A Russian law, little-noticed at the time of its passage in late 2002, authorizes the Russian government to retain the dead bodies of Chechen guerrillas killed by federal troops or police and considered to be terrorists. Since the law does not require the dead guerrilla to have been convicted of terrorism in court, and since in practice Moscow considers all separatist combatants to be terrorists, in effect Russia has given itself the right to treat every separatist killed in action as if he were a war criminal.
In a report broadcast on June 25, independent Moscow lawyer Boris Panteleyev told Radio Liberty correspondent Jeremy Bransten: “This means that their bodies are not handed back and their place of burial is not announced. The text of the law explicitly states that this provision also applies to the bodies of terrorists not yet buried before the legislation came into effect. In other words, it is retroactive.”
Brantsen quoted Tanya Lokshina of the Moscow Helsinki Group as saying that the government’s policy of keeping bodies violates a fundamental desire by family members for burial that cuts across cultures. Lokshina added that in the context of Chechnya, with its closely-knit kinship structures, punishing family members in this way is viewed as especially intolerable and is likely to fuel more hatred.