Russia’s NGOs Presented Their Alternative Report on Torture at the UN
Russia’s non-governmental organizations presented their report to the members of the United Nations Committee Against Torture as part of the official hearings on Russian Federation’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
According to the information, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) will evaluate the situation with torture in the Russian Federation as years before, thus the Committee held formal consultations with human rights and other NGOs before the hearing of the state’s report. The purpose of these consultations is so members of the Committee may receive additional information on the situation with torture in the country from persons and organizations that by nature of their work meet with victims of torture. The Committee aims towards optimal objectivity and seeing issues comprehensively from diverse angles in a given state.
The alternative report was made public on November 8 in Geneva. The report was prepared by a coalition of human rights organizations which includes the organizations “Public Verdict Foundation”, “Civic Assistance”, Human Rights Center “Memorial”, “Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg”, “the Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia”, Interregional “Committee Against Torture”, “Human Rights Institute”, Moscow office of “Penal Reform International”, “Youth Human Rights Movement”, Krasnoyarsk “The Committee for the Protection of Human Rights”, “Centre for Civic Education and Human Rights”, “The Russian Justice Initiative” (Utrecht), and the non-profit organization “Legal Assistance – Astraea”.
The report, “Russian NGO Shadow Report on the Observance of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by the Russian Federation for the period from 2006 to 2012”, states that torture cases are increasing in Russia and “torture in the custody” is a systematic problem for all regions of Russia.
“Torture in Russia is used by the police, the prison system, the army and the special services during the anti-terrorism operations. We believe that the reason for the widespread use of torture is linked to its impunity,” said Igor Kalyapin, one of the authors of report.
The report has a special part for the “Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” which is about 40 pages. Here are some quotes from the report:
Legal context: the Federal Law on Combating Terrorism
318. The period covered by the 5th periodic report was marked by a change in the Russian legislation regulating anti-terrorist operations. The former Federal Law No 130 of 25 July 1998 on Combating Terrorism was replaced by the new Federal Law № 35-FZ on Counteraction to Terrorism of 6 March 2006.
319. The new law, just like its predecessor, grants excessive and even extraordinary powers to officials involved in combating terrorism. The counterterrorist operation (CTO) regime may be imposed in any part of the Russian territory without limitation; its boundaries are defined by an obscurely-appointed CTO administrator (the law says nothing specific in this regard) reporting only to the FSB Director or to the head of the FSB’s local office. In principle, one cannot rule out (and the law does not rule out) a counter-terrorist operation covering the entire country. The law on Counteraction to Terrorism allows using the State’s military power against terrorists without limitation; not only individual military units and detachments, but entire forces of the Russian Army may be deployed by a Presidential decision (Article 9). The law does not provide any time limits for a CTO, and no elected body is authorized to terminate or extend it. Restrictions of individual rights and liberties under the CTO regime are almost identical to those imposed during a state of emergency (SOE), but in contrast to SOE, the CTO regime does not require accountability and is free from parliamentary or international oversight.
320. Amendments to the Law on Counteraction to Terrorism of 27 July 2006 empower the Russian President to make decisions on his sole discretion concerning the use of “special forces to combat terrorist activity against the Russian Federation” outside the Russian borders.
321. According to Article 18 of the Law, “if caused by lawful actions aimed at suppressing a terrorist act, any damage to the health and property of a person participating in a terrorist act and any damage caused by the death of such a person shall not be subject to compensation”. Within the meaning of Article 49 of the Russian Constitution, the presumption of innocence must apply to cases when the alleged offender is killed. Should the offender survive, it is up to the court to determine his guilt, but if he is killed, he should not be declared guilty, because it would violate the rights of the alleged terrorist’s relatives, including children.
Termination of a “counterterrorist operation”
322. On 16 April 2009, Chairman of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC) and Director of the Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov lifted the counterterrorist regime enforced on the entire territory of the Chechen Republic. It was announced that all troops temporarily stationed in Chechnya would be withdrawn, and only the 42th Infantry Division of the Defence Ministry and the 46th Operational Brigade of the Ministry of Interior would station in the Republic permanently.
323. The fact that CTO had been lifted did not have any noticeable effect on the daily lives of local people; the federal troops’ involvement in efforts to suppress rebel fighters in Chechnya had been declining steadily over a few years. The troops rarely left their bases on the plains, while the action only continued up in the mountains. The vast majority of checkpoints had been dismantled. Police units continued to be sent to Chechnya from other Russian regions, but far less numerous than before. The functions of combating the rebel fighters and the underground resistance, alongside the “authority” to use illegal violence, had been delegated to the Chechen Republic’s security agencies, namely the Ministry of Interior in Chechnya and the Internal Troops battalions manned mostly by “Kadyrovtsy”, i.e. devoted Kadyrov’s fighters. They acted without any reference to the CTO regime, often in disregard of the Russian law in general. Formally, they are part of the federal law enforcement agencies, but in reality they are under the Chechen President’s exclusive command. This factor makes Chechnya fundamentally different from other constituent regions of the Russian Federation.
Institutional context: the Chechen Republic
324. In 2007, “Chechenization” of the conflict in the Chechen Republic was completed with the final establishment of Ramzan Kadyrov’s autocratic regime. On 15 February 2007, Chechen President Alu Alkhanov stepped down, and the Russian President promptly accepted his resignation. On 2 March 2007, the Chechen Parliament voted for the presidential candidate Ramzan Kadyrov nominated by V. Putin.
325. The idea of “Chechenization” was introduced around 2003 and included, firstly, the establishment of local authorities – ostensibly elected, but actually appointed by Moscow, and secondly, the formation of local security forces manned by local ethnic Chechens. They were entrusted with combating illegal armed formations (IAFs), essentially by means of terrorising the local communities, groups, families and entire villages suspected of supporting the insurgents. These forces were virtually allowed to operate outside the law. Their knowledge of the local ways and customs, family connections, etc. enabled them to act more selectively and efficiently than the federal security forces.
326. Many former rebel fighters served in those armed units controlled by R. Kadyrov. Wounded, disillusioned or captured, they attempted to take advantage of the amnesty declared by the authorities to return to peaceful life. Instead, they were offered to join the so-called Security Service (SS), and then the “Anti-terrorist Centre” (ATC). Neither of these structures was established by the federal law, and they were essentially illegal armed groups. Refusal to join these units inevitably endangered the life and safety of the former insurgent and his relatives.
327. In 2004 and 2005, many Security Service units were legalised as part of the federal Ministry of Interior’s various structures in the Chechen Republic. Former members of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Security Service, most of them former insurgents, took key positions in the federal Ministry of Interior’s branch in Chechnya. The Ministry of Interior in Chechnya attack units, such as the Second patrol police regiment (PPSM-2) named after Akhmad Kadyrov, and the “Oil Regiment” (a dedicated security regiment of the Ministry of Interior in Chechnya) consist entirely of former Security Service fighters. In 2006, the “Sever” (North) and “Yug” (South) battalions were formed of “Kadyrovtsy” who had served in the ATC; these battalions, even though they were formally part of the 46th Internal Troops brigade of the RF Ministry of Interior, continued to identify themselves as “Kadyrovtsy” subordinate to the head of the Chechen Republic.
328. As a result, the law enforcement bodies in the Chechen Republic are now largely staffed by people with a history of violence in the ranks of illegal armed groups, by people who regard the rule of law is an alien concept and feel entitled to carry out any type of “operation” using any methods they choose.
329. During “Chechenization”, various federal agencies had created a number of local armed forces other than “Kadyrovtsy”. The establishment of Kadyrov’s autocratic regime was accompanied by elimination of these forces since they were beyond R. Kadyrov’s control.
330. In November 2006, the Goretz (Mountaineer) detachment headed by Movladi Baisarov was disbanded, and its commander Baisarov was killed. Back in 2004, Goretz was granted semilegal status of a “special purpose force” controlled by the FSB’s office for the CTO coordination and conduct. In early 2006, Baisarov’s detachment lost its status of the FSB’s “special purpose force”, and in the autumn of the same year, members of the PPSM-2 and the Oil Regiment blocked off the home base of Baisarov’s men. Hoping to find support from his patrons in the FSB Headquarters, Baisarov fled to Moscow, and most of his detachment was disarmed.
331. The Ministry of Interior in Chechnya promptly released evidence of Baisarov’s crimes, such as abductions and killings of civilians. Notably, Baisarov was accused of crimes which he could not have committed singlehandedly. On 7 October 2006, R. Kadyrov’s Press Service reported the discovery of a burial site with remains of ten members of the Musayev family whom Baisarov had abducted on the night of 4 October 2004, and then shot.
332. On 18 November 2006, personnel of the Ministry of Interior in Chechnya shot down Baisarov in Moscow, reportedly while they were “trying to apprehend him”.
333. One could welcome the dismantling of “Baisarov’s detachment” as well as publicity regarding Baisarov’s crimes, if only the perpetrators had been brought to justice as a result. Instead, the leader was summarily killed, while his former subordinates were forgiven and joined the government’s security forces. Criminal cases instituted into the atrocities committed by Baisarov and his men (including the abduction and murder of the Musayevs) have never been investigated, and no one has been brought to justice.
334. Two other forces created as part of “Chechenization” were dissolved in the autumn of 2008: “Vostok” (East) and “Zapad” (West) Battalions formed under the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Defense Ministry General Staff and operating outside R. Kadyrov’s control.
335. Vostok was commanded by the Yamadayev brothers who had a conflict with Kadyrov. On 24 September – a month prior to Vostok’s dissolution – the elder brother Ruslan Yamadayev, former State Duma member, was shot dead in Moscow. Also in September, the Chechen President’s press service reported that Vostok’s commander Sulim Yamadayev faced criminal charges in a number of cases involving abductions and killings, including the “mop-up operation” in Borozdinovskaya. A few of Yamadayev’s former subordinates, promptly joining the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Chechnya, testified against him. According to reports, Yamadayev was on the wanted list, but it did not prevent him from living virtually openly in Moscow and exiting without problems to the United Arab Emirates, where he was killed on 28 March 2009.
336. Human rights activists had long reported the involvement of Vostok commanders and fighters in numerous abductions, torture and killings. Affected residents of Borozdinovskaya supported by lawyers from human rights organisations took their cases to the ECHR.
337. The hastily opened criminal investigations in 2008 into the atrocities committed by the Yamadayevs and their subordinates were part of the power struggle in Chechnya: neither the federal, nor the Chechen authorities have been interested in thorough investigations and punishment of the perpetrators.
338. Yamadayev’s former subordinates testified and made statements on the local television that the Yamadayev brothers had personally planned and committed all the crimes, and killed all their victims. The story was similar to that with “investigations” into the crimes committed by M. Baisarov and Goretz fighters.
Legal context: Impunity of unlawful violence
339. The Chechen authorities have granted the uniformed forces total impunity; in this regard, Chechnya differs strikingly even from its closest neighbours.
340. Chechen officials have repeatedly and publicly on the local television expressed their support for extrajudicial executions. Speaking in a mosque in Grozny on 23 May 2009 (the report was broadcast on the same day on the Grozny TV, ITOGI program, at 8 p.m.), said:
“I swear by Allah! Wahhabis and those with the slightest smell of Wahhabism will be eliminated in Chechnya. I swear by Allah that I will only allow those to live on this land in Chechnya who can bring their children home. They must either bring their bastard children home to be put in jail, or kill them. If we do not kill them, you will suffer evil for these children. I swear by Allah! We will not even arrest them or put them in jail, we will kill them where we find them. And after that will not allow anyone even to say their names“.
341. Extrajudicial killings can never be justified, even in regard of terrorists: by Russian law, suspects should be apprehended and proven guilty, and then a court should prescribe their punishment (mindful of the moratorium on the death penalty). The above statement, however, is a public appeal to destroy, not to apprehend, those who profess a certain branch of Islam, and even those who raise the slightest suspicion of it (“smell of Wahhabism”); it is essentially an appeal to killing the suspects.
342. On 30 August 2010, after a rebel attack on the village of Khosi-Yurt, Ramzan Kadyrov made the following statement (promptly televised on the Waynakh TV channel):
“I appeal to the villagers of Khosi-Yurt in particular. Now I have made it so they are forgiven. But next time, father will be responsible his son’s acts, otherwise, both will be shot in the head and their brains will be blown out. You gave birth to a child, you must be responsible for him. Both you and me. Father is responsible for his son, mother is responsible for her daughter“.
343. The highest official in a constituent subject of the Russian Federation has publicly pronounced threats of collective punishment and extrajudicial executions.
344. The leader’s invitation to disregard the law has been taken up and followed by his subordinates. On 16 June 2009, the Grozny TV channel, in its evening news at 10:07 p.m., televised a meeting between the Grozny city head of administration M. Khuchiyev and the families of illegal armed groups’ members. Khuchyiev said,
“Yesterday, the President spoke about it. Today is the 16th [of June]. Starting today, I’m warning you. From now on, you are responsible for stability in your districts, be it Staropromyslovsky, Leninsky District, Octyabrsky, or Zavodskoy District. For any incident, any crime committed by these devils, their father, mother, brother and sister will be held responsible. This man’s relatives who live in this area will be held responsible“.
345. Thus, the practice of hostage-taking, prohibited by international covenants and conventions that Russia is party to, has been introduced in a subject of the Russian Federation by the direction of the head of this subject.
346. On 1 July 2009, A. Delimkhanov, State Duma Member representing Chechnya, said (televised by the Grozny TV channel, 10:30 p.m. news; the video has been posted on many websites, and his statement has been quoted in the media), “We will meet the obligation assigned to us by President Ramzan. Allah willing, we will destroy those devils, those criminals, and those who assist them, and those who support them in their thoughts“. They use the word “devil” (“shaitan”) to describe the rebel fighters, and what the MP actually said was that people would be killed not even on suspicion of a crime, but for a “thoughtcrime”.
347. The “Memorial” Human Rights Centre has forwarded the records of the above public statements to the prosecutor’s office, urging them to verity the facts and to open criminal investigations into these public calls to unlawful violence, and also to the Russian President’s Administration and personally to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian President’s Administration forwarded the materials to the Chechen Republic Prosecutor’s Office, where the verification of facts still continues to this day.
348. In this context, it comes as no surprise that the law enforcement personnel in Chechnya feel free to kill, abduct and torture people with impunity.
You may download the entire report from HERE.