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Clean up operations (mop up, sweep, cleansing)

source: Human Rights Watch; Memorial

The following material contains victims’ photos, some may find it disturbing

Officially, clean-up operations are called “checking the registration of the citizens on their place of residence and during their travels in the Republic of Chechnya”. In a sweep operation, Russian forces typically seal off a village and conduct house-to-house searches to detain suspected fighters or their supporters.

However, most people who are detained disappear without a trace. Other human rights violations are reported.

Operations began during the Chechen war. Virtually all men of aged between 15 to 60 (“of fighting age”) could be detained for questioning into the infamous filtration camps. What happened after detention was a subject of controversy.

The clean-up operations continued after the war and are still taking place today. The operations have spread to Ingushetia, Dagestan and also Kabardino-Balkaria and neighboring republics. In Chechnya, Vladimir Putin handed over responsibility to local militias in 2003 after he appointed Pro-Russian Ramzan Kadyrov as acting president, although Russian troops are still present in the area and still carry out various operations.

Numerous human rights violations have been reported during these operations: shooting people on spot, rapes on spot, robbery, destruction of property (blowing up houses/ setting houses on fire), torture.

According to an UN Refugee Agency report, some cities and villages have had over 30 sweep operations.

During mop-up operations, civilians fall victims indiscriminately. Photo taken in Dagestan village.

During mop-up operations, civilians fall victims indiscriminately. Photo taken in a Dagestani village.

“Memorial” is a Moscow-based Human Rights organization which has documented numerous violations. Memorial can be considered the single most active organization in North Caucasus, which despite having its own members falling victims to constant threats and even murder – it continued to carry out its work.


Several events from Argun, Chechnya as reported by Memorial – the following are extracts  Read full content here

Argun 2003 – “Disappeared” found in unmarked graves


Sometimes people are “found”. On 2 March, another man was found in Argun who had disappeared during a mopping-upoperation a year ago.

Yashurkaev Abdul-Vakhab Sulimovich, born 1940 and a resident of Argun, was arrested during a mopping-up operation carried out by federal troops in Argun between 11 and 14 March 2001 and disappeared. In total, 11 people disappeared after being detained in the operation.

On 13 March 2001, in Khankaly – the main federal military base in Chechnya, a grave was found containing the bodies of four of the 11 “disappeared” from Argun. The bodies all bore signs of a violent death and the military prosecutor opened an investigation (No. 14/33/0132-01) into the discovery.

The relatives of those who had disappeared made enquiries with various official bodies but were unable to obtain any information on A-V.S. Yashurkaev.

One year later, the relatives finally obtained details of the grave near the elevator.

On 2 March 2002, three bodies were exhumed. One of them was identified as that of Yashurkaev Abdul-Vakhab Sulimovich. On 3 March 2002, the remains of A-V.S. Yashurkaev were handed over to his relatives.


Statement of Yashurkaeva Zalpa, widow of Yashurkaev Abdul-Vakhab

The corpse was headless and there were knife wounds on the body. The body was preserved as if he had only died a week ago. There were blue weals on his legs and across his ribs as if they had beaten him with clubs. The body was clean, as if they had washed him. On his chest was hair from his beard. The left shoulder had been smashed and you could see the bones.

When he had the operation, he had a skin graft and they took 58 centimetres of skin from his leg. I recognized him by the marks from the operation.

As for the other bodies: the bones of one had been separated; the bones of the lower half of the other one’s body had remained together and the muscles were still there on the legs below the knees. It looked as though the flesh had been cut from the bones. Maybe the dogs had gnawed them. They weren’t able to identify anyone else. There were no heads.

The youths saw that the dogs were digging up something and pulling at it. They went up, pulled at it and realized that it was a human leg. They went to the commandant’s office and said there were bodies behind the flour factory. That was on Thursday (28 February). But the soldiers wouldn’t let us get there. For three days they said there were no bodies. We said we wouldn’t leave until they were exhumed. On 2 March at 4.00pm two armoured personnel carriers went out there. They dug them up and brought them back to the commandant’s office. 

In 2005, Memorial group made a documentary on Zumsoy, a village in Itum Kali, emptied by repeated clean up operations. A summary execution can be seen at 6:50. Also, Myandi Muhaev (who makes an appearance in this doco) is later detained and tortured.

Argun 2003 – Four men picked up during clean up operation are found dead near commandant’s office

On Saturday 2 March at around midday, 4 Argun residents were seized and taken away to an unknown destination by soldiers who arrived in armoured vehicles. The residents were: Bekhaev Beslan, born 1974, Muzaev Alikhan, born 1979, Idrisov Shamil, born 1984, and Bargaev Apti, born 1983. According to their relatives, 3 were seized in their homes, and Idrisov was seized at a nearby crossroads. It appears that the soldiers simply grabbed the first people they could find. The soldiers were in all likelihood internal ministry troops from the 34th shumilovskaya region operational brigade. Within an hour, relatives had made written statements to various official authorities. For 2 days they were unable to obtain any information.

By chance, on 4 March at the offices of the town administration, they heard that four bodies were lying in the courtyard of the military commandant’s office with multiple gunshot wounds. The relatives identified them as those who had been arrested two days earlier.

According to the soldiers, they were fighters who had been killed in a skirmish during the night of 3 March, from Sunday to Monday.

Beslan Bekhaev, born 1974 has multiple stab wounds to his chest and abdomen

Beslan Bekhaev, born 1974, has multiple stab wounds to his chest and abdomen, which does not coincide with the reported rebel-army shooting.

Alkhazur (Idrisov Shamil relative)

Shamil Idrisov, born 1984 chechen men Argun

Shamil Idrisov, born 1984

The first people to see the bodies were builders working at the commandant’s office. It was morning and they saw the bodies being dumped into a room at the commandant’s office. One of the workers recognised Shamil. Then the soldiers chased them away.


Arbi (Muzaev relative)

Alikhan Muzaev born 1979 chechen men Argun

Alikhan Muzaev born 1979

I bathed and cleaned Muzaev Alikhan. There were knife wounds on his legs. They were made before he died. There was blood. His skull was smashed. He had clearly been dragged by the hair before he died. On the crown of his head there was almost no hair. There was a large bruise on his left hand. The skin on his cheekbone was torn. His knees were swollen and it looked as if he had been forced to kneel for a long period.


Bargaev Apti’s father

Apti Bargaev, born 1983 chechen men Argun

Apti Bargaev, born 1983

We collected the bodies and spoke with the senior investigator from the prosecutor’s office. He is called Sasha. But he said to me: they called us at 7.00am and said to us that they had been involved in an attack during the night from Sunday to Monday. When we arrived there were four bodies and by all four there were weapons.

I asked him (Sasha), how they could have been fighting between Sunday and Monday if they were arrested on Saturday. Their arms bear marks from having been tied. How could they fight if they were tied up?

Father of Alikhan

Alikhan Muzaev chechen men Argun

Inspection of the body of Muzaev revealed stab wounds to his legs

Each of them had three knife wounds to the back. Above the knees there were other knife wounds. There were also wounds on their buttocks. On my son, there were no wounds at all on the front of his body, only on the back. 16 bullet wounds. 7.62 calibre bullets. He had been beaten heavily. There were even bruises under his armpits and there were holes, which looked as if they had been made with a knife.

The bodies of B. Bekhaev and A. Bargaev. A. Bargaev's wrist shows clearly visible marks from having been tied up for an extended period (probably with wire). Similar marks were on all four bodies.

The bodies of B. Bekhaev and A. Bargaev. A. Bargaev’s wrist shows clearly visible marks from having been tied up for an extended period (probably with wire). Similar marks were on all four bodies.











Sweep operations described by the International Federation for Human Rights  (read full report here)

The federal troops surround the village with armored vehicles and prevent movements outside the village. The soldiers deploy in all the streets, there are posts every 10, 20 or 30 meters and then the village is divided in several zones. At night, the soldiers withdraw to their bases most of the time but firing persists in the streets and flares are launched. It is impossible for the inhabitants to get the wounded or the sick out of the village.
Army vehicles bear no visible numbers and the license plates are covered with earth or mud. The soldiers are masked most frequently and the inhabitants only very seldom know who they are faced with.
The soldiers band together to enter the houses. Frequently and in an arbitrary way, the Russian soldiers take away men, aged 15 to 60. These operations are supposed to “check the registration of the citizen on his place of residence”, yet, when arresting somebody, the soldiers often don’t even look at his passport.
They can also propose not arresting the person if he or his relatives pay immediately. Often times, even after offering “ransom” the person is still detained.
Almost every person who went through the “filtration” system can testify the practice of ill-treatments and torture. A frequent torture method is torture by electric shocks.

If the person is still alive after going through the filtration places, his family is often offered the possibility to “buy him back”. It is often impossible for the person to move on his own due to the assaults and torture inflicted.
Sometimes the bodies can be found thrown in the wild, near the village or much further. But the persons arrested often simply disappear and the families are unable to trace.

Although most times it is men who are targeted, women fall victims as well. Women describe their time in detention

Staryi Atagi 6-11 march, 2002 – Federal authorities claimed Staryi Atagi harbored rebel fighters.

In what was to be the 20th sweep operation in Staryi Atagi, 15 men were detained between 6-11 March.

On March 7, an abandoned house was blown up by the Russian army in Atagi and the villagers found 5 completely cremated bodied in the house. Although they were beyond identification, one was recognized (by gold teeth) as being one of the men detained on previous day. Not far from the spot, a car with another 3 cremated bodies was found.

Atagi bodies Chechnya Russia operation

Mother of Imran Kuntaev recognized her son among the cremated bodies

Atagi houses burnt down Chechnya Russia operation

Torture and rape stalk the streets of Chechnya

At 5am on 14 April 2002, an armoured vehicle moved slowly down Soviet Street. A young brown-haired man, covered in blood, his hands and feet bound, stood onboard. The vehicle stopped and the man was pushed off and brought over to a nearby chain-link fence. The car took off and there was a loud bang. The force of the explosion, caused either by a grenade or dynamite, sent the man’s head flying into the neighbouring street, called Lenin’s Commandments.

Blowing people up, dead or alive, she reports, is the latest tactic introduced by the federal army into the conflict. It was utilised perhaps most effectively on 3 July in the village of Meskyer Yurt, where 21 men, women and children were bound together and blown up, their remains thrown into a ditch.

From the perspective of the perpetrators, this method of killing is highly practical; it prevents the number of bodies from being counted, or possibly from ever being found. It has not always succeeded in this respect, however. Since the spring, dogs have been digging up body parts in various corners of Chechnya, sometimes almost daily.



A man finds his brother’s remains in an abandoned factory; he had been detained 2 months earlier. A school teacher describes his period of detention; he returned home with various mutilations.

The report below starts with the story of a sweep operations undergone by 400 soldiers on a family house, where a 27 year-old architect was detained.

Extract from “Anna, Seven Years on the Frontline” – contains footage of teenage boy beaten and detained during operation; story of a teenage girl detained and murdered. Anna Politkovskaya, who had collected the information and footage, was murdered in 2006 in Moscow.

Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who was dedicated to documenting human rights abuses; she was murdered in 2006 in Moscow. Watch the full documentary below

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