Russia is accused of backing rule by terror in Chechnya

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Russia has been accusedof presiding over an orgy of kidnapping, torture and murder in the breakaway republic of Chechnya and of forcing the region's cowed inhabitants to live in a climate of "fear and intimidation".

Russia has been accusedof presiding over an orgy of kidnapping, torture and murder in the breakaway republic of Chechnya and of forcing the region's cowed inhabitants to live in a climate of "fear and intimidation".

Chechen civilians were being abducted at the rate of two a day by the authorities for interrogation purposes, Human Rights Watch alleged yesterday, and, in many cases, simply disappeared without trace.

In the past the kidnap targets were young men but now they are said to be society's most vulnerable: the old, young women and teenagers. Some civilians are simply dragged from their homes and shot in the street, it was claimed, while others are drugged and tortured.

The shocking allegations will enrage the Kremlin and Chechnya's Moscow-backed government which fiercely denies any involvement in the daily abductions. The official line is that life in Chechnya is getting back to normal, that federal money is being poured into its difficult renaissance and that law and order - of some sort - prevails.

Russian celebrities recently attended a ceremony there to mark the construction of a water park for the republic's long-suffering children and Moscow is on the brink of handing over far-reaching autonomy to its government, which professes loyalty to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But Human Rights Watch, which has just carried out a two-week investigation in Chechnya and interviewed dozens of people, painted a very different picture. Anna Neistat, the head of the group's office in Moscow, said people's already blighted lives were actually getting worse.

"It's really difficult to believe that the situation there could get any worse than it has been in the past couple of years but that is what we heard from a number of witnesses," she said.

"At least during the wars [federal forces entered the republic in 1994 and 1999] they knew what to expect but now they live in constant fear because anything could happen at any moment."

Ms Neistat said Russian federal forces and militia loyal to the republic's Moscow-backed Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov were to blame for two-thirds of all kidnappings.

"We've talked to people who have been released. Their fingers were broken, they were detained with a bag over their heads and were drugged and starved. They were severely tortured ... and then dumped in a forest in a state of shock," she said. People were kidnapped to have information beaten out of them, she added, or because they were suspected of having some connection with the separatist rebels.

Those who live to tell the tale are too scared to complain.

Ms Neistat said: "People are absolutely scared to talk. They believe that if they say a single word their relatives will be kidnapped the very next day."

The human rights group Memorial said recently that about 1,000 civilians had gone missing in Chechnya in the past five years. Last year alone it recorded almost 400 abductions including those of 24 people who were later found dead with signs of torture.

Ms Neistat said US President George Bush should raise the issue when he meets Mr Putin next week at a summit in Slovakia. "It's time for the international community to stop ignoring what is going on in Chechnya. International law is not being respected," Ms Neistat said.

Comments