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Situation Tschetschenien Mai-Sept 2007

Human rights organizations have repeatedly stated that abductions in the Chechen Republic (CR) are controlled by authorities. Over the past years, different security services, set up during the “chechenization of the conflict”, were absolute leaders in kidnappings. Abductions have become much fewer since the beginning of 2007. R. Kadyrov is reported to have given tough instructions to the heads of security services in his charge to put an end to kidnappings.

A table showing the number of abductions monitored by Memorial:

Year Kidnapped (number of individuals) Of them:
Year Kidnapped (number of individuals) freed or ransomed found murdered disappeared “discovered” in detention facilities and jails
2002 544 91 81 372
2003 498 158 52 288
2004 450 213 26 203 8
2005 323 155 25 128 15
2006 187 94 11 63 19
2007 (to March) 16 10 1 3 2
2007 (May-August) 9 7 2
Total 2027 728 196 1059 44

Memorial recorded no kidnappings in CP in April for the first time and 10 in May-August, whereas last year the figure for the same period was 53, with 32 people released or ransomed, 2 found killed and 17 missing.

Chechnya’s Prosecutor’s Office spoke of 80 applications on abductions in the first six months of 2007 but A. Kuznetsov, Prosecutor of the CR, downplayed the actual number of people kidnapped (without précising figures) saying that some applications had been filed twice and in some cases no proof of kidnappings had been confirmed. However, it should be noted that the data collected by Memorial and by state bodies have for the first time in the past years differed slightly.

Although state security services have recently resorted less to abductions, they still have not abandoned this criminal approach completely. Their involvement in abductions is clearly evidenced by some cases registered by Memorial, among which Vagap Tutakov’s abduction in the district of Urus-Martan on September 10, 2007. Tutakov used to represent the Parliament of the CR in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

What made security services significantly limit the number of abductions and violent disappearances now that Chechnya is “combating terrorism”?

It seems likely that long-standing efforts of human rights non-governmental organizations and different interstate structures that repeatedly drew Russian officials’ attention to this problem. Moreover, a step seems logical within the frames of Kadyrov’s large-scale campaign aimed at building up his image, which has been marred by the persistent problem of abductions in the republic. Finally, the incessant struggle for power in Chechnya (that is, the struggle to actually control different power structures) made contenders eager to employ human rights rhetoric in the first six months of 2007. One of the consequences that the struggle brought about was the de facto decrease in the number of grave crimes. And certainly, from this stance, such a struggle only can be welcomed.

In the spring and early summer the Republic’s authorities kept demanding that the Investigative-Searching Bureau #2 (ISB-2) of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Chief Department in the South Federal District be withdrawn from the Chechen territory. Kadyrov’s has been in conflict with this structure numbering up to 150 officials, mostly Chechens, since 2006 due to its independence from him ( there are few other structures still independent) and, as a result, from Chechnya’s Interior Ministry. The Bureau used tortures constantly. ISB-2 is located in Grozny but has its branches in a number of Chechen districts. All ISBs-2 have detainees and arrestees. Federal law prohibits that people detained and arrested be kept in ISBs, in which case the latter set up a Temporary Detention Facility, still contrary to the law. Human rights organizations have long insisted that the facility be shut down.

It must be mentioned that ISB’s officials have repeatedly and unlawfully detained (in fact, kidnapped) those suspected of participating in illegal armed groups. This became a strong argument against ISB-2 in the republic when security services of Chechnya’ Interior Ministry gave up abductions.

On May 4, heads of all Interior Ministry’s departments of Chechnya addressed their joint request to Kadyrov asking him to talk to the RF Interior Minister about moving ISB-2 out of the Chechen territory in order to stop incessant tortures against those under investigation. By doing so, the addressers wished to demonstrate having nothing to do with such crimes.

A. Delimkhanov, first deputy Chairman of Chechnen Government, announced with reference to ISB-2 in May that “only measures taken by the Republic’s leadership still hold back the outbreak of public protest against tortures and illegal methods of investigation”.

On July 21, this long-standing conflict was finally resolved in Kadyrov’s favor, evidently. Colonel A. Khasanbekov, former ISB head, left his office on order from Russian Interior Minister and was replaced by Colonel I. Surguev. Kadyrov personanally introduced him to staff adding unequivocally that, from now on , all law enforcement bodies in Chechnya would be doing the same job and those against it were free to leave. In his turn, Surguev promised that “ISB would henceforth work openly and interact closely with all law enforcement bodies of the republic”. The front of the ISB building was covered with Ramzan Kadyrov’s portrait.

The Chechen President no longer talks of moving ISB-2 out of the republic. Nor do parliament and government members recall about the fact that detainees and arrestees are kept in ISB-2 illegally. So far, human rights organizations have got no new information on tortures in ISB-2.

In May 2007 Kadyrov was still in an acute conflict with the Prosecutor’s Office of Chechnya. The reason for this disagreement may well be the same as in the Kadyrov-vs-ISB case.

On May 4, N. Nukhazhiev, Chechnya’s Ombudsman, was the next person to voice his discontent with the Prosecutor’s Office during a meeting of Chechen security services. According to him, “the analysis of all answers the Prosecutor’s Office gave in response to prisoners’ complaints about tortures applied to them points to the fact that all prosecution checkups were only conducted for protocol and the results were known in advance”. Republican authorities immediately followed the steps of human rights activists and berated the impunity of federal services from the crimes they committed against Chechen civilians.

It must be mentioned that the Prosecutor’s Office has been criticized with good reason, and human rights organizations have repeatedly spoken out against it. The Office’s slow and inefficient work has resulted in the European Court on Human Rights considering a number of cases. Both republican and military prosecution bodies disrupted investigations into crimes against civilians and rather dealt with crimes committed by federal security structures. However, over the past year, with Kuznetsov currently in head of prosecution, there have been successful investigations into crimes committed by Chechen security structures (those who have recently been referred to as “kadyrovtsy”).

The criticism against its work may have been the reason why the prosecution published details of some of these crimes last May . In particular, it let know that a militant group headed by R. Asuev, commander of an Oil Regiment’s division of Chechnya’s Interior Ministry (the regiment was mostly manned by former members of the Chechen President’s Security Service), carried out abductions for ransom and killings. Those killed were then “given” arms and bombs and declared “terrorists”. Meanwhile, the criminals went higher up the career ladder of the Interior Ministry. The case is now investigated by the court.

Earlier, the Prosecutor’s Office completed investigations into a few similar cases. Twenty former members of different armed groups in Kadyrov’s charge were sentenced by the court to long imprisonment terms. On May 24, the prosecution representatives reported about the arrest of four officials from the Chechen Interior Ministry’s criminal investigation department who are charged with abducting and holding a person to ransom.

One can only applaud similar actions on the part of prosecution. However, only the “upper layer of the iceberg” has been explored. Most similar lawbreakers are still unpunished, and many of them are high-ranking Chechen officials.

Memorial gave examples of such outrageous crimes in its reports earlier. At present, they remain unsolved and victims are still suffering. Here are three episodes.

Abdulbek Abzuyev, an Argun resident, was kidnapped and later strangled by members of the Anti-Terrorism Centre in 2005. They all work for Interior Ministry. However, the Prosecutor`s Office has for six months been in every way “unable” to conduct necessary investigative procedures with these people. Meanwhile, Saman Abzuyeva ,the victim`s mother, who witnessed her son’s abduction and keeps insisting that investigation continues is subject to demonstrative threats and attacks.

Ruslan and Sharudin Khalayevs, Magomed Elikhanov and Magomed-Emi Aguev from Noviye Ataghi village were kidnapped by people from Patrol Regiment # 2 named after A. Kadyrov (PPSM-2) . The Prosecutor instigated a criminal case under Article 127 (illegal deprivation of liberty) of the Russian Criminal Code. Those kidnapped were taken to the regiment deployment base and tortured. As a result, they “confessed” to banditry, illegal possession of arms, armed robberies and a murder of a policeman. Not until that were all four finally handed over to the interior department of Shali district.

Chechnya’s Prosecutor`s Office only took into count the testimonies of the four Novie Ataghi residents and, charged them with committing the above-mentioned crimes and took the matter to the court. The final decision was announced in April 2007. All four residents were acquitted of almost all charges but found guilty of “participating in illegal armed groups”. And despite the lack of evidence, apart from the confessions made under torture, the court sentenced each to a 1- year imprisonment term for participating in illegal armed formations. With the period of their stay in custody taken into account, all of them were immediately released.

The court brought forward irrefutable evidence against a number of officials responsible for the kidnapping and torture of the four Novie Ataghi residents .Among the former were A.Yasayev ,an ex- commander of the PPSM-2 regiment and incumbent Deputy Interior Minister of Chechnya, and V.Mitsayev., a Chechen Parliament member. However, the Prosecutor`s Office of the Chechen Republic only convicted a PPSM junior officer. The victims were pressurized into giving up their testimonies against the kidnappers. The only person convicted of kidnappings and torture got away with a light suspended sentence.

Usman Timerbulatov, 25, from Kurchaloy village, died in the local hospital on December 14,2006. Usman was kidnapped by police officers and put in a secret prison in Tsentoroi, Ramzan Kadyrov’s native village, on December 4. On December 11, Temirbulatov was released. According to Usman’s village neighbours, he was severely beaten with a club (his back, belly, arms and legs muscles were badly injured), his genitals were crushed and he had cold water poured over him outdoors. The district Prosecutor`s Office initiated a criminal case into Temirbulatov`s death.. Policemen put pressure on his relatives to make them change their initial testimonies. At present, the investigation is suspended, as “those responsible are impossible to find”.

During the 2007 summer Memorial kept receiving information on tortures that detainees and arrestees were subject to by Chechen servicemen.

In June all verbal attacks on the part of Chechnya’s President and some officials under his control against the Prosecutor’s Office suddenly stopped. The latter gave no more data about any other investigations into the crimes committed by Chechen servicemen from Interior Ministry.

***

Prosecutor V. Kuznetsov told journalists in July that “ embezzlement and corruption in Chechnya” have become the acutest problem to date, in which case quite a few of these crimes were being investigated in the 2007 summer. Forgery of a few thousands of applications to get financial compensation for a destroyed housing has been one of the celebrated cases recently. In this case alone, as much as 1.5 billiion rubles have been stolen.

In mid-June the Republic’s President announced a “fierce fight» against corruption, the proximate reason for this being information on the embezzlement of not only budget money but also that from Ramzan Kadyrov’s fund named after his father.

***

The downside to Grozny’s fast reconstruction with large-scale mass delays in salary payment and outrageous breaches of labour law became evident in early summer. Workers repeteadly took to streets for protest in June and applied to Memorial, claiming they had not seen their money for several months, no employment contract had been signed with them, they had no medical insurance (employers did not pay either for being on a sick list or for work injuries) and some were arbitrarily dismissed without any explanation. Similar violations have become large-scale.

In response to Memorial’s letter the Prosecutor’s Office in Chechnya informed on May 27 that arrears in payment had been recorded during a checkup the Office conducted, all violations were eliminated, all managers responsible fined and reprimanded, workers given their money for March and partly for April and May.

However, another group of workers came to Memorial in early September to say that they had not seen their money for the last five months.

***

As foliage began to cover trees, another escalation of armed confrontation in mountainous Chechnya was expected to follow, and the prediction held true. It should be observed that most attacks by militants in Chechnya, unlike Dagestan and Ingushetia, have so far been carried out against security servicemen. According to the official statistics (some figures may be downplayed), 28federal servicemen were killed and 80 wounded throughout the 2007 summer. Being especially active in Nozhai-Yurt, militants were also seen in Tsa-Vedeno on the night of August 5 setting to fire houses of Chechen policemen.

Despite occasional escalations of armed opposition in Chechnya, there has been a stable tendency to a decrease in militants’ activities in the past years. Thus, the information on many young people joining militants came as a big enough surprise in May. Militants’ websites usually exaggerate and put the number of young newcomers at two thousand. On May 25, S-Kh. Mirzaev, Chechnya’s Mufti, called upon parents to “explain to their children how harmful wakhhabism is” and mentioned that “twenty people” had joined the ranks of militants, whereas M. Khambiev, a Chechen Parliament deputy, talked of some three hundred in July. Whatever the figure is, the problem is real, which was highlighted by a meeting of Chechen Vice-Premier A. Delimkhanov and Interior Minister R. Alkhanov with relatives of those wanted. The meeting took place in Grozny on August 19 and was not well-reported. There were about a hundred civilians from all over Chechnya. Delimkhanov promised them that from now on nobody would be spared and detained militants would see their “heads cut off”. R. Alkhanov also confirmed Delimkhanov’s words that the families whose members side with militants would be invaded at night by masked “siloviks” (security servicemen) and the neighbours informed about the intentions to join militants would also be punished.

It is important to note that young people headed for mountains after amnesty had expired. They have nothing to hope for and yet they leave aware of the serious problems their relatives will have. The young men’s decision is triggered by losses and abductions of relatives, tortures and humiliation they themselves suffered.

***

In spite of Kadyrov’s successful struggle for power in the Republic, the latent confrontation between different armed groups created as a result of the “chechenization” of the conflict still continues.

A skirmish between the West battalion of Russian Defense Ministry and the Patrol service of Chechen Interior Ministry supported by Chechen police (OMON) took place on June 20 and left four people from the West battalion and one policeman dead and a few people injured. Officially, a drunken driver from the West battalion was the instigator. However, the battalion called it a provocation against its commander S. Kakiev and his deputy B. Elimkhanov (allegedly, they even intentionally shot at the latter). The battalion is known to have no former militants and to consist of Chechens who have sided with Federal Russia since the early 90s. The battalion overtly distrusts former militants who can be found currently in many security services of Chechen Interior Ministry, which are reputed to be under R. Kadyrov’s patronage.

***

The European Court on Human Rights has taken decisions on five complaints of Chechens over the past five months. One applicant was represented by lawyers from non-governmental Legal Initiative in Russia and four applicants by Memorial and European Center on Human Rights. In all five cases the Court made Russia responsible for violating the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The complaints dealt with abductions carried out by state representatives, disappearances of detainees, tortures and out-of-court executions. Overall, the Court has delivered 14 judgements in favor of Chechens and made Russia responsible for violating the European Convention in every case.

What measures are being taken by Russian authorities to implement the ECtHR decisions?

Applicants are paid monetary compensation in time and in full, criminal cases are investigated anew, but investigation drags on with no good reason. None of the officials who were clearly involved in perpetrating crimes have gone on trial. There is still no information on people whose abduction was considered by the ECtHR, not to mention that no amendments have so far been taken to change the normative acts outlining security services’ actions in areas of internal conflicts (anti-terrorism legislation, charters of armed forces). Meanwhile, the need for such changes results directly from some ECtHR decisions.

Some of applicants have in the past years been subject to pressure on the part of authorities, have been threatened and a few of them abducted or killed.

Recommendations

Efficient measures must be taken to eliminate the still prevailing climate of impunity from crimes against civilians in Chechnya and to improve the human rights situation in the Republic.

These measures should also include:

  • adequate investigation into cases of human rights violations and punishment of the responsible;
  • instructions from superior instances outlining that federal and local security services are absolutely obliged to respect and observe human rights while fulfilling their duties and that they may be held accountable for following criminal orders from superior instances and servicemen;
  • adequate legal and judicial protection and due compensations to the victims of human rights violations;
  • access for international humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC (International Committee of Red Cross), to inmates in pre-trial detention centers on conditions acceptable for those organizations.
  • the use of mechanisms for human rights protection laid down by the Council of Europe and the United Nations, including special procedures of the UN Human Rights Commission and the treaty bodies of the Council of Europe and the UN;
  • effective cooperation with the European Court on Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to both better implement the ECtHR rulings with regard to individual and general measures and guarantee the security of applicants from the Chechen Republic, their family members and their representatives at the ECtHR;
  • efficient cooperation with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe, including publications of CPT’s reports on the Russian Federation/Chechen Republic;
  • necessary assistance to Russian and international human rights organizations in their monitoring of the human rights situation in the Chechen Republic and cooperation with such organizations in eliminating the climate of impunity and improving the human rights situation in the region;
  • compliance of state anti-terrorist operations in terms of international law and practice with international human rights standards and humanitarian law, including the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Geneva Conventions, and the Council of Europe Guidelines on Human Rights and the Fight against Terrorism.

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