On June 14, a military court in Rostov-on-Don found Captain Eduard Ulman and three subordinates guilty of the 2002 killing of six civilians, including a woman and a teenager, Reuters reported. Ulman and two other servicemen failed to show up in court but were sentenced in absentia for 14, 12 and 11 years respectively. Police are searching for the three (Chechnya Weekly, April 19). The fourth serviceman, present in court, was jailed for nine years.
As Reuters noted, Ulman’s group, which opened fire on a civilian vehicle in January 2002 and killed the survivors, had been repeatedly retried and acquitted, prompting outrage from Chechens and human rights groups. Human rights activists welcomed the news of the convictions. “It’s a victory for justice that the group was sentenced finally,” Allison Gill, head of the Russian office of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told Reuters. “We can only hope that this is the first in a long series of trials that will hold (those guilty) to accountability and justice for crimes committed in Chechnya.”
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said the court had made a “just decision,” Reuters reported. “All must be equal before the law, irrespective of personalities, ranks or merits,” Itar-TASS quoted him as saying. Newsru.com reported that the Chechen Republic’s leadership was happy with the guilty verdict in the Ulman case but thought the punishment could have been more severe. “The results of this trial have been long awaited in the Chechen Republic,” said Chechen Vice-Premier Ziyad Sabsabi, who is the republic’s representative in Moscow. “Putting it mildly, we expected more, but the fact that the court handed down a guilty verdict is important. I think that to some extent the sentence was softened; it could have been harsher. But all the same, the guilty verdict is evidence that the court handed down an objective verdict. The most important thing is that those who wanted to politicize the process were unsuccessful.”
Gennady Gudkov, a member of the State Duma’s Security Committee, said the guilty verdict set “an important precedent” but that he was not happy with the trial because it did not identify “those servicemen who ordered Ulman’s group to kill the seized Chechens.” Gudkov said the “guilt of these high-ranking unnamed officers is significantly greater” than the guilt of Ulman and his co-defendants, adding that it was also worth asking whether those who gave the orders to kill the Chechen civilians were behind the “professionally organized” disappearance of Ulman and his co-defendants.