Covering events from January - December 2002

RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Head of state: Vladimir Putin
Head of government: Mikhail Kasyanov
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
International Criminal Court: signed

Russian security forces committed serious human rights violations and breached international humanitarian law in the continuing conflict in the Chechen Republic (Chechnya), with almost total impunity. In the wake of the hostage incident in Moscow in October, law enforcement agencies cracked down on Chechen civilians throughout the Russian Federation. Chechen armed groups committed serious human rights abuses. An estimated 110,000 internally displaced Chechens lived in harsh conditions in neighbouring Ingushetia. They reportedly faced forcible return to Chechnya, in conditions where their security and dignity could not be assured. Elsewhere in the Russian Federation there were continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment. Prison conditions were often cruel, inhuman and degrading. Members of ethnic minorities faced widespread discrimination and racist attacks were often carried out with impunity. Refugees and asylum-seekers were sent back to countries where they faced human rights violations.


Background

A new Criminal Procedure Code came into force on 1 July. Although it did not fully address all the shortcomings of the previous Code, it contained important reforms, including a provision that courts decide whether a suspect should be held in detention and a requirement to bring detainees to court in person within 48 hours of arrest.

In February the Duma (parliament) voted against amending the Criminal Code to include a specific crime of torture.

After the hostage crisis in late October, when about 50 people took more than 800 people hostage at a Moscow theatre, the Duma voted in favour of amendments to laws on the mass media and the fight against "terrorism". There were concerns that these amendments would seriously curtail freedom of expression, but they were vetoed by President Putin who sent them back to the Duma for further consideration.

Reports of ethnically motivated violence by non-state actors in Russia's cities continued. The authorities did little in response to racist statements by public figures in Russia's regions and anti-Semitic publications were openly on sale.

The conflict in Chechnya

Both sides to the conflict continued to commit serious human rights abuses, and the human rights situation in Chechnya deteriorated during the second half of 2002. Chechen fighters intensified their activities, including shooting down a Russian army helicopter in August, killing at least 117 people, and a suicide bomb attack in December. The attitude of federal forces towards the local population hardened still further. After the Moscow hostage-taking incident, federal forces set up more checkpoints and the number of detentions reportedly increased. In the Chechen capital Grozny, there were major raids by Russian security forces in various parts of the city and its suburbs, reportedly carried out with great brutality.

Human rights violations by Russian forces

Human rights violations reported in the conflict zone included extrajudicial executions, "disappearances" and torture, including rape. These violations would constitute war crimes. Other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law included arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment, looting and destruction of property.

  • Five men, including Said-Magomed Imakaev and Ruslan Utsaev, were taken from their homes in the Chechen village of Novye Atagi by Russian security forces on 2 June, and subsequently "disappeared". Said-Magomed Imakaev's son, Said-Khusein Imakaev, had been detained by Russian federal troops in December 2000 and then "disappeared".
  • On 14 February Russian forces reportedly abducted Naip Idigov, a Chechen living in Karabulak in Ingushetia, from his home. In October the body of Naip Idigov was found on a dumping site in Grozny.
Military raids

The so-called zachistki – raids by Russian security forces – continued to be accompanied by reports of serious human rights violations, looting and extortion.
  • The village of Tsotsin-Yurt, east of Grozny, was repeatedly raided during 2002. In March, after two Russian soldiers were reportedly killed there by Chechen fighters, Russian forces blockaded the village. During the blockade, which lasted until 1 April, Russian forces detained approximately 300 men and allegedly subjected them to torture and ill-treatment. Most of the men were later released, with some reportedly paying bribes to secure their freedom. However, at least 15 men were reportedly taken away by Russian forces and "disappeared". Seven villagers were reportedly killed in another raid by Russian security forces on Tsotsin-Yurt in July.
Human rights defenders

Human rights organizations which continued to operate in Chechnya were working in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions. In July, the office of the non-governmental organization Memorial in Grozny was raided by unknown men in uniform. International human rights monitors were severely restricted when attempting to enter the republic.

Impunity

The situation in Chechnya was characterized by the absence of the rule of law. Few of the thousands of crimes against civilians committed by federal forces were investigated, and even fewer were ever taken to court. An official reportedly stated in May that more than 30 military personnel had been tried by the courts for crimes committed in Chechnya. In September an official reported that 44 members of the Russian forces had been convicted for crimes against civilians, including nine for murder, one for rape and three for causing physical harm or death through carelessness.
  • Colonel Yury Budanov, a Russian tank regiment commander, was charged with murdering 18-year-old Kheda Kungaeva in the village of Tangi-Chu in March 2000. However, post-mortem evidence that she had been raped shortly before her death was inexplicably ignored by the prosecution. The trial, which began in February 2001, was repeatedly postponed. In December 2002 a psychiatric report declared Colonel Budanov temporarily insane at the time of the crime, contrary to earlier assessments which had found him sane and responsible for his actions. On 31 December a military court relieved him of criminal responsibility and ordered that he undergo psychiatric treatment. The decision was criticized by Russian human rights groups.
  • An officer was reportedly charged with causing physical harm to Zelimkhan Murdalov, a young man from Grozny, who "disappeared" in January 2001. His family and Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya had reportedly received death threats from the officer, who was accused by witnesses of participating in the abduction. Nevertheless, after four months in pre-trial detention the officer was released in May, subject to further investigation.
Internally displaced people

An estimated 110,000 internally displaced people continued to live in neighbouring Ingushetia. Many languished in overcrowded camps with inadequate shelter and sanitation. After the Moscow hostage crisis, troops from the Russian Federation Ministry of Internal Affairs set up checkpoints to control access to and from the camps.

In May the newly elected president of Ingushetia and the pro-Moscow head of the Chechen administration signed an agreement affirming that "all Chechen refugees should be brought back home from Ingushetia before the end of September". This did not happen, but a new deadline was set for January 2003. On 2 December the camp at Aki Yurt was closed and the Russian authorities threatened to close other camps, despite assurances that no one would be forced to return.

Abuses by Chechen fighters

Chechen forces were reported to have breached international humanitarian law, although independent investigation of these reports was very difficult because of restricted access and insecurity. Chechen fighters operating in populated areas allegedly failed to take measures to protect civilians. Chechen forces targeted civilian members of the pro-Moscow administration in attacks that resulted in dozens of fatalities and serious injuries, and kidnapped civilians and held them hostage. Such abuses can constitute war crimes.
  • At least 80 people were killed and many wounded when two vehicles packed with explosives smashed into the main building of the Moscow-backed civilian Chechen administration in Grozny on 27 December. Chechen fighters claimed responsibility on their website for the attack.
Hostage-taking in a Moscow theatre

A group of about 50 people described as Chechens took hostage some 800 people attending a theatre performance on 23 October. Several hostages were killed by their captors before Russian forces stormed the theatre in the early morning of 26 October, releasing the hostages and killing their captors. An estimated 129 hostages died during or following the raid, mostly as a result of the incapacitating gas used by Russian forces during the rescue operation.

Following the incident, Chechens living in Moscow were not only checked when moving around the city, but were also visited by police in their homes in a check on registration documents. Numerous complaints of ill-treatment during such checks were received, and a number of Chechens were detained, some allegedly on false drugs charges.

Chechnya and the international community

In January the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution deploring "the ongoing serious human rights violations in the Chechen Republic, as well as the lack of progress in investigating past and present crimes and in prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators, which has caused a climate of impunity". Russia refused to authorize publication of reports by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment after its visits to Chechnya.

The Russian authorities and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) failed to reach agreement on extending the mandate of the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya, which expired on 31 December. As a result the activities of the OSCE mission ceased. Its mandate had included promoting democratic institutions, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and a peaceful end to the conflict.

Freedom of expression

Restrictions on freedom of expression included the takeover or closure of independent news outlets such as the television network TV-6, which was closed down in January. TV-6 had been a persistent critic of government policy, especially over the war in Chechnya.
  • In June, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court upheld the decision of a Vladivostok military court that had sentenced prisoner of conscience Grigory Pasko to four years in a labour camp in December 2001. Grigory Pasko, a journalist and naval captain, was arrested in 1997 after exposing the Russian navy's illegal dumping of nuclear waste; he was accused of passing classified documents to Japanese news media.
Conscientious objectors

A new law on alternative military service was signed by President Putin in July to come into force by January 2004. While addressing some concerns raised by AI and other human rights groups, the proposed alternative service fails to satisfy international standards because of its punitive length (42 months as opposed to 24 months' military service) and it is not completely civilian in nature.

Torture and ill-treatment

Police reportedly tortured and ill-treated detainees in custody in order to extract confessions, virtually as a matter of routine. In May the UN Committee against Torture expressed deep concern about numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment of detainees by law enforcement personnel, commonly with a view to obtaining confessions.

People were at greatest risk of torture and ill-treatment in police custody during the hours immediately after arrest, before they were charged. The victims came from all walks of life, but members of ethnic minorities and the poor were most at risk. The persistent failure to ensure thorough investigations and bring perpetrators to justice contributed to a climate of impunity.
  • Two 16-year-old boys, Andrei Osenchugov and Aleksei Shishkin, were arrested in March on suspicion of robbery and held in the Nizhnii Novgorod regional pre-trial detention centre. Andrei Osenchugov was reportedly beaten, kicked, whipped and subjected to electric shocks over a three-day period in late July by two adult cellmates, allegedly on the orders of prison staff. Aleksei Shishkin was reportedly tortured by the same two adult prisoners. When the boys' trial started in August, the judge postponed it so that Andrei Osenchugov could be treated for his injuries. Relatives of the two boys filed complaints, but were informed that the claims had been checked and insufficient grounds found for an investigation to be opened. In October the procuracy did open a criminal investigation against the cellmates. Prison officers reportedly interrogated Andrei Osenchugov and made him sign a confession that he had asked to be beaten up.
Conditions in detention

Prisons in Russia continued to be overcrowded and rife with infectious disease. Often about 100 prisoners were packed into cells of less than 100 square metres and the prisoners had to sleep in shifts. In May the Deputy Justice Minister reportedly stated that more than half of all prisoners were ill, including 92,000 with tuberculosis, 33,600 with HIV/AIDS, and 30,000 with syphilis. Conditions of detention in many pre-trial facilities were so poor that they amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Racially and ethnically motivated discrimination and violence

Discrimination on grounds of race was widespread. Some groups were targeted disproportionately by police for checks of their identity documents, often leading to arbitrary detention or ill-treatment. Asylum-seekers and refugees suffered the additional difficulty that their documentation was frequently not recognized by the police. In some regions whole communities were denied a range of economic, civil and political rights, including their right to citizenship. Discriminatory practices in relation to the issuing of passports and residence registration stamps exposed people to the threat of arbitrary detention, extortion and bribery, and deprived them of a whole range of civil and political rights.
  • In March the governor of Krasnodar Territory in the south announced his intention to initiate a campaign of mass expulsion of "illegal migrants". These included several thousand former citizens of the Soviet Union who had been prevented by local discriminatory policies from asserting their right to Russian citizenship and local residency.
  • In March, three police officers appeared in court charged with fabricating evidence, exceeding their authority, theft and extortion. In July 2000 they had allegedly been among a group of unidentified men who entered a house in Starbeevo village, Khimki district, where Tajik construction workers lived. According to reports, they racially abused and severely beat three men – Azizkhon Davlatov and Samad and Iskandar Ibroimov – before taking them away and charging them with drugs offences. It subsequently emerged that the attackers were police officers led by a major from RUBOP, the organized crime squad, in Moscow Region. The case was pending at the end of 2002.
  • Reports of ethnically motivated violence by non-state actors in Russia's cities continued. Many racist attacks were not reported to the police because the victims feared further abuse. Those who did report attacks alleged that law enforcement officials were reluctant to register attacks as racist, often advising the victims to report the attack as "hooliganism" (defined in Russian law as a "serious breach of the peace").
  • A group of African students, refugees and asylum-seekers was attacked by about 10 Russian men with shaven heads shouting racist abuse in Troparevskii Park, Moscow, in July. Police nearby reportedly refused to help the victims. Germain Soumele Kembou, a student from Cameroon, was seriously injured. Despite needing hospital treatment, he was taken to the police station at Teplyi Stan with two of the alleged attackers for questioning. Unusually, a criminal investigation was opened into this attack, but had not concluded by the end of 2002.
  • In November, five people were sentenced to between three and eight years' imprisonment in connection with an attack in October 2001 by a crowd of 300 youths on a Moscow market. The attack left an Armenian, an Indian and a Tajik dead and about 40 people injured.
Violence against women

In January the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern that the government had not taken sufficiently urgent measures to combat the high level of domestic violence against women. It expressed concern at reports of ill-treatment of women in prisons and the failure of the government, as a rule, to investigate, discipline and prosecute offenders. It stated that, despite strong evidence that Russian forces had committed rape and other sexual violence against women in Chechnya, the government had failed in the vast majority of cases to conduct the necessary investigations or hold anyone accountable.

AI visits

AI delegates visited the Russian Federation in February, March, May, June, July, September and November. An AI delegation including Irene Khan, AI's Secretary General, visited Moscow in October to launch AI's worldwide campaign on human rights in the Russian Federation, Justice for everybody.

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