12 June 2005, 20:51

Amnesty International: Russia's North Caucasus

Covering events from January - December 2004

Serious human rights violations continued to be committed in the context of the conflict in the Chechen Republic (Chechnya), belying claims by the authorities that the situation was "normalizing". The security forces enjoyed virtual impunity for abuses. Chechen armed opposition groups were responsible for abuses including bomb attacks and hostage-taking in which hundreds of people were killed. Human rights defenders and people pursuing justice for human rights violations through the European Court of Human Rights were harassed and assaulted; several were killed or "disappeared". Several thousand people displaced from Chechnya remained in Ingushetia, despite pressure from the authorities to return. The human rights situation in Ingushetia deteriorated, especially following an attack by a Chechen armed opposition group in Ingushetia in June. Torture and ill-treatment in places of detention continued to be reported throughout the Russian Federation. Attacks, some of them fatal, on members of ethnic and national minorities and on foreign nationals were reported in many regions but convictions for racist attacks were rare.

Background

In March, Vladimir Putin was re-elected President. International observers judged the elections to be "well administered" but criticized the overt pro-Putin bias of the state-controlled media. Around 25.5 million people were living below subsistence level, according to official statistics. There were mass protests over proposals to overhaul the social benefits system, replacing travel, housing and health care benefits with monthly cash payments.

A law was passed in June banning demonstrations in various public places including close to presidential residences, court buildings and prisons and placing severe restrictions on the organization of other demonstrations and public meetings. There were reports of demonstrations dispersed violently by law enforcement agencies.

The length of time that someone suspected of "terrorism-related" offences could be held without charge was extended to 30 days. In June the state Duma (parliament) approved legislation increasing penalties for "terrorism-related" offences; the maximum sentence was increased from 20 years to life imprisonment.

In December the Duma voted to abolish elections for the governors of the regions who would in future be appointed by the President, despite widespread criticism that this represented a curtailment of civil and political rights.

For the third time, the UN Commission on Human Rights failed to adopt a resolution on the human rights situation in Chechnya. In October the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, in its report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, condemned the human rights situation in Chechnya as "catastrophic".

Chechen conflict

"Disappearances", killings, torture and ill-treatment of civilians were frequently reported in the context of the Chechen conflict. Many of the abuses occurred during targeted raids by Russian federal and Chechen forces. In most cases the Russian and Chechen authorities failed to conduct prompt, independent and thorough investigations into allegations of human rights violations against the civilian population.

Increasingly, reports suggested that violations, and in particular "disappearances", were being carried out by so-called Kadyrovtsy, Chechen security forces under the command of Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

  • In February, over 80 relatives of Omar Khambiev, a former Chechen Minister of Health, were rounded up from various parts of Chechnya by the Kadyrovtsy. They were reportedly tortured and ill-treated in an attempt to stop Omar Khambiev speaking out about violations in Chechnya and to force his brother, Magomed Khambiev, a leader of a Chechen armed opposition group, to surrender.
  • At 2am on 27 March, military vehicles carrying masked uniformed men entered the village of Duba-Yurt. Nineteen houses were raided and 11 men detained. Three were released soon afterwards. The bodies of the remaining eight were found on 9 April several kilometres away, reportedly bearing marks of torture and multiple gunshot wounds.
  • In April, a court in Rostov-on-Don found four members of a special Russian military intelligence unit not guilty of the murder of six civilians in Chechnya. Although the four admitted to the killings, the court ruled that their actions were not punishable as they had been following orders. The decision was widely criticized and the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation quashed the verdict. A new trial started in October.

Abuses by armed groups

In February bomb explosions on the Moscow metro during the rush hour resulted in up to 41 deaths and more than 100 injured. President Putin was quick to blame Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov for the attack, although this was denied; no other group claimed responsibility.

In May, Akhmad Kadyrov, President of the Chechen Republic, was assassinated in a bomb explosion while watching a Victory Day parade in the Dinamo stadium in Grozny. An eight-year-old girl was also among the casualties.

In August, two passenger aeroplanes exploded in mid-air over central Russia killing some 90 people.

In September, more than 1,000 people, several hundred of them children, were taken hostage in a school in Beslan, North Ossetia. Nearly 350 people are thought to have died when explosives were detonated in the school and in the ensuing shoot-out between hostage-takers, armed local civilians and security forces. Shamil Basaev, leader of a Chechen armed opposition group, claimed responsibility for the hostage-taking as well as for the explosion of the two aeroplanes. The events triggered fears of spreading instability throughout the volatile North Caucasus region.

Violence against women in Chechnya Women were increasingly detained and tortured in order to make them confess to cooperating with Chechen armed groups. There were reports of rape in detention.

  • "Madina" (not her real name) was detained in April by Russian federal forces. She was blindfolded and taken to the main Russian military base in Khankala. She was held there for two weeks and allegedly subjected to electric shocks every day. She was also allegedly stripped naked, beaten and sexually abused by groups of officers, and threatened with rape. Madina was reportedly released after two weeks and told that the officers had made a mistake in detaining her. She said she was threatened that she would be killed if she reported what had happened to her.
  • Milana Ozdoeva, a widow from Kotar Yurt in the Achkhoi-Martan region of the Chechen Republic, was reportedly questioned by a member of the Russian federal forces on 5 and 9 January. According to her neighbours, on 19 January several men came to her home and took her away. They refused to let her take her two-month-old baby with her. Milana Ozdoeva subsequently "disappeared".

The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women visited Chechnya in December. In a subsequent statement, the Rapporteur highlighted the climate of fear and insecurity in the region due to abuse of the civilian population by security forces and Chechen armed groups.

Conflict spreads beyond Chechnya Human rights abuses characteristic of the Chechen conflict were increasingly reported in Ingushetia and other North Caucasus regions. Raids by Russian federal and Chechen security forces resulted in "disappearances" and killings. Attacks by Chechen armed opposition groups resulted in dozens of casualties in Ingushetia.

Tent camps for internally displaced people were closed down and the authorities put increasing pressure on displaced Chechens to return home, despite well-founded fears about the security situation in Chechnya.

  • Rashid Ozdoev, Ingush Deputy Prosecutor, "disappeared" in March after his car was stopped by armed men reportedly identified as from the Federal Security Service (FSB). There were reports that he was taken to the Russian military base at Khankala and held under a false name, but his whereabouts had not been established by the end of 2004. In the course of his work, Rashid Ozdoev had previously raised concerns with the Ingush and Russian federal authorities about unlawful actions by the FSB.
  • Two students were killed in March when a car they were sitting in with two other young people was fired on from a helicopter. The failure of the authorities to investigate the killing led to a demonstration in Nazran, Ingushetia, during which police detained a number of students, allegedly beat them and threatened them with expulsion from university.
  • In June Ingush police and Russian federal security forces raided a settlement of people displaced from Chechnya on a former dairy farm in Altievo, Nazran district, Ingushetia. They reportedly ordered more than 1,000 of the occupants, including children, to vacate their living quarters while they carried out an inspection. Excessive force was reportedly used during the inspection, as shots were repeatedly fired in the air and into walls. Some of the women were reportedly made to partially undress in front of men. The displaced people were ordered to leave the camp within two days or the settlement would be burned down. Thirty-six men were arrested and held incommunicado; most were released after five days, nine were released a month later.

Racially motivated crimes

Discrimination against Chechens remained commonplace throughout the Russian Federation. They were subjected to arbitrary document checks and searches by the authorities. Following the Moscow metro bombing in February, and the hostage-taking in Beslan in September, human rights groups reported an increase in the number and severity of attacks on Chechens and others from the Caucasus living in Moscow and other cities.

Despite statements by the authorities to the contrary, Meskhetians living in Krasnodar Territory continued to be denied citizenship and registration, resulting in discrimination in almost every aspect of daily life, including in education, employment and health care.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders and people seeking justice through the European Court of Human Rights were harassed; some were tortured and killed.

  • Imran Ezhiev, head of the North Caucasus office of the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship, was detained by a group of armed men in military uniform on 29 January. He was taken to a police station in Sleptsovskaia village, Ingushetia, where he was reportedly beaten and threatened with "disappearance" by police officers. He was released the next day following the intervention of the head of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Commission.

  • Anzor Pokaev was detained, allegedly by federal troops, during a raid on his home in Starye Atagi in Chechnya in April. His body, bearing several gunshot wounds, was found at the roadside the next morning. His father and nine others had filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights in July 2003 concerning the "disappearances" in April 2002 of their relatives, who included Anzor Pokaev's brother, Amir.

In May, President Putin made unprecedented criticism of the non-governmental community, questioning many organizations' real motivation. Draft amendments to the tax code passed a first reading in the Duma in August; the proposals included significant restrictions on sources of financing for non-governmental organizations.

Media freedom

Journalists were criticized by government officials and persecuted and harassed by the authorities and by non-state actors. Following the hostage-taking in Beslan, concerns were raised about the way the government had provided information on the event and how journalists had been prevented from gathering information.

  • In September, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist, reported that she lost consciousness after drinking a cup of tea on a flight to North Ossetia. On arrival in Rostov-on-Don, she was taken to hospital and put in intensive care. Doctors later told her that she may have been poisoned, but that medical staff had allegedly been ordered to destroy the initial tests. Anna Politkovskaya has been detained and threatened several times in connection with her reporting on Chechnya.

Torture and ill-treatment

Police routinely used torture and ill-treatment to extract confessions. Investigations into allegations of torture or ill-treatment were rare and often inadequate, contributing to a climate of impunity.

  • In June, 15-year-old Victor Knaus from the Volgograd region was allegedly beaten and forced to confess to the murder of two children.

Riot police were reportedly responsible for beatings and other forms of ill-treatment in a number of prisons throughout the Russian Federation. Prisons continued to be overcrowded. Conditions in many pre-trial detention facilities were so poor that they amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Conditions for prisoners serving life sentences also amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and in some cases possibly torture. Every aspect of their imprisonment was designed to ensure their isolation from the outside world and other prisoners.

Fair trial concerns

***

Violence against women

There was increased coverage in the media of issues such as violence in the home and abuses including rape by the security forces in Chechnya. Russia ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (known as the Palermo Protocol). Thousands of Russian women are reportedly trafficked to countries around the world each year for forced sexual exploitation. Russia also ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Women's Convention.

See the source full-text file here.

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