Russia

On the continuing brutality against civilians in Chechnya

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Moscow, 22 January 2003. While the Russian state takes steps to push displaced Chechens out of IDP camps and has organized a constitutional referendum in Chechnya for 23 March 2003 - promoting the notion that the situation is being "normalized" - civilians continue to be abducted, beaten, tortured and murdered by Russian military and security forces.
"While this situation of grave insecurity for the civilian population makes holding a fair referendum impossible, it also demonstrates the need for a mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that can monitor the human rights situation," stated Aaron Rhodes, director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) at a press conference in Moscow on 22 January 2003. Russia has broken off discussions about re-installing an OSCE Mission in Chechnya.

Human rights monitoring organizations including Memorial have documented numerous disappearances and cases of extreme violence against Chechen civilians the first two weeks of January 2003. For example, 11 persons - all men - have disappeared from one district in Grozny alone. Local monitors also report that on 14 January, four more persons were abducted during a raid near the central market, and numerous persons were beaten including a pregnant woman during the same incident.

Mutilated bodies of disappeared persons continue to be found, some in graves and others left apparently to intimidate the population. On 13 January, 10 corpses were discovered, all of which had been mutilated by explosives. Several could be identified as persons who had been abducted by Federal forces about three weeks earlier, according to numerous witnesses. But the General Prosecutor of Chechnya stated that the victims had been executed by Chechen rebels.

"Mop-up operations" (Zachistki) are not as common as in previous months, as soldiers now tend to apprehend single individuals. Most disappeared continue to be men in their productive years. More and more of the recovered corpses of disappeared persons have been blown up with explosives or otherwise mutilated beyond recognition.

About 40 disappearences per month have been confirmed by Memorial, but this can only be considered a partial accounting as not all parts of Chechnya can be thoroughly monitored.

Representatives of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) met with numerous Chechen civil society activists in Nazran, Ingushetia on 19-21 January 2003. The IHF received reports of many other incidents of violence that have not been confirmed.

For more information:

Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director, +43-1-408 8822 or +43-676-635-6612
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, IHF President and Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, +7-095-207 6069