Missing in North Caucasus – Where do people disappear?

“Please save me from here!”

From left to right: Zhanna Ismailova is showing a picture of her youngest son, Rashid Ismailov, 26, who was abducted on May 8, 2012. Wwitnesses saw him being dragged away by men in black uniforms. Oksana and Burliyat Danilin are showing pictures of their husband and son Timur Danilin, 35, abducted on March 24, 2012. Timur managed to call his wife's cell and say: "Please save me from here." Those were the last words she heard from him. Image by Anna Nemtsova. Russia, 2012.

From left to right: Zhanna Ismailova is showing a picture of her youngest son, Rashid Ismailov, 26, who was abducted on May 8, 2012. Wwitnesses saw him being dragged away by men in black uniforms. Oksana and Burliyat Danilin are showing pictures of their husband and son Timur Danilin, 35, abducted on March 24, 2012. Timur managed to call his wife’s cell and say: “Please save me from here.” Those were the last words she heard from him. Image by Anna Nemtsova. Russia, 2012.

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September 11, 2014 Mahachkala, Dagestan – Abduction caught on tape with the infamous “men in black”
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Click on links to view full official reports from Human Rights organizations (PDF files). Reports also contains detailed cases of both male and female victims.

Human Rights Watch  –  “Disappearances” in Chechnya—a Crime Against Humanity

Counterinsurgency, Rights Violations, and Rampant Impunity in Ingushetia

Amnesty International –  Torture, “disappearances” and alleged unfair trials in Russia’s North Caucasus

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Missing in North Caucasus – Where do people disappear?

More than a decade after the end of the last Chechen war, enforced disappearances in Chechnya have become so widespread and systematic that they constitute crimes against humanity. The phenomenon spread to all neighboring republics, especially Ingushetia, Dagestan, North Ossetia.
Russia contends that its operations are its contribution to the
“global campaign against terrorism”. However, the disappearances of people after going into custody represent an unjustified and unlawful abuse of basic human rights.
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Victims
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Between 1999-2004, up to 5.000 people went missing in the small republic of Chechnya. In 2007 – 2.000 unresolved missing cases in Dagestan.
The victims are always civilians or individuals who, when taken from their homes, checkpoints or other locations, are unarmed. They are predominantly men, although after the 2002 Moscow theatre siege where Chechen women were involved, females have also increasingly become victims of “disappearances.”
Since falling under the effective control of the pro-Russian president Ramzan Kadyrov, people are now too terrified to open the door even to their neighbors, let alone to complain. People choose not to report the “disappearances” of their relatives to the authorities, hoping that their silence
might protect their remaining family members. One of the witnesses, a woman who chose not to file a formal complaint about the recent “disappearance” of her son, told Human Rights Watch:
“I searched [for him] everywhere, but did not write a petition [to the
prosecutor]… Here, many who write petitions [themselves]
“disappear”… I was afraid… I have two other sons at home. If I were to
tell someone, [they] might take them away as well.”

People are also increasingly reluctant to talk to human rights workers or journalists, fearing further persecution.

The relatives of 13 victims of “disappearances” who spoke to Human Rights Watch insisted that they not publicize information about their cases in any way. In almost all cases where the “disappeared” person was subsequently released or the relatives found his body, the families either refused to be interviewed or asked not to disclose the names of the victim and his relatives, their place of residence, or any other details that may allow the authorities to identify the witnesses.
Victims who return alive to their families testify of torture during interrogation and of being coerced to admit criminal acts. Once individuals have signed a “confession”, they are reportedly transferred to another detention facility where they have access to a lawyer of their choice and relatives; but the confession is used as “evidence” in court in order to secure a conviction. Amnesty International learned of such cases in Chechnya, as well as in the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
Perpetrators
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In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators are unquestionably government agents—either Russian federal forces or local Chechen security forces who are subordinate to the Russian federal Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Ministry of Defense. According to a Chechen official, 1,814 criminal investigations were opened into enforced disappearances in 2004, yet not a single one has resulted in a conviction.
Kadyrov publicly denied his units’ involvement in abductions and threatened to sue human rights groups accusing them of such crimes.
The Russian authorities have always denied such acts and in certain cases they accused Chechen rebels of committing the kidnappings while pretending to be Russian in order to discredit the Russian authorities.
It is inconceivable that ordinary criminals or Chechen rebel groups could so freely and openly stage the abduction of hundreds of people without interference of the authorities in areas of Chechnya that have been under Russian control since 2000. Thus, direct and circumstantial evidence points to forces under Kadyrov’s command and Russian federal forces as the perpetrators.
Lack of criminal investigation and prosecution into disappearances
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 The absolute lack of progress made in these missing persons investigations is indicative of the authorities’ resistance to bringing perpetrators to justice.
Not a single person has been convicted in relation to a “disappearance.”
According to Memorial, most of the criminal cases are closed or suspended after several months, “due to the impossibility of establishing the identity of the perpetrators.” Law enforcement agencies usually make no effort
to conduct even the most rudimentary investigative actions, such as questioning witnesses or searching for a particular car that had allegedly been used by the perpetrators.
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“Enforced disappearance” – or kidnapped by the authorities
Definition – An enforced disappearance takes place 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.
Often victims of “disappearances” also suffer torture or are summarily executed.
Video below describes the use of torture on Chechen women held by authorities, in what can be described as “enforced disappearance” – during peacetime.

“You are BVP (missing presumed dead). You dont exist and time for you has stopped.”

Report by Memorial Human Rights Center in regards to Chechnya disappearances. Relatives talk about their missing family; teacher describes his experience after “going missing” for 3 months.

Usam Baysayev, member of Memorial human rights group describes treatment of detainees (male and female) – who were officially “missing persons”.  Letter from Memo.ru translated HERE.

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Disappearances in Dagestan

*source Human Rights Brief

Report from 2013 connected to Sochi Olympics “anti-terror” campaign  analyses the overall situation regarding disappearances in Dagestan.

A growing number of abductions and forced disappearances in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, presumably linked to Russia’s efforts to improve security before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, have raised concerns among human rights groups. Between January and October 2013, men in unmarked cars abducted 58 people in Dagestan, 19 of whom have yet to resurface.

Russian security forces have abducted suspected militants in the region for decades. In fact, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR, Court) issued two separate judgments finding violations of both the people who disappear and their families’ human rights.

Numerous relatives of young men abducted between the late 1990s and 2005 in Dagestan filed applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), alleging Russian security forces were responsible for the disappearances and that the Russian government failed to properly investigate. In response to the high volume of applications, the ECtHR began jointly hearing cases in Aslakhanova and others v. Russia, which was decided in December 2012.

The Court found that Russia violated the right to life, guaranteed by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), of all the disappeared men. In addition, the Court also found Russia violated the rights of the applicant family members by causing them to suffer inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3 of the ECHR) .


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Kidnappings Abound in Ingushetia and Transcend its Borders

source

On October 18, hundreds of people blocked a federal highway near Magas, the capital of Ingushetia. The protestors demanded that the government put an end to abductions in the republic. Dzhamaleil Gagiev’s disappearance from the village of Ali-Yurt in Ingushetia on October 14, and the failure of the government to respond to his relatives’ inquiries, triggered a protest action that included slogans like “Against the Terror of the Security Services.” (read more here)

Quick list of unresolved cases of missing people (result of kidnappings) in Ingushetia, made by Mashr human rights NGO – which also makes an appearance in the news report below
Kidnapped list

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When the missing persons are found

Sometimes the missing persons are found. Magomed Aushev Abdulaevich, born 1976 in Nazran district of Ingushetia, went missing on July 28, 2010 while heading for work in North Ossetia.

Magomed Aushev Abdulaevich with family

Magomed Aushev Abdulaevich with family

His body was found on July 30, 2010 with signs of extreme torture (source mashr.org, memo.ru)

Video below shows the state he was found in (warning – graphic content)

Extreme torture is a common practice and most bodies are found in such state, a fact thoroughly documented by Human Rights organizations.

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Russia’s Efforts to Block the United Nations Draft Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances
In 2001 the U.N. Commission on Human Rights started to elaborate  a legal draft for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances. This process started in the late 1980s in order to help eradicate the scourge of “disappearances” in all regions of the world.
While initially mildly supportive of the initiative, Russia became hostile
to the idea of an international treaty aimed at preventing enforced disappearances.
Russia insisted that the definition of “disappearances” should include private actors as perpetrators on the same footing as governments. The Russian proposal represents a violation  international human rights law, which ensures that the rights of individuals are protected and prohibits states from
engaging in activities that would violate those rights. The particular horror of
“disappearances” is that they are a mechanism used by state agents to bypass their own legal institutions and obligations when they find these obligations inconvenient.
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Russia Keeps Killing Suspects in the North Caucasus

To this day, there are constant news headlines about Russian federal forces killing terrorism suspects all across the North Caucasus. This act is officially called “liquidation”.

Those accused of terrorism are almost always dispatched (killed) by the state rather than being brought to trial. “The accused can’t then reveal their accomplices, the middlemen, the organizers who financed terrorism” says lawyer Igor Trunov. After the official news of suspect liquidation, little else is presented about the cases. No proof, no details, nothing.

There is no doubt that certain suspects will oppose arrest. However, the never-ending flow of  terrorism suspects killings, the lack of any trials – coupled with the official reports regarding extrajudicial killings, disappearances and impunity, can only raise suspicion regarding the manner in which these “liquidations” occur.

February 21, 2013 – Extrajudicial Arrests and Killings on the Rise in Ingushetia

Jan 18, 2014 Seven “possible” suspects killed in Dagestan

No further details were offered about the case after the shootout.

Bodies of four killed suspected militants are seen in Derbent region of Dagestan, April 18, 2011.

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Memorial Human Rights Center on disturbing parallels between Crimea and Chechnya

source

Reports from the Crimea are emerging about the detainment and subsequent disappearance of people- journalists, civic activists, and Ukrainian soldiers.

We hope that the detainees and missing persons will be found. However, considering the experience of the armed conflict in Chechnya, these events cannot fail to cause serious concern.

In early March 2014 it was reported that the Russian forces in the Crimea are headed by a general whose troops in the years 1999-2000 were responsible for the enforced disappearance of at least 7 people during the second war in Chechnya. (read more here)

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A recent move by the Russian parliament to restrict the activity of Human Rights organizations in Russia only adds more alarm to the situation in North Caucasus – Human Rights NGO’s decapitated by Kremlin

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Chechnya today – “worse than war”

“It’s worse than a war. During the war, we weren’t so scared. We knew that we might be hit by a bullet, no one was safe from that. But now how can one
sleep through the night? They wake people, take them away, shoot them. I’m
terrified to talk, the prosecutor’s office is terrified – we’re all scared! At any moment [the security forces] might come after anyone of us. Ask anyone here – we are all weeping from fear.”
A father of a young man who was summarily executed in June, 2004, Chechnya, February 4, 2005

“During the war, you could always hide from the bombs. There was always somewhere you could run to. But today you don’t know who to trust. You start to doubt and be suspicious of even your own colleagues. That’s the most frightening thing, worse than during the war.”

Kheda Saratova, Human Rights advocate and head of the Information-Analytical Agency “Objective”

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The war is officially over in Chechnya. However, human rights violations continue to take place on an almost daily basis. This includes enforced disappearances, reports of torture and murder by the federal security forces, acts of intimidation and murder against human rights activists and journalists. Also on a higher level – the introduction of laws by the Russian government, which impede the activity of human rights organizations or any international monitoring presence in North Caucasus.

In 1999, during the second Chechen war, Vladimir Putin ordered federal cleansing operations during which all men aged 15-60 were held for interrogation. Following these operations, thousands of people have disappeared without a trace in the last 15 years.

Today, the operations have switched to “anti-terror operations” and they spread to Ingushetia and Dagestan, and occasionally to Kabardino-Balkaria or Karachai-Cherkessia.

In 2003, Vladimir Putin handed over responsibility to local militias in Chechnya after appointing Pro-Russian Ramzan Kadyrov as acting president, although Russian troops are still present in large numbers in the Chechen republic to carry out various operations. This process has been called “Chechenization” of the conflict.

As noted by photographer Stanley Greene who documented the Chechen conflicts for a decade – some of the men who work to “maintain order in Chechnya” are criminals released from prison. Photo and text by Greene

Vladimir Putin and Beslan Gantemirof. This poster plastered on the wall of a pro-Moscow Chechen shows Gantemirof, a criminal released from prison to take command of the pro-Russian forces in Chechnya. He was serving time for stealing reconstruction funds for Chechens from the 1995 war in Chechnya. Vladimir Putin, who has made the military campaign in Chechnya a deterrent to other would-be secessionists, has brushed aside any suggestion of foreign involvement on Russia’s turbulent southern rim.

Vladimir Putin and Beslan Gantemirof. This poster plastered on the wall of a pro-Moscow Chechen shows Gantemirof, a criminal released from prison to take command of the pro-Russian forces in Chechnya. He was serving time for stealing reconstruction funds for Chechens from the 1995 war in Chechnya. Vladimir Putin, who has made the military campaign in Chechnya a deterrent to other would-be secessionists, has brushed aside any suggestion of foreign involvement on Russia’s turbulent southern rim.

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Disappearances in Chechnya – Crime against humanity

A Human Rights Watch report (see here ) argues that the pattern of enforced disappearances in Chechnya has reached the level of a crime against humanity. It shows that, as part of Russia’s policy of “Chechenization” of the conflict, pro-Moscow Chechen forces have begun to play an increasingly active role in the conflict, gradually replacing federal troops as the main perpetrators of “disappearances” and other human rights violations.

Read more on Missing in North Caucasus – Where do people disappear?

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The following are reports of torture and murder against civilians, human rights activists and journalists which are taking place during “peace-time”. These are mere examples, reality is multiplied thousands of times.

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Bombing of civilian targets continued

Although the second Chechen war ended in May 2000, bombing campaigns continued to take place.

 

In April 2004, the village of Rigakhoy was subjected to aerial attack. A family of 6 was killed, including 5 small children. Upon seeing the house ruins, the Military Prosecutor’s Office told Imar Damaev (father of the children) that there were no grounds for opening a criminal case, and that the house had been destroyed as a result of the explosion of a gas cylinder or an explosive device that Damaev himself had been storing.

Human Rights Center “Memorial” and the European Human Rights Advocacy Center assisted Imar Damaev in suing the Russian authorities for “violating the right of life” in respect to his relatives. The Court found Russia guilty.

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The following report describes the repeated looting, kidnappings and aerial attacks which took place in the village of Zumsoy in 2005 – click here

As a consequence, all the residents were forced to leave the village. In 2008, upon the return of a handful of residents in what was to be a state-sponsored rebuilding plan – the village was yet again attacked for unexplained reasons. See more details here Zumsoy Chechnya.

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Human rights abuses continued after war

Civilians being hit or run over by Russian tanks was an all too common occurrence after the end of the war. Photographers Stanley Greene and Thomas Dworzak captured two such incidents.

Aki-Yurt, january 2003 Zulpa Zakrieva, 52, and her daughter in law Medina Vizirova, 28, left Sputnik refugee camp to attend a funeral in Urus Martan in Chechnya. Close to the checkpoint Kavkaz-1, a Russian tank drove straight over the little Zhiguli car in which they were travelling. It did not stop. Her car was crushed in an actthat the injured and concussed Zupla describes as “common practice”. She has seen many civilian cars smashed by tanks.

Aki-Yurt, january 2003
Zulpa Zakrieva, 52, and her daughter in law Medina Vizirova, 28, left Sputnik refugee camp to attend a funeral in Urus Martan in Chechnya. Close to the checkpoint Kavkaz-1, a Russian tank drove straight over the little Zhiguli car in which they were traveling. It did not stop. Her car was crushed in an act that the injured and concussed Zupla describes as “common practice”. She has seen many civilian cars smashed by tanks. Photo/ text by Stanley Greene

Grozny, Chechnya. 03/2002. Hospital #9. More than a dozen civilians where heavily injured when a Russian Army APC run into a bus with Chechen civilians. Reckless APC driving is a common complaint of Chechens. Photo/ info by Thomas Dworzak

More of Dworzak photo series here

 

 

 

Grozny Chechnya after war 2 North Caucasus wars

 

 

Inside the torture chambers of Grozny

For six years, the torture chamber lay hidden in the cellars of what had once been an orphanage for deaf children. The residents of Grozny’s October district knew about it. They could hear the screams emanating from its sinister bowels.

The Russian authorities who first controlled it, though, insisted that it was just an ordinary prison.

56-year old teacher returned a crippled man after 3 months of detention

The Chechen government the Kremlin appointed to succeed them denied it existed at all. But when representatives from the Russian human rights group Memorial managed to sneak in this summer just before the building’s demolition, the truth was finally laid bare.

The chilling graffiti on the prison’s walls, some of it written in blood, gave some of the most compelling evidence yet of what activists had claimed for years: state-sanctioned torture had been carried out in Chechnya, perhaps systematically, ever since Russian forces took Grozny in early 2000.

Inmates had scrawled their names and even the dates of their incarceration across the chamber’s fetid walls alongside desperate messages of the ordeals they had suffered.

“What day is it?” read one. “What year is it? Am I still alive?”

Those inmates who survived at the October prison had frequently tried to complain about their experiences, but they had been ignored. With the new evidence, however, the Kremlin may now have to listen to their stories.

One of the most harrowing is told by Alavdi Sadykov, a 56-year-old former PE teacher, who spent three months in the prison in 2000. Mr Sadykov does not know for sure why he was arrested, or why he was tortured for 83 days or even why he was released when so many of his fellow inmates were killed.

Six years later, still looking for answers and justice, Mr Sadykov told his story from his grimy one-room home on the outskirts of Grozny.

Moments after he was dragged into the October prison in March 2000, a sack over his head, he felt the blows of rifle butts smashing down on to his body that would become part of a grim daily routine for the next three months.

He vividly recalled a mock execution ordered by one of his chief tormentors, a man he identified as Igor who would frequently make him eat his own excrement.

“There was blood everywhere,” he recalled. “On the floor, on the walls. I could see brain tissue on the ceiling. Under my foot I saw a severed finger.

“They made me face the wall and then fired a few rounds above my head. After that they said they were going to play football and I was the football. I prayed for my own death.”

Soon after, Igor entered the cell with a colleague called Alexander. “Alexander knocked me off my feet and then stepped on my leg. He took a large souvenir dagger from his vest, pinched my left ear and cut it off.”

Barely conscious, he watched as Alexander cut off the ears of other inmates and killed at least one of them. The next day Alexander returned wearing a necklace of severed human ears.

When a new unit took over the prison, Mr Sadykov was eventually released without explanation.

Despite his harrowing ordeal, he remembered and then recorded the names of his tormentors – officers from the Khanty-Mansyisk division of the Russian army.

With the help of sympathetic officials in the Chechen administration, he even tracked down their addresses in Russia, evidence that could become crucial in the quest of so many held at the October prison for justice.

According to Natalya Estemirova, the head of the Memorial office in Grozny, there may be 15 secret torture chambers still operating in Chechnya.

It is not something the Kremlin, which is intent on showing that things have improved in Chechnya, wants to hear.

There is no doubt that some things have changed. Beneath the freshly painted facades of newly built internet cafes and coffee houses, drivers in recently purchased Ladas do battle on the Grozny’s Victory Boulevard.

Even if most of the city is still a ruin, Grozny is finally being rebuilt, and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is able to show some tangible evidence to support his claims that the brutal second Chechen war is over.

Yet people still live in fear, not of the handful of militants still lurking in the mountains or even of Russian forces who brought misery to the province for so long, but of the fellow Chechens the Kremlin has chosen to lead them.

Around the city are placed militiamen in army fatigues – members of a 10,000-strong private army that pledges fealty to Ramzan Kadyrov, the lion-owning, 30-year-old prime minister anointed by the Kremlin.

Former rebels turned loyalists, many are radical Muslims bent on imposing the strict Islamic strictures Russia once fought to eradicate from the province. In recent months, they have shaved the heads of women accused of adultery, before stripping their victims and beating them.

Video footage of their ordeals are circulated by mobile phones as a warning to others.

It is not just women who have suffered at their hands, as anyone present in the village of Kurchaloi on Aug 5 would testify.

From a gas pipe suspended in the village square, hung the severed head of a rebel leader the Kadyrovtsy, as they are known, had captured two days earlier.

Russia’s top investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, was among those watching the gruesome scene that late summer’s day. She was shot dead by an assassin.

In an article published posthumously, Mrs Politkovskaya alleged that the man responsible for the atrocity in Kurchaloi was Mr Kadyrov’s former deputy, Idris Gaibov. Among other cases she highlighted was the ordeal of Mr Sadykov.

Mrs Politkovskaya had dedicated her professional life to chronicling human rights abuses in Chechnya, and her murder caused outrage around the world.

She had worked courageously and methodically to expose the lie that torture in Chechnya had died.

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Unofficial Places of Detention in the Chechen Republic

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights published a list containing unofficial places of detention in Chechnya, which were under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation, and were then gradually transferred to the militias lead by Pro-Russian leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

” The existence of numerous places of illegal detention is a novel trait of the present penitentiary system of Chechnya. Filtration camps, zindan pits, metal storage containers put into pits and filled with water, underground pedestrian street-crossings used as illegal prisons – everything of this kind has existed for quite some time now in in the Chechen Republic. “

Click on the link below to see the full 37 page report, including the full list of detention sites.

http://www.refworld.org/docid/46963b020.html

 Usam Baysayev, a Human Rights Center “Memorial” employee recounts one of the hundreds of stories he worked on, which involved the use of a detention place as those described above – a tank filled with water.

The 21st Century: Is it Still Possible to Hide Monstrous Crimes?

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January 13,  2009 – 27 year-old Umar Israilov ran on the streets of Vienna when he saw two men approaching him. The men pursued him and shot him repeatedly. Umar died on the way to hospital.

Umar Israilov Austria Russia chechen men murder

Umar Israilov (left) and Ramzan Kadyrov (right)

Umar had pledged for protection from police, fearing his life was in danger. According to an Austrian news report, his pledges were ignored and an important key-witness was deported back to Russia, where he disappeared without a trace. After Israilov’s murder, the police was accused of negligence (source).

Within a few months, the Austrian police linked Chechen president Kadyrov to the murder case.

Ignorierte_die_Polizei_Hinweise_auf_bevorstehende_Tat-Israilov-Mord-Story-219038_476x250px_2_Jy8UeVXtkZn3M

Umar Israilov was a former bodyguard of Ramzan Kadyrov. He had arrived in Austria two years earlier as political refugee. He formally accused Russia’s government of allowing a macabre pattern of crimes in Chechnya.

In written legal complaints to the European Court of Human Rights, Mr. Israilov described many brutal acts by Mr. Kadyrov and his subordinates, including executions of illegally detained men. One executed man, Mr. Israilov said, had been beaten with a shovel handle by Mr. Kadyrov and Adam Delimkhanov, now a member of Russia’s Parliament. Another prisoner was sodomized by a prominent police officer and at Mr. Kadyrov’s order put to death.

Mr. Israilov said he and others had been tortured by Mr. Kadyrov, who amused himself by personally giving prisoners electric shocks or firing pistols at their feet.

Israilov’s father had also been detained and tortured for a period of 11 months. According to him, Umar fought against the Russian forces during the second Chechen war, most probably as revenge for his mother’s death during the first war. He was captured in 2003 and forced to become part of Kadyrov’s team. This didn’t spare him from being tortured and threatened and he also was forced to witness various crimes.

The application of Umar Israilov’s father at the European Court of Human Rights is available here Israilov application (pdf file). He describes the tortures he was subjected to and other events he witnessed during the 11 month detention period.

Read Umar’s full story here, including details of the tortures applied by Ramzan Kadyrov himself – Slain Exile Detailed Cruelty of the Ruler of Chechnya

In June 2014, Gerard Depardieu (friends with Ramzan Kadyrov and Vladimir Putin) hit Russian theaters with his new movie “Viktor,” starring Depardieu and British actress Elizabeth Hurley. Shot in Moscow and Chechnya, it purports to be a revenge film, with Depardieu taking on the criminal underworld that killed his son. It also presents the “extraordinary redevelopment” of Chechnya under Russian rule.

The movie contains torture scenes, an uneasy detail considering human rights organizations have accused  Ramzan Kadyrov of such crimes. On a different note, another movie presenting Chechen deportations was banned this year in Russia (see more here “Ordered to forget”)

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 “Torture session” captured on phone camera. Videotaping is a common practice as the security forces are certain they will not suffer repercussions, and it is also used as intimidation tool. The second video shows a young victim.

DISTURBING CONTENT

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Prosecuting human rights violations in Chechnya

Former Russian army colonel Yury Budanov had been convicted of killing 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva.

Yuri Budanov

elza kungaeva's mother chechen girl murdered

Elza’s mother

elza kungaeva chechen girl murdered

Elza’s father and brother

Russian officer Yuri Budanov was one of only a handful of Russian officers to be prosecuted over what human rights groups say are widespread atrocities in Chechnya. In 2003, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the kidnap, rape and murder of Elza Kungaeva, 18-year-old girl from Chechnya.

On 24 December 2008, the court satisfied Budanov’s request to release him prior the end of the term.

Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov presented the interests of the family of Elza Kungaeva‘s family; he appealed the court ruling on granting Budanov parole.

Markelov had also represented Anna Politkovskaya (journalist murdered in 2006), Mikhail Beketov (journalist severely beaten in 2008), victims of the Moscow theater hostage crisis (who seeked compensation from the Russian state for the mishandling of the rescue operation) and Chechen civilians who had been tortured.

After attending a press conference regarding Budanov’s release, the lawyer was shot in the face in broad daylight together with a female colleague, 25 year old Anastasia Baburova.  According to Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, the details of the murder indicate the involvement of Russian state security services.

Stanislav Markelov

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Detention and “questioning”

On 27 April 2010, 20 year-old Zelimkhan Chitigov was taken away by 30 armed officers from his home. He was a Chechen refugee living in Ingushetia.

zelimkhan chitigov chechen men victims russia

On 29 April 2010 at 14:05, police officers from the Karabulak OVD conducted a search of the rooms where Chitigov lived with his family while his family was absent. While searching the children’s room, they allegedly found a grenade. His mother is certain that the grenade was planted.

When Zelimkhan’s mother went to question the authorities, the head of the criminal investigation told them that Zelimkhan would be shown on TV giving his confession. Officially, in accordance to the interrogator’s petition, Zelimkhan was officially arrested on 30 April 2010 at 20:00, more than two days after his abduction.

Zelimkhan became sick during the court proceedings and he was taken by ambulance with police escort to the hospital. In a conversation with a lawyer, Zelimkhan said that police officers beat and tortured him. The lawyer made a request for a medical examination, but it was not granted. The denial was challenged in court, but the court also rejected the petition.

While in hospital, Zelimkhan was allegedly forced to decline a lawyer. His lawyer was also advised to decline the case.

Chitigov was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair as he was not able to walk on his own. The arguments of the lawyers with reference to  Chitigov’s condition did not have an effect on the court and he was left under arrest.

As of 18 June 2010, Zelimkhan Chitigov remained under arrest in the hospital with the following diagnosis:

– burns caused by electrical shock

– muscle injuries

– brain trauma

– ataxic aphasia

– lower back injuries

– spinal chord injury

– lower body paralysis

– pelvic organ injuries causing incontinence

– severe post-traumatic stress disorder with a general stress-induced speech impediment

– kidney damage

– ear canal abscesses

– numerous injuries to the torso

– third degree burns on his feet.

Zelimkhan couldn’t walk on his own and spoke with difficulty.

Despite several attempts by Zelimkhan’s family to urge the authorities to identify and prosecute those responsible for his detention and torture, an investigation into his case began only after a protest was staged by local police officers who refused to obey what they called “unlawful orders to use violence”.

On December 5 2011, the mother of the victim Zelimkhan Chitigov moved a petition on providing her family with state protection after reportedly receiving threats from the defendants. The judge rejected the petition and the family was forced to leave Russia.

In October 2012, the court found several ex-officers guilty of torture. The case had gained attention due to the involvement of Memorial  group – basically the only Human Rights still acting in North Caucasus.

Zelimkhan has recovered from the vegetative state, but he was left disabled and has a speech impediment.

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Federal force abuses spilled into neighboring republics and virtually into the whole North Caucasus

Suspected "terrorist" killed in his home in Dagestan. Over 100 bullets were found in his body. No proof has been brought to link the man to terrorist organizations. His family sued the Russian security forces, but to no avail. (source)

Suspected “terrorist” killed in his home in Dagestan. Over 100 bullets were found in his body. No proof has been brought to link the man to terrorist organizations. His family sued the Russian security forces, but to no avail. (source)

Anna Politkovskaya

Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who devoted herself to uncovering human rights abuses in Chechnya during and after the end of the war. One after the other, she uncovered physical proof of serious human rights abuses, including the false amnesty promised by Vladimir Putin himself.

In 2006, she was shot in her apartment building.

anna-politkovskaya-russian-women-journalists-murdered

Her last (unfinished) report regarded proof of torture in detention centers. Photos from video extracts

Her last (unfinished) report regarded proof of torture in detention centers. Photos from video extracts

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Natalia Estemirova

Friends and colleague of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova was another significant human rights activist and Memorial center employee, who succeeded Anna in her work. She uncovered numerous abuses taking place in Chechnya and she was living in Grozny, when she herself fell victim to kidnapping and murder in 2009.

After Estemirova’s murder, Memorial Human Rights Group closed its offices, leaving the civilian population with no organization to turn to anymore for assistance or help.

Natalia Estemirova in Grozny Chechnya war Russia victim

Natalia in Grozny 2005

A month later, two aid workers (husband and wife) were abducted from their office. Their bodies were found 2 days later, the pregnant woman bared signs of beating. www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/2123

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Natalia's work is carried on by the "Joint Mobile Group", a group of human rights workers who work in teams of three people one month each (through rotation), to ensure continuation of the work in case one of them is hurt.  The team received threats from the Chechen leader in a televised appearance in 2012 (source).

Natalia’s work is carried on by the “Joint Mobile Group”, a group of human rights workers who work in teams of 3 people through rotation – one month each, in order to ensure continuation of the work in case one of them is hurt. The team received threats from the Chechen leader in a televised appearance in 2012 (source).

Read more about Joint Mobile Group – Monitoring Rights in Chechen Region, a Month at a Time

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A few weeks after Anna’s murder, an ex-FSB officer who had accused Putin of ordering political killings and of orchestrating the 1999 apartment bombings (which were blamed on Chechnya) gave his last breath in London following intentional poisoning. These are his last words written on his death bed – from Alexander Litvineneko.

“As I lie here I can distinctly hear the beating of wings of the angel of death. I may be able to give him the slip but I have to say my legs do not run as fast as I would like. I think, therefore, that this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition.

“You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value.

“You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women. You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. “

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New Anti-Terrorism Law to Target Families of North Caucasus Insurgents

New legislation adopted by the Russian parliament in November aimed at punishing families and relatives of terrorist suspects, intends to legalize the “hard” form of counter-insurgency already practiced in several North Caucasus republics. Although the law has only recently been adopted, the collective punishment practices are already used by authorities across North Caucasus.

One of the common punishment practices involves destruction of property (blowing up residences) on the basis of mere suspicion. Upon proof of innocence, no compensation is being offered  (read more here).

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Conclusion from Human Rights Watch report regarding the current situation in Chechnya (and elsewhere)

Perpetrators of crimes against humanity are criminally responsible for their acts. Given the particular seriousness of these crimes, international law sets out special rules of responsibility for them. Thus, criminal responsibility cannot be avoided by invoking that the suspect holds an official position including that of head of state (referring to the lack of reaction from the international community). Statutes of limitations do not run in the cases of crimes against humanity and those responsible do not benefit from refuge in third countries.

Officials have often tried to attribute these crimes to Chechen fighters. However, it is inconceivable that ordinary criminals or Chechen rebel groups could so freely and openly stage the abduction and murder of hundreds of people without interference of the authorities in areas of Chechnya that have been under Russian control since early 2000. Thus, direct and circumstantial evidence points to forces under Kadyrov’s command and other Russian units.

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UPDATE: In 2013, Kremlin promulgated a new law, which attacks and restricts the activity of Human Rights organizations. Read more here Human Rights NGO’s decapitated by Kremlin

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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, there is something deeply wrong about the clean-up operations carried out in North Caucasus. 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 ages between 15 to 60 (“of fighting age”) could be detained for questioning into the infamous filtration camps. What happened after detention was subject of controversy.

The clean-up operations continued after the war and are still taking place as we speak. 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 UN Refugee Agency report, some cities and villages have suffered 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 Dagestan 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 the movements outside the village. The soldiers deploy in all the streets, there are posts every 10, 20 or 30 meters, 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.he soldiers are masked most frequently, but 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 between6-11 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.

READ MORE HERE – “THE GUARDIAN” REPORT

 

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 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