"Welcome to Hell" - Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and Extortion in Chechnya
CHECHEN DETAINEES FACE "HELL" FROM RUSSIAN CAPTORS
Europe Must Press Russia Harder on Abuses
(Brussels, October 26, 2000) -- On the eve of the October 29
summit, Human Rights Watch today released a
of torture and extortion faced by thousands of Chechens whom Russian
forces have detained in Chechnya. The rights group called on European
states to file a case against Russia in the European Court of Human
Rights, for these and other abuses during the war in Chechnya.
The 99-page report, entitled "Welcome to Hell"
, describes how Russian
troops have detained thousands of Chechens on suspicion of
with rebel fighters. Many of them were detained arbitrarily, with no
evidence of wrongdoing. Guards at detention centers systematically
Chechen detainees, some of whom have also been raped or subjected to
other forms of torture. Most were released only after their families
managed to pay large bribes to Russian officials. Russian
have launched no credible and transparent effort to investigate these
abuses and bring the perpetrators to justice.
"Welcome to hell" is how guards at the Chernokozovo detention
would greet detainees, before forcing them to undergo a hail of blows
"These are not just abuses of the past," said Rachel Denber, Acting
Director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights
"Even today, any Chechen civilian is at risk of arbitrary detention
severe physical abuse at the hands of Russian troops."
Chechens who do not have proper identity papers, who share a surname
with a Chechen commander, who are thought to have relatives who are
fighters, or who simply "look" like fighters, continue to be detained
and abused on a daily basis in their communities or at Chechnya's
hundreds of checkpoints. Many "disappear" for months as Russian
officials keep them in incommunicado detention. Some are eventually
released when relatives pay a bribe. Others never come back.
Fear of detention has prevented tens of thousands of internally
displaced persons from returning to their homes in Chechnya. It has
also confined those who have remained inside Chechnya, particularly
young men, to their homes or communities.
The E.U. has sharply criticized Russia's actions in Chechnya. It
sponsored a resolution at the United Commission on Human Rights
launch a national commission of inquiry that would establish
accountability for abuse. Six months after the resolution's
the Russian government has failed to launch a credible investigation
into human rights abuse in Chechnya, including torture at detention
centers. So far, the E.U. has taken no steps to press Russia to form
"The E.U. has given Russia more than enough time to launch a credible
investigation into abuses in Chechnya," Denber said. "If the E.U.
to retain its credibility on human rights issues, it should act now."
The report closely scrutinizes abuse at the Chernokozovo detention
facility, which became infamous for torture in early 2000, and then
underwent a massive clean-up after an outcry by the media and
international community. The report also documents abuse in
at Piatigorsk, Stavropol, Urus-Martan, the Mozdok and Khankala
bases, and others.
At several detention centers, baton-wielding guards formed a human
gauntlet and forced incoming detainees to run through. At least one
man, Aindi Kovtorashvili, died as a result of gauntlet-style
Human Rights Watch researchers also gathered testimony from several
former detainees about rape and sexual assault of both men and women.
number of former detainees also gave detailed accounts of the
they sustained to their ribs, liver, kidneys, testicles, and feet
Most former detainees interviewed for the report were released only
after their families had paid substantial bribes-ranging from U.S.$75
$5,000-to their Russian captors or predatory intermediaries. Such
bribes were demanded so often that in many cases, detention itself
appeared to have been motivated by the promise of financial gain,
than by the need to identify rebel elements.
In February 2000, delegations of the European Committee for the
Prevention of Torture visited detention centers in Chechnya.
its visits, the Committee explicitly requested Russian authorities to
investigate allegations of abuse at Chernokozovo and other
It is unclear, though, whether the Russian government has done so.
Human Rights Watch called on the Russian government to provide
regarding any such investigations. Human Rights Watch also called on
Russian government to make public the Committee's reports on its
February and April 2000 trips to Chechnya; under Committee rules of
confidentiality, only the government under investigation can make
The report can be found at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/russia_chechnya4/.