Hammarberg: “Stability has not been Achieved in North Caucasus”
The report of Thomas Hammarberg , Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe on following his visit to the Russia, Chechnya and Ingushetia on 2 -11 September 2009, was published today.
In the course of the visit the Commissioner held discussions on the most serious human rights problems in the Chechnya and the Republic of Ingushetia with pro-Russian authorities, as well as non-governmental organisations in the region.
The present report focuses on the following major issues: Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Counter-Terrorism Measures, Abductions and Disappearances, Combating Impunity, Conclusions and Recommendations.
The Commissioner noting the value of the human rights work performed by non-governmental organisations, the Commissioner strongly emphasises the need to promote safe and favourable conditions for their activities: “The recent murders and violent attacks against human rights activists must be investigated to ensure the criminal accountability and punishment of the perpetrators.”
The Commissioner welcomed the efforts by the Ingush authorities to engage in a regular dialogue with human rights NGOs. However, the overall recommendation by the Commissioner on the subject was that much stronger actions are needed to protect activist members of human rights organisations.
According the report, Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen authorities have carried out over a hundred special operations (“zachistki”) in the first half of 2009. And the Commissioner points out that counter-terrorism measures should be carried out in full compliance with human rights norms: “The Russian authorities should specify the applicable rules and human rights safeguards for all counter-terrorism operations. Particular care should be taken to prevent the possibility of extrajudicial executions through provision and implementation of precise guidelines governing the use of force.”
He further recalls that the response to terrorism must never be allowed to degenerate into acts of torture or ill-treatment. “Human rights standards must be strictly applied in the detention of terrorist suspects and during court proceedings. Access to a lawyer and a doctor should be granted at the outset of custody, and records must be kept whenever a person is deprived of his liberty. In addition, places of detention should be subject to regular independent monitoring. Fair trial guarantees should be respected and any evidence suspected of having been obtained through the use of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment should always be excluded from court proceedings.”
The Commissioner urges the authorities to conduct effective and independent investigations into alleged abductions, disappearances, extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, as well as unlawful detention. In the report, it was emphasised that since the end of 2008, NGOs have reported an increase in the number of abductions and disappearances in Chechnya. According to the Human Rights Centre Memorial, the total number of alleged abductions in Chechnya was 42 during the entire year 2008, whereas already in the first four months of 2009 there were 58 such cases. Furthermore, he stresses that collective punishment of relatives of alleged terrorists or members of armed groups of Caucasus front must be stopped.
The Commissioner highlights the importance of carrying out thorough investigations into past disappearances and identifying the dead bodies buried in the known sites in Chechnya. According the report, The estimate is that a total of 3074 persons went missing in 2000-2009. Moreover, 60 mass graveslocated and marked where an estimated 3000 unidentified bodies have been buried.
While serious efforts to reinforce the rule of law are observed, Commissioner Hammarberg considers that further steps should be taken to ensure the desired result of more effective investigations. “Patterns of impunity persist” he said. “Sustained efforts should be pursued to combat corruption in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. The protection of witnesses during investigations and court cases should also be ensured.”
The Ingush authorities informed the Commissioner that over 800 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Chechnya were still living in temporary places of accommodation known as “compact residence centres” in different parts of Ingushetia, including Nazran, the Malgobek District, and the Ordzhonikidzevskaya settlement. According to civil society representatives, undue pressure had been applied by the authorities upon the IDPs in question, including by threatening to discontinue the social benefits of those unwilling or reluctant to return to Chechnya. The Commissioner wishes to emphasise that the choice of individual displaced persons has to be respected, in accordance with the 1998 United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The options must be made clear to the individual: voluntary, safe and dignified return; voluntary resettlement in another part of the country; or local integration.
As a conclusion, “Stability in the North Caucasus region has not been achieved. Increased activity against Russia by fighters of Caucasus front, the lack of effective investigations into disappearances and killings, and murders of human rights activists are of particular concern” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg in his report.
Full version of the report is available HERE.