Russia uses death squads and torture in Chechnya, says Amnesty

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The Independent Online

Russian forces in Chechnya were yesterday accused of operating South American-style death squads which routinely target innocent civilians.

Russian forces in Chechnya were yesterday accused of operating South American-style death squads which routinely target innocent civilians.

With the backing of local militia, Russian troops were also accused of running unofficial torture centres known as "filtration camps" and of routinely committing war crimes and human rights abuses "with total impunity."

The allegations, in a harrowing report from Amnesty International, included claims that Russia's occupying forces indulge in the systematic rape, torture and kidnapping of innocent civilians. Very few of the perpetrators have been brought to justice, the report said.

Amnesty claimed its findings contradicted the Russian government's claim that the situation in the strife-torn republic was "normalising" and accused Russia of failing miserably to live up to its human rights obligations. "In spite of claims to the contrary by Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen officials, the situation in the Chechen republic is far from normal."

The report also accused the international community - and the United Nations in particular - of being soft on Moscow and of producing only "muted" criticism of abuses in Chechnya since the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001.

Giving credence to claims that the Chechen conflict is spilling over into other parts of southern Russia, Amnesty said that similar abuses were starting to be perpetrated by Russian forces in neighbouring Ingushetia. Amnesty noted that at least 34 people had simply disappeared in Ingushetia between September of last year and March of this year and drew attention to an incident in which a Russian helicopter gunship had fired its rockets at a civilian car killing two of its occupants.

While the report also criticised Chechen separatist rebels for human rights abuses and for the targeting of policemen and government officials, the majority of its findings focused on Russian troops and the Moscow-backed local militia run by Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the republic's murdered president. "Russian federal and security forces continue to carry out human rights violations such as extra judicial executions, 'disappearances', arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture, including rape, with impunity," the report said. "Women have increasingly been targeted -- a number of women described to Amnesty International's representatives how they were tortured, including with electric shocks, and raped in detention."

The report quoted the author and human rights activist, Sergei Kovalev, who used the phrase "death squads" to describe perpetrators of such abuses.It highlighted the discovery in April of nine gunshot-riddled bodies of local men in a ravine after they had been detained by federal forces and of the bruised lifeless corpse of Aslan Davletuakaev, a human rights activist, in January. People who dared complain about their treatment to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had come in for particular intimidation and violence, the report alleged.

Amnesty also claimed to have received "credible and consistent reports" of secret unofficial detention centres known as filtration camps, one of which is in Grozny, the Chechen capital.

There was an account from a man called Akhmed Gisaev of having been held in such a facility where the walls were spattered with dried blood. He claims he was "kicked, beaten with batons and fists, burnt with cigarettes and suffered electric shock torture on his right hand and foot." He was, he said, also deprived of food and sleep and made to drink alcohol, forbidden for a practising Muslim.

An Amnesty representative, Mariana Katsarova, also alleged yesterday that Imran Ezhiyev, head of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, had been detained 17 times and suffered torture, including having his teeth filed.

But Taus Dzhabrailov, chairman of the Moscow-backed Chechen State Council, was dismissive of Amnesty's report. "Nobody in Chechnya hushes up abuses committed by servicemen," he told Interfax news agency. "All these facts are characteristic not only of Chechnya or Russia ... they also happen in any country."