JERRY FOWLER: Anatol, thank you, I know you’ve got to leave. But I wanted to ask about that last point, actually. Specifically, Len’s suggestion and point at the end of his presentation that the human rights problems can be solved or at least be ameliorated without a political solution and if you, in particular had views on that?
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, as long as the partisan war continues, there will be brutalities. I think we have to recognize that every war of this kind that has occurred, and that most emphatically includes wars by Western forces has led to atrocities. Because, you know, any war in which the people doing the fighting on one side have as a central strategy to disguise themselves among the civilian population, means that the other side will retaliate against the civilian population in general.
That, alas, is a fact of life. However, even in the context of partisan war, what’s been going on in Chechnya has been pretty horrific and also, of course, totally counterproductive from the Russian point of view. It should be stressed that there are two aspects. to the atrocities in Chechnya. One when it comes to, for example, the creation of these so-called filtration camps, which are, in fact, organized torture centers, for interrogation. These are state crimes, undoubtedly.
However, as we’ve heard, a great deal of the savagery which occurs is freelance savagery by Russian soldiers directed very often, when it isn’t simply pure sadism, towards personal gain. I’ve said that there was tremendous involvement of Chechens in kidnapping in 1996 to 1999, and to a lesser degree at present. But it must also be said, of course, that, as we’ve heard, there’s been tremendous involvement of Russian soldiers in this war in kidnapping for gain.
There is a possibility, therefore, of being able to put pressure on the Russian government in this direction. Pressure, which by the way, as I’ve said, is also being directed by the pro-Russian Chechen forces, as well, since none of this is in their interest. I think that we should put pressure of this kind.
The only problem, of course, is that this pressure on Moscow has to be diplomatically nuanced. The involvement of the OSCE in mediating partisan wars has been firmly rejected over the years, not merely by Turkey (with US support) but, also, by Great Britain, as a matter of fact, in the case of Northern Ireland. Indeed, it was Britain which wrote into the initial mandate of Max van der Stoel’s office that it should have no status in any minority situation where violence was occurring, because Britain in those years was absolutely determined that there be no international role in what Britain regarded as an internal matter. Historically speaking, the diplomatic context of this is therefore a bit complicated.
But given the scale of what is going on in Chechnya, the scale of the atrocities that are taking place, I certainly think that we should be pushing for the involvement of certain politically neutral international organizations and a stronger official role for the International Committee of the Red Cross, for example. As far as political mediation is concerned, however, that only leads to the further question of what kind of political solution we are aiming at in the long-run.
JERRY FOWLER: I think we might be verging onto a whole other day’s worth of discussion.
ANATOL LIEVEN: Thank you very much, and I apologize for having to leave.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you, Anatol. I think now, actually, we’ll go to Raisa for perhaps some comments on her perspective as a journalist in Chechnya through the end of 1999, and she will be speaking through a translator. And then we’ll wind up with Rachel, who is going to comment on some of Human Rights Watch’s work, particularly work on accountability.
RAISA TALKHANOVA: Speaking of the negative processes in Russia, we need to limit ourselves and start with the events of 1917 and their bloody results before the consequences. We want to address the point that the whole history of Russia -- the unarguable fact of Russian history is that it is a history of violence. If we are somehow able to look into history and peek into previous Russian governments, and Chechen governments, we would find analogous situations to today’s situation.
When we look at 1944 and Chechen civilian population sites were destroyed, where people were murdered in their homes, where people were buried alive. The military people involved in this were honored, they were given medals and they continue to do so today. The most frightening thing is that a wound to your body will heal with time, but a wound to your soul won’t heal for many, many years.
This war, the one that began in 1999, has drawn in many serious consequences -- catastrophic consequences which are dealing with humanitarian issues. We don’t see an end to this, either, today. The question immediately flows through my consciousness is why is this happening to the people -- why is this happening -- what is the reason? It seems like they are becoming the victims of ambitious maneuvers by politicians -- by ambitious dreams of individual governments.
I was a witness to many horrific and frightening events. I’ll never forget them and I still find it hard to battle with this syndrome. I think about the people who are in Grozny, civilians who are suffering from this. They, I fear, will be sick, we can’t even talk about the rehabilitation at this point. When I look at the photos I took and when I look again, when I review the photos, I come to the conclusion that this was a focused and purposeful murder of my people.
What I’m talking about are not individual cases. I was a witness to some of the activities of the Russian forces and, in particular, in the village of Kumsomoynska (?) where over 700 people were killed. We’re talking about people who were invalids, who were elderly who were women, children. There wasn’t a single fighter or guerrilla amongst them. We hear that the end justifies the means, but what the army has done this time has so polarized the people, the Russian people and the Chechen people, that it seems that there is no way that we’re ever going to be able to resolve this hate there is between the two peoples.
I was born in Russia and I grew up in Russia. I lived there till I was 34 years old. I was chased out of Russia. I wanted to find the truth. I went to the head of the police from the ministry of internal affairs. The head of the police told me, get out of here, I’m not going to talk to you. He said you have no right to live here, you have no right to live here at all, you can leave because you’re Chechen.
I was able to see Chechnya in 1994. That which I saw in reality was horrible, it’s not something that you can just file away in your consciousness. What I saw was the Russian Air Force and its conduct in bombing civilian neighborhoods of Grozny. In 1999, this continued. I saw them bombing markets; I saw them bombing mosques. I saw them even bombing places where people would gather, whether it was times of prayer, where there was any concentration of people and they were bombing them.
I want to talk a little bit about the radical Islamic movements. I know there are people who have discussed this as if they know about these movements and how large they are. I’m just embarrassed that I’m born at a time when I can’t necessarily tell you concretely that they don’t exist. But these radical movements are such that -- it’s something that the Russian Army can focus on. It’s something that the Russian Army could crush, but instead what they’ve done is not an antiterrorist operation. This is an anti-Chechen population operation.
Russian generals have been known to go some weddings for these so-called terrorists. They’re friends, they understand each other. The only thing they don’t seem to understand is the civilian population. Russia controls the neighborhoods where you have oil pumps. Let’s look at the last case in the village of Stary Atagi where this American was kidnapped. It’s a village that’s surrounded by 20,000 Russian troops, and to assume that somebody could actually kidnap an American when it’s surrounded by 20,000 troops is just funny, I mean, this is propaganda. To cross into another city or into another village these kidnappers would have to go through almost 42 checkpoints.
JERRY FOWLER: Because I’ve mismanaged our time here, we’re getting kind of close to the end and I don’t want to lose Rachel, so, maybe if we could have a very final comment and then move on to Rachel. I apologize, it was my fault.
RAISA TALKHANOVA: I don’t see a way out of this, but I’m definitely -- but I am embarrassed that I was born in this epic where the international society can find no way to be able to stop this tragedy. As a journalist, I am feeling my minisculeness in this world. Not even having the right to be able to survive. Thank you.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you Raisa. Now, Rachel?
RACHEL DENBER: Thank you. It’s really an honor to be here among these distinguished panelists and to be in this kind of very distinguished venue, as well, so thank you.
Human Rights Watch, as my very, very generous colleagues have alluded has had a research presence in Ingushetia starting from November 1999 through May of 2000 and then, again, for another short trip for three weeks at the end of at the end of 2000. I won’t get into now what the extent of our research is. I left in the back, outside the auditorium, a copy of Welcome to Hell, the book that Len alluded to. Also, we have many other reports in addition to Welcome to Hell, documenting war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.
I also left a briefing paper out there that just sort of summarizes our research findings from our last mission at the end of 2000, which in many ways resonates with what the panelists have already brought to you, cataloged in such painful detail.
I thought that what I would dwell on, really, was the lack of an accountability process in Russia for war crimes and for some of the other international humanitarian law violations that we’ve documented. In fact, our last trip to Ingushetia was not only to document the continued cycle of torture, the persistent cycle of arbitrary detention, torture, and extortion and disappearances that continues to ruin civilian lives today, but the second purpose of the trip was to go back and talk to people who we had interviewed months ago from the three major massacres we documented, the Aldi massacre, the Staropromyslovski massacre, and the Alkhan Yurt massacre. We wanted to go back to talk to these people and to find out what kind of investigative efforts were being taken. Had they ever been interviewed by a prosecutor? Had they ever been interviewed by an investigator? Who did they file their complaints to? We’re about to finalize our assessment based on these interviews in the coming days.
Let me say a couple words, very briefly, about accountability. Accountability is really a pillar for the rule of law and the antithesis of the rule of law, I think, was summed up by a doctor who Human Rights Watch interviewed this past November. As he described the situation in Chechnya he said, and I quote, “War is terrifying, but what is happening now is even more so. When bombs fall, you know you have to hide in the basement, but there is no hiding from the men in black masks who can burst into your home day or night.”
We heard this same message of fear from nearly all of the hundred people we spoke to back in November and December. It’s this constant and immediate fear of arbitrariness or the Russian word is proizvol, this grind, this fear of proizvol into sort of grinding corruption and chaos and violence that really blights the lives of so many people today in Chechnya. My colleagues made us all painfully aware of that.
But all of this also reminds me of the arbitrariness and the sort of raw brutality of Russian police and security forces that’s pervasive in Russia and the havoc that they create in the lives of ordinary citizens. The impunity that police and security forces enjoy for what they do not only in Chechnya, but all over Russia, certainly not on the same scale and not the same acuteness and the same types of abuses as we see in Chechnya right now.
This observation is based on a two-year study that Human Rights Watch did on police abuse in Russia called “Confessions at Any Cost,” which I can make available to you. Our finding from “Confessions at Any Cost,” was that police abuse is pervasive and it is conducted with such tremendous impunity. So, it’s not surprising that when there’s impunity in broader society, there’s going to be impunity in an armed conflict situation. Arbitrariness and cruelty and corruption, they all thrive when there is impunity. There’s a lack of a sincere and demonstrable commitment to an effective accountability process. This cannot but further embolden authors of abuse.
But to date, there is no accountability process. By this I mean thorough, impartial criminal investigations into war crimes and other violations of humanitarian law that end in judicial process. There was no accountability for the last war, there’s no accountability for some of the crimes that were earlier perpetrated in this war. There is certainly no accountability for the sort of ongoing cycle of abuse that I and my colleagues have described for you.
There’s four features of this failed accountability process I’ll be discussing. First is the total lack of a public commitment and public statements to accountability on the part of the federal government, the Russian federal government. The real paucity of investigations, they’re very few in number, the poor quality of investigations and, finally, the absence of any efforts to really build trust among a very, very frightened, intimidated terrorized pool of witnesses and victims to try to demonstrate a sincere effort to try to win their confidence.
As I said, this assessment is based on interviews that we’ve conducted with victims, who we earlier interviewed months ago. Victims of or witnesses of summary executions, of torture, of certain disproportionate and indiscriminate shelling and strafing. It’s also based on what is now months’ worth of correspondence with the federal military prosecutor, the military procuracy, the civilian Russian federal civilian procuracy, the Northern Caucasus’ inter-regional civilian procuracy; many different layers of bureaucracy and law enforcement agents have been bombarded with our irritating letters. But they do write back and what the write back is pretty troubling.
I want to say a couple words about Russia’s sort of public posture, just, in the beginning of the war when the worst abuses were being reported, what we saw was a reflexive denial that these abuses were taking place. We saw assailing attacks on the messengers, like Human Rights Watch, like Memorial, like other human rights organizations and the media who were purveying the message and impugning our methods. I think at one point, Putin’s office threatened to sue us, they forgot about it.
JERRY FOWLER: Here or there?
RACHEL DENBER: I don’t think they even knew, I think that was just their reflexive reaction when we produced the Alkhan Yurt massacre report, the journalist called them up and said, what do you make of this? They said, well, you know, if it’s not accurate, we’re going to sue them. So, I guess, by implication they have to admit that it’s accurate, because they never did sue us.
Then later, what we have is individuals, like, Vladimir Kalamanov, who is President Putin’s special representative for human rights in Chechnya. I think he’s supposed to be the good cop, who admits in very limited ways that, yes, there is abuse, but I have to underscore its exclusive and ad hoc character. This also, by the way, is precisely scripted, the line we always got from the Ministry of Internal Affairs when we discussed torture with them in Russia, and it’s a pretty standard line of argument.
In addition to this public posture after the major massacres, there was no effort to relieve of duty or suspend commanding officers who presided over these massacres. That would have been an important way to build trust, or build at least a first step to show that they’re serious about investigating or to show just a tiny step to build confidence, but not only did the federal government not do that, merely weeks after the Alkhan Yurt massacre which took the lives of 14 people, General Vladimir Shamanov, then the commander of the western group of forces who presided over, who knew about, who could not have not known about the massacre at Alkhan Yurt, was honored. He was given the medal of the Hero of Russia weeks after the massacre. Now, of course, he’s governor of Ulianovsk oblast, which is a province of Russia.
The investigations, themselves? Well, according to official data, there are 35 cases that have been brought against servicemen, 12 for murder, 6 for victims of bombings and 6 for theft, and the rest are for misdemeanors, polygenism, or violating traffic laws and things like that. So, 12 murder cases, 12. That’s it. Eight cases, we don’t know which ones, have been forwarded to a court. The trials haven’t started yet, and 5 were closed. So, this is a meager effort that really stands in stark contrast to the magnitude of the crimes and, certainly to the scope of the crimes, their number.
But we shouldn’t just judge by numbers. We should judge by quality and, in general, the investigations appear to be pretty shoddy, half-hearted, and very late in coming. If you’re looking for the translation, the word that I cannot seem to translate into English that really characterizes them is Khalatnost. It’s negligence, you know, half-baked, done for show or something. The timing of the investigations was always too slow and most of the important cases that are being investigated, the investigations were opened not only months after the event happened, not only months after the procuracy clearly had been notified that the event had taken place, but only after the victims had already filed a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights. I mean that’s khalatnost.
Second, the investigations that we’ve monitored have been very incomplete and seem to be doomed to fail because of the neglect on the part of procuracy to build trust and confidence among the victims. There’s no witness protection program, of course. That’s just too sophisticated to think of right now, I guess. But many of the victims, many of the witnesses, or the relatives of the victims who have to be interviewed or questioned are summoned to go to the military base at Khankala. Now, Khankala is the place that has become infamous for places where people go and never leave, where Chechens are detained and you never see them again.
It sort of defies logic to expect someone to seriously answer a summons to go to Khankala. That’s just not serious. In fact, one woman was the victim, I think in a strafing incident. The procuracy investigators left several notices at her house that she should go for questioning at Khankala. No, I’m sorry, she survived at a summary execution attempt and the bullet had actually pierced her neck and left her, you know, pretty much crippled for life and she was going to have to make her way from Ingushetia all the way to Khankala. This is a crippled woman, she has no money, there was no offer of service to bring her to a reasonable place to conduct a questioning. So, she never went and then the investigation just stopped. That’s just not serious.
I’ll try to really summarize very quickly now the three massacres which produced 130 victims, they’ve been footballed among procuracies and there really is no progress. The Alkhan Yurt massacre that took 14 lives is allegedly being investigated after months and months of putting it off. But we interviewed a few people whose immediate relatives were killed in that massacre, and these two people were never questioned by any procuracy investigator. No one ever came to talk to them or to ask them for permission to exhume the body.
We know of one other case, we have on very good faith, that there was the same problem. In the Staropromyslovski massacre, 51 people dead. Only 4 incidents out of these 51 are being investigated. But, again, they were very late, and only after most of the victims had filed suit at the European Court of Human Rights. Most of them are suspended or dead, just going nowhere, deadlocked. No investigative activities are taking place. Aldi took 60 lives, the investigation was, again, footballed back and forth among procuracies, and now it’s just suspended because of failure to identify the perpetrator. It’s not serious.
There are 96 cases of summary executions that we documented and requested information on from the procuracy back in November, but we haven’t received an answer yet.
Well, as far as torture is concerned, to the best of our knowledge, and we wrote to the procuracy, but we haven’t heard back from them yet, to the best of our knowledge, not a single case of torture has been investigated. I can understand why Chechens who have been through this horrible, just ghastly cycle, that Len and Bill described so graphically, wouldn’t want to voluntarily go to a procuracy investigator and disclose all the details only to then be rearrested again, but there was the Chernokozovo detention camp where the allegations of torture by our organization, by the European Community for the Prevention of Torture, it’s been very, very, very well documented. There’s been no investigation of Chernokozovo to the best of our knowledge, just nothing.
To the best of our knowledge there are only two or three cases involving, really obvious cases of indiscriminate bombing and shelling but, again, the investigations are just sculled or they expect victims to go to Khankala or they’re simply not questioned. There are hundreds of disappearances but, again, very few get investigated. I think only 140 are under investigation and one individual who we spoke to described how the disappearances are in the hands of the civilian procuracy who have no jurisdiction over military personnel. So, they’re sort of doomed before they can even start.
What’s the remedy for this? Well, this is the record that the international community is going to have to look at when they go back to Geneva for the fifty-seventh session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Last year the Commission adopted a resolution that deplored abuses, but called on Russia to form a national commission of inquiry. The commission was never formed and there, obviously, is no domestic accountability process. Now, is the time to, again, call on the commission and most important to call on the member states of the commission, including the United States and the European Union, to again adopt a resolution calling for an international commission of inquiry because it’s clear that domestic justice doesn’t take place.
The second thing that I think can be accomplished from a number of different angles is to do everything possible to facilitate filing of individual claims at the European Court of Human Rights.
I’m going to stop there, because we’re way over time.
JERRY FOWLER: Well, thank you very much, Rachel. We have gone over, and I’d hoped to have time for question and answer, but we sort of exhausted time, but some of the panelists can stay afterwards and talk informally.
I’d like to extend my profound thanks to our panel for being here and sharing. Len, you have a quick comment?
LEN RUBENSTEIN: Just one. One thing, one sentence. I regret that I didn’t bring copies of our report. If you’d like to read it, it’s on our Web site, which is www.phrusa.org. We have a brochure outside and the Web site is listed there, but I’m sorry I don’t have the report.
JERRY FOWLER: So, I’d like to extend my profound thanks to the panel for being here and to you for coming and the Committee on Conscience will be continuing to follow the situation in Chechnya and maybe doing further events along those lines. Thank you very much.