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.

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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

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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

***

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

***

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

***

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. “

***

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).

***

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.

 ***

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

***

 

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.

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 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

Cruel amnesty

On 20 March 2000, Russian president Vladimir Putin urged Chechen fighters to take advantage of an amnesty offered by the Russian parliament.  He was speaking after arriving in Chechnya by fighter jet on a surprise trip ahead of this weekend’s presidential elections.

Vladimir Putin flying a jet in Chechnya

Vladimir Putin flying a jet in Chechnya

After a brief tour of parts of the devastated capital Grozny, Mr Putin indicated that Moscow was willing to discuss the republic’s future with rebels who laid down their arms.

He said that those “who have not stained their hands with the blood of Russian nationals, have not killed or robbed, have a choice”.

 

A Russian pilot taken hostage several months before was freed in Komsomolskoye, a Chechen town captured by federal forces after two weeks of heavy shelling. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Zhukov had been captured in October when his jet went down in Chechnya during a mission. Zhukov was freed in Komsomolskoye on Sunday when rebels there tried to break out of a Russian encirclement. He was said to be in good physical condition.

Not much was left of Komsomolskoye village

Komsomolskoye Chechnya Russia war chechen rebels russian men soldiers fighters

In March of 2000 federal officials announced that 72 rebel guerrillas had surrendered at Komsomolskoye and that all were being amnestied. Two women were also among them, a Chechen woman by the name of Biluyevna Lipa (who appears in the video below) and an ethnic Russian woman who identified herself as wife of one of the Chechen hostages. Ruslan Gelayev, the commander, had escaped 2 days earlier.

The prisoners were taken to Chernokozovo filtration camp, where despite the public declaration of amnesty – they were tortured and killed. Three men survived  – two disappeared (disappearances are a common phenomenon in Chechnya) and one committed suicide, according to Novaya Gazeta.

One of the survivors, Rustam Azizov, told his story to Memorial Human Rights Center before he disappeared.

War in Chechnya: a Chechen militiaman tells his story

He also described the tortures they were subjected to; a short video shot by Russian army captured the treatment described click here for video segment (contains disturbing scenes)

 

 First part of the video below captures the hostages after the surrender; 2 females are part of the hostages. Russian officer also describes the killing of “snipers’ girls” – it’s unsure if it refers to these 2 females

 

A different version of the prisoners  footage

 

Chechen woman by name of Milueva Lipa is being asked to identify herself and admit on video that she was a sniper. She is in a visibly worsened state compared with the previous video

 

The male hostages captured on a 30 minute film, shortly before they died. The women can no longer be seen.

 

To read more about Chernokozovo filtration camp, click here Torture. atrocities (Emily Gillian’s excerpts)

 

The hostage video was made public in 2004 by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. According to her, making the video public was the idea of the Russian officer who had filmed it, as he hoped it will help “free him from a nightmare which continues to torture him right up to the present.”

The news report and video download link are still available on the newspaper website where Anna Politkovskaya worked.

http://politkovskaya.novayagazeta.ru/pub/2004/2004-031.shtml

Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in Moscow in 2006, supposedly for her human rights work and her open criticism of Kremlin’s corruption.

 

It was only through this video tape that the truth was revealed and the families of the prisoners finally learned of the faith of their missing relatives. It also reinforced declarations of Komsomolskoye witnesses like journalist Owen Matthews, who described seeing bodies with hands tied back and severe signs of torture.

The War in Chechnya had an extreme level of violence. To understand what role “violence” plays in Russian military culture, below is a so-called disciplinary video with young Russian conscript soldiers.


War crimes are a sad reality and a fact of every war. However, this particular event involved a declaration of amnesty from the highest state authority – the Russian president himself and the Parliament, and also involved a public statement from military officials of the prisoners “being amnestied” once they had surrendered.

The fact that the amnesty proved to be a false promise and that the real outcome was purposely disclosed from the public by the authorities – most probably with the knowledge of the President himself, affects the credibility of the authority in the Russian state on the highest level, not only in relation to the Chechens but also on international level.

Russia’s tourism investments in the North Caucasus

sources: New York Times, Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Mount Elbrus highest mountains in europe Great North Caucasus  mountains beautiful landscape scenery

Mount Elbrus, the highest peak of Europe

At the World Economic Forum of 2011, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev presented a huge-scale investment in North Caucasus – a $15 billion project to put a European-style ski area in each of the 7 republics of the North Caucasus.

According to official statistics from the Russian National Tourist Office, 90% of the tourists in North Caucasus republics are Russians. In 2011, when the $15 billion project was adopted, the Russian authorities were hoping to rise the popularity of the region and also attract (and double) the number of foreign tourists.The Northern Caucasus Resorts company (see their website here) promised that Russia’s complex visa procedures will be streamlined to make it easier for European skiers.

Davos 2011 Video presentation of the project for the World Economic Forum

 

The 2014 Sochi Olympics were meant to achieve this purpose, but given the current circumstances in Crimea and the unsure prospects of future military actions, tourism in Russia is being anything but encouraged.

However,  the Northern Caucasus Resorts company cites the example of Tel Aviv, where people have learnt to survive in a tense area, and says that the government will protect the tourists, even if that means deploying metal detectors on ski lifts and fencing off the resorts.

North Caucasus ski resorts mountains Chechnya Ingushetia Dagestan kabardino Karachay

There are very few, if any, world-class ski resorts in Russia. Russia is a flat country for the most part, and the only other mountainous regions are located far off in Eastern Russia. The North Caucasus with its impressive mountains peaks (highest of Europe), its gentle climate ( it’s the warmest part of Russia) and its relatively convenient location (close proximity to Europe) – makes it all an attractive location for Russia’s world-class money-making ski resorts.

According to them, the development of an enormous infrastructure is a strategy to break the cycle of poverty and violence. North Caucasus has an unemployment rate of over 50% and a weak infrastructure, if any.

The question is – will the money really flow into the local communities and benefit the severely impoverished population?

The following are a few of the projects being developed in the Caucasian republics.

KARACHAY-CHERKESSIA

A Russian company opened a small portion of its resort near the dilapidated village of Arkhyz as a test site, advertising a bunny slope, a chairlift and a gondola imported from France, along with plans to install another gondola and open7 ski runs next season.

Arkhyz valley in the Caucasus mountains

Arkhyz valley in the Caucasus mountains

 

A Russian magnate who won a large government contract for the Games in Sochi and will help coordinate preparations for the 2018 World Cup has built 2 modern hotels — called Romantik-1 and Romantik-2 — along the slopes.

Despite the flow of government money, people in town say they have seen little, if any, trickle-down effect.

 For now, said Pavel Vedentsov, a 25-year-old transplant from St. Petersburg who manages the mountain staff members and ski patrol, skiers will have to content themselves with a single trail for beginners that closes at 5 p.m.

“There isn’t much to do at night,” Mr. Vedentsov said. The bars have not yet been built.

Asked about the risk of terrorism in the region, Mr. Vereshchagin conceded that it was a concern but said the danger had been exaggerated. In more violent republics like Dagestan and Chechnya, he said, the company would provide transportation from regional airports directly to the resorts.

Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential envoy for the North Caucasus, told the editor of a Russian news site in an interview that Russian tourists were not easily intimidated.

“Is it less dangerous in Egypt?” he asked, naming a popular destination for Russian vacationers. “Or in Libya, or on the Moroccan coast? Nothing will scare away one of our tourists.”

Gregory Shvedov, editor of The Caucasian Knot, a regional online news agency, said in an interview that he was skeptical of the returns Northern Caucasus Resorts would bring to local communities.

“If it is all owned by the state, by huge companies based in Moscow, then I don’t see the benefit in this,” Mr. Shvedov said.

He emphasized that increasing minority ownership and integrating small, local businesses into the plan could create thousands of jobs in a new tourism industry. “But are they doing all of this?” he said. “We don’t see it.”

An Arkhyz street vendor. “Just look how great things here are now,” said one vendor. “Does it seem like people are working?”

Neither, it seems, do residents. While the government money started flowing three years ago, they say they have seen little, if any, trickle-down effect.

On a recent day in Arkhyz, just 5 miles from the resort, women were selling handpicked teas and luminescent honeys flavored with mint and barberry, but customers were few and far between.

“Just look how great things here are now,” said Shamshiyat Batasheva, 53, who was offering hand-knit socks for sale. “Does it seem like people are working?”

Residents complained that the workers at the resort had been brought in from outside the region. “Wherever that money is going, it isn’t coming to us,” Ms. Batasheva said. “We can count on that.”

CHECHNYA – Billionaire builds $500 million ski resort

The Veduchi project – with Chechnya’s mountains in the background

2011 interview – Billionaire and businessman Ruslan Baysarov, “close friend” of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, is building a big hotel complex in Veduchi, along with 20 chalets “in the national architectural style,” 19 ski tracks with varying degrees of difficulty, nine ski lifts and other pleasant tourist facilities — like a spa center or a heated open-air pool.

The Russian company Mostovik is responsible for the construction work.

Regarding the republic’s instability and lack of security, Baysarov says “the head of the region should ensure its security” — the head being his close friend, Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov has been accused by international Human a Rights NGO’s of gross human rights violations, torture and murder against Chechen civilians. He is strongly supported by the Kremlin.

https://i1.wp.com/www.chechentourism.ru/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/proekt-kurorta-chechnya-veduchi-11-1024x682.jpg

Not all residents of the republic are positive to the idea of building a ski resort in Chechnya, noting that the authorities should better concentrate their efforts on restoring the republic’s industrial potentials, not on implementing the projects that can bring profits only to a small group of people.

“After two wars our republic has almost no large enterprises or factories,” said Saikhan T., a resident of Chechnya, who had once worked for one of the local ministries. He also noted the mass unemployment in the republic.

“There’s practically no economy here, but we keep building all these high rise ‘Grozny-City’, ski resorts, recreation centres and the like. People need enterprises, where they can work and earn money, rather than the place where they could spend it. Nobody needs entertainments instead of bread,” said Saikhan.

https://i0.wp.com/bsdg.ru/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Veduchi.jpg

Note – Chechnya’s  unemployment rate stands at 80%. Corruption is rife, bribes must be paid on every level. Infrastructure (roads, electricity etc) are non-existent is lacking in many areas.

Promotion event for the Veduchi ski resort in 2013 – Russian business people and celebrities were also invited to the event. (source: RIA Novosti)

The ceremony ended with colorful fireworks.

DAGESTAN

Northern Caucasus Resorts, the Northern Caucasus resort property company, has said that 1.32 billion Euros will be invested in the construction and development of the Matlas ski resort in the Republic of Dagestan as part of the North Caucasian tourist cluster project, according to Interfax.

Dagestan Matlas resort project North Caucasus mountains

The sum will cover the construction of internal and external transportation lanes, resorts and ski slope development.

The resort will be able to accommodate 9,900 visitors. Four 5-star, six 4-star, and ten 3-star hotels, as well as lodges, apartments and a golf centre will be build as part of the project.

Khunzakh plateau Matlas dagestan

Khunzakh plateau near Matlas dagestan

ADYGEA

Lago-Naki, Adygea (The Caucasian Biosphere Reserve) which will be negatively impacted by the new projects (click on photo to see more)

Lago-Naki, Adygea (The Caucasian Biosphere Reserve) which will be negatively impacted by the new projects (click on photo to see more)

 

February 3, 2012 (ENS) – The Russian government is preparing to allow construction of a cluster of ski resorts and roads in the Caucasus region that will alter one of Europe’s few untouched mountain wilderness areas. The development is expected to impact two biosphere nature reserves, two national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and a World Heritage Site.

Previously, the construction of tourist infrastructure in protected areas has been either illegal or restricted by Russian federal environmental laws.

Read more here Russia Allows Ski Resort in Caucasus World Heritage Site

CONCLUSION

North Caucasus – a region with high tourism potential, which could offer a window out of the poverty that’s ravaging the region and feeding the social and political instability. But, just like in the oil business (an abundant resource in the region), any profit will most likely never benefit its residents.

Experienced personnel will be brought from outside (leaving no jobs for locals), all services will be provided within the enclosed resorts (local businesses will not benefit), profits will go to big tourist companies (instead of local communities), and the middle-upper class clients will be living cocooned in their luxury resorts, protected by metal detectors on ski lifts and fenced resorts.

Why is Russia so eager to invest 

North Caucasus has obvious high tourist potential. But there is another major reason for the sudden influx of billions of dollars.

Russia is running out of oil/gas resources due to lack of alternative extraction methods and modern technologies. Though North Caucasus has huge unexplored resources, it risks oil depletion alike Siberia. Russia needs new technologies and foreign investments in order to avoid a future Siberia scenario. But investors are cautious of an insecure war-torn Caucasus.

The Sochi Olympics and the grandiose ski resort plans are part of a plan to make Caucasus attractive to tourists and investors alike, and give it a more “investment-friendly” face. Despite criticism, a very confident Russia constantly brings up Israel as example of how a country can flourish in a war atmosphere.

Razvaliny Koki Vainakh towers North Caucasus mountains Inghusetia

Ingushetia

Pankisi gorge

pankisi-georgia-kist-chechen-girls-children-north-caucasus-people chechens

“Amid the spectacular natural beauty of the Pankisi Gorge; among all the quick smiles and sudden humor and endless generosity of spirit; in spite of the incredible bounty of the autumn harvest; nestled next to the dreams of children; lying just beneath the surface of a warm hello; carried on the winds between the notes of a haunting polyphonic melody; momentarily illuminated by a thunderstorm’s lightning flash; rarely talked about but omnipresent, lies the stark reality of relentless poverty, crushing hardship, stinging prejudice, and the yearning for a better life. It blankets 2 little boys, who live in a cowshed, offering no comfort or warmth. It makes fighting a jihad in Syria seem attractive to more than 100 of our young men, 4 of whom died there this summer. It makes our girls not question teenage marriage and motherhood, or dropping out of school. It crushes creativity and dreams of a better life by offering no means of realizing hopes for the future. It makes it difficult to see the value of education when there are no jobs. Or if one does have a job, and only 10% here do, it pays next to nothing. It fosters hopelessness, often misidentified as boredom and laziness. It breeds illness and disease that are preventable but remain untreated. It is so big.”
–Suze Rutherford


Pankisi valley Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist people

Pankisi is a region situated in the North of Georgia near the border with Chechnya. Pankisi valley harbors 8 villages, and further out is the Pankisi gorge, cut in between the high peaks of the Caucasus mountains.

The population of around 15.000 people, with 75% of them having Chechen ethnic background. They are either Kist people, or recent Chechen refugees.

The Kist people are a Chechen tribe that arrived in Pankisi between 1830-1870. It is believed they originate from southern Chechnya’s beautiful Meiste region.

In the early 20th century, many received Georgian citizenship and Georgian surnames, a fact which spared them from deportation in 1944. Despite receiving a certain Georgian influence, the Kist community is bilingual and still preserves the Chechen language dialect, culture and traditions.

 

During the second Chechen war, several thousands Chechens found refuge  in Pankisi. After the end of the war many left, but a few have remained in the valley.

The second Chechen war greatly altered the economic and social structure in the region; until 2009, UNCHR was assisting locals. Small steps were attempted at developing tourism but additional support is needed.

The small Roddy Scott foundation helps children with english/computer lessons.  Set up in the memory of British journalist Roddy Scott, who was killed by Russian snipers along Chechen rebels near Pankisi in 2002.

Roddy Scott

Roddy Scott, killed alongside Chechen rebels

In the memory of their only son, his elderly parents decided to help the children of Pankisi. The children recently set up a local “newspaper” – www.pankisitimes.com

www.pankisi.org – informational travel website created in 2008 with the help of the Polish Foundation for Intercultural Education

Pankisi valley gorge Georgia North Caucasus

Despite being Muslims, the locals produce (and consume) home-made red wine, which is a tradition in Georgia.

Batsara Nature Reserve lies near Pankisi – w240 hectares of yew-tree woodlands – which are 1000 years old and older. It represents a unique and unspoiled part of the world.

Pankisi gorge valley Georgia North Caucasus mountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2002, British journalist Roddy Scott went to Pankisi to research the conflict from the Chechen side (which was often neglected by the media). After gaining the trust of both locals and fighters, he departed with a unit belonging to Ruslan Gelayev. They were all killed in Ingushetia not far from Pankisi.

Roddy Scott’s body was never returned to his family by the Russian authorities. His video footage was confiscated, though BBC managed to obtain a few of Roddy’s last photos – see gallery below. After a visit to Pankisi, Roddy’s parents set up a small foundation to help the disadvantaged children of the region.

BBC news report Killed reporter’s Chechen rebel pictures

Roddy’s last pictures before they were all killed (click on photo to view gallery)

 

Roddy's parents set up a foundation to help the disadvantaged children of Pankisi in the memory of their son

Roddy Scott in 2001 – After his death, Roddy’s parents set up a foundation to help the disadvantaged children of Pankisi in the memory of their son

Children of Pankisi

Children of Pankisi

chechen girl in Pankisi gorge Georgia North Caucasus chechen people

children in Pankisi valley Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people

children Pankisi Georgia North Caucasus people

Pankisi gorge Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people boy

child Pankisi Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people

Pankisi gorge Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people

Pankisi Georgia kist chechen children North Caucasus people

chechen girls in Pankisi Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people

Pankisi gorge Georgia North Caucasus mountains Kist chechen people kids

Local kids enjoying their new computers. These 6 computers were kindly donated by the Estonian Embassy, the staff of the Embassy also spent their weekends redecorating the classroom (the Estonian ambassador himself painted the walls). source: Roddy Scott Foundation

 

www.pankisitimes.com – the local “newspaper” set up by the Pankisi children who are learning English at the Roddy Scott foundation. The project is run by Roddy’s parents and a handful of good-willing volunteers. New funds are being raised every year to keep the classes going, if you want to help donate here www.roddyscott.co.uk

One of the founders speaks about the children and the project

Chechen refugee children from the Pankisi Valley perform a traditional dance to celebrate World Refugee day in Mtatsminda Amusement Park, in Tbilisi, Georgia

Chechen refugee children from the Pankisi Valley perform a traditional dance to celebrate World Refugee day in Tbilisi, Georgia

In 2002, when Roddy Scott was trying to document the war, another young Chechen director was shooting a movie in Pankisi gorge. At the time, along Chechen refugees – the Chechen guerillas were settled in the region, under the command of Ruslan Gelayev (who married a local woman).

Ruslan Gelayev with his forces

Ruslan Gelayev with his forces

With his first film, a young director tries to do nothing less than explain his people’s agony to an uncomprehending world  ‘Terrorist” With a Camera

Murad Mazaev, young Chechen director

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The following pictures and text belong to journalist Derek Henry Floods.

An elderly refugee from southern Chechnya’s Itum-Kale district sits in the home of a Kist host family in Duisi, Georgia. I was struck by how incredibly hospitable these people relentlessly vilified by the FSB were. They told me of the horrors of Putin’s onslaught on their villages while offering endless cups of tea and bread me. I felt powerless, having nothing to givein return but a sympathetic ear. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

An elderly refugee from southern Chechnya’s Itum-Kale district sits in the home of a Kist host family in Duisi, Georgia. I was struck by how incredibly hospitable these people relentlessly vilified by the FSB were. They told me of the horrors of Putin’s onslaught on their villages while offering endless cups of tea and bread to me. I felt powerless, having nothing to give in return but a sympathetic ear. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Ismail with his scruffy cat in the village of Birkiani. He was a young refugee living in limbo like thousands of others. Though there was condemnation of all-out war in Chechnya at the time, there was no real action to back it up. Or should I say nothing ‘actionable’ was ever done. Challenging so-called tin pot regimes in weak states was acceptable and even fashionable for a time among liberal internationalist and neoconservative circles for a time but challenging Russian neo-imperialism directly has never been on the table. One could even draw a continuity between inaction on the Caucasus then and Crimea now. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Ismail with his scruffy cat in the village of Birkiani. He was a young refugee living in limbo like thousands of others. Though there was condemnation of all-out war in Chechnya at the time, there was no real action to back it up. Or should I say nothing ‘actionable’ was ever done. Challenging so-called tin pot regimes in weak states was acceptable and even fashionable for a time among liberal internationalist and neoconservative circles for a time but challenging Russian neo-imperialism directly has never been on the table. One could even draw a continuity between inaction on the Caucasus then and Crimea now. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

An effusive Chechen elder I met at sundown in the village of Birkiani where I stayed in 2002. What a cool guy! A random Westerner shows up at his gate and he immediately offers warm, old school Chechen hospitality. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An effusive Chechen elder I met at sundown in the village of Birkiani where I stayed in 2002. What a cool guy! A random Westerner shows up at his gate and he immediately offers warm, old school Chechen hospitality. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A boy and his horse between Duisi and Jokolo. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A boy and his horse between Duisi and Jokolo. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

In 2009, when the guerillas were long gone and many of the refugees had left to resettle elsewhere, the Russian ministry was still bringing accusations of  “terrorism activity” in Pankisi.

Georgian journalist Lizaveta Zhahanina went to search for “terrorists” in Pankisi after the Russian allegations. In 2010, the U.S. Department of State released an annual country report on terrorism, saying that “Russia’s claims of Georgian support for Chechen terrorist and harboring of such individuals in the Pankisi gorge were unsubstantiated”.

Click on link to read the Lizaveta’s story

Pankisi Valley: “The Chechens are the Bravest Men”

Pankisi dancers

Georgian song about the love for a Kist-Chechen woman… Kavkasiuri Balada (Caucasian balad)

Children of war

Chechnya North Caucasus chechen children Grozny war 5

During the two recent Russian wars, humanitarian help was virtually non-existent in Chechnya. Thousands of children died, others lacked proper medical care, all the children were left severely malnourished and many remained with physical and/or mental scars of war. According to the UN, Chechnya is still one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the world, yet Russia expelled all international landmine clearing experts for inexplicable reasons.

At present, North Caucasus has the largest youth population in Russia and at the same time the biggest unemployment rate (over 50%), leaving the young generations with no future prospects.

The children and youth also suffer from malnourishment (as do many children throughout the impoverished North Caucasus).

In the following video, Chechen children talk about life during war. Also contains various war footage and reports on the current state of today’s Chechnya, especially in what concerns children

 

Children of war victims Chechnya people Russia North Caucasus

Chechnya North Caucasus cehchen children people Grozny war 4

 

Chechnya North Caucasus chechen children Grozny war 47

Collecting bricks from the bombed out buildings was the only way to make money long time after the war. For 400 bricks, Chechens received 3 dollars.

Read the story a young Grozny woman who tried to survive by collecting bricks together with her children Women of Grozny – Elza

Men would often stay inside for fear of being picked up by the Russian army and taken to the infamous “filtration camps”.