Author: Mary Elizabeth Grant
Editor: Jessie Zaylía
On Behalf of USD School of Law’s International Human Rights Law Society
For the last nine years, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Doctors without Borders, and many other human rights organizations have reported wide spread human rights violations in Chechnya. Russian and Chechen security forces, along with Chechen rebel forces are accused of widespread torture, rape, executions, kidnapping, and forced “disappearances” in Chechnya.
The source of conflict derives from Chechens who want Chechnya to be an independent country while Russia attempts to maintain its control over the territory. The Russians conquered the Chechen territory located in the Caucasus mountain range in 1859. Though Chechens achieved brief independence in the 1920, Russia quickly regained control in 1922. When the Nazis marched into the Chechen region during World War II, the Chechens again attempted to establish independence from Russia. However, when the war ended, Stalin deported Chechens to Siberia for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis. Tens of thousands of Chechens are estimated to have died as a result of deportations.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Chechnya once again declared its independence. Responding swiftly and expecting a quick victory, Russia sent troops to Chechnya to force the territory to join the Russian Federation in 1994. While a signed peace agreement between Russia and Chechnya (two years later) gave Chechnya autonomy, it did not grant Chechnya independence. Since then, Russia has attempted to quash rebels by conducting a reign of terror over civilians.
The Chechen government was weak and unable to control the rebel warlords that took over the region. The rebels kidnapped civilians and held them for ransom and also frequently beheaded their captives. Further, the rebels conducted terrorist attacks in other territories; they are accused of exploding two civilian airlines and of bombing a Moscow train.
In an attempt to gain control and to prevent the rebellion from spreading to other territories, the Russian government sponsored a new constitution that provided Chechnya with even greater autonomy. Elections in 2005, suspected of being rigged, resulted in a primarily pro-Moscow parliament. In April, 2007, Vladimir Putin’s protégé, Ramzan Kadyrov, was elected president of Chechnya. Now, Kadyrov’s security forces, in conjunction with Russian armed forces, are accused of widespread human rights violations.
Currently, Kadyrov’s security forces abduct people from their homes without providing any explanations to family members or information regarding where the abductees are being taken. The few who have been released from the security forces’ control report torture and recall deplorable conditions of secret detention centers. Those who have been released or escaped claim they were tortured in order to elicit confessions of providing food and shelter to rebels when they were innocent of those charges.
Overall, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people have “disappeared” from Chechnya since 1999. Because many people don’t report the disappearance of relatives for fear of reprisals, arriving at solid figures is difficult because Chechens fear that other family members will be taken. Indeed, many who have sought justice frequently experienced retaliation and, in some cases, have been murdered. The Russian government has been uncooperative in providing resources to help families find the missing.
The Commissioner of Human Rights visited Chechnya in March of 2007. He publicly stated, “The disappearance of a human being is a tragedy, a gross violation of his/her rights. It is also a crime against humanity. This problem must be addressed by the authorities, in order to find the truth, punish the guilty, and preserve the health of society.” [Council of Europe, Initial Conclusions of the visit to the Chechen Republic, March 6, 2007.]
In the last twelve months, the European Court of Human Rights has issued eight rulings in which they found Russia to be responsible for executions, torture, disappearances, and failure to investigate reported crimes in Chechnya. The Court ruled that Russia has violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 2 (right to life), Article 3, (prohibition of torture), Article 5 (right to liberty and security), Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), and Article 38 (furnish necessary facilities for the examination of the case). The Court has awarded plaintiffs with pecuniary and non pecuniary damages, as well as reimbursement of costs and expenses.
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CPT) issued its third statement on March 13, 2007, calling on Russia to take action to stop the human rights violations in Chechnya. As the CPT works confidentially with governments of countries to stop violations, the three public statements regarding one country are unprecedented and representative of Russia’s lack of compliance.
The European Court of Human Rights has no authority to force Russia to comply with its rulings. Rather, Russia has sole discretion to follow through with awarding damages to the victims, investigating crimes, and informing families as to the fate of “disappeared” persons. Despite the positive move of the European Court to attempt to provide the victims of crimes in Chechnya with justice, the perpetrators are held unaccountable to date. Such impunity provides a forum for the abuses to continue, which ultimately undermines the social and political fabric of Chechnya and will continue to do so unless the international community applies significant pressure on Russia to take action and end the crimes against humanity.
For cases on this topic, please see: Chitayev and Chiteyev v. Russia. App. No. 59334/00; Baysayeva v. Russia. App. No. 74237/01; Musayev and others v. Russia. App. No. 57941/00, 58699/00, 60403/00; Magomadov and Magomadov v. Russia. App. No. 68004/01; Bitiyeva and X v. Russia. App. No. 57953/00 and 37392/03; Estamirov and Others v. Russia. App. No 60272/00; Imakayeva v. Russia. App. No. 7615/01; Luluyev and Others v. Russia. App. No 69480/01; Khashiyev and Akayeva v. Russia. Nos. 57942/00 and 57945/00; Isayeva v. Russia. App. No. 57950/00; Isayeva, Yusupova, and Bazayeva v. Russia. App. No. 57947/00, 57948/00, 57949/00; Bazorkina v. Russia. App. No 69481/01