Human Rights Defenders Threatened and Intimidated in Chechnya
On June 1, in Grozny, in Skver Zhurnalistov (Journalists’ Park) there was a picket devoted to the problem of enforced disappearance of Chechen residents. The action was organized by human rights NGO “Materinskaya Trevoga” (Mother’s Anxiety). Besides human rights defenders, among the participants there were relatives of people subjected to enforced disappearance.
The picket was aimed at attracting attention to the problem of enforced disappearances in the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Rights defenders of the Joint Mobile Group of Russian human rights organizations (JMG) which has been permanently working in the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria since 2009 also joined the picket.
As for pro-Russian officials, the event was attended by Magomed Daudov, head of the pro-Russian Chechen President’s Office and Government, and Muslim Khuchiyev, pro-Russian Grozny Mayor. Having talked to picket participants, the latter noticed JMG lawyers and asked them to come up and tell him who they were and where they came from. JMG leader Dmitry Utukin introduced himself and narrated about JMG’s objectives and tasks, as well as about the reasons for JMG’s participation in the picket.
Magomed Daudov asked Roemer Lemaitre (Belgian national) about the purpose of his visit to Chechnya. Mr.Lemaitre explained that he was investigating into abductions of individuals by state agents. Daudov advised him to return to Belgium to set men kissing each other right in the street apart.
After a short conversation Khuchiyev invited the JMG to the pro-Russian Grozny Mayor’s Office “to get to know each other better and have a more specific talk”. The talk appeared to be a meeting with quite a number of participants, with the pro-Russian Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the pro-Russian Chechen President’s Office and Government Magomed Daudov, the pro-Russian Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiyev, Head of the pro-Russian so-called Chechen Investigative Administration under the Russian Investigative Committee Viktor Ledenyov, the pro-Russian Chechen Prosecutor Mikhail Savchin, the pro-Russian Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov and other high-standing officials among them. Workers of Materinskaya Trevoga and mothers whose children had disappeared were also present in the meeting.
The meeting was opened by the pro-Russian Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who addressed the participants in Chechen. Then he switched to Russian and continued with slashing criticism in respect of human rights organizations, and particularly, the Committee Against Torture. He pointed to CAT International Law Expert Roemer Lemaitre: “These ones, with long hair, have arrived from Belgium to ruin the sovereignty. The war was unleashed here because of them. We are working for the population to feel fine. I have lost everything I had because of the war. 420 people under my commander have perished. I have invited the Minister (Interior Minister), Prosecutor, Investigative Committee Head. As a guarantor I am sure that the culprits will be held responsible for what they have done, if not right now, then in Kingdom come. These guys (pointing to JMG members) hate Chechens. They have come here to earn money! They are taking pictures of everything in order to upload them to the internet to make us butt heads. Together with Kalyapin (CAT Chairman) they have all the powers to put an end to lawlessness, they can bring whoever they need from Europe. They don’t want this, they want us to beg, to implore. I am asking you – Are you going to help me? Or you only help shaitans and their aides who must be destroyed? I am going to defend human right till the end of my days (addressing mothers of disappeared people). I’m searching for your sons. Putin cares for our folk, without Putin, we would not live now. Human rights defenders are not interested in you, human rights organizations are not working. Kalyapin praised me saying that I was great and then wrote nonsense to the European Parliament! They are watching, filming, today they wanted the police to disperse you with clubs, like in Spain, and then they would broadcast it in the internet. I am ready to answer any questions. Please ask me a question that would make me blush!”
After that the floor was given to JMG leader Dmitry Utukin. Ignoring the filth and mire that the JMG had been dragged through, he asked a specific question – Why are investigators afraid to question high-standing pro-Russian Interior Ministry commanders? Why don’t they conduct investigative activities? Why those who do take investigative steps face pressure and fierce opposition?
Mr. Kadyrov did not let him finish and started explaining that even he had been interrogated under Zarema Gaysanova’s case (“The wife of a shaitan we had killed, but we let her go” – Kadyrov). He added that all law enforcement bodies were constantly in touch with him and were allowed to access any place in Chechnya.
Then the pro-Russian Chechen President left the meeting and Magomed Daudov, head of the pro-Russian Chechen President’s Office and Government, took the floor. He explained that he knew about JMG’s activities not by hearsay. In 2010 he learnt that some individuals were offering Chechen residents money in exchange for false statements about tortures. He personally checked that report and detained three JMG participants, kept them in a police department for a night and then released. He once again accused the JMG of bribing. He also remarked that in August 2009 there was an attempt on his life, and the CAT was representing one of the accused under that case. “Now it turns out that I am a thug and they are victims. They have even filed an application with Strasbourg claiming the conviction was wrong.” Magomed Daudov did not let JMG members respond to that lie by constantly interrupting them.
However, it must be noted that Daudov (who has a degree in law and a diploma with honours – this information he has gladly shared) should know that if there are no charges brought against a detainee, the detention must not exceed three hours. Besides, in Idrisov’s case (the one Daudov refers to) the Committee Against Torture is investigating into tortures at the pre-trial investigation stage. Daudov is certainly aware of that, but he has decided to make the JMG look bad in the eyes of journalists and victims.
Further he asked JMG leader Dmitry Utukin what concrete steps he could take to improve the situation in the Russian occupied republic. Mr. Utukin replied that the problem of tortures and abductions should be solved within the legal framework and they were ready to cooperate with the Investigative Committee in any format. Then the floor was given to Viktor Ledenyov, head of the so-called pro-Russian Chechen Investigative Administration under the Russian Investigative Committee. He said that there was no good from JMG’s activities, it just made the things worse. The JMG was interfering with the investigation making various departments quarrel. He maintained that the Committee Against Torture had proposed organizing a workshop on international law, but Ledenyov was sure that the Investigative Committee did not need it. “We do not need your services”, he added.
As for the pro-Russian Chechen Prosecutor Mikhail Savchin, he claimed that he was looking for CAT Chairman Kalyapin to have a meeting with him, but the latter was not available. “I’m not going to meet with you again”, the prosecutor said. Meanwhile, this statement has surprised Kalyapin because neither the Investigative Committee, nor the Prosecutor’s Office have reached out to him, although they know his phone number.
The pro-Russian Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov also contributed to accusations in respect of the JMG. He stated that the JMG was lacking required jurisdiction to engage in operative investigation. In reply to that Utukin pointed out that his Russian citizen’s passport was the only jurisdiction he had. He added: “We have come here to solve the problem and not to drag each other through the mud. We need a platform for an open and honest conversation”.
In his turn, Magomed Daudov assured human right defenders that all doors of the pro-Russian President’s Office were open to them, that he could organize meetings at the top level and called the JMG to an open dialogue. He suggested to meet again and talk in a less tense environment in order to dot the i’s. The JMG expressed hope that the meeting would bring tangible results. At this optimistic point the meeting came to end.
We would like to remind you that the Joint Mobile Group consisting of representatives of various Russian human rights organizations has been working in the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria since 2009. The JMG was created in order to obtain reliable and verified information about human rights violations in the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Besides, the Group is also trying to determine the reasons for ineffective investigation of tortures and abductions by the pro-Russian Chechen investigative authorities. The inadequacy of such investigations is confirmed with increasing frequency by European Court judgments.
JMG lawyers are investigating into the allegations of tortures and abductions which have taken place in the Russian occupied state in recent years. In the framework of such investigations JMG lawyers represent the interests of individuals granted the status of victims in criminal proceedings. These criminal cases are processed by different offices of the pro-Russian Chechen Investigative Administration under the Russian Investigative Committee. While working with these cases, the JMG has many times faced numerous procedural violations committed by officials of different level. However, human rights defenders are especially concerned with the situations when investigative authorities are basically deprived of a possibility to investigate such cases due to poor performance of police agents who systematically fail to perform investigators’ tasks, as well as incapacity of investigative authorities’ heads to solve the problem.
At present the Joint Mobile Group consists of JMG leader Dmitry Utukin – CAT Public Investigation Department Head, Sergey Babinets – Public Investigation Inspector of the CAT Orenburg office and Roemer Lemaitre – CAT International Law expert.
On the other hand, on June 6, The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has published an urgent appeal on this issue. Here is their appeal:
RUS 007 / 0612 / OBS 054
Threats / Intimidation
June 6, 2012
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in the Russian Federation.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by the Committee Against Torture (CAT) about threats and intimidation against the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) of Russian organisations, and in particular against its head, Mr. Dmitry Utukin, and against CAT international law expert, Mr. Roemer Lemaitre.
According to the information received, a picket organised by the human rights NGO “Materinskaya Trevoga” (Mother’s Anxiety) to denounce the enforced disappearances in Chechnya took place on June 1, 2012 in Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic. Human rights defenders, relatives of the disappeared and JMG lawyers attended the picket. The head of the Chechen President’s Office, Mr. Magomed Daudov, as well as the Mayor of Grozny, Mr. Muslim Khuchiyev, were also present.
Mr. Daudov requested Mr. Lemaitre to state the reasons for his presence in Chechnya. After explaining that he was investigating cases of abductions by state agents, he was advised by Mr. Daudov to “return to Belgium to set apart men kissing each others right in the streets”. Several human rights defenders attending the picket were subsequently invited by Mr. Khuchiyev and Mr. Daudov to an impromptu meeting at the Mayor’s Office, where they were joined by Mr. Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen President, Mr. Viktor Ledenyov, Head of the Chechen Investigative Administration, Mr. Mikhail Savchin, Chechen Prosecutor, Mr. Ruslan Alkhanov, Chechen Interior Minister, and other high-ranking officials.
During the meeting, Mr. Kadyrov strongly criticised human rights organisations in general, and the Committee Against Torture in particular. Referring to Mr. Lemaitre, the Chechen President accused “them” of having “unleashed the war” and lashed out at the JMG members for “hating” the Chechens and for “not want[ing] to put an end to lawlessness”. He asked the human rights defenders present in the meeting if they were going to “help [him] or only (…) shaitans [i.e. devils] and their aides who must be destroyed?”.
Attempting to discredit human rights organisations in front of the mothers of the disappeared, Mr. Kadyrov voiced strong criticism of JMG members. “Human rights defenders are not interested in you, human rights organisations are not working”, he said referring to the relatives of the disappeared. Mr. Daudov, for his part, accused JMG of bribing Chechens in exchange for false allegations of torture, and criticised CAT for having represented a defendant in a case of alleged attempt on his life in August 2009. For Mr. Viktor Ledenyov, there was “no good from JMG’s activities, it just [makes] things worse. The JMG [is] interfering with the investigations, making various departments quarrel.” As for Mr. Ruslan Alkhanov, he stated that the JMG was lacking the required jurisdiction to engage in investigations.
The Observatory recalls that JMG lawyers have repeatedly faced procedural violations committed by officials at different level.
More generally, the Observatory emphasises that these incidents of intimidation and veiled threats are not isolated but fall into a very worrying pattern of continuing and threatening rhetoric that paves the way for acts of violence against human rights defenders in the whole country.
The Observatory expresses its deep concerns about the total lack of recognition demonstrated by the authorities, both at the level of the Republic and the Federation, for the fundamental role played by human rights defenders in the Chechen Republic in promoting and protecting fundamental rights and freedoms, and the rule of law. The Observatory is extremely worried that far from fulfilling their duty to protect human rights organisations and their staff, the authorities have on the contrary intimidated, harassed and threatened them in an attempt to discredit and discourage them from carrying out their work.
Please write to the authorities of the Russian Federation, urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Dmitry Utukin and Roemer Lemaitre, as well as other JMG and CAT staff members, and of all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation, particularly in the Chechen Republic;
ii.Put an end to any threat and harassment against Messrs. Dmitry Utukin and Roemer Lemaitre, as well as JMG and CAT staff members, and all human rights defenders, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
iii. Comply with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, especially:
– its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
– and Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;
iv. Comply with the provisions of the Declaration of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the protection of human rights defenders and the promotion of their activities, and in particular with Article 2.i), in which the Committee calls on member States to “create an environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders, enabling individuals, groups and associations to freely carry out activities, on a legal basis, consistent with international standards, to promote and strive for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms without any restrictions other than those authorised by the European Convention on Human Rights”;
v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by the Russian Federation.
· Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Ilinka Str, 23, Moscow, 103132, Moscow, Russian Federation, Faxes:+ 7 495 606 5173 / 630 2408
· Mr. Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Minister of the Interior, Ulitsa Zhitnaya, 16, 117049 Moscow, Russian Federation, Telegram: Rossiia, 117049, Moskva, Fax: + 7 495 637 49 25
· Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Smolenskaya-Sennaya pl, 32/34, 121200 Moscow, Russian Federation, Telegram: Fax:+ 7 495 644 2203
· Mr. Alexander Gennadievich Khloponin, Representative of the President in North Caucasus federal region, Tel: +7793) 97-34-67
· Mr. Vladimir Lukin, Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, Tel: +7 495 607-19-22 / 607-34-67, E-mail: email@example.com
· Mr. Michail Fedotov, Head of the Council under the President for development of civil society and human rights, Tel: +7 495 606-41-84,Fax: +7 495 606-48-55; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; fedotov_MA@gov.ru
· Mr. Alexander Ivanovich Bastrykin, Chairman of the Investigations Committee of the Russian Federation, Building 28, house 15, Naberezhnaya Akademika Tupoleva, Moscow, 105005, Russia, Tel: + 7 495 640 10 48
· H.E. Mr. Alexey Borodavkin, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Avenue de la Paix 15, CH-1211, Geneva 20, Switzerland, E-mail: email@example.com, Fax: +41 22 734 40 44
· Ambassador Mr. Alexandra Romanov, Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, 66, avenue de Fre, Brussels, 1180 Brussels, Belgium. Fax: +32 2 374 26 13. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of the Russian Federation in your respective country.
Geneva-Paris, June 6, 2012
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29