On June 19, Amnesty International issued a report titled “The Circle of Injustice: Security Operations and Human Rights Violations in Ingushetia.” The report points to five republics where armed groups strike most often: Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. Although Amnesty International recognizes that Moscow “diversified” its approaches to dealing with the insurgency, having allotted significant funds to alleviate the socio-economic basis for the insurgency, while the organization describes the law enforcement response to the conflict as “crude.” The report was compiled with the help of Ingushetia’s Mashr human rights organization and the Memorial human rights center. Amnesty International undertook fact finding missions in Ingushetia in 2010 and 2011, interviewing over 60 people.
According to the report, the impunity of the law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus has led to a situation in which civilians in the region fear the law enforcement agencies and the armed insurgents equally (https://www.amnestyusa.org, June 19). In its report, Amnesty International draws an important conclusion about the impunity of the law enforcement agencies’ violations of human rights. “This impunity is not simply the cumulative effect of a series of objective, unwilled obstacles to establishing the truth or bringing successful prosecutions – though these are many,” the report states. “It is the founding premise and original sin upon which the entire system of law enforcement in the North Caucasus is built, and there does not appear to be the necessary political will in Moscow to end it” (https://www.amnestyusa.org, June 19).
The reverse side of the same proposition in the report is that Russian government institutions are so dysfunctional in the North Caucasus that the only way to establish and sustain a semblance of order and Russian control is by inculcating fear within the local population. In practical terms it means that the police lack trustworthy informants on the ground and therefore have to rely on poorly substantiated intelligence. The latter makes the law enforcement agencies’ actions prone to errors. Since law enforcement does not trust local courts, they normally revert to outright killings instead of bringing the suspects to trial. Needless to say, without proper legal procedures and relying only on police intelligence, police blunders multiply, which leads to the killing of innocent people and relatively minor offenders, not to mention the spread of lawlessness.
There are few cases in which suspected insurgents are brought to open trial, and those often result in the acquittal of suspects. On June 20, a Dagestani jury exonerated 19-year-old Sergei Yevloev, who was arrested in July 2011 and charged with numerous offenses, including illegal arms possession and participation in an illegal armed group. Yevloev’s lawyer, Ziyavudin Uvaisov, shed light on techniques that the courts and law enforcement agencies use to twist laws. According to Uvaisov, had his client been tried by a judge alone, it is very unlikely he would have been acquitted. Uvaisov said that if a suspected militant expresses a wish to be tried by a jury when his case is still under investigation, the investigators change his charges in order to avoid the jury. “For example, throughout the investigation process, the suspect is regarded as an ordinary member of illegal armed formations, but if he says [at some point along the way] that he wants to be heard by a jury, [the investigators] upgrade his ‘status’ to that of a militant commander, which disqualifies him from choosing between methods of trial,” Uvaisov told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website (https://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/208642/). For example, Rustam Ismailov was kidnapped in Dagestan on June 23, and it later turned out he was in police custody. His two brothers, Arsen and Rashid, were kidnapped earlier, on May 8. Arsen stated that he was tortured by the police who interrogated him about the suicide attack in Makhachkala on May 3, and subsequently released. The other brother, Rashid, had not been found as of June 25 (https://dagestan.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/208665/).
In general, the less control over a given republic Moscow has, the more egregious human rights violations one finds in a republic. Not surprisingly, violations roughly correspond with the map of violence in the North Caucasus, with perhaps Chechnya as the only exception. That republic is so closed and so little information is publicly available that information about rights violations cannot be properly assessed.
Ingushetia does not have the worst human rights record in the North Caucasus. Ingushetia’s governor, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, has at least recognized that the law enforcement agencies are sometimes involved in kidnapping terrorism suspects in the republic, and human rights NGOs can operate there more or less freely. Yet, even in Ingushetia, the array of government agencies is so great and their links to each other so tortuous that once a rights violation takes place it is hard to find those responsible. As the victims or their relatives appeal to government agencies, those agencies forward complaints to each other, sometimes for years (https://www.rferl.org/content/amnesty-international-north-caucasus-impunity-authorities-threaten-security/24621015.html).
Even though Kabardino-Balkaria has joined the ranks of the unstable North Caucasian republics only recently, news about kidnappings and “disappearances” in the republic comes on a regular basis. On June 18, law enforcement agents reportedly kidnapped 30-year-old Eldar Mamaev at a bus stop in Nalchik. According to information Mamaev’s relatives received as of June 19, Mamaev was detained at the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters in Nalchik, and the relatives expected official notification from the authorities. However, since they did not receive official confirmation from the government, they alerted rights activists and lodged an official complaint about his disappearance with the police. In the city of Tyrnyauz in Kabardino-Balkaria’s mountains, Artur Urusov was kidnapped on the morning of June 21, but in the evening of the same day Urusov’s lawyer called his family and warned them that he had been officially detained in the Proklhadny district investigators’ office (https://kabardino-balkaria.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/208570/).
Although the Russian government may try to impress locals in the North Caucasus with a heavy-handed approach toward anyone under suspicion of involvement in the insurgency, this approach in fact betrays the weakening of Moscow’s position in the North Caucasus. If Russian rule over the North Caucasus continues to rely exclusively on fear, it will be both an indicator and a cause of greater opposition to Russian rule there.