“The pattern of enforced disappearances in Chechnya has reached the level of… a dire human rights crisis,” said New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday.
“Thousands of people have ‘disappeared’ in Chechnya since [the beginning of the current war between separatist and pro-Moscow forces in] 1999, with the full knowledge of the Russian authorities,” said a press release.
The organisation called on the UN Human Rights Commission to “adopt a resolution condemning enforced disappearances in Chechnya, urging the Russian government to immediately adopt measures to stop the practice”.
HRW called a decision by the European Union not to include Chechnya on the agenda of this year’s meeting of the commission “unconscionable” and urged that it be reversed.
“It is astounding that the European Union has decided to take no action on Chechnya at the Commission,” the HRW statement said.
“To look the other way while crimes against humanity are being committed is unconscionable.”
Since the beginning of the second Russo-Chechen war in a decade, between 3000 and 5000 people have disappeared without a trace in Chechnya, after being taken away by either Russian soldiers or pro-Moscow Chechen forces.
“The pattern of enforced disappearances in Chechnya has reached the level of… a dire human rights crisis. Thousands of people have ‘disappeared’ in Chechnya since 1999, with the full knowledge of the Russian authorities”
Human Rights Watch report
“Russia has the inglorious distinction of being a world leader in enforced disappearances,” the report said.
The UN defines enforced disappearances as “when a person is taken into custody by state agents, and the authorities subsequently deny that the victim is in their custody or conceal the victim’s whereabouts or fate in a way that places the victim beyond the protection of the law”.
The pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya has opened nearly 2000 investigations into disappearance claims, which “demonstrates the Russian government’s awareness of the scale of the problem, even if it denies responsibility,” said HRW.
“Not a single person has been held fully accountable for a ‘disappearance’ since the conflict began in 1999,” creating an atmosphere of “complete immunity”.
Climate of fear
In the rare cases when the detained people are released, “none of the cases resulted in security force members being held responsible for the disappearances”.
Vladimir Putin says there will be
The atomsphere of fear in Chechnya has reached unprecedented proportions during the past year as Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the slain Chechen leader who is widely believed to head a 5000-strong militia, has consolidated his power.
“People who have survived the chaos of two wars and actively protested the abuses perpetrated in their villages are now too terrified to open the door even to their neighbours, let alone to complain,” the report said.
“It’s worse than war,” the report quotes one witness as saying. “Ask anyone here – we are all weeping from fear.”
Moscow recently gave Kadyrov a Hero of Russia medal.
People who go missing fall into three main categories: men suspected of being rebel fighters, women suspected of being potential bombers and the relatives of separatists.
Last year they included a 59-year-old man who disappeared on his way to a village mosque; a 20-year-old woman taken by 15 armed men from her home at 2.30 in the morning; and four men who were taken after being beaten by 30 reportedly drunk soldiers who burst into their yard at 4:00 am and looted the house.
The 57-page report, based on interviews conducted during the winter in the war-torn province, includes an appendix of 36 disappearances.
“People who have survived the chaos of two wars and actively protested the abuses perpetrated in their villages are now too terrified to open the door even to their neighbours, let alone to complain”
Human Rights Watch report
“The soldiers then went to Adam Demelkhanov’s room, where his mother heard a gunshot fired,” read one passage, describing how 30 soldiers broke into a house in the Starye Atagi village at 3am on 7 November and took the 21-year-old away.
“The soldiers dragged Demelkhanov by the feet down the stairs and out to the cars parked near the house,” the report said.
“I could even hear the knocking of his head against the stairs,” the report quoted a relative of his as saying. “He showed no signs of life. If at least he had moaned! But nothing, he was unconscious. And the trail of blood went on for about 100m where they had dragged him. They dragged him like a dog.”
The second-year student at Chechen State University has not been heard from since.
Russian authorities have yet to respond to the report’s allegations. However, Moscow says it is waging war on “Chechen terrorists” and its goal is to bring stability to the region.