Europe and refugees

source: rfel.org, Humanity in Action, European Commissioner of Human Rights
Chechen woman in Grozny Chechnya 1994 war civilian victims Russia

Grozny Chechnya 1994

After the second Chechen war, the number of Chechen refugees in Europe sky-rocketed. Dozens of thousands of Chechens fleeing the war found refuge in Europe. In 2003 a new regulation was introduced by the European Union called Dublin II Regulation, according to which asylum seekers are heavily restricted once they enter European Union’s borders. The regulation forbids them to apply for refugee status in any other country than the first one they entered – which in most cases is a Southern or Eastern European country.

 

Lack of EU solidarity

Countries situated at the EU border have been flooded by asylum seekers. The repercussions were felt directly by both host countries and by the refugees themselves.

No appropriate financial or material support was offered once the EU countries were given this legal responsibility.

Children play outside an asylum-seekers' center in Bialystok.

Children play outside an asylum-seekers’ center

Norway was criticized for its abuses during the deportation process –  Norway To Asylum Seekers: Go Home.

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Chechen refugees

There are 2 types of refugees: those who escape oppression and violence and those who seek a better life.

According to international law, a country has the obligation to accept asylum requests when there is proof that a person fears torture or death in their country (war, political oppression etc).

After the end of the second Chechen war, Russia has gone to great lengths to convince the rest of the world that violence has subsided and peace was fully restored in Chechnya. It went as far as trying to convince refugees to return to Chechnya and even blocking the access of those trying to flee.

Read more – Russia blocks Chechen refugees (BBC)

Forced Return of Displaced People to Chechnya (Human Rights Watch)

Chechen refugees 02

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Chechen refugees in a formely chicken factory camp. The conflict in Chechnya has forced some 30,000 people, the majority of them women and children to flee their homes. Many are living in camps that are overcrowded and in sanitary (source: DJIGIT).

Chechen refugees 03

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Chechen refugees in a formely chicken factory camp. The conflict in Chechnya has forced some 30,000 people, the majority of them women and children to flee their homes. Many are living in camps that are overcrowded and in sanitary (source: DJIGIT).

Human Rights organizations have continuously pressed the alarm on human rights violations such as kidnapping (forced disappearances), illegal detention, torture and murder of thousands of civilians since the end of the war.

To read on human rights issues, click the following links 

Chechnya today – “worse than war”

Missing in North Caucasus,

Cleansing operations,

Journalism in N. Caucasus – executions and censorship .

Photo report on Chechen refugees in Poland

Copyright: Swen Connrad / YumeVision

Chechen woman, use to be a lawyer before, in Chechnya, alone, with her two children, outside the URiC Moszna Center. On the background – the former Moszna Workers’ Hotel, rented by URiC for the Center of Asylum Seekers

URiC (Office for Repatriation and Aliens) Moszna Center, Poland – Chechen woman with the picture of her parents in Chechnya. She paid $ 5000 to liberate her husband from jail. He was killed soon after by Russian army force. She came to Poland pregnant, with 3 children – 8, 10, 14 years old. She lost the fourth one on the way to a safer land. For security reasons, the face of the adult asylum seeker is not shown and the name has been changed. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision

 

URiC Wola Center in Warsaw, Poland – Chechen man with his sejjadeh (pray carpet), his Muslim rosary and a picture of his four brothers killed by the Russian army. The youngest was 18. Those three objects are the only reminder from Chechnya he managed to save. For security reasons, the face and real name are not shown. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision

 

Chechen Man with a picture of his house in Grozny, destroyed by Russian bombing in 1999. He succeed to survive 10 years of Chechen war, but in September 2005 Russian forces visited him at his place, threatening him and his family life. They arrived in URiC Wola Center in Warsaw in the mid-October. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision

Chechen Man with his 5-years old daughter. He use to live in the bombed house in Grozny for 6 years together with is wife, daughter and aunt. He succeed to survive over 10 years of Chechen war, but in September 2005 the raids of Russian forces put him on a flight to Poland. They arrived in URiC Wola Center in Warsaw in the middle of October. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision

 

A mother holding the picture of her husband, killed at the age of 36 by Russian forces. When her oldest son turned 15, she decided to run away in order to protect her family. In Chechnya, boys from the age of 16 disappear daily, detained by Russian forces. © Swen Connrad / YumeVision

 

Chechen man with a picture of his brother, killed by Russian force at the age of 34. In the background, his daughter in the URiC Radom centre.

Young Chechen boy, praying at the midday Ramadan pray, in the former workers hotel room transformed into a mosque at the URiC Bielany refugee centre

Polish doctor checking a 5 months old chechen baby in the medical clinic of the URiC Bielany Refugee Centre, in Poland

Meeting of Chechens in the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw, built at Stalin’s order 50 years ago. The Man talking is Usman Ferzauli, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, who lives in exile in Denmark. The man next to him right is Ali Ramzan Ampukayev, Poland Representative of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). Second from the right is Adam Borowski, the Head of the Poland-Chechnya Committee. Others present are Polish sympathizers, NGO workers, lawyers, journalists. Three portraits of Chechen presidents are standing on the wall: Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, Dzhokhar Dudayev, Aslan Maskhadov.

 

A classroom made up of 2 boys and 5 girls who are learning polish language in URiC Radom center.

 

Piotr Bystrianin, coordinator at the Ocalenie Foundation, a Polish-based nongovernmental organization:

“We are just losing time and money,” he says, “and these people are losing their lives.”

Under the European Union’s Dublin Regulation, the first EU country of entry is responsible for evaluating the claims of an asylum seeker. For Chechens, whose route typically takes them north to Moscow and then west through Belarus, this usually means Poland.

 

The deportation machine in Europe

 

The French office of the Education Without Borders Network (Réseau Éducation Sans Frontières) has initiated a petition for the Dzhanaralievs, a Chechen family that is facing deportation from France to Poland, the first EU member country that they entered after fleeing the Russian backed oppression that is rampant in their native Chechnya. France’s decision is in accordance with the Dublin II Regulation, a piece of legislation from 2003 that claims to prevent refugees from being shipped around Europe but in reality, is a protection for EU member states against “asylum shopping.”

 

According to the EU, the Dublin II Regulation:

establishes the principle that only one Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application. The objective is to avoid asylum seekers from being sent from one country to another, and also to prevent abuse of the system by the submission of several applications for asylum by one person.

The regulation has been criticized, namely by Thomas Hammarberg, the Swedish diplomat and former Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg:

This has not been successful in practice. Countries such as Greece and Malta have, during recent years, been unable to provide adequate protection because the numbers of asylum seekers have exceeded their capacity. This is simply not fair and has, in extreme cases, even put lives at risk. It is now high time to revise the Dublin Regulation.

States in northern Europe, far from the borders in the south and the east, have so far not been co-operative in discussions about resolving this mess. In fact, they have not even been willing to use the possibility under the ‘sovereignty clause’ of the present regulation to avoid transfers to Greece, whose asylum system is clearly experiencing a total collapse.

 

Europe as a whole is not overburdened by asylum applications, at least not in comparison with other parts of the world. In 2009, South Africa alone received almost as many asylum requests as all 27 EU members put together. Some countries in Asia and the Middle East have received even more.

 

Discrimination

After the Boston Marathon bombings in April, allegedly perpetrated by two ethnic Chechens living in the United States, a rumor spread in the North Caucasus that a fearful Europe would soon shut its doors to Chechens.

While the rumor was unfounded and the borders have not closed, the attacks did focus unwanted attention on the Chechen community.

“Some of our politicians try to connect the question of Chechen refugees to terrorism,” says Bernd Mesovic, deputy managing director of Pro Asyl, a Frankfurt-based NGO that advocates for migrants. “Some of them believe the information given by Russian officials, who are always connecting Chechens with terrorism.”

The same is often true of the German media.

“Terrorists Seek Asylum In Germany” read an August 8 headline in the German daily “Die Welt,” which connected the sudden increase with a call by leading Chechen militant Doku Umarov to plan attacks at next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Of the applicants in Germany this year, 82 people have been granted refugee status and 702 have been scheduled for deportation. You can’t just leave [Poland for Germany]. OK, you can get there, but then they’ll just deport you back to Poland,” says Imram Shaptukaev a Chechen refugee.

 

Imran Shaptukaev spent nine months in Germany with his ailing wife before authorities rejected their asylum request.

 Imran Shaptukaev spent nine months in Germany with his ailing wife before authorities rejected their asylum request

Despite the circumstances, they say the worst-case scenario would be deportation back to Russia.

 

Seeking a better life

The most difficult thing for Polish authorities is not only having the sole responsibility of dealing with the refugees, but also having to deal with the negative attitude. Discrimination takes place not only from host countries towards refugees but also from refugees towards host countries. Many Chechens are convinced that Dublin II is a simply a Polish concept and that it is Poland which seeks their return from other EU countries. Such misunderstandings, false beliefs and ungrounded suspicions add to tensions between asylum seekers and Polish social welfare staff.

Read more here For Chechens, Poland is not west enough (UNCHR)

Refugees in Austria

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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 being taken 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 usually civilians or individuals who, when taken from their homes, checkpoints or other locations, are unarmed. They are predominantly men, although after the 2002 Moscow theater siege where Chechen women were involved, females have also increasingly become victims of disappearances.
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.”
The relatives of 13 victims of disappearances who spoke to Human Rights Watch insisted that they not publicize information about their cases. In almost all cases where the disappeared person was subsequently released or the relatives found the 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 to 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; 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 neighboring republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
Perpetrators
 –
In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators are allegedly 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 deny such acts and in certain cases they accuse Chechen rebels of committing the kidnappings.
Lack of criminal investigation and prosecution into disappearances
 –
 The lack of progress in 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.
 –
“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 – appearance in the news report below
Kidnapped list

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When 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)

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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.
 ***

Russia Keeps Killing Suspects in the North Caucasus

The news headlines constantly show Russian federal forces killing terrorism suspects 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 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 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 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 restricts the activity of Human Rights organizations in Russia – Human Rights NGO’s decapitated by Kremlin

Satellites

The Soviet collapse spawned 15 new countries that are now established members of the international community, but also a few far less known – and internationally unrecognized republics.

“Satellites” is a photographic journey by Jonas Bendiksen through the scattered enclaves, unrecognized mini-states, and other isolated communities that straddle the former satellite states of the now defunct USSR.

Transdniester – the breakaway region of Moldova (under Russian de-facto control)

Transdniesterian deputy minister of defense looking lovingly at an Alazan missile in front of a scene from 1992 breakaway war with Moldova. The Alazan missile has been in the media's focus as of late, with a Washington Post article accusing Transdniester of lacing the small missiles with nuclear dirty bomb warheads, something the government strongly denies. 2004

Transdniesterian deputy minister of defense looking lovingly at an Alazan missile in front of a scene from 1992 breakaway war with Moldova. The Alazan missile has been in the media’s focus as of late, with a Washington Post article accusing Transdniester of lacing the small missiles with nuclear dirty bomb warheads, something the government strongly denies. 2004

Crows circle a statue of Lenin in front of the Supreme Soviet building. Transdniester is in many ways one of the last bastions of communist nostalgia in the former USSR.

Crows circle a statue of Lenin in front of the Supreme Soviet building. Transdniester is in many ways one of the last bastions of communist nostalgia in the former USSR.

People on a bus commuting to a factory in the cold winter morning.

People on a bus commuting to a factory in the cold winter morning.

Patrons of "Red Heat", a local bar, drinking under banners with the Soviet hammer & sickle. In Transdniester, nostalgia for the USSR runs very high.

Patrons of “Red Heat”, a local bar, drinking under banners with the Soviet hammer & sickle. In Transdniester, nostalgia for the USSR runs very high.

Steel mill. Despite the nationalist rethoric of the breakaway war with Moldova in 1992, critics of Transdniester see their quest for independence as a power grab by factory chiefs and economic elite of the region. Nearly all of Moldova's heavy industry was located in the Transdniester region, and Transdniestrian independence is catastrophic for Moldova.

Steel mill. Despite the nationalist rethoric of the breakaway war with Moldova in 1992, critics of Transdniester see their quest for independence as a power grab by factory chiefs and economic elite of the region. Nearly all of Moldova’s heavy industry was located in the Transdniester region, and Transdniestrian independence is catastrophic for Moldova.

Streetscene during a snowstorm

Streetscene during a snowstorm

The population of Transdniester is mainly ethnic Russians, and the main religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity. Here a priest gives his blessings before a christening in the icy waters of January.

The population of Transdniester is mainly ethnic Russians, and the main religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity. Here a priest gives his blessings before a christening in the icy waters of January.

Russian stripper in a nightclub.

Russian stripper in a nightclub.

Steel mill. Despite the nationalist rethoric of the breakaway war with Moldova in 1992, critics of Transdniester see their quest for independence as a power grab by factory chiefs and economic elite of the region. Nearly all of Moldova's heavy industry was located in the Transdniester region, and Transdniestrian independence is catastrophic for Moldova.

Steel mill. Despite the nationalist rethoric of the breakaway war with Moldova in 1992, critics of Transdniester see their quest for independence as a power grab by factory chiefs and economic elite of the region. Nearly all of Moldova’s heavy industry was located in the Transdniester region, and Transdniestrian independence is catastrophic for Moldova.

People headed to work in the morning.

People headed to work in the morning.

Outside the underground bar Prokhlada, a sign warns of the clubs conditions: No hand grenades, guns, knives, syringes, bottles, gas canisters or fighting allowed

Outside the underground bar Prokhlada, a sign warns of the clubs conditions: No hand grenades, guns, knives, syringes, bottles, gas canisters or fighting allowed

People attending a church-run soup kitchen. Most Transdniestrians are poor, and a large portion of the population are pensioneers longing for the better times of the USSR.

People attending a church-run soup kitchen. Most Transdniestrians are poor, and a large portion of the population are pensioneers longing for the better times of the USSR.

 

*In 2013, Moldova (together with Ukraine) seeked to strengthen economic and political relations with Europe. As a result, a Russian envoy was sent to Moldova’s capital Chisinau: “Energy supplies are important in the run-up to winter. I hope you won’t freeze”, suggesting Russia will cut off gas supplies to Moldova for its pro-Europe stance. (source)

The Other Moldova – Investigating illegal arms trafficking and accusations of possession of weapons of mass destruction

The breakaway Republic of Transnistria looks set to be the cause of more tensions between Russia and Moldova.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Eastern Moldova broke away from the rest of the country and moved closer to Russia. The self styled Republic of Transnistria is recognized by no other nation. It relies on 1,200 stationed Russian troops for protection and its criminal gangs have moved into Moldova. Now Moldova is pushing for a Russia withdrawal from Transnistria. “Transnistria is a festering criminal sore which is infecting all its neighbors,” states expert Dr Galeotti.

 Documentary analyzes the corruption and Russian connections

 The danger Transnistria presents as weapon smuggling haven

 

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Abkhazia, South Ossetia – breakaway regions of Georgia (under Russian de-facto control)

Although Abkhazia is isolated, half-abandoned and still suffering war wounds due to its unrecognized status, both locals and Russian tourists are drawn to the warm waters of the Black Sea. This unrecognized country, on a lush stretch of Black Sea coast, won its independence from the former Soviet republic of Georgia after a fierce war in 1993.

Although Abkhazia is isolated, half-abandoned and still suffering war wounds due to its unrecognized status, both locals and Russian tourists are drawn to the warm waters of the Black Sea. This unrecognized country, on a lush stretch of Black Sea coast, won its independence from the former Soviet republic of Georgia after a fierce war in 1993.

With its lush Black Sea location, Abkhazia is trying to attract Russian tourists. Here, at a road stop on the tour bus route, an entrepreneur, who charges tourists 10 rubles to photograph his bear, catches his breath between busloads.

With its lush Black Sea location, Abkhazia is trying to attract Russian tourists. Here, at a road stop on the tour bus route, an entrepreneur, who charges tourists 10 rubles to photograph his bear, catches his breath between busloads.

Babushka "Tanya," an elderly ethnic Russian woman, heads back to her bombed out apartment building after walking her dog. Despite the damages, three apartments remain occupied in the building

Babushka “Tanya,” an elderly ethnic Russian woman, heads back to her bombed out apartment building after walking her dog. Despite the damages, three apartments remain occupied in the building

Babushka Tanya's run down apartment. Her building was on the front line between Abkhazian and Georgian forces during the 1993 war.

Babushka Tanya’s run down apartment. Her building was on the front line between Abkhazian and Georgian forces during the 1993 war.

People sailing out on the Black Sea.

People sailing out on the Black Sea.

Russian tourist girl in a Soviet-era resort "Pensionat Energetik," on the coast of Gagra.

Russian tourist girl in a Soviet-era resort “Pensionat Energetik,” on the coast of Gagra.

Damaged apartment building on the outskirts of Sukhum. Some of the apartments are still occupied.

Damaged apartment building on the outskirts of Sukhum. Some of the apartments are still occupied.

A man with Tuberculosis. Abkhazia has high rates of TB. "Doctors Without Borders" supply the DOTS treatment in this hospital.

A man with Tuberculosis. Abkhazia has high rates of TB. “Doctors Without Borders” supply the DOTS treatment in this hospital.

Pentecostals listen to preacher in a cellar of former synagogue. Tshinvali, South Ossetia, 2009

Pentecostals listen to preacher in a cellar of former synagogue. Tshinvali, South Ossetia, 2009

Burnt school in one of the Georgian enclaves. South Ossetia, 2009

Burnt school in one of the Georgian enclaves. South Ossetia, 2009

Municipal orphanage, Tshinvali, South Ossetia, 2009

Municipal orphanage, Tshinvali, South Ossetia

Andrei Nekrasov’s documentary “Russian Lessons” focused on the two breakaway regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The following are 2 extracts

Abkhazia

South Ossetia

BBC documentary

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Nagorno-Karabakh – breakaway region of Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh

Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh

AZERBAIJAN. Nagorno-Karabakh NYC51118

AZERBAIJAN. Nagorno-Karabakh

AZERBAIJAN. Nagorno-Karabakh 1

AZERBAIJAN. Nagorno-Karabakh 2

How the conflict began (Ferghana valley and its involvement mentioned at 20:30)

Nagorno Karabakh conflict thoroughly explained, including the Russian involvement

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Uzbekistan – Ferghana Valley

The most complicated border negotiations in the Central Asia region involve the Fergana Valley, where multiple enclaves struggle to exist. Three countries share in the tangled border region; Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan all have historic and economic claims to the regions transport routes and natural resources.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, border negotiations left substantial Uzbek populations stranded outside of Uzbekistan. In south-western Kyrgyzstan, a conflict over land between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks exploded in 1990 into large-scale ethnic violence (reoccurring in 2010). By establishing political units on a mono-ethnic basis in a region where various peoples have historically lived side by side, the Soviet process of national delimitation sowed the seeds of today’s inter-ethnic tensions.

Uzbekistan Ferghana Valley 2002 An Uzbek border patrol surveys one of the valley's seven territorial enclaves. The myriad borders of the valley make it hard to control and ideal for smugglers.

An Uzbek border patrol surveys one of the valley’s seven territorial enclaves. The myriad borders of the valley make it hard to control and ideal for smugglers.

Uzbekistan Ferghana Valley The government crackdown on Islam is forcing religion underground, into secret schools and mosques such as this one.

The government crackdown on Islam is forcing religion underground, into secret schools and mosques such as this one.

Uzbekistan Ferghana Valley A father who has three sons in jail for unsanctioned religious activity.

A father who has three sons in jail for unsanctioned religious activity.

Uzbekistan Ferghana Valley A woman who has lost most of the men in her family tp religious persecution. She has also been accused of religious crimes.

A woman who has lost most of the men in her family to religious persecution. She has also been accused of religious crimes.

Uzbekistan Ferghana Valley Here in the center of the underground religious movement, nearly all men keep a close shave to avoid government suspicion

Here in the center of the underground religious movement, nearly all men keep a close shave to avoid government suspicion.

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Kazakhstan – the toxic Russian rocket fuel issue

Toxic Russian Rocket Fuel Target of Kazakh Anger 

A nationalist political party in Kazakhstan has called on the government to ban future launches of Russian Proton-M carrier rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome over concerns that they spew a particularly toxic form of rocket fuel into the Kazakh steppe.

Also at play are issues of sovereignty arising from the intergovernmental agreements governing Russia’s use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which the NSDP views as an affront to “the concept of sovereignty of Kazakhstan!” READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

Kazakhstan A band of scrap metal dealers scan while waiting for a rocket to crash.

A band of scrap metal dealers scan while waiting for a rocket to crash.

Kazakhstan The flaming wreck of the same rocket after it crashed during the night.

The flaming wreck of the same rocket after it crashed during the night.

Kazakhstan The fiery wreck of a rocket after it crashed during the night.

The fiery wreck of a rocket after it crashed during the night.

Kazakhstan A Soyuz rocket fuel tank lies on the steppe.

A Soyuz rocket fuel tank lies on the steppe.

Kazakhstan Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region's future due to the toxic rocket fuel.

Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel.

Kazakhstan Altai Dead cows lying on a cliff. The local population claim whole herds of cattle and sheep regularly die as a result of rocket fuel poisoned soil

Dead cows lying on a cliff. The local population claim whole herds of cattle and sheep regularly die as a result of rocket fuel poisoned soil.

Journalism in N. Caucasus – Executions and censorship

In the troubled North Caucasus, free uncensored journalism is intrinsically intertwined with the denouncement of human rights abuses, which are still taking place on an almost daily basis.

Below are the stories of a few of the journalists committed to documenting realities of life in North Caucasus republics – in many cases at the price of their own life.

Beyond the sacrifices of a few brave men and women, what’s left behind is the never-ending lack of reaction from the international community and the same brutal reality, hidden behind flashy photographs of  a rebuilt Grozny and Russian news reports of a miraculous return to normality in the region.

UPDATE: Human Rights NGO’s decapitated by Kremlin

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Anna Politkovskaya Russian journalist Chechnya warsAnna Politkovskaya – born on August 30, 1958 to a family of Soviet diplomats of Ukrainian origin. She graduated Moscow state University with major in Journalism.

In 1999 she was invited to work as an observer to an independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Since then, Anna Politkovskaya dedicated herself to uncovering human rights abuses and denouncing the corruption in Kremlin.

In November 1999, she organized the evacuation of 89 residents of Grozny Nursing Home (ethnic Russians) from the war zone, and helped them settle in various regions of Russia. In the summer of 2000, 22 elderly where forcefully returned to Grozny by the Russian authorities. Politkovskaya wrote: “the purpose of this action was to demonstrate to the world that the conflict in Chechnya is over”. The elderly found themselves without water, medication, food and clothes. On her initiative, Novaya Gazeta collected 5.5 tons of humanitarian aid and 5000 dollars to help them.

In 2001, while reporting on the war in Chechnya, she was detained by Russian troops. During the interrogation, she was reportedly beaten and threatened.

Seven years on the front line – Anna’s 7 years of work with exclusive footage

One of the cases she worked on was a false amnesty promised by Putin in 2000. See video below and full story here Cruel amnesty

In October 2002, Anna participated in negotiations with the Chechens who had seized the theater in Moscow. Together with Doctor Leonid Roshal, she was allowed into the building of the Theater. They handed fresh water and other food and drinks to the hostages.

When the Beslan school siege happened, Politkovskaya flew to Beslan in hope to speak with the terrorists and prevent the final tragedy. She was heavily poisoned in the plane, but survived the assassination attempt.

On October 7 2006, she was shot dead while entering her apartment block.

Anna Politkovskaya Funeral

Books by Anna Politkovskaya (click on photo)

Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy

Putin's_Russia_book_cover

A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya

A Small Corner of Hell Dispatches from Chechnya war north caucasus

Is Journalism Worth Dying For?

Is Journalism Worth Dying For Final Dispatches

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Natalia Estemirova in Grozny Chechnya war Russia victim

 

 

 Natalya Estemirova – born on 28 February 1958 to Russian and Chechen parents. She graduated from Grozny University with a degree in history.

In 1991 she started her journalism career; during the first Chechen war she started to document human rights abuses on civilians by the Russian army.

Estemirova was a frequent contributor to the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and personally collaborated with Anna Politkovskaya.

Her documentation of human rights abuses continued as she became a board member of the Russian human rights organisation Memorial.

On 15 July 2009, Estemirova was abducted in front of her flat in Grozny as she was leaving for work. Two days later, her body was found in neighboring Ingushetia.

Testimonies of Novy Aldy massacre survivors, interviewed by Natalya

In 2007, Natalya was the first person to be awarded the Anna Politkovskaya award for her work

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“Accident” during which an opponent of Russian policies is killed while in police custody

Maksharip Aushev, the man who continued his work, was assassinated one year later

Ingush Opposition Activist Laid to Rest

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Pulitzer Center’s project “Journalism and Censorship in the Caucasus”

Elena Maglevannaya exposed the torture of Chechen detainees in Russian prisons. Read more here

Zurab Markhiev (of Ingushetia): “If you are a journalist in the Caucasus you have to be a human rights defender at the same time.”

Read more here

Fatima Tlisova on reporting journalist murders in the Caucasus

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Caucasian Knot, one of the few independent newspapers in North Caucasus – which reports both in Russian and English – has lost two journalists in the last 4 years. See their news website here

Murder reports Caucasian Knot correspondent assassinated in Dagestan

Akhmednabiev, "Caucasian Knot" correspondent murdered in July 2013

Akhmednabiev, “Caucasian Knot” journalist murdered in July 2013

NOTE: The above stories reflect only a few examples of brutality against journalists as the real numbers of abuses are countlessly multiplied.

To read about ongoing human rights abuses in North Caucasus, click on the links below

Chechnya today – “Worse than war”

Clean up anti-terror operations

Enforced disappearances (kidnappings by the authorities)

Analysis on Russian media censorship (minute 11:35)

East Prigorodny conflict – Ingushetia North Ossetia

During the XIX century, the Ossetians were Russia’s key regional allies in its battle to conquer the surrounding highlanders, including the Ingush, Chechens and Circassians. Ossetians offered little resistance to Russian invasion and were quick to convert from their native pagan religion to Orthodox Christianity – though pagan elements remain or were intertwined with Christian elements, and a significant segment of population remains pagan.

In exchange for certain privileges, the Ossetians sided with Russian troops and together they colonized and renamed several western Ingush villages and built Vladikavkaz fortress, which today is North Ossetia’s capital city.

Map showcasing in red the territories handed over to neighboring republics after the 1944 Chechen-Ingush deportation and dissolution of their republic.

Map showcasing in red the territories handed over to neighboring republics after the 1944 Chechen-Ingush deportation and dissolution of their republic.

At the end of World War II, Stalin deported several North Caucasus nations to central Asia. The entire Ingush and Chechens nations were deported and their history archives destroyed. Villages (many of them historic settlements) were blown up, and other ethnicities were forcefully settled in abandoned villages.  In Ingushetia, the western part of its territory – East Prigorodny district – was incorporated into North Ossetia.

Upon rehabilitation in 1957, the (surviving)  returnees found that a big chunk of their territory had been handed over to North Ossetia. The Ingush consistently maintained their claim to the territory and their right of return. Several thousands Ingush bought back their homes from Ossetians and waited for a political decision, however their request remained ignored even after the collapse of USSR.

In 1992, a conflict erupted between the two sides. Russia sided with North Ossetians. Faced with an overwhelmingly bigger army, the Ingush swere quickly crushed. Boris Yeltsin issued a decree stating that East Prigorodny district will remain part of North Ossetia.

Click on photo to see the consequences of the 1992 conflict

(certain photos are extremely graphic with signs of severe torture)

north-ossetia-ingushetia-east-prigorodny-north-caucasus-wars-victims

Click on photo to view outcome of 1992 conflict

During the conflict, 600 Ingush were killed and 60.000 others were expelled from east Prigorodny. In violation of orders to separate Ingush and Ossetian armed groups and stop the fighting, Russian troops did little to prevent the human rights violations, the expulsion of Ingush civilians and the looting and destruction of Ingush homes that followed.

Houses of the expulsed Ingush civilians

Houses of the expelled Ingush civilians (source ghalghay.com)

Despite being a traditional ally of Russia, North Ossetia’s privileges remain strictly ideological, as economically it is one of the poorest republics in Russia. In 2003, a new government ruling redirected all local alcohol revenues to the federal budget instead of the regional one, which caused a permanent 60% loss in North Ossetia’s budget revenue (source).

In 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin abolished direct elections in Ingushetia and the  federation heads have since been selected from a shortlist of candidates proposed by the local chapter of the ruling United Russia party. In these circumstances, no pressures or requests can be expected regarding the Prigorodny issue.

Documentary on the East Prigorodny conflict (Russian language). Contains rare footage of the aftermath; the conflict remained largely ignored by the international media, therefore foreign reporting is poor or non-existent.

Russia bans movie on Stalin deportations of Chechens

Quick reminder: Between 1939-1945, Stalin carried out massive deportations of Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Finns, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Crimean Tatars, Balkars, Karachay, Digors (from Ossetia) and the entire populations of Chechnya and Ingushetia – numbering 7-8 million people (although the numbers could be higher). Half of them died due to hunger, cold, lack of medical care, or simply because they were forced to “work to death”.

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Source – Reuters News

MOSCOW: Russia has refused to permit the release of a film about the mass deportations of entire ethnic groups on Stalin’s orders during World War II, calling it anti-Russian and a falsification of history.

Russia-bans-film Stalin-deportations-Chechens Siberia soviet

The historical drama shot in Chechnya details how the Soviets forcibly deported the whole Chechen nation and the related Ingush group — half a million people — from their homeland in the North Caucasus to Central Asia in the winter of 1944, accusing them of lacking loyalty to the state.

A culture ministry official condemned the film as a “historical falsification” in a letter shown to AFP by the film’s scriptwriter and producer, Ruslan Kokanayev.

“We consider the film will promote ethnic hatred,” wrote Vyacheslav Telnov, director of the ministry’s cinema department, in the letter in response to a request for a release certificate.

Titled “Ordered to Forget”, the film was intended to mark the 70th anniversary of the deportations this year. The culture ministry, which licenses cinema releases, singled out a massacre depicted in the film in which 700 people were burnt to death in the Chechen mountain village of Khaibakh in 1944.

The ministry said it had searched three Russian state archives including the files of the NKVD security forces that carried out the deportations and Stalin’s personal files.

 “As a result of the investigation, no documents were discovered proving the fact of the mass burning of residents,” the ministry said.

“This allows us to conclude that claims of this ‘event’ are a historical falsification.”

An advisor to Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, Larisa Khon, told the Kommersant daily the ministry had not taken a final decision on the film and would carry out a further expert assessment. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.

Chechnya deportations atrocities war crimes movie russia

 ‘A generally accepted fact’

But Alexander Cherkasov of rights group Memorial told AFP the Khaibakh massacre “is considered a generally accepted fact.”

“On February 23 (1944), snow fell in the mountains and it was difficult to move the people out on foot. They brought out the men, but set fire to those who could not walk,” Cherkasov said. “It is only possible to argue about the numbers of the dead.”

The ministry “apparently acted on the principle: let’s not get ourselves into trouble,” Cherkasov said.

The film’s makers were taken aback by the decision. “I didn’t expect it because we were sure we’d get a distribution licence, because these facts are known,” Kokanayev said by telephone from the Chechen capital Grozny.

“I intend to contest this ban,” Kokanayev said. “We will go to court and show that we are in the right.” The history graduate from Chechen State University in Grozny also denied that the film could incite ethnic hatred of Russians. “The film can’t be anti-Russian because it doesn’t say one nation killed another nation,” he said. “Some Russians behaved well towards those deported.”

Russia under President Vladimir Putin has increasingly taken on the mantle of the Soviet Union and prides itself on its victories while downplaying the millions of deaths under Stalin’s forced industrialization, collectivization and prison camps.

Putin has voiced opposition to debate on history and is overseeing the creation of a single history textbook series to be used by all schools.

The film is a “full-length feature film, the first Chechen film,” said Kokanayev. Unusually for a movie maker, the 52-year-old works as the head of a municipal district in Chechnya.

The film was financed by “private investors in Grozny and Moscow,” he said. “We didn’t have any financing from the (state) budget.” It stars several acclaimed actors including Roza Khairullina, who last year won best actress at Russia’s prestigious Golden Mask theatre awards.

The film’s makers have submitted it to a number of film festivals both in Russia and abroad, including the Moscow International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival.

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Read more about the 1944 “Deportations”

 Testimonies

Salman Dudayev was in the trenches of Stalingrad when he was told he was being exiled on charges of helping the invading Nazi army

Mukhazhar Dzhabrailova was the sole survivor in her family

Other video testimonies

Crimeans
Romanians
Poles

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.

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. 

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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

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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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 

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 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.

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).

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.

One of the common punishment practices involves destruction of property (blowing up residences) on the basis of suspicion. Upon proof of innocence, no compensation is 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 law which restricts the activity of Human Rights organizations. More here Human Rights and Kremlin

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