Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper
On the Situation of Ethnic Chechens in Moscow
Submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), on the occasion of its review of Russia's seventeenth periodic report
February 24, 2003
"The saddest thing is that we ran away from all this when we left Chechnya to come to Moscow. But I don't know how we're going to continue living here, because the sweep operations, the detainments and the disappearances have started in Moscow now. To be honest, I'm anxious when I leave the house. When my son goes to work or any member of the family goes out, my heart starts to thump and only when everybody is home in the evening do I calm down again. But I'm never fully calm now whether I'm at home or not or when somebody is out of the house because I know what can happen. I don't trust anybody anymore in Moscow: neither the soldiers nor the policenobody."
Makka Shidaeva to Human Rights Watch.1
"Your wanting to register in Moscow is the same as going to the White House and asking to live there."
Registration official to a Chechen woman.2
Chechens in Moscow have long been the target of police abuse. But the mass hostage taking at a Moscow theater by Chechen rebel fighters in October 2002 triggered an intense police crackdown and widespread discrimination against ethnic Chechens living in Moscow. Although Russia's President Vladimir Putin to his credit warned against an anti-Chechen sentiment during the hostage crisis, Moscow's police nonetheless stepped up identity checks and arbitrarily detained hundreds of Chechens, fingerprinting and photographing them. Police officers planted drugs and ammunition on Chechens, and then solicited bribes from them in exchange for not pressing charges. Police officials at registration offices routinely refused to register Chechens for obligatory resident permits, frequently referring to "instructions from above." Police also exerted pressure on Moscow landlords to evict Chechen tenants. Chechen parents of school-aged children frequently complained that Moscow schools threatened to close their doors to Chechen children who lacked residence permits, although most children were able to continue to attend classes.
The fallout from the hostage crisis came in the context of a longstanding but unaddressed problem of police harassment of ethnic minorities and migrants in Moscow. For more than a decade, Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations have documented the police's discriminatory and predatory enforcement of Moscow's civilian registration system, including extortion of bribes, beatings, invasion of privacy, and destruction of identity documents.3 Although evidence of such abuses has repeatedly been brought to the attention of the Russian government, and in particular to Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov, the authorities have persistently failed to take effective steps to stop them.
At times of security emergencies, Moscow police routinely intensify this abuse. Although this trend started with the political crisis in 1993, it was most acute in the aftermath of the 1999 bombings of several apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which the Russian government blamed on Chechen terrorists. In the wake of those attacks, police dragged more than twenty thousand Chechens to police stations, photographing and fingerprinting many of them. They also planted drugs and ammunition in the clothes or apartments of dozens of Chechens, and prosecuted them on groundless charges.4
This briefing paper is based on interviews with eleven ethnic Chechens who suffered human rights abuses in the wake of the hostage taking and several lawyers who represent them; staff members of Civic Assistance, a leading Russian nongovernmental organization that works on refugee and displacement issues5; and staff at the office of Aslambek Aslakhanov, a member of Russia's State Duma who has received hundreds of complaints from Chechens about abuses in Moscow since late October 2002. Human Rights Watch also examined publications in Russian and international press on this topic.6
This paper aims to contribute to the upcoming review by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ("the Committee") of the Russian government's ("the government") compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination ("the Convention"), in March 2003. It does not purport to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the government's implementation of the Convention. We recognize the existence of other significant violations of the Convention taking place in Russia that are beyond the scope of this paper.
The cases presented in this paper indicate a pattern of racially motivated discrimination and harassment against ethnic Chechens in Moscow that violates Convention obligations contained in Articles 5, 6, and 7. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to take account of this pattern in its consideration of Russia, and submits that the government should be called upon to undertake immediate measures to end it. In particular, the government should:
Moscow police have stepped up their routine identity checks of civilians at metro stations and on the streets, frequently stopping individuals with dark skin, as well as visiting the private apartments where Chechens live. When they find fault with identity documents or registration papers, police routinely take their holders to the police precinct, where they are often searched, photographed, questioned, fingerprinted, and shaken down for money. Some evidence suggests that this increased police activity is the result of explicit, but unwritten, orders from higher-ranking police officials . For example, a police official at one Moscow registration office told a Civic Assistance activist that he and his colleagues are under informal orders to regularly visit apartments where Chechens are known to live. He had received the order from his direct supervisor and did not know where it originated. Human Rights Watch documented the following example:
Russian human rights groups have received increasing numbers of complaints of police planting drugs and weapons since the hostage taking. An aide to State Duma deputy Aslambek Aslakhanov told Human Rights Watch that as of February 9, 2003, his office was pursuing fifty-six written complaints but that they have received more than three hundred from Chechens since late October 2002.8 Civic Assistance has documented nine new cases of planting of evidence.9
The planting by police of drugs and weapons on Chechens first became widespread in the aftermath of the September 1999 apartment bombings. Over the next four months, Civic Assistance and Memorial Human Rights Center documented over fifty such incidents. Although the practice subsided significantly in 2000, it never completely ended and human rights groups continued to receive occasional complaints about new incidents in 2001 and 2002.
The Russian authorities have done little to address the issue. Prosecutors routinely press charges against the victims of the practice despite overwhelming evidence that they were groundless, and, as a rule, Moscow courts convict them. For example, most of the fifty cases Civic Assistance and Memorial documented in 1999 and early 2000 ended in conviction. Many other cases never make it to the courts as relatives of the detainees bribed law enforcement officials to avoid charges.10 According to Aslakhanov's office, as of this writing, only one Moscow police officer had been convicted for planting evidence on a Chechen.11
Human Rights Watch has documented several such cases since the October hostage taking:
Chechens have faced increased difficulties complying with Moscow's registration requirements since the hostage crisis. Under Russian law, all permanent and temporary residents, as well as visitors, must register with the police within three days of their arrival in Moscow. While federal rules had intended a registration system based on simple notification, Moscow's registration rules amount to a licensing system.17 Many Chechens who tried to register after the hostage crisis told Human Rights Watch, Civic Assistance, and Aslakhanov's office that officials informed them they had received orders not to register any Chechens, and that they would face consequences if they did. Although a police official at one registration office confirmed the existence of such an oral order to a Civic Assistance activist, a few Chechens have been able to register with the help of local human rights groups. The vast majority of the unregistered Chechens living Moscow, however, are unable to register.
In the aftermath of the hostage taking, teachers at some Moscow schools warned parents of Chechen pupils that their children would no longer be welcome at school if they did not present valid registration papers. Some teachers referred to "orders from above," but the Moscow department of education denied the existence of such an order.20 Chechen children have also experienced increased harassment since the hostage crisis. In one case, a teacher paraded a Chechen child in front of her class, announcing that she was a Chechen.
To avoid harassment, many Chechen children do not reveal their ethnic background to their peers. Civic Assistance believes harassment by peers and teachers has become more frequent since the hostage taking.
According to Civic Assistance, police harassment of Moscow landlords renting apartments to unregistered Chechens increased since the hostage crisis. As a result, the number of evictions of Chechens in Moscow has risen significantly.
1 Human Rights Watch interview with Makka Shidaeva, Moscow, November 14, 2002.
2 Human Rights Watch interview with "Kheda Murdalova" (not her real name), Moscow, January 20, 2003.
3 Human Rights Watch, "Crime or Simply Punishment? Racist Attacks by Moscow Law Enforcement," A Human Rights Watch Report , Vol. 7, No. 12(D), September 1995. Amnesty International, Failure to Protect Asylum Seekers , AI-index: EUR 46/003/1997, April 1997. Human Rights Watch, "Moscow: Open Season, Closed City," A Human Rights Watch Report , Vol. 9, No. 10 (D), September 1997.
4 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001: Events of 2000 , (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2000), p. 317.
5 Civic Assistance received more than forty complaints from Chechens in Moscow since late October 2002. It provides details on the substance of complaints it received from Chechens in Moscow between October 23 and December 2002 on its website (http://www.refugee.ru/hronik/monitor2002.htm, accessed February 7, 2003).
6 "Chechens Feel the Heat in Post-Siege Moscow," The Moscow Times , October 30, 2002; Anna Politkovskaya, "Teror: antivikhr: proshla tret'ia nedelia posle Dubrovki. I tret'iu nedel'iu idiot eta dikaia operatsia," Novaya Gazeta.ru , November 11, 2002 (http://2002.NovayaGazeta.Ru/nomer/2002/83n/n83n-s00.shtml, accessed February 19, 2003); Anastasia Naryshkina, "Chechens being ousted from Moscow", Vremia Novostei , November 6, 2002; "V Podmoskov'e nachalis' chechenskie pogromi," Novosti Rossii , November 1, 2002 (http://www.newsru.com/russia/01nov2002/pogromi2.html, accessed February 19, 2003); Sarah Karush, "Human Rights Advocates: Moscow Police target Chechens, detaining scores, killing one," Associated Press Newswires , January 28, 2003; David Filipov, "As Moscow rounds up Chechens, bias issues arise dozens held; reprisal is seen," The Boston Globe , November 17, 2002; Jonathan Steele, "Moscow Police turn against Chechens," The Guardian , November 5, 2002; Sharon Lafraniere, "Chechens complain of harassment in wake of rebel standoff, human rights activists say police looking for possible accomplices exhort money from law-abiding Chechens," The Grand Rapids Press , November 4, 2002; Sharon Lafraniere, "Moscow's Chechens complain of abuse: police accused of campaign of harassment in wake of theater hostage crisis," The Washington Post , November 1, 2002; Eric Engleman, "Chechens in Moscow say they're subject to police visits, harassment after hostage crisis," Associated Press Newswires , October 31, 2002.
7 Human Rights Watch interview with Makka Shidaeva, Moscow, November 14, 2002.
8 Human rights Watch interview with Zelimkhan Bashaev, an aide to Aslambek Aslakhanov, October 30, 2002 and February 3, 2003.
10 In cases Human Rights Watch is aware of, the amount of the bribe varied from several hundred to many thousands of dollars. Zelimkhan Bashaev, the aide to Aslakhanov, estimated that the going rate to avoid a criminal case from being opened cost up to U.S.$1,000. Once a criminal case is opened, the cost of a bribe shoots up to over U.S.$5,000. Telephone interview with Zelimkhan Bashaev, February 3, 2003.
12 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Zelimkhan Bashaev, Moscow, October 30, 2002, and February 3, 2003.
13 Human Rights Watch interview, Moscow, November 15, 2002. The witness requested to remain anonymous.
14 Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Bashirov's sister, Moscow, November 15, 2002.
15 Human Rights Watch interview, Moscow, November 15, 2002. The witness requested to remain anonymous.
16 Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Bashirov's sister, Moscow, November 15, 2002.
17 For a more detailed description, see Human Rights Watch, "Moscow: Open Season, Closed City."
18 Human Rights Watch interview with Zarema Dadaeva, January 17, 2003
19 Human Rights Watch interview with Kheda Shagrievna, January 20, 2003
20 Letter to Svetlana Gannushkina of Civic Assistance from E. Kurnishova, Deputy Chair, Moscow City Department of Education, dated November 29, 2002.
21 Human Rights Watch interview with Zarema Dadaeva, Moscow, January 17, 2003
22 Human Rights Watch interview with Kheda Murdalova, Moscow, January 20, 2003.
23 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Khava Mezhidova, Moscow, October 29, 2002.
24 Human Rights Watch interview with Kheda Murdalova, Moscow, January 20, 2003.
25 Human Rights Watch interview with Zarema Dadaeva, Moscow, January 17, 2003.