Human Rights Watch Denounces Abuses in Ingushetia

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 25

On June 25, Human Rights Watch released a report stating that the situation in Ingushetia is starting to resemble that of Chechnya several years ago in terms of human rights abuses. The New York-based group stated in a summary of the report that the Chechen conflict “overflowed” into Ingushetia, bringing with it “grave conflict dynamics.” “For the past four years Russia has been fighting several militant groups in Ingushetia, which have a loose agenda to unseat the Ingush government, evict federal security and military forces based in the region, and promote Islamic rule in the North Caucasus,” the report’s summary stated. “Beginning in summer 2007, insurgents’ attacks on public officials, law enforcement and security personnel, and civilians rose sharply. Human Rights Watch condemns attacks on civilians and recognizes that the Russian government has a duty to pursue the perpetrators, prevent attacks, and bring those responsible to account. Attacks on civilians, public officials, and police and security forces are serious crimes. Russia, like any government, has a legitimate interest in investigating and prosecuting such crimes and an obligation to do so while respecting Russian and international human rights law. Regrettably, Russia is failing to respect or to adhere to these laws. Law enforcement and security forces involved in counterinsurgency have committed dozens of extrajudicial executions, summary and arbitrary detentions, and acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

According to Human Rights Watch, the abuses by law enforcement and security forces in Ingushetia “evoke, albeit on a far smaller scale, the thousands of enforced disappearances, killings, and acts of torture that plagued Chechnya for more than a decade,” and are “antagonizing local residents” and serving “to further destabilize the situation in Ingushetia and more widely in the North Caucasus.” The summary of the report added: “In order to prevent Ingushetia from turning into the full-blown human rights crisis that has characterized Chechnya, prompt and effective measures must be taken by the Russian government to end these human rights violations and hold accountable their perpetrators.”

Human Rights Watch noted that according to the Memorial human rights group, security personnel in Ingushetia were responsible for up to 40 extrajudicial executions of local residents in counterinsurgency operations in the republic in 2007 alone, including the killing of six-year-old Rakhim Amriev, who died during security forces raid on his parents’ home in the village of Chemulga, located in Ingushetia’s Sunzhensky district (Chechnya Weekly, November 15, 2007). “An investigation into his death is ongoing,” the summary of the report stated. “That investigation is exceptional, however, and can be explained only by Amriev’s young age, which precluded the authorities from alleging his involvement in insurgency. In most cases, the authorities do not investigate killings of alleged insurgents.”

Those detained by security and law-enforcement services in Ingushetia tend to be “young males suspected of involvement with illegal armed groups and terrorism,” the summary of the Human Rights Watch report stated. “Three categories of young men are especially vulnerable to such detention: individuals related to or acquainted with presumed insurgents or terrorism suspects; those previously detained and whose names are in police and security forces’ databases, regardless of whether they were charged with or cleared of any alleged wrongdoing; and strictly observant Muslims. Many of those so detained are also tortured, or disappear.”

The full Human Rights Watch report on Ingushetia can be read at: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/MUMA-7FVA4X/$File/full_report.pdf.

Kavkazky Uzel quoted Tatyana Lokshina, Human Rights Watch’s researcher for Russia, who took part in a presentation of the report in Moscow on June 25, as saying that until several years ago, Ingushetia was a zone of peace and tranquility compared with Chechnya. According to Lokshina, the situation “gradually” changed. “The first kidnappings in Ingushetia by members of the power structures began to take place in 2002,” she said. “But the outside audience interpreted this as a continuation of the Chechen conflict, because it mainly involved refugees from the Chechen Republic. As of 2003, inhabitants of Ingushetia were also among these kidnapped citizens.”

According to Lokshina, the situation began to change cardinally in 2004, following the raids led by Chechen rebel field commander Shamil Basaev on the cities of Nazran and Karabulak. At that time, she said, the population of Ingushetia mobilized around the republic’s authorities and supported counter-terrorist measures. “Later on … when the population was continuously placed in jeopardy, when special operations essentially reminiscent of the zachistki and the targeted operations in Chechnya were conducted in the republic, during which people were beaten (and such cases are documented in our report) and suffered indignities, during which people disappeared, a monstrous antagonism was aroused among the population,” Lokshina said. She added that support for the rebels could only grow in such a situation. The Associated Press on June 25 quoted Lokshina as saying that “if Russia does not want Ingushetia to become a full-blown human rights crisis like Chechnya, it must stop these violations.”

According to Lokshina, one manifestation of the dissatisfaction of the population of Ingushetia over the abuses by security forces and the inability of the republic’s authorities to control them is the protest demonstrations—some of them spontaneous, others organized—that have take place in Ingushetia over the last year.

Kavkazky Uzel reported that Ingushetia’s human rights ombudsman, Karim-Sultan Kokrukhaev, who attended the presentation of the Human Rights Watch report on Ingushetia in Moscow on June 25, did not agree with its authors’ conclusions, and that Shamsudin Mogushkov, a deputy in Ingushetia’s parliament and a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, compared members of Human Rights Watch to “fascists.” According to Kavkazky Uzel, Lokshina responded by saying “the state has the right to fight terrorism and crime, but it must do so legally.” AP quoted Mogushkov as calling the Human Rights Report on Ingushetia “90 percent biased” and Kokrukhaev as saying the report was designed to turn its readers into “zombies.” Kokrukhaev also claimed that there has not been “a single abduction or case of torture” in Ingushetia this year.

Kavkazky Uzel quoted Dick Marty, who is the rapporteur on the situation in the North Caucasus for the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as saying he agreed with Human Rights Watch’s assessment of the situation in Ingushetia and that the tension which previously characterized Chechnya has now spread to neighboring republics and warrants heightened attention.

On June 19, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), the independent U.S. government agency set up by the U.S. Congress to monitor compliance with the human rights and fundamental freedoms agreement based on the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, held a briefing in Washington entitled, “Ingushetia: The New Hot Spot in Russia’s North Caucasus.” Among those who spoke at the briefing were Magomed Mutsolgov, director of the Ingush human rights organization “Mashr,” Kavkazky Uzel editor-in-chief Grigory Shvedov and Eliza Musaeva, former director of Memorial’s Chechnya office.

On May 28, Amnesty International expressed particular concern over human rights violations in Chechnya and Ingushetia during a presentation in Moscow of its yearly report on human rights around the world.

Meanwhile, Interfax reported that the home of the three Kursaev brothers in Yandyry, a village in Ingushetia’s Nazran district, was attacked in the early hours of June 26. A military source told the news agency that the attackers fired automatic weapons and grenade launchers at the home but that none of the family members were hurt. According to Interfax, two of the Kursaev brothers are members of Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry while the third works in Ingushetia’s branch of the federal anti-narcotics service (FSKN).

Buinaksk Police Chief Murdered

Gunmen in Dagestan killed Colonel Magomedarip Aliev, chief of police of the town of Buinaksk, as he was driving through the republic’s capital Makhachkala on June 24. RIA Novosti quoted a source in the press service of Dagestan’s Interior Ministry as saying that unidentified gunmen fired on Aliev’s Mercedes as it was passing by and that Aliev died on the spot. Kommersant reported on June 25 that the attackers first blocked Aliev’s Mercedes at an intersection in the center of Makhachkala and that Aliev received multiple gunshot wounds in the head and chest.

According to Kommersant, Aliev had personally taken part in dozens of special operations targeting in the Buinaksk Jamaat and was the target of an assassination attempt in 2006, apparently after he was put on the jamaat’s hit list. In November 2007, Aliev was among the commanders of an operation in Makhachkala that targeted a group of “Buinaksk Wahhabis” who had killed six police in a July 2006 bombing at a school in Kizilyurt and were hiding in a residence on the outskirts of the Dagestani capital. Seven militants died when security forces, reportedly using armored personnel carriers and a tank, laid siege to the residence (Chechnya Weekly, November 15 and July 19, 2007).

At the same time, Kommersant quoted Dagestani police sources as saying that Aliev, who was known as a man of principle and for having “strict morals,” also had many enemies “among representatives of Dagestani organized crime and big business” and was not on good terms with everyone inside his own police department. Still, an anonymous police investigator told the newspaper that Aliev’s conflict with the “Wahhabis” in Dagestan was personal, and that his “old enemy,” the local jamaat leader Bammatkhan Sheikov, aka Assadulla (the Lion of Allah), was behind all the threats and attempts on Aliev’s life. After the “backbone” of the Buinaksk Jamaat was broken last winter and Assadulla was captured by spetsnaz in a mopping up operation in the village of Gimry, Aliev, according to his colleagues, “somewhat relaxed his vigilance.”

Kommersant quoted police in Dagestan as saying that the choice of time and place for the attack on Aliev, which took place near a café where he had just eaten dinner, was somewhat atypical for the Buinaksk Jamaat, whose members typically ambush their victims either near their homes or while they are traveling. “Their actions are always demonstrative in character,” a member of the team investigating Aliev’s murder told the newspaper. “The Wahhabis typically abandon weapons and automobiles at the scene of the crime, not worrying about covering their tracks. There is simply no sense in that, since they openly—usually via the Internet—take responsibility not only for their own, but for the crimes of others carried out against members of the law-enforcement system.”

It should be noted that the rebel Kavkaz-Center website on June 24 posted a short report on the murder of Aliev, which simply cited an “occupation source in the capital of the vilayat of Dagestan, Shamilkala (the former Makhachkala)” as saying that the “murtad” (apostate) Aliev had been shot to death. There was no claim of responsibility.

Meanwhile, unknown attackers tried to blow up a vehicle carrying servicemen from the 102nd brigade of the Interior Ministry Internal Troops on a road between the villages of Gubden and Urma in Dagestan’s Gubden district on June 21. No one was hurt in the blast, which was apparently caused by an improvised explosive device.

On June 20, a police officer and a civilian were killed when unidentified gunmen fired at a pursuing policeman in Dagestan’s Suleiman-Stalsky region, Itar-Tass reported. According to the press service of Dagestan’s Interior Ministry, the incident took place at the entrance to the village of Svetskoye when unidentified persons in a VAZ-2106 automobile refused to stop at a police checkpoint and a police officer gave chase in a civilian car. Those inside the car that was being chase opened fire on their pursuers, killing the police officer and the car’s owner, who was behind the wheel.

The International Crisis Group issued a report on Dagestan earlier this month which concluded that that an unstable economic situation and corruption are the main reasons for the upsurge in terrorism in the republic (Chechnya Weekly, June 5).