#18 - JRL 7252
Human Rights Watch
Russia: Abuses Spread Beyond Chechnya
Neighboring Ingushetia Now Affected
(Moscow, July 16, 2003) Russia's abusive military operations are spreading from Chechnya to the neighboring province of Ingushetia, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch researchers in Ingushetia have documented numerous cases of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and looting during recent "sweep" operations conducted in Ingush villages and settlements of displaced Chechens. In one incident, Russian forces appeared to be responsible for killing one person and wounding another. In a separate incident, a Russian soldier shot and wounded a sixteen-year-old boy in the leg.
"In Ingushetia, Russian forces are showing the same patterns of brutal behavior that we've seen in Chechnya," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "The Russian government must rein them in or risk spreading insecurity to Ingushetia."
In June 2003, Russian forces based in Chechnya and the forces of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration conducted a series of sweep operations in Ingush villages and in "spontaneous settlements"--abandoned factories or collective farms where displaced Chechens reside. The operations repeated the same patterns of abuse committed during sweeps in Chechnya.
In one recent incident, at approximately 4 a.m. on June 3, 2003, armored personnel carriers (APCs), which are used only by Russian forces, and other military vehicles encircled the "OOO URS" settlement of Chechen internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nazran. According to several witnesses, dozens of armed men in camouflage uniforms, many of them masked, broke into peoples' homes, forced all the men outside and put them face down on the ground.
Over the next several hours, the armed men took pictures of the Chechen men and conducted unsanctioned searches of the IDPs' shelters. After the armed men left, the settlement dwellers learned that four people had been taken away. Three of them were released the next day, but one was held for sixteen days. This man, who requested anonymity, told Human Rights Watch that he was kept in solitary confinement in an unknown location in Grozny and was never informed of the grounds for his arrest.
Until recently, Ingushetia remained a relatively safe and peaceful area, hosting thousands of IDPs who had fled Chechnya after the outbreak of the second conflict in 1999. The situation changed in 2002 when federal migration authorities started pressuring internally displaced persons living in Ingushetia to return to Chechnya, claiming the situation there had "normalized."
This campaign intensified in December 2002, when the authorities attempted to close tent camps and to force their dwellers back, threatening them with arrests on false charges and impending sweep operations in Ingushetia. An international diplomatic and media outcry, coupled with logistical difficulties, ultimately saved the camps from closure, yet the authorities did not abandon the plan and now appear to have again intensified pressure and threats.
The recent incidents of violence and abuse have had a chilling effect on Chechen IDPs living in Ingushetia. Many witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch believe that Russian authorities have consciously resorted to what they see as the most effective way of forcing them back to Chechnya—making Ingushetia an equally unsafe place.
Chechen displaced persons are not the only victims of the escalating violence. On June 10, three Ingush civilians--sixty-five-year-old Tamara Zabieva and two of her sons, Ali and Umar Zabiev--were returning from their potato field near the village of Galashki, when their truck came under heavy machinegun fire, injuring Zabieva in the back, neck, and head. The brothers took their mother out of the car and Umar stayed with her while Ali ran to the village for help.
Local Ingush police who arrived about an hour later found Zabieva unconscious and sent her to the local hospital, but were unable to find Umar. His body, bearing clear marks of torture and gun shot wounds, was discovered the next morning in a nearby forest. The Ingush police said that evidence suggests involvement by federal servicemen, but the military procuracy has refused to take over the case.
While Galashki has in the past been the scene of clashes between Russian federal forces and Chechen rebel fighters, Human Rights Watch has no indication that any such activity took place in the area that day.
In a separate incident near the same village on June 4, sixteen-year-old Imran Guliev was sitting on a riverbank with three friends, when a column of APCs drove by and a soldier sitting on top of one of the vehicles shot at the boys, wounding Imran in the leg. The military procuracy has to date refused to open an investigation into the incident, despite several witness testimonies describing the soldier and indicating the number of the APC involved.
"Russian authorities have the right and responsibility to counter rebel activity in Ingushetia," said Andersen. "But these operations have to conform with Russian and international law, including the prohibition against targeting civilians."
Meanwhile, over the last months Chechnya has hardly become safer. Despite the Russian government's claims of normalization, the conflict is not winding down, and both sides continue to commit serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
Chechen rebels regularly resort to violence against civilians both in and outside Chechnya, as was demonstrated again by a recent suicide bombing at a music festival in Moscow, reportedly carried out by two Chechen women.
Russian forces in Chechnya also continue to commit serious violations with impunity. The dire human rights situation in Chechnya recently prompted the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to issue a rare public statement on Chechnya. Following a recent visit to Chechnya, the CPT came to the conclusion that law enforcement agencies and federal forces operating in Chechnya continued to be responsible for torture, ill-treatment, and forced disappearances, and that Russian authorities had taken inadequate action to bring to justice those responsible.
"As long as Chechnya remains unsafe, it is the Russian government's responsibility to provide protection and assistance to those displaced by the conflict," said Andersen. "It should ensure that they do not face yet another cycle of violence and abuse in Ingushetia."