"There is no real accountability on 'disappearances' in Chechnya," said Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division. "The U.N. Commission on Human Rights must acknowledge this, and press Russia to invite U.N. monitors to investigate."
Human Rights Watch was strongly critical of the efforts of Russian authorities to curb abuses by its security forces. Russian authorities have introduced some improvements, including better access to complaint mechanisms, the formal opening of investigations in most cases, and the introduction of two decrees requiring the presence of civilian investigators and other nonmilitary personnel during all large-scale military operations and targeted search and seizure operations. These welcome changes notwithstanding, most abuses remain uninvestigated and unpunished. Civilian prosecutors lack authority to investigate crimes by the military and military prosecutors make little effort to look into allegations of abuse. There is also credible evidence that the military obstructs investigations, notably by transferring accused security and law enforcement personnel to avoid having them questioned.
"Ordering the military to behave will never be enough to change things on the ground," said Andersen. "The only effective way to end 'disappearances' is to investigate and prosecute those responsible for carrying them out."
While large-scale fighting in Chechnya nominally ended in 2000, Russian forces continue to detain hundreds of people without charges in the ongoing operations against Chechen rebel forces. Most are subsequently released, but dozens remain unaccounted for - "disappeared" - and are not seen by their families again. Relatives' inquiries to Russian authorities as to whereabouts are met with denials that the "disappeared" persons were ever in custody.
In March 2001, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting 52 cases of forced disappearances that occurred from September 1999 through February 2001. The new report documents 80 cases of "disappearances" that took place in 2001 alone.
"The scale of the ongoing 'disappearances' belies any notion that forced disappearances of civilians in Chechnya is a problem of the past," said Andersen.
The rise in the number of disappearances in targeted raids on private residences is a particularly disturbing new development. The case of Adam Sagaev is typical. Masked men burst into Sagaev's home in the village of Gekhi at 2:00 a.m. on December 14, 2001 and took him away. According to a witness, the men identified themselves as part of the Urus-Martan military commander's office and claimed they had proof that Sagaev was a rebel fighter, an allegation his family has denied. Sagaev's relatives were unable to locate him, as the military commander's office refused to speak to them, and Ministry of Internal Affairs officials denied he was in custody in Urus-Martan. His whereabouts remain unknown.
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