Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 20

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) on May 19 issued a report “Impunity: A Leading Force behind Continued Massive Violations in Chechnya.” The report, which was posted on the Vienna-based group’s website (ihf-hr.org), stated that despite claims by Chechen and Russian Federation officials including President Vladimir Putin, virtually no one has been brought to justice for thousands of severe human rights violations in Chechnya, a situation that perpetuates the violent conflict there. By way of example, the IHF report noted that while an August 2004 account indicated that 84 servicemen had been convicted in military court hearings, only 22 were sentenced to a deprivation of liberty, while 29 received suspended sentences, three had their military service restricted, seven were fined, and 23 cases were closed following an amnesty.

While Russian and international human rights groups have documented thousands of disappearances and acts of torture since the start of the second Chechen war in 1999, the IHF reported, only one military serviceman, Colonel Yuri Budanov, has been convicted of abduction, and only one police officer, Sergei Lapin has been convicted of “intentional infliction of serious harm to health.” The report described the Lapin case and that of Captain Eduard Ulman in detail. The IHF also cited sources in Chechnya who called the situation there today “worse than war,” characterized by arbitrariness, non-enforcement of laws, intimidation, and the vulnerability of civilians, who continue to be victimized by security forces.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Grushkin of Memorial told Interfax on May 23 that 1,579 people have been abducted in Chechnya since 2002, and that of these, 917 disappeared, 492 were released, 160 were found dead and ten people who were thought abducted turned out to be in custody pending trial. According to Grushkin, 97 people were kidnapped in Chechnya last year, and 53 of them are still missing. “The problem of abductions is still a concern for the Chechen republic,” he said. “As far as we know, law-enforcement agencies are behind the majority of the kidnapping cases. Grushkin noted that Memorial is only monitoring the situation on 30 percent of Chechnya’s territory and “cannot register all the crimes even in that area.”

On May 18, Kavkazky Uzel quoted an unnamed Memorial staffer as saying that there have been more than 3,000 extra-judicial killings in Chechnya since that since the start of the second Chechen war. “This does not include the murder of civilians in artillery barrages, bombardment, large-scale security sweeps, etc.,” the staffer said. “We are speaking specifically about cases in which a person was taken away from his home by the staff of power agencies and subsequently found dead.”

Taisa Isaeva, director of the information center of the Council of Chechen Non-Governmental Organizations, painted an equally grim picture of the human rights situation in Chechnya in an interview with Kavkazky Uzel published on May 19. “Practically daily we get information about murders, kidnapping, and the unsanctioned detention of civilians,” she told the website. “The authorities speak a lot about the need to stabilize the situation in the republic, but in reality the situation in Chechnya, precisely in the area of the observation of human rights, remains extremely critical. Just during the last two weeks, local inhabitants recorded several instances in which people who were earlier detained by the siloviki were found murdered and frequently dressed in military uniforms. The most notable [case] is the murder of a resident of the city of Gudermes, Ilman Vakhidov, who was taken away from his home in March of this year. According to information we have received, on May 13 his body, dressed in a military uniform, was delivered to the Gudermes district ROVD [Regional Department of Internal Affairs] together with the body of another murdered young person. Both of them, according to the claim of the siloviki, were annihilated as the result of a special operation against [rebel] fighters carried out on the outskirts of the village of Ishkhoi-Yurt.”

“In addition, local inhabitants note instances in which personnel of law-enforcement organs bury the bodies of people…without conducting the appropriate identification procedures,” Isaeva continued, citing an incident in the settlement of Sernovodsk on May 4 in which a group of rebel fighters was destroyed. Local eyewitnesses reported that security force killed two women who had nothing to do with the militants, Isaeva said. “They claim that it is possible that they were the wives or relatives of the militants, but that they were not any kind of suicide bombers, as was officially announced.” The federal authorities claimed that the women killed in Sernovodsk had been tasked with blowing up a truck rigged with 1,200 kilograms of explosives in Grozny in an attack planned by Shamil Basaev, Doku Umarov and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, but were killed when they were approached by Interior Ministry personnel and one of them detonated a suicide bomber’s belt. Two militants who were with the women opened fire on the Interior Ministry officers and died in the subsequent gun battle, as did one Interior Ministry officer (see Chechnya Weekly, May 11).