The Russian government's plan was to normalize the situation in Chechnya by 2001: with most troops withdrawn and most internally displaced persons expected to return to their homes. The events of three weeks in late June and early July 2001 shattered these hopes and painfully illustrated just how far removed Chechnya remained from lasting peace.
Between June 15 and July 4, Russian troops conducted exceptionally harsh sweep operations in at least six villages in different parts of Chechnya. Troops rounded up several thousand Chechens, mostly without any form of due process, and took them to temporary military bases in or near the villages. According to eyewitnesses, soldiers extrajudicially executed at least eleven detainees, and at least two detainees "disappeared" in detention. Human Rights Watch interviewed twelve former detainees who gave detailed testimony of torture and ill-treatment, including electric shock, severe beatings, and being forced to remain in "stress positions." They said independently that dozens, if not hundreds, of other detainees had also faced torture and ill-treatment. Eyewitnesses also gave testimony about widespread extortion, looting, and destruction of civilian property.
The sweep operations-a culmination of over a year of official tolerance of "dirty war" tactics in Chechnya-further eroded what little trust Chechen civilians retained in Russian troops and government structures, and underscored once again that a return to normal life and lasting peace in Chechnya is only possible if the Russian government takes effective steps to reign in its troops and remedy abuses. Hundreds of people fled border areas into Ingushetia in the aftermath of the sweeps and thousands of internally displaced persons already in Ingushetia were strengthened in their conviction that Russian troops made their safe return home to Chechnya impossible. Local officials, teachers, and other Chechens striving to return to a semblance of normalcy saw their efforts grossly undermined. As a teacher from Assinovskaia put it:
The sweeps, however, did not come out of the blue. They occurred against the background of a highly volatile security situation and continuing serious abuses by both sides to the conflict. Between November 2000 and April 2001, Chechen rebel forces operated throughout Chechnya, clashing with federal troops, carrying out bomb attacks on federal positions, assassinating Chechens seen as cooperating with the Russian government, and kidnapping a foreign aid worker in broad daylight. Russian forces responded to this rebel activity with the occasional use of heavy weaponry and frequent large-scale, targeted sweep operations, during which numerous civilians were killed, tortured, ill-treated and "disappeared."
To address the persistent cycle of abuse, Human Rights Watch is calling on the Russian government to investigate promptly and impartially all allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed during the sweep operations and to swiftly prosecute those found responsible. The government should fulfill the requirements of U.N. Human Rights Commission Resolution 2001/24 of April 20, 2001, by establishing an independent national commission of inquiry into abuses and by allowing relevant U.N. special mechanisms to visit Chechnya. The government should prevent further violations by undertaking a number of measures. It should, for example, put all forces in Chechnya on notice that noncompliance with international human rights and humanitarian principles will not go unpunished. To prevent "disappearances," Russian forces should immediately cease the practice of secret detention and make public regularly updated data on the numbers of arrested and charged for security-related crimes in Chechnya.
In its recommendations to the international community, Human Rights Watch is calling for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to monitor, investigate and publicize violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Chechnya and make compliance with U.N. Resolution 2001/24 a key element for cooperation in their relations with Russia. Human Rights Watch additionally calls on the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to make full use of their respective mandates and mechanisms to establish an official record of abuses committed during the armed conflict in Chechnya and hold the Russian government to obligations for an effective accountability process.
1. Letter from Medina Gudieva, director of school no. 1 in Assinovskaia, to Nazarbek Terkhoev, the head of the local administration, dated July 6, 2001.