published by the
Institute for Democracy
in Eastern Europe
Dispatches from
No. 24, June 6, 2002

Optimism for Human Rights
Improvement in Chechnya is Incomprehensible

The Situation in the Chechen Republic in April-May 2002

GROZNY – The war in Chechnya is being fought in a way that could continue for decades.
         Landmines are still frequently set off in Chechen cities and villages, killing both Russian soldiers and police and also civilians – women, children, and old people. Anytime this happens, Russian law enforcement responds with harsh punitive operations directed against the entire civilian population.
         The situation in the Chechen Republic is deteriorating continually in all respects, despite Moscow’s cheery announcements and the optimistic coverage by Russian television news channels.
         Some Western politicians are making baseless statements that the observance of human rights has improved substantially. In fact, the people of Chechnya are not only deprived of all civil and human rights, they lack even the most basic of all rights – the right to life.
         Terrorist acts directed against the civilian population of the Chechen Republic have reached unprecedented scope and methods.  Because law enforcement agencies – most notably the prosecutor’s office – are entirely non-functional, both street crime and war crimes are part of daily existence in Chechnya.  The growth of criminality in the Republic is staggering.          Extra-legal executions and other punishments have become the norm.  Whereas earlier, members of the Chechen militia and government were the targets, now nearly every night people who are just socially active or civic leaders are being killed. These targeted civilian killings have filled Chechen society with fear and desperation.
         Russia’s military leadership has long known that the tactics associated with the “inspection of the passport regime” are an ineffective means for subduing Chechen fighters.  The inspections – better known as mop-up operations – are nothing more than state-sponsored terrorism directed at the Chechen people.  They go hand in hand with theft, vandalism, and bribery.  More than 90 percent of those arrested during mop-ups have no connection whatsoever to the independence fighters.  Of those arrested, the lucky ones are bought out of captivity by their families; they return beaten, crippled and hardly alive.  Frequently, however, the family finds only a mutilated corpse and then is often forced to buy the corpse for burial.
         The formal military doctrine governing the operation in Chechnya outlines a set of principles regulating operations regarding the “inspection of the passport regime.”  Officially, “passport inspections” are supposed to be under strict administrative and legal control in order to prevent any human rights violations. In fact, as soon as this doctrine was enacted, the violations became more egregious.  While in 2001, mop-up operations occurred sporadically in various towns and villages, in 2002, multiple operations have frequently been conducted in several areas simultaneously.  In some areas (Grozny, Stariye Atagi, Argun, Urus-Martan, Alkhan Yurt and Tsotsin-Yurt), mop-up operations are a regular occurrence.  Each operation targets dozens of people, and hundreds disappear without a trace.  Russian soldiers reserve a special sort of cruelty and sadism for the mop-up operations, beating, torturing, and crippling innocent people.
        Due to the work of Chechen human rights organizations, information on these unprecedented human rights violations occurring during mop-up operations in Chechnya has become available to people in Russia and to the international community.
        The Russian army has been conducting regular mop-up operations in the town of Argun.  Twice in a short period of time, Russian troops attacked local schools.  School Number 4 was attacked on March 28, while students were on break, and School Number 1 was attacked on April 10.  According to administrators of School Number 4, Russian troops approached and claimed that they had information that guerrilla fighters used the school basement as a hideout.  There was an explosion in the school, after which the soldiers began shooting indiscriminately.  Approximately 10 people were wounded in the attack and a cow was killed.  As the soldiers left the school grounds, they continued to fire into the streets.  A young boy who heard the shooting tried to hide in a store, but the bullets penetrated the wooden door.  He was hit in both arms and both legs.
         On April 10, troops arrived at School Number 1 in armored carriers with the serial numbers blacked out.  They broke into the building and beat up a number of students in the gym, as well as attacking members of the Chechen militia who were trying to protect the children.  The soldiers answered all questions with obscenities.  Many students, traumatized, did not return to school the next day.
         According to Chechen human rights organizations, on April 23 Russian troops conducted another mop-up operation in Argun.  Russian soldiers arrived at the train station in armored personnel carriers without serial numbers, surrounded a group of men and tried to arrest them.  In order to prevent the men from running away, and to prevent bystanders from interfering, the soldiers opened fire.  Several people were wounded.  Witnesses living near the train station saw the troops fire on unarmed people.  Ramzan Mazayev, who was simply walking by, was seriously injured.  Bystanders begged to be allowed to help him, but in vain.  Mazayev died on the street amid dozens of witnesses.  Some, watching from far away, saw the soldiers place a grenade in Mazayev’s pocket, lay their guns down next to his body, and then film him with a video camera.  Only then did the soldiers leave the scene, leaving Mazayev and four wounded men lying on the street along with the other men who were surrounded and shot at for no apparent reason.
         According to the public press center in the city of Nazran (Ingushetia), on April 17, 2002, Russian troops opened fire in the village of Vashindoroy in the Shatoy region at 4:00 pm.  Two sisters, ages 3 and 11, died, and their 9-year-old brother was seriously wounded.  The children were playing in their yard when the shooting began.  The boy’s relatives asked the troops to take him by helicopter to the military hospital in Vladikavkaz, but they refused.  Instead, he was placed in the local hospital.
         A Russian regiment stationed in the village of Borzoy carried out the shooting.  According to residents, Colonel Tarasov had threatened the head of the Vashindoroy village administration that he would shell the village on the previous day.  Residents believe that the colonel was simply making good on his threat.
         At the end of March, a mop-up operation took place in Tsotsin-Yurt, after the murder of a local Russian contract soldier, a man who had been particularly rude and cruel in his relations with the local population.  Villagers claim that he was killed by a fellow soldier.  Nevertheless, the day after the murder, Russian troops surrounded the village. At that point, there was an unexpected explosion.  It turned out that a bomb had been planted on a passing car.  Ten Russian soldiers were injured, and one died.  Afterwards, as the villagers had feared, troops arrived from Khakala, Gudermes, and from the military base located between Oyskhara and Tsentoroy.
        The mop-up operation was particularly cruel, gathering up men and taking them to a makeshift filtration camp on the outskirts of the village. The detainees were not only cruelly tortured, but also subjected to electric shocks by soldiers mockingly suggesting that they “call up distant relatives.”  Men returned from this camp half alive; some had had their fingers crushed.  Many ended up at the camp more than once.  A total of 280 people were detained.  The rest of the men in the village had been threatened with arrest, but managed to bribe themselves out of it.
         Soldiers broke into private homes at night, searching down women in a vulgar manner and committing vandalism and theft.  Soldiers stole 13 carpets from one home. Three houses were completely destroyed – one burnt down and two exploded.
         Several people taken to the filtration camp never returned to the village.  Their relatives and village leaders are now looking for them.  In early April, the bodies of three men from Tsotsin-Yurt were found near the village of Bachi-Yurt in Kurchaloy region.  All three had been brutally beaten.
         In early May, a mop-up operation – particularly vicious, according to witnesses – was carried out in the village of Alkhan-Yurt.  Several people were killed in the operation, including women, who were killed with extreme cruelty.  They were beaten, tortured, and cursed.  Their dead bodies were horribly mutilated; their flesh had turned black from the blows.
         The situation in the city of Grozny remains very disturbing.  Russian armed forces periodically carry out mop-up operations in various neighborhoods.  They arrest innocents, most of whom disappear without a trace or return home beaten and crippled.  Russian troops regularly conduct raids in the city, arresting anyone who does not have a Grozny residence permit.  In the end, most people arrested during these raids are freed – usually for a bribe – but some detainees have never been heard from again.
         In addition to the widespread mop-up operations, Russian troops also carry out so-called “address checks” in every town and village in Chechnya.  Every day dozens of people, most with no connection whatsoever to the guerillas, are subjected to address checks.
         The mop-ups and other checks and raids constitute an act of ethnocide against the Chechen people.  These operations are destroying the population of men between 15 and 40 years of age.  Without convicting them of any crimes, Russian soldiers arrest and kill healthy, strong men and boys, claiming that they are potential terrorists and guerillas.
         The observance of human rights in Chechnya is not increasing; in fact, the situation it is deteriorating with each passing day.  The optimism of international organizations responsible for observing the progress of human rights protection in Chechnya is incomprehensible.
         Perhaps the progress will become more visible when the entire Chechen nation has been destroyed.

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Dispatches from Chechnya are prepared by correspondents in Chechnya and distributed in English by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE), a non-profit organization founded in 1986 that is dedicated to the promotion of democracy and pluralism in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. For more information about IDEE, its programs, and the situation in Chechnya, visit the IDEE webpage at To receive Dispatches by email, please write to IDEE at: <[email protected]>.

Eric Chenoweth and Irena Lasota, Co-Directors, IDEE