My bitterness is great.... No happiness remains for me in this world.
- Haji Vakha Muradov, the Mullah of Alkhan-Yurt, discussing the murder of his son Isa Muradov, December 15, 1999.
Anywhere, anytime I could recognize that soldier. I want him and the others responsible for the deaths of the people to be punished. I am ready to repeat my testimony anywhere, in any court.
-"Ibragim I.," recounting the murder of his uncle Ahampash Dudayev.
These weren't the troops we were expecting. On television, they talked about liberators, but instead a bunch of convicts and looters arrived.
-"Rustam R.," discussing the conduct of Russian troops in Alkhan-Yurt, December 16, 1999.
I swear to you with everything I have [seen], that in the Gudermes region, in the north, I haven't seen anything like this anywhere. If you gather together this village, nothing like this has been done anywhere. What kind of a life is this?
-Nikolai Koshman, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Representative for Chechnya, Alkhan-Yurt, December 17, 1999.
Don't you dare touch the soldiers and officers of the Russian army. They are doing a sacred thing today-they are defending Russia. And don't you dare sully the Russian soldier with your dirty hands!
-Major-General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the troops at Alkhan-Yurt, dismissing calls for accountability for the abuses at Alkhan-Yurt.
On December 1, after weeks of heavy fighting, Russian forces took control of Alkhan-Yurt, a village with a peacetime population of about 9,000, located just south of Grozny.
During the two weeks that followed, Russian forces went on a rampage in the village, summarily executing at least fourteen civilians. They first expelled, temporarily, hundreds of civilians from Alkhan-Yurt, and then began systematically looting and burning the village, killing anyone in their way. Among the dead were: centenarian Nabitst Kornukayeva, and her elderly son Arbi, who were found shot to death in the yard of their looted home; fifty-seven-year-old Khamid Khazuyev, who was shot in the yard of his home when he tried to stop looting soldiers; Akhanpash Dudayev, sixty-five, who was killed in his basement, and his body burned in his looted home; and Taus Sultanov, forty-nine, who was shot in a cellar and left to bleed to death while soldiers robbed other civilians with him of their belongings. The killings went on for more than two weeks, without any apparent attempt by Russian authorities to stop it. Aindi Altimirov, the last to die, was killed and beheaded by Russian soldiers on December 18.
Nearly every villager from Alkhan-Yurt interviewed by Human Rights Watch said he or she had personally seen Russian soldiers looting homes. Villagers described how they watched, powerless, as soldiers loaded household goods-furniture, clothing, refrigerators, televisions, and the like-onto military trucks and stolen vehicles and hauled away their loot. When Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman visited Alkhan-Yurt on December 17, he personally saw military trucks and tents filled with loot from the village. "What I have seen is beyond everything I have seen before," the deputy prime minister exclaimed after being confronted with the evidence of the carnage.
According to many witnesses, soldiers also committed rape in Alkhan-Yurt. One woman gave Human Rights Watch the names of two women she personally knew who she said were raped, while a second witness told Human Rights Watch that five or six women had been raped, and that she was forced to hide her own daughters in a hidden earthen pit to prevent a similar fate. A third witness gave detailed information about a gang rape of a forty-two-year-old woman by a group of seven "kontraktniki," or contract soldiers. Distinct from recruits and officers, kontraktniki are men who sign short-term contracts for military service.
By early November 1999, a significant group of Chechen rebel fighters were present in Alkhan-Yurt, attempting to keep open an exit route out of Grozny. They refused to leave the village, repeatedly threatening to shoot village elders who tried to persuade them to leave and spare the village. The Chechen fighters, who included many foreign fighters among their ranks, inflicted heavy losses on the Russian forces, killing more than seventy Russian soldiers before abandoning Alkhan-Yurt. Russian forces indiscriminately shelled Alkhan-Yurt in November, destroying large parts of the village and killing at least eight civilians.
The Russian authorities have not taken serious steps to bring to justice those responsible for the killings, rapes, torture, and other abuses in Alkhan-Yurt, closing their investigation "for lack of evidence of a crime." However, there are important clues to the identity of the perpetrators, or at least their units, which would allow a credible and independent prosecutorial body to bring those responsible to justice. At one point during the two week rampage villagers told the Russian commander in charge of Alkhan-Yurt what was happening, but he failed to take any perceptible actions to stop the abuses. Nor have steps been taken to prevent similar abuses in the future. Since Alkhan-Yurt, Russian forces have gone on two similar large-scale killing sprees, killing at least fifty civilians in the Staropromyslovski district of Grozny in December and January, and at least sixty-two civilians, possibly many more, on a single day (February 5) in the Aldi district of Grozny.
Russia's obligations to desist from the abuses documented in this report derive primarily from its obligations under Protocol II additional to the Geneva Conventions and under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, both of which Russia has ratified. The failure of the Russian authorities to establish accountability for abuses committed in Chechnya makes it essential for the international community to carry out credible and independent investigations into the atrocities, and take the necessary steps to assure accountability within Russia or on the international level.