.” Although non-binding, the U.N. Guiding Principles reflect international humanitarian and human rights laws that are binding, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and other treaties to which Russia is a party.

24 For example, former commander of the United Group of Forces General Genandii Troshev repeatedly said that “Chechen gangs frequent” Ingushetia, and separatists leaders hide there. (See “General Gennadii Troshev, ‘Chechens Ask Us to Finish Off Gangsters,’” Defense and Security, December 24, 2001. On several occasions, Ingush authorities related similar concerns to Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch interviews with a Federal Migration Service official, July 2002 and December 2002, Nazran, Ingushetia. (The interviewee requested anonymity.)

25 See Jean-Christophe Peuch, “Chechnya: Armed Foray In Ingushetia Adds Fuel To Russian-Georgian Dispute,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), September 27, 2002.

26 See Marina Perevozkina, “Igra v budanovtsev: Federalnye voiska v Ingushetii mogut sdelat ee Chechnei” (Playing Budanov: Federal forces in Ingushetia can turn it into Chechnya), Moskovskii Komsomolets, August 18, 2003.

27 TVS television report, June 11, 2003.

28 For more details see “On the Human Rights Situation in Chechnya.”

29 Nick Paton Walsh, “Russian Troops Terrorize Farmers as Chechen War Crosses Border,” The Guardian, June 26, 2003.

30 Dmitry Zaks, “Five Russian soldiers killed near Chechnya, sparking fears of wider conflict,” Agence France Press, July 30, 2003.

31 “Terrorists wanted to bomb a hotel in Ingush town of Malgobek,”, July 30, 2003.

32 “Terrorist attack prevented in Ingushetia,” Interfax, August 4, 2003.

33 “Military convoy attacked in Ingushetia, six servicemen killed,” Interfax, August 8, 2003.

34 Decree “On the announcement of amnesty in connection with the adoption of the Constitution of Chechen Republic,” adopted by Russian State Duma on June 6, 2003, Rossiiskaia gazeta, June 7, 2003. The amnesty granted immunity from prosecution to Chechen rebels who surrendered before September 1, 2003, as well as to federal servicemen. It did not apply to those accused of “grave offenses,” such as premeditated murder, rape, or hostage-taking.

35 Government of the Russian Federation, Decree 404 “On the procedure of paying lost housing and property compensation to permanent residents of the Chechen Republic who suffered during the settlement of the crisis in its territory,” July 4, 2003.

36 Statement by Chechen prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko, cited by ITAR-TASS World Service, August 18, 2003. Unwillingness of Chechen forces to surrender may be attributed both to the limited character of the amnesty and to the controversial results of the previous Chechnya amnesty adopted in 1999. The Moscow Helsinki Group has alleged that out of 500 who turned in their weapons under the law, most have since been killed or disappeared. See Matt Bivens, “War Amnesty Is Well Wide of the Mark,” The Moscow Times, June 2, 2003.

37 According to Chechen Prime Minister Anatoly Popov, there are currently 2,000-3,000 rebels operating in Chechnya. See, “2,000-3,000 Rebels operating in Chechnya – PM,” Interfax, August 26, 2003.

38 Alexander Raskin, “Argun breakthrough,” Izvestia, June 9, 2003.

39 One of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch proves this allegation. See below, case of Imran Guliev.

40 See for example, Ivan Sukhov, “Intriguing Arithmetic,” Vremia Novostei, August 13, 2003. The officially reported turnout during the March constitutional referendum was 85 percent, out of which 95.97 percent approved the new Constitution, consolidating Chechnya’s status as part of Russian Federation. The figures sharply contrasted the eyewitness accounts of deserted polling stations and cast doubts on the fairness of the electoral process. Lord Judd, the Council of Europe's rapporteur on Chechnya, resigned in protest at the conditions in which the referendum took place. See also Natalie Nougayrède, "La Russie organise un simulacre de référendum en Tchétchénie," Le Monde, March 25, 2003; “The vote of the dead souls—Chechnya's flawed referendum on a new constitution,” The Economist, March 29, 2003.

41 The figure was released by Alu Alkhanov, Chechen interior minister. See “Chechen kidnappings continuing despite referendum: officials,” Agence France Press, April 24, 2003.

42 “Nearly 400 people disappear in Chechnya this year,” ITAR-TASS, August 17, 2003.

43 For details, see Human Rights Watch, “Into Harm’s Way;” Human Rights Watch, “On the Human Rights Situation in Chechnya.” See also regularly updated chronicle of the events in Chechnya and Ingushetia published by the Memorial Human Rights Center, available at: (retrieved August 24, 2003).

44 Cited in: Viktor Paukov, “When guns go off, the police are silent,” Vremia Novostei, August 12, 2003.

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September 2003