Chechen Chagrin: Human Rights in Chechnya. (Global Notebook)

By Yasin, Tariq | Harvard International Review, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Chechen Chagrin: Human Rights in Chechnya. (Global Notebook)


Yasin, Tariq, Harvard International Review


Since October 1999, Chechnya has seen intense conflict between residents and occupying Russian forces.

Grievous abuses of human rights have been reported, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and arbitrary arrests. However, Russia has been lax in its investigation of these reports, and the international community has turned a blind eye to incidents in the region.

Various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have accused Russia of using overwhelming and indiscriminate force to subdue secessionist elements in Chechnya. The most recent conflict began in late 1999, following the defeat of an uprising in the neighboring republic of Dagestan, which came before a series of bombings in Moscow and other regions of Russia that caused 300 deaths. After an aerial bombardment campaign by Russian forces, Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling the current Chechen parliament and president "illegitimate," ordered his forces into Chechnya, where they now control the northern third of the republic. The objective was supposedly to subdue terrorist elements, although various critics have claimed that the campaign's true goal was the creation of a puppet government under Russian control.

Russian troops have made large-scale security sweeps, or zachistkas, in subduing terrorist elements. In one July 2001 raid in the village of Sernovodsk, over 700 civilians were detained during a sweep aiming to find rebel forces that might have been hiding in the village. Some civilians were reportedly blindfolded and told to lie in a field; others were crammed in a basement. Primitive hand-cranked electric generators were used to shock the hands and genitals of some detainees--a clear violation of international human-rights treaties. About 50 men were then reportedly taken to a "filtration camp" for interrogation. On June 5, 2001, Russia's human-rights commissioner in Chechnya confirmed that over 540 Chechens had disappeared during the conflict and admitted that there may be more unreported cases. There have also been other reports of extrajudicial executions during such sweeps.

Lending further credence to reports of extra-judicial executions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported on a mass grave in the village of Dachny, less than one kilometer from a Russian military base. At that site, 51 bodies were found, the majority with visible gunshot wounds or signs of torture such as broken bones and mutilated extremities. The official Russian and Chechen spokesmen have implicated each other in the slaughter. HRW and the Russian Memorial Human Rights Center have both criticized Russia's failure to conduct a "thorough and credible investigation of the mass burial site' citing the lack of proper autopsies or examination of victims. The groups feel that Russian efforts do not comply with 1989 UN standards of effective prevention and investigation of extralegal, arbitrary, and summary executions.

Russia's bombing has had an awful effect on civilians and has led to a mass exodus of refugees from Chechnya. Over 75,000 houses and 74,000 apartments are estimated to have been destroyed; the destruction also includes such public centers as hospitals, religious centers, and mosques. Fragmentation bombs have reportedly been used on civilians in the Argunsk Gorge region, and over 170,000 refugees are estimated to be in camps in nearby Ingushetia, where there is also an unknown number of internally displaced persons.

The situation has further deteriorated because of the virtual blackout of information from non-Russian sources; human-rights violations can now occur with minimal attention from media or monitoring organizations.

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