Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 37

On the eve of the Russia-EU summit in London, which took place on October 4, Amnesty International released a report entitled “Torture, ‘Disappearances,’ and Alleged Unfair Trials in Russia’s North Caucasus.” The human rights group states in the report that what the Russian government calls its “war on terror” in the North Caucasus “is being used as a pretext for violations that include ‘disappearances’, torture, arbitrary detention and incommunicado detention in unacknowledged as well as official places of detention. There are ongoing reports of targeted violence against women by members of the security forces in Chechnya, in particular arbitrary detention, rape, and killing. Such violations are overwhelmingly committed with impunity, as very few perpetrators are ever identified and brought to justice. Chechen armed opposition groups are also reported to have violated international humanitarian law over the course of the conflict, including by targeting civilians.”

The Amnesty International report states that the group received reports concerning “a possible new trend” involving people being “arbitrarily detained and held in incommunicado detention where they are subjected to torture and ill-treatment in order to force them to ‘confess’ to crimes they have reportedly not committed, including ‘terrorist’ crimes.” After the detainees sign a “confession,” they are transferred to another detention facility. There they are given access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives, but their confession is used as “evidence” in court in order to secure a conviction. According to Amnesty, such cases have taken place in Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. In addition, the authorities reportedly often obstruct the relatives of “disappeared” people or people who have been tortured in custody who are seeking information or redress for crimes committed against themselves or relatives. In addition, “many relatives” of those killed or “disappeared” say they face threats and intimidation to stop their search or drop their complaints. Prosecutor’s offices “at all levels” appear to fail to “take effective action to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations,” the Amnesty report states.

The report also details a number of individual abuse cases from Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Representatives of Amnesty International and the Memorial human rights group said during a joint press conference in Moscow on September 30 that the number of people who have been kidnapped in Chechnya is much higher than the official figures released by the Chechen authorities. “We mention the figure of 3,000 to 5,5000 people kidnapped on the territory of Chechnya during the second campaign, which began in 1999,” said Aleksandr Cherkasov, a member of Memorial’s staff and governing board. Victoria Webb, a researcher on Russia for Amnesty International, agreed with this estimate. “We are appealing to Russian human rights activists to ascertain the scale of the problem in Chechnya,” she said, adding that the efforts that the Russian authorities are making are “manifestly insufficient.” Amnesty, she said, believes “there are far more kidnappings with the participation of the power structures on the territory of Chechnya then the two which have become known (in particular, the case of Colonel Yuri Budanov).”

On August 30, Col.-Gen. Arkady Yedelev, chief of the regional headquarters for counter-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus, claimed that the number of kidnappings in 2004 had decreased by more than two-and-a-half times compared with the previous year, and that the number of kidnappings in the first half of 2005 was two times less than during the same period of 2004. According to Edelev, 513 abductions were registered in 2003, 164 in 2004 and 79 during the first half of 2005. The criminal cases involving kidnappings, he said, fall into two categories: kidnappings for ransom, for the release of members of “illegal armed formations” or for resolving some sort of personal problem; and feigned kidnappings that are used to explain the long absence of someone from their home. The latter type of kidnapping, he said, is “actively used” by rebel fighters or members of their family to conceal the fact they have run off and joined the rebels.

Meanwhile, a group of leading human rights activists signed an appeal calling for the resignation of federal Interior Rashid Nurgaliev and other ministry officials, whom they accused of using “massive violence” in the North Caucasus, Kavkazky Uzel reported on October 5. The Common Action (Obschee deistvie) initiative group accused the Interior Ministry of employing “massive nonselective violence and illegal internment… in so-called ‘filtration centers,’ torture, beatings, cynical abasement of human dignity and other gross violations of human rights,” above all in the North Caucasus. The appeal was signed by, among others, Memorial Society Chairman Sergei Kovalev, Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseyeva, For Civil Rights Committee Chairman Andrei Babushkin and For Human Rights movement Acting Director Lev Ponomarev. Nurgaliev, for his part, told reporters in Moscow on October 5 that thanks to actions taken by federal forces and the Interior Ministry in southern Russia, terrorist plans for a “hot summer” had been foiled. “This year simultaneous and coordinated deployment of law enforcement bodies and Internal Troops in operational investigations, preventative and sometimes combat operations prevented members of illegal armed groups carrying out major coordinated acts of sabotage in the Southern Federal District,” RIA Novosti quoted Nurgaliev as saying.