Torture Remains a Major Problem

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 13

Kavkazky Uzel, on March 28, quoted Oleg Khabibrakhmanov, head of the Inter-regional Department of the Committee Against Torture, as saying that based upon information that it had provided to the Chechen parliament last month, the Chechen prosecutor’s office has begun to look into the failure of some its employees, including staffers of the Shali district prosecutor’s office, to prevent the abuse of detainees. However, he was not optimistic that this would change the situation for the better. “According to our material, the Chechen prosecutor’s office violates the law more than the rest [of the Russian prosecutor’s offices],” he said. “They particularly don’t like victims. And, honestly speaking, I don’t see improvements in the situation. They find any way possible to prevent victims, for example, from reading the criminal cases against them.”

Commenting on the situation involving ORB-2, the federal Interior Ministry unit which maintains detention facilities in Chechnya that are particularly notorious and has been denounced by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov (Chechnya Weekly, March 22), Khabibrakhmanov said that the unit continues to work according to its normal regime, despite the controversy surrounding it. “Of course, ORB-2 is not the only structure in Chechnya where human rights are being violated,” he said. “However, there are more complaints against it than any other, and the civilian population is frightened of ORB-2 in particular.”

Khabibrakhmanov said that the heads of the Chechen prosecutor’s office do not properly investigate torture allegations. “There are cases in which people are kidnapped by unknown employees of force structures in military uniforms,” he said. “It is understood that they are representatives of law-enforcement bodies, but we are unable to establish which ones. And the prosecutor’s office also does nothing [to find out]. The Committee Against Torture has no power – we cannot launch inquiries, checks, etc. The prosecutor’s office has such power, but does not use it.”

Khabibrakhmanov told Kavkazky Uzel that people in Chechnya are afraid to report instances of torture to the authorities, and that when torture victims seek medical treatment, doctors refuse to record signs of torture. “The people are afraid of everything,” he said.

On March 27, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) released its annual report for 2007, which includes a detailed section on Chechnya and the adjacent Russian regions. It states that Ramzan Kadyrov and his subordinates engaged in “gross human rights violations” in 2006. According to the report, forces loyal to Kadyrov as well as other pro-Moscow forces in Chechnya – and “to a lesser degree” federal forces – “continued to engage in abductions, detentions in secret prisons, ‘disappearances,’ torture and falsification of criminal cases with almost complete impunity.” According to the IHF, similar abuses were also reported from the other republics in the North Caucasus, and displaced persons from Chechnya who have remained in the neighboring republics were subject to pressure to return to Chechnya.

The IHF report states that although the actions of Kadyrov and his subordinates were “supported by the Kremlin,” the federal authorities “disclaimed responsibility for what was going on in Chechnya” by depicting the conflict as an internal one rather than a separatist conflict. The Kremlin gave Kadyrov “unconditional backing” and did not hold him accountable for any of the actions he ordered, “from forcibly collecting donations from citizens for the purpose of speeding up the reconstruction of the Chechen capital of Grozny to unlawful police operations,” the report states.

The IHF report also states that while there were no Chechen rebel attacks on civilians in 2006, “the rebels continued to ambush federal police and military as well as pro-Moscow Chechen units.” It adds that the rebel movement was “considerably weakened” by the deaths of rebel leaders Shamil Basaev and Abdul Khalim Sadulaev.

The Associated Press, on March 27, quoted Sune Segal, spokesman for the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, a Copenhagen-based umbrella group for 200 rehabilitation centers and programs worldwide, as saying that large numbers of people from Chechnya and Uzbekistan have, as the news agency put it, “flooded into” European centers for torture rehabilitation. Segal said the rehabilitation council’s member centers treat about 100,000 torture victims and their relatives each year and that Iraqis comprise perhaps the largest group of torture victims seeking assistance.

Meanwhile, ITAR-Tass reported on March 22 that four members of the central staff of the Chechen Interior Ministry’s criminal investigation directorate had been detained by members of the republic’s Internal Security Directorate (ISD). “The Prosecutor’s Office of the Chechen Republic has instituted criminal proceedings against the investigators under three articles – exceeding powers, illegal deprivation of freedom with the aim of extortion and receiving a bribe,” ISD chief Sharpudi Lorsanov told the news agency. “On the instructions of the president of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Internal Security Directorate is carrying out special operations to expose ‘officers-turned-crooks’ in the forces, and we already have the first results of this work. We will systematically continue to get rid of people of this kind.” The news agency quoted Kadyrov himself as saying: “The people of Chechnya have to trust law enforcers, not fear them. The so-called ‘officers-turned-crooks’ have no place in the structure of the Interior Ministry of the Chechen Republic. Crime in law enforcement bodies should be reduced to zero.”