Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 11

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) issued a statement on March 13 concerning the situation in Chechnya. The CPT said that during its most recent trips to Chechnya, in April/May and September 2006, it found that, “in some respects – notably as regards material conditions of detention – there had been definite progress,” and that, “no allegations were received of ill-treatment of prisoners by staff of the penitentiary establishments visited.” The committee added, however, that it, “remains deeply concerned by the situation in key areas covered by its mandate.” In particular, it stated that, “[r]esort to torture and other forms of ill-treatment by members of law enforcement agencies and security forces continues, as does the related practice of unlawful detentions. Further, from the information gathered, it is clear that investigations into cases involving allegations of ill-treatment or unlawful detention are still rarely carried out in an effective manner; this can only contribute to a climate of impunity.”

As Agence-France Presse reported on March 13, the CPT said it issued its latest statement on abuses in Chechnya because of the Russian authorities’, “failure to improve the situation,” despite detailed recommendations following its two visits to Chechnya last year. The committee also said that the Russian authorities have “consistently” refused to engage with it in a meaningful way, which, “can only be qualified as a failure to cooperate,” and that its suggestions had, “received at most a token response and in many respects have quite simply been ignored.”

Commenting on the CPT statement, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said on March 13 that he intends to ensure that all law-enforcement agencies and officials charged with guaranteeing human rights fulfill their mandate. “Illegal armed units (in Chechnya) have virtually been eliminated,” he told Interfax. “Significant progress has also been made in observing human rights at correction facilities. However, we will seek to make every resident of the Chechen Republic feel that they are protected by the law.”

Kadyrov also told Interfax that the CPT statement was based on information it had collected during its visits to Chechnya in 2006 but that “radical changes” have occurred since that time. “Two weeks ago, an international conference on human rights was held in Chechnya, in which Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg took part,” Kadyrov said. “Mr. Hammarberg traveled around the Chechen Republic for three days. We had several meetings with him. He expressed his detailed opinion on what he saw. There is no doubt that significant progress has been made. People feel free today, people are engaged in peaceful work, and this makes individual human rights violations even more upsetting. Federal agencies stationed in the Chechen Republic and units of the Chechen Interior Ministry are making maximum efforts to observe the law and not to violate human rights.”

In an apparent reference to the Interior Ministry’s ORB-2, Kadyrov said, “Unfortunately, there is one unit controlled by interior agencies on whose territory a temporary custody facility is functioning illegally where human rights activists recorded evidence of torture. I am sure we will find legal levers to change the situation. I am sure the federal authorities will support us in this, and I am sure that such cases will stop being recorded in the Chechen Republic in the near future.” According to Interfax, Kadyrov emphasized that now that, “peace has been restored,” in the republic, “it is intolerable for officials, no matter who are they, to violate human rights. It is intolerable. People will not understand this and we will put a stop to it.”

It is worth noting that on March 6, the office of the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg published the “initial conclusions” of his February 27-March 1 trip to Chechnya, which quoted him as saying, “I got the impression that torture and ill-treatment are widespread in Chechnya. This undermines justice. If one is coerced into telling a lie and the court takes the deposition into account, this perverts the whole judicial system. Such practices must come to an end immediately.” According to the summary of Hammarberg’s initial conclusions, he also said that the, “perpetrators of torture,” have a, “feeling of utter impunity.” It is also worth noting that in a report issued in November 2006 based on its trips to Chechnya last year, the CPT detailed allegations of unlawful detention and ill-treatment not only by ORB-2 in Chechnya, but also against Chechen units. According to the CPT, a number of people in Chechnya gave, “detailed and credible accounts of being unlawfully held,” among other places, in facilities located in the village of Tsentoroi and, “run by armed formations allegedly operating under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov.” Tsentoroi is the Kadyrov family’s native village.

Meanwhile, on March 13 quoted Chechnya’s ambassador plenipotentiary in Moscow, Ziad Sabsabi, as saying that the fight against torture and other ill-treatment while in custody in Chechnya is currently, “under the strictest control of the president of the republic, Ramzan Kadyrov.” Sabsabi added, “Let the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture examine how the Russian-speaking population in the Baltics is treated.”

Amnesty International issued a statement on March 14 citing the CPT’s latest statement and calling on the Russian government, “to take immediate concrete steps to eradicate torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and ‘disappearances’ in the Chechen Republic and to tackle impunity for these violations.” The Amnesty International statement concluded, “Given the ongoing serious problem of torture in Chechnya, Amnesty International calls on the other 45 member states of the Council of Europe and its bodies and mechanisms to work with the Russian authorities to ensure they meet their obligations to eradicate torture and other ill-treatment, ‘disappearances’ and arbitrary detention, to ensure prompt, independent and thorough investigations of these allegations and to end the targeted reprisals of those who seek redress for such violations. Amnesty International calls on the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to take concrete and decisive action to ensure Russia meets these obligations.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch also addressed the issue of human rights abuses in Chechnya. In a briefing paper issued on March 12 timed to coincide with the opening of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council fourth session, Human Rights Watch identified Russia as one of 26 countries of concern due to ongoing abuses in Chechnya. In particular, the New York-based watchdog organization said that in Chechnya, “impunity persists for torture, killings, and enforced disappearances, to which civilians are subjected on a regular basis and on a massive scale.” Human Rights Watch stated that there has been a, “dramatic increase,” in, “credible reports of torture perpetrated by forces under the effective command of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov and a law enforcement branch known as ORB-2.” It added, “Enforced disappearances remain a hallmark of the conflict and have risen to a level that constitutes a crime against humanity. Despite mounting concerns about the abusive actions of pro-Russian Chechen forces, the federal government continues to endorse their leadership and refuses to take concrete action to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. In allowing the security structures controlled by Kadyrov to operate with effective impunity, the Russian government has abdicated its responsibility to protect the rights of Chechen citizens of the Russian Federation.”