Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 6

Researchers from the Memorial human rights center and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) on February 7 presented their findings concerning human rights violations in Chechnya last year. The IHF’s Aleksandr Mnatsakanyan said that the human rights situation in the republic has changed significantly over the last year or even year and a half. “Even then you were hearing from various representatives of the federal troops in Chechnya that the activity of the militants had dropped significantly and that the main trouble (according to various estimates, 75 percent of the violations of the law) is caused by Ramzan Kadyrov’s armed people,” he said. According to Mnatsakanyan, the so-called kadyrovtsy, which he described as “armed formations whose status is very hazy,” are officially part of a special regiment named after Ramzan Kadyrov’s late father, Akhmad Kadyrov, and number 1,250 men. Unofficially, they number 2,500 and make up something resembling a band of Cossacks, he said, adding that several military and Interior Ministry officials had said that 86 people from among the kadyrovtsy are on Russia’s federal wanted list.

IHF North Caucasus researcher Tatyana Lokshina noted that while officials of the Southern Federal District announced that a new presidential bodyguard unit would be formed for Chechen President Alu Alkhanov, Ramzan Kadyrov immediately denied speculation that the Kadyrov regiment would be disbanded stating: “The presidential regiment will exist for as long as we are alive.” Lokshina claimed that Kadyrov has been carrying out “special operations aimed at the removal of people in Chechen power agencies loyal to Alkhanov” under the guise of counter-insurgency operations. She said that the most recent such operation was carried out in the Vedeno district, where the residents of one village said that armed men in camouflage removed the local police chief and told twenty key district officials that if they did not resign within 24 hours, they would be accused of links with the rebels. All twenty resigned. A young woman who worked as a bookkeeper for the local police was given 48 hours to resign but did not do so; according to Lokshina, she subsequently disappeared and has not been seen since. According to Memorial, Kadyrov also forced the resignation of the mayor of Argun – a move that was not opposed either by President Alkhanov or the community in Argun.

The kadyrovtsy have also extorted Chechen civilians who have received compensation for damage caused to their homes in the war. “At night people have stopped opening the doors of their homes even upon hearing cries for help, which undoubtedly marks a turning point in the level of mentality,” IHF’s Aleksandr Mnatsakanyan stated. Tatyana Lokshina said the local population in Chechnya is far more afraid of the kadyrovtsy than they are of the federal forces. “The fact is that the Russian soldiers and Russian Interior Ministry staff have been located in Chechnya for a very long time, and they’ve gotten used to them,” she said. “The kadyrovtsy are much more dangerous for local residents in terms of persecuting entire families or kidnapping individual relatives. It’s easier and more convenient for them to victimize a person. The federal troops simply don’t have such complete information about the local residents.” Chechens are willing to discuss abuses by the federal troops by not those of the kadryovtsy, which means that kidnappings are underreported, accounting for official reports that the number of kidnappings in the republic has dropped.

According to Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial, 396 people were kidnapped in 2004, compared with 495 in 2003. While the general situation did not improve much, the number of people found dead with signs of violence and/or torture dropped from 52 in 2003 to 24 in 2004. Of the 396 kidnapped in 2004, 189 were freed – some of them after Ramzan Kadyrov intervened personally – 24 were found dead and 173 disappeared without a trace. In all cases, Cherkasov said, the kidnappers turned out to be members of Chechen “power structures,” none of whom were prosecuted.

In October of last year, Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Lema Khasuev, reported 2,500 people had been kidnapped during the preceding four and a half years, while in December 2004, the Southern Federal District branch of the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that 2,437 people had been kidnapped during that period, 347 of whom were subsequently freed. The Council of Europe last September put forward a figure of 2,300 disappearances, while a Chechen governmental working group puts the number at 2,800. Cherkasov concluded that the number of people kidnapped during the last five and a half years between 3,500 and 5,000.

Oleg Orlov, who is chairman of Memorial’s council, reported that 18 people were kidnapped in the republic in January of this year alone. “Out of this number, three people were freed; the fate of 14 remains unknown,” he said. “Another person who was believed kidnapped is currently under investigation.”

Vladimir Kravchenko, the Chechen Republic’s Prosecutor denied Memorial’s figures concerning both disappearances over the last five years and in January, saying they “do not correspond to the data that the republic’s law-enforcement organs have available,” Itar-Tass reported on February 7. “Based on their data, in turns out that the number of disappearances in the republic is growing, whereas the situation is directly the opposite,” Kravchenko said. “Compared with last year, the number of disappearances this year has decreased by 3.5 times.” He said that 21 disappearances had been registered since the beginning of the year, but that 16 involved disappearances that took place last year, suggesting that people “are starting to trust the law-enforcement organs more” and thus reporting disappearances to the police more often. The real number of disappearances since the start of the year, Kravchenko said, is five, compared to 31 who disappeared during January 2004. Since 1999, he said, 2,540 people disappeared – 520 of whom were subsequently freed.