Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 30

A group of around 50 people, mostly women, gathered on July 26 in front of the offices of Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman in Grozny to protest the disappearance of relatives, Kavkazky Uzel reported. According to the website, the protesters held placards that read “Return Our Sons!” and included photographs of their abducted relatives. It quoted protesters as saying that they wanted to call the attention of the Chechen authorities to the problem of disappearances once again.

“We protested several times before,” a 55-year-old Grozny resident, Dagmara, told Kavkazky Uzel, adding that her son had disappeared two years ago and that she had been unsuccessfully searching for him ever since. “We want the authorities, persons who should be involved in … searching for kidnapped people, to tell us at last where our sons, husbands, brothers are. Why were they taken away, what are they accused of, where are they located? And are they still alive? We are constantly promised that some sort of commission will be created for searching for the disappeared and abducted, that everything possible will be done to find people, and so on. But we don’t see real results. How much longer do I have to wait to be told where my son is? If he is alive, return him alive, if not, at least return his body!”

Kavkazky Uzel reported on July 21 that the fate of two residents of the village of Bugaroi, in Chechnya’s Itum-Kalinsky district, remained unknown. According to the website, Timur Mezhidov (b. 1972) and Vidzhan Akhmedovich (b. 1982) were kidnapped on July 14 by unknown persons near a bridge over the Argun River located on the outskirts of the Shatoi district village of Yaryshmardy. Relatives of the two men filed written statements about the kidnapping with the Shatoi district police precinct and prosecutor’s office that same day, but according to the website, their whereabouts had not been determined. Family members told the Russian-Chechen Information Agency (RChIA) that Timur Mezhidov had been detained back in 2003 by members of “federal power structures,” including the Shatoi district prosecutor. In a subsequent search of Mezhidov’s home, security forces found explosives, that according to his relatives, were planted by the law-enforcement personnel themselves. According to his relatives, Mezhidov was subsequently released from custody after he paid the siloviki who had detained him US$10,000. According to the RChIA, the money for the ransom was collected by Mezhidov’s relatives and fellow Bugaroi residents.

Meanwhile, in the first ruling of its kind on a disappearance case in Chechnya, on July 27 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found Russia guilty of violating the “right to life” of a young Chechen who had disappeared after a Russian general ordered him shot. As Reuters reported, the court also ruled that Russia had violated a ban on arbitrary detention and failed to provide an effective remedy due to the failings of the official Russian investigation into the disappearance of Khadzimurat Yandiev.

On July 26, prior to the ruling, Reuters profiled Yandiev’s mother, Fatima Bazorkina, who filed the suit against Russia. According to Reuters correspondent Oliver Bullough, in 2000, after her son’s disappearance and after she had “scoured” the detention centers where Russian troops held suspected rebel fighters, Bazorkina saw CNN footage showing her son “as a bearded and injured young man in camouflage who argued with a general after soldiers demanded his documents.” The footage showed the general—identified as Alexander Baranov, who at the time the footage was shot was commander of the Combined Group of Federal Forces in Chechnya and is currently commander of the North Caucasus Military District—ordering his men, “Rub him out, kill him, damn it. That’s your entire order. Get him over there. Rub him out. Shoot him.” While Yandiev’s body has never been found, his mother’s lawyers said that the general’s words amount to “an open-and-shut case.” “The evidence is so clear, we have on tape a general giving the order to execute,” Bullough quoted Ole Solvang, executive director of Russian Justice Initiative, a charity that provides counsel, as saying. Following the ruling against Russia, Solvang said in a statement, “This is a landmark judgment with major importance for the hundreds of other Chechen disappearance cases still pending before the court.” The court ruled that Bazorkina had suffered inhumane treatment because of the uncertainty surrounding her son’s fate and ordered Moscow to pay her 35,000 euros (around US$44,500) in compensation.

Prior to the ruling, Bazorkina told Reuters that if Russia were found guilty, “[t]hat would mean that somewhere there is the truth. To this day, I am still looking for the truth. If someone is guilty for what happened, I want them to be tried under the laws of Russia.” Reuters also quoted her as commenting on the putative stabilization of the situation in Chechnya. “They are building a beautiful town, beautiful houses,” she said. “There are little squares, fountains. But the tensions don’t get any less. People still live in fear.”