Russia attacked over torture in Chechnya

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The Independent Online

Russia has been accused of flouting the United Nations Convention Against Torture by "systematically" torturing Chechen civilians at 10 secret detention centres across the predominantly Muslim republic. The allegations, in a report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), claim that civilians are being tortured into confessing to serious crimes that they did not commit.

According to HRW, the objective in most cases is to extract information about other suspects. In other cases, people are being convicted for bureaucratic convenience - to fill "cases solved" quotas.

The claims echo those by Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative reporter who was shot dead in October in what looked like a revenge killing for something she had written - her killers have not yet been found. Chechnya is officially "at peace" after Russian troops entered the republic in 1999 to fight separatist forces.

It is a fight that appears to be all but won, with rebel forces pinned in the hills bereft of their strongest leaders, who have either been killed or fled abroad.

But HRW questions whether the price being paid is too high and points the finger of blame at forces under the command of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Moscow-backed prime minister, as well as federal policemen.

The report is being studied by the UN's Committee on Torture, and documents 115 purported cases of torture between July 2004 and September 2006.

Though most of the victims were young males, several cases concerned "women, elderly, disabled people, and minors, the youngest of whom was 13 years old", it said.

Holly Cartner, HRW's director for Europe and central Asia, said Russia was breaking the UN's Convention on Torture, a document it signed in 1985, and called for Moscow to halt the practice, investigate its allegations and provide redress to victims.

"If you detain someone secretly it's a lot easier to abuse them," she said. "[Yet] this is illegal under Russian and international law."

Torture methods listed include electric shock treatment, being beaten with cables or plastic bottles filled with water or sand (so as not to leave any marks), being burnt with a lighter and being threatened with execution or rape. HRW said that it had uncovered evidence of 10 separate torture facilities in Chechnya, many of which are apparently private homes belonging to commanders loyal to Mr Kadyrov.

It alleged that two facilities are in Tsentoroi, Mr Kadyrov's home village.

At the heart of the report is witness testimony from two brothers, identified as Sulim S and Salambek S.

Sulim, 29, who was detained in March 2006, claimed that he was kept blindfolded for five days before being tortured.

"They put a gas mask on my face and would cut the airflow until I started suffocating," he said. "They repeatedly gave me electric shocks ... one charge went through my tongue."

He claims he was beaten around the groin and threatened with rape before being told to confess to one of three crimes - he refused.

Prime Minister Kadyrov has repeatedly denied being complicit in torture. He says the allegations have been fabricated to end his chances of becoming Chechnya's next president.

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