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The World

Chechens Report Abuses Despite Safeguards

Caucasus: Claims of beatings, looting and killings surface shortly after the Russian military announces rules to prevent such acts.

April 23, 2002|MAURA REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Less than two weeks after announcing new safeguards to prevent abuses, the Russian military launched a large-scale operation in Chechnya that was marked by beatings, looting, electric shock torture and at least two extrajudicial killings, residents and human rights workers say.

The rules announced March 29, known as Order 80, were supposed to prevent abuses by allowing local officials to observe operations and requiring soldiers to identify themselves and keep public lists of detainees.

"I was very hopeful about Order 80, but my hopes were short-lived," Malika Umazheva, 54, mayor of the Chechen town of Alkhan-Kala, said. "They didn't let me or any other representative of the administration or of the council of elders accompany the soldiers."

Moreover, Umazheva said, she was manipulated into signing a document certifying that there had been no human rights violations, and that once the document was signed, the abuses intensified. At least two residents were reported shot and killed in the operation, which began April 11.

On Friday, Russia's human rights representative for Chechnya, Viktor Kalamanov, was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying that Russian servicemen were complying with the new rules, that local officials and elders have observed every operation, and that there had been no complaints about human rights violations.

Also Friday, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights voted down a motion to censure Russia for violations in Chechnya; 22 of 53 countries on the commission abstained. As a result, the U.N. body is no longer required to report regularly on the human rights situation in the breakaway republic.

Russian troops reoccupied Chechnya in 2000, and they try to keep local residents from assisting the rebels, who defeated the Russians in a 1994-96 war. In particular, they search for rebels hidden among residents. It is during such searches, sometimes called zachistka operations, that many abuses reportedly occur.

Russian officials have claimed that some of the abuses are actually committed by rebels who disguise themselves as Russian servicemen. Last week, the top civilian prosecutor in Chechnya, Vsevolod Chernov, said that 161 crimes in which federal servicemen were originally blamed turned out to have been committed by Chechen rebels.

Umazheva said soldiers entered Alkhan-Kala, a town of 20,000, April 11, apparently in response to the killing of three pro-Moscow Chechen policemen the previous day. She and the elders approached the commander and a military prosecutor and asked to observe the operation but were rebuffed, she said.

Zalna Magomadova said soldiers entered her yard April 12 and began beating her husband, 67-year-old Alkhazur.

"I rushed to them and gave them his passport for them to see how old he is," she said in an interview. "When the soldiers looked at the passport they began to talk among themselves, and one of them said, 'We got the wrong guy.' They didn't even bother to identify the person they wanted to arrest--they just began beating him, never mind fulfilling Order 80.

"When this order was first announced, we had some hope that the situation would improve," she added. "Now the hope is gone. Nothing has changed."

By the second day, the mayor said, she had received reports from residents of the detentions of about 20 men and many instances of beatings and looting. She approached the general and prosecutor again and asked about the fate of the arrested. Because of her entreaties, 15 of the detained were released.

"The prosecutor then asked me to sign a document that the zachistka was conducted in an orderly manner without any violations of human rights," Umazheva said. "I told him that I wouldn't sign this document because human rights were violated."

But then the prosecutor said that if she signed the paper, the soldiers would leave immediately, she said.

"I consulted with the elders," she said. "It was already the third day of the zachistka. People were suffering. Children couldn't go to school. Sick people couldn't go to the hospital. People couldn't take their cattle and sheep out into the fields. So it was decided that I should sign this document to make the soldiers leave the village."

In the end, she said, the paper she signed was blank.

The next morning, the soldiers reentered the village. According to a report compiled by the Russian human rights group Memorial, they searched for some of the detainees who had already been released. They found one, 30-year-old Ilyas Utsiyev, in bed. His family told Memorial that he had been beaten and subjected to electric shocks; his body was covered with bruises and burns.

The soldiers locked the women in a room and shot Utsiyev as he lay in the bed, according to Memorial. The women watched as the soldiers spent several hours in their backyard, carrying in weapons that they then pretended to find and videotaping the alleged discovery. They also took a sack of flour from the shed and announced it was explosives.

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