Amnesty International Issues Reports on Disappearances

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 21

Amnesty International on May 23 issued a 22-page report on Chechnya entitled “What justice for Chechnya’s disappeared?” Aside from the specific issue of the disappearances, the report paints a bleak picture of the overall human rights situation in Chechnya. “The recently appointed President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has stated that Chechnya is the ‘quietest region in Russia’ and the safest,” the report states. “Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, dispute that claim. While large-scale military operations have been reduced, the conflict continues and both sides are still committing human rights abuses.”

“While buildings and airports can be rebuilt, lives destroyed by the conflict cannot,” the report continues. “There are no definitive numbers for civilian casualties of the conflict. The first Chechen conflict, from 1994 to 1996, claimed tens of thousands of lives. Estimates put the number of killed since 1999 during the second Chechen conflict at up to 25,000. Many of these were killed during the aerial bombardments of towns and villages in the first months of the conflict. Others died during fighting, or were killed after being rounded up in mass sweep operations. Many thousands of people are believed to be buried in unmarked graves around the republic: there are reported to be 52 registered sites of mass graves in Chechnya. Other people have survived but their lives have been devastated by violations such as torture, including rape, arbitrary detention and looting of their homes. Many thousands have fled, and live as internally displaced people outside Chechnya. Impunity for human rights abuses has prevailed. The authorities have failed in virtually all cases to investigate and prosecute the serious human rights violations, including war crimes, that have taken place over the course of the conflict. They have also failed to provide redress to the victims.”

The Amnesty International report cites a number of specific cases of abductions by Russian federal and pro-Russian Chechen forces. It notes that the Memorial human rights group has logged more than 2,000 individual cases of enforced disappearances and abductions in Chechnya. The report also notes that Memorial’s research is conducted in only one-third of Chechnya’s territory and “therefore does not represent the full extent of the violations,” and that Memorial has estimated that a total of “between 3,000 and 5,000 men, women and children have gone missing in the Chechen Republic following what they term as abductions, arbitrary arrests and detentions since 1999,” while others estimate that the number of disappearances is even higher. “In the majority of those cases, state agents were allegedly responsible,” Amnesty International adds.

“The pervading atmosphere of fear in the region has led to people being increasingly reluctant to come forward, with many families preferring to use unofficial channels to secure the return of their relatives,” the report states. “As a result enforced disappearances and abductions are under-reported. While the reported number of enforced disappearances and abductions has decreased over the past years, such incidents are continuing to take place in Chechnya today.”

According to the Amnesty International report, 302 criminal cases into the abduction of civilians in the North Caucuses involving the use of military hardware or sweep operations had been opened by March 2005, while the Russian government reported to the U.N. Committee against Torture in November 2006 that 23 criminal cases had been opened against military personnel for suspected “abduction” under Article 126 of the Russian Criminal Code. Yet, the report states, the results of “these official investigations into enforced disappearances have almost without exception been inconclusive.”

The report also states that everyone who seeks justice for human rights violations in Chechnya faces a climate of “hostility and menace,” including people searching for missing relatives. As a result, “witnesses in enforced disappearance cases have been reluctant to come forward and relatives are increasingly hesitant to speak openly to human rights monitors.”

The Amnesty International report cites several examples of such intimidation, including the case of Malika Akhmedova (not her real name), who was searching for her son who disappeared in Chechnya in 2002 and told Amnesty International that she herself had been detained towards the end of 2005 by armed Chechen men in military uniform. “Malika Akhmedova said that she had been seized early in the morning at her home and had been transferred to a cell in the basement of a building,” the report states. “She was threatened and shouted and sworn at in detention. It was cold and she was not given anything to eat or drink. Her detention was not registered and Malika Akhmedova’s relatives who looked for her there were told that she was not being held there. She was released later that day. She said that the prosecutor’s office in Chechnya had told her many times not to continue with the search for her son.”

The report notes that applicants to the European Court of Human Rights and their relatives have also faced intimidation, threats and even murder.

The Amnesty International report can be found at: http://web.amnesty.org/library/print/ENGEUR460152007.

The Amnesty International report on Chechnya was issued simultaneously with the groups’ annual report, which was critical of Russia for human rights abuses generally, including in Chechnya. Moscow Times on May 24 quoted Ella Pamfilova, the chairwoman of the Kremlin’s human rights council, as saying of Amnesty International: “I respect their viewpoint and unbiased work, but the situation in Chechnya has improved dramatically.”

Meanwhile, Interfax reported on May 18 that two people disappeared in the town of Argun. The news agency quoted a source in Chechnya’s Interior Ministry as saying the two men had disappeared “under unclear circumstances” on May 13 and May 14 and that their relatives and friends had been unable to locate them. According to the news agency, it was reported on May 15 that one person had been abducted and another two had gone missing in Chechnya.