Russian Federation: Amnestied people as targets for persecution in Chechnya

Report
from International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Published on 16 May 2007
Executive Summary

Following the death on 10 July 2006 of Shamil Basaev, the leader of a Chechen armed resistance fraction responsible for numerous terrorist attacks, Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Patrushev, on behalf of the anti-terrorist committee of the Russian Federation, called on all members of illegal armed groups in Chechnya to lay down their arms within two weeks. An official text spelling out the conditions for the amnesty, and marking the 15 January 2007 as the final deadline, was adopted only in late September, when the Russian State Duma quickly passed a draft law put forward by President Putin.

This law was applicable not only to members of illegal armed groups but also Russian servicemen who had committed crimes "during the counter-terrorist operations in the territory of Russian entities within the Southern Federal District." However, persons on the both sides who had committed grave and particularly grave crimes were excluded from the amnesty. The Human Rights Center "Memorial" and several other human rights organizations criticized this aspect of the law, arguing that it rendered the law largely meaningless with respect to real fighters. The organisations expressed concern that the law would primarily be used to formally amnesty former rebel fighters who had already joined the "Kadyrovtsy," thereby legitimizing their position. According to official figures, 546 armed militants in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus laid down their arms under the amnesty after Patrushev's call to surrender and till 15 January 2007.

In this report, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) presents a series of cases of persons who went through previous amnesty processes as well as through the latest one.

Unfortunately, according to numerous testimonies civilians most at risk of persecutions are amnestied militants and their relatives. They are abducted and tortured, frequently with the purpose of fabricating criminal cases against them. Some are extra-judicially executed.

Many individuals were forced into an "amnesty" as a result of torture, threats or coercion. Others were persuaded to do that by the law-enforcement agencies and the local administrations, which were interested in showing impressive numbers of the surrendered fighters to raise their status in the eyes of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and his team. Yet, again others were supporters of the separatist movement, but never took part in the actual fighting and either have did services or none at all to the armed rebels, but who thought going through the amnesty process would improve their security situation and that of their families. Notably, many of those individuals were persecuted (including abducted, tortured and killed) after their "amnesty". In one more case a person, according to his own words, was simply tired of hiding and wanted to live a normal life. However, that individual admitted that he made a decision to surrender after his brother had been arrested.

Though the Federal authorities are incapable of or unwilling to guarantee the safety of surrendering individuals, such guarantees are given by Ramzan Kadyrov, who became Chechen President in April 2007, but was the de-facto ruler already as of May 2004. Kadyrov claims to ensure the safety and the impunity of those former fighters who are ready to renounce their separatist past by means of changing from rebel armed formations to the armed formations under his own command. In such cases it does not matter whether an official amnesty act is enforced or not. If these persons then tried to leave Kadyrov's security agencies, they would be detained as members of an illegal armed formation, or worse, would risk not only their own lives, but also the lives of their relatives. The report, following the Chechen population's habitual language use, calls this "grey amnesty" or "Kadyrov's amnesty".

Judging by all appearances, the latest Chechen amnesty is yet another link in the chain of virtual conflict resolution, following the flawed 2003 Referendum on the Constitution of Chechnya and the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in the republic. An amnesty process capable of creating a feeling of fairness among the concerned parties and representing a clear marker for an end to the conflict in Chechnya is still missing.