In new report, human rights organization exposes ongoing killings, disappearances and torture in the North Caucasus
(Washington, D.C.) – Amnesty International today released a new report urging the Russian government to strengthen accountability and transparency of law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus. Circle of Injustice: Security operations and human rights violations in Ingushetia documents cases of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture — and the policies and practices behind them — throughout the region.
Since 2002, armed and masked men have abducted an estimated 200 people in Ingushetia, and allegations of unlawful executions during security operations have become increasingly common. Despite these reports, not a single case has been brought before a court for prosecution.
A shroud of secrecy enables officers wearing masks, but no identifying insignia, to commit human rights violations without fear of punishment. Officials can easily deny knowledge of, or involvement in, illegal activities thanks to the complex and opaque structure of the region’s law enforcement agencies.
“It is as though a corporate veil has been drawn across the activities of law enforcement officials in the North Caucasus,” said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program. "Sometimes, investigators and prosecutors are unable to investigate the abuses; all too often they simply appear unwilling to do so, as obvious lines of enquiry are not pursued effectively or are dropped entirely."
Despite recent reform of Russia’ criminal justice system and the introduction of procedural and practical safeguards against torture, there is compelling evidence that torture is still widely used by law enforcement to extract testimonies from detainees.
Zelimkhan Chitigov, an ethnic Chechen in his early twenties, was abducted in April 2010 by some 30 armed men and taken to an unknown location, hands bound and a plastic bag over his head. After refusing to confess to any terrorism-related activities, he was beaten and electrocuted, his toe-nails were pulled out, his skin was twisted with pliers and he was suspended on metal bars.
He has since been diagnosed with serious injuries to his head, spine and internal organs and can no longer walk or talk. In July 2010, a criminal case was opened into his allegations of torture and secret detention; the trial is ongoing.
"Chitigov is one of many who have been beaten and tortured in Ingushetia," said Dalhuisen. "His case is the only one where charges have been brought against one of the perpetrators – but these charges cover only his secret detention, and not the allegations of torture."
At present, the only real hope of redress for victims of human rights violations in the North Caucasus is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – a process which takes years and has often proved dangerous for applicants. The Russian authorities must bring justice home.
"The situation in the North Caucasus has dropped off the national and international radar in recent years, but serious human rights abuses remain unchecked and unpunished across the region," said Dalhuisen. "The Russian authorities must develop a 'zero tolerance' policy for human rights violations by law enforcement officers through prompt and impartial investigations."
"The long-term security of the region depends on it," Dalhuisen concluded.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.