Widespread Torture Continues Unabated in Chechnya

Today, Human Rights Watch released their report on systematic torture in Chechnya. The report, “Widespread Torture in the Chechen Republic” serves as HRW brief to the 37th UN Commission Against Torture. None of its contents should be a surprise to anyone. Though the Chechen War has been officially declared over by the Russian Government, war continues by other means. Chechen rebels continue to target Russian forces. The most recent reported incident of Russian casualties was on Saturday, when two Russian soldiers were wounded when their vehicle hit a rebel landmine. Despite hopes that violence would abate with the killing of Shamil Basayev in July, many believe that Russia now faces a regrouped force of younger, harder, and even more fanatic jihadis.

For the Russian side, violence continues mostly via proxy. Since 2003, “Chechenization” has increasingly put efforts to eliminate Chechen rebels in the hands of Putin’s man in Grozny, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. According to HRW, since “anti-terrorist” operations came under Kadyrov command, secret detention, disappearances, and torture have become the norm, even overshadowing the methods of Russia’s Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2).

Torture and other forms of ill treatment by ORB-2 personnel appear aimed at coercing confessions from detainees, which then lead to fabricated criminal charges and court convictions. Kadyrovtsy, by contrast, resort to such treatment to secure incriminating information about rebel forces from detainees whom they subsequently release or force to join their ranks. They have also taken hostage and mistreated relatives of alleged rebel fighters.

This is exactly what Anna Politkovskaya’s last article documented, and HRW’s report now confirms.

In regard to ORB-2 tortures, one Sulim S., 29, told HRW in an interview:

For the first five days they kept me blindfolded. I did not know what they wanted. They kept saying, “We know that you know, and you know that we know!” and when I asked what I was supposed to know, they tortured me. They put a gas mask on my face and would cut the airflow until I started suffocating. They repeatedly gave me electric shocks—my head was swinging back and forth; one discharge went through my tongue, and my tongue got all swollen and was falling out of my mouth.

They beat me mercilessly. They put me against the wall with my legs spread apart and kicked me on my privates—I later saw that the entire area in between my thighs was all black from bruises. They pulled my pants down and threatened to rape me.

I kept telling them, “Just kill me!” but they said, “No, we won’t kill you right away—we’ll do it slowly, and we will also rip your brother apart.” I felt like during these interrogations I was dying over and over again, and they would revive me to continue. Finally, after they realized I could not come up with anything, they offered me three crimes to choose from—a bombing of a bus, a killing of two policemen or a killing of one woman. But I refused.

About a week after his detention, Sulim’s brother, Salambek was detained. He described similar torture at the hands of ORB-2:

The men started beating me while we were still in the car, but did not explain where they were taking me and why. Then they put me into a room, and told me to tell them “everything.” I thought they were referring to a short period of time in 1999 when I helped to dig trenches in the city along with everybody else, but they . . . said they were not interested in that—they wanted me to confess to bombings and killings. I said they must have mistaken me for someone else.

They attached wires to my fingers and ears, and started giving me electric shocks—I could not see the device, as they put a gasmask on my head, but heard the clicking sound. They pushed me against the wall and started beating me on the kidneys, and then threw me on the floor—I was lying on my stomach, and one of the men put his boot under my heart area, while [at the same time] another was sitting on my back. As other men pressed the pain zones on my legs I would twitch and the boot would press hard into my heart—I felt like my heart was stopping and couldn’t breathe.

They repeated these interrogations and beatings for several days, and then told me that if I did not confess, they would bring my wife and rape her in front of my eyes, and then do the same with me. They brought a club and said they would stick it up my ass.

I would rather die than be dishonored like that; it is just unthinkable in our culture—I told them I would confess to a bombing of a bus, and made up a story, coming up with the most unbelievable details. When I tried to take my confession back, they started torturing my brother in the adjacent cell, saying, ‘Do you hear? That’s your brother screaming.

The Kadyrovtsy’s methods show little difference. HRW documented 82 cases of torture committed by the Kadyrovtsy, 54 of which occurred in 2006 alone.

Take for example, the secret detention and torture of one Magomed M., 24.

Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch that Kadyrov’s forces brought him and the four other men to one of Kadyrov’s bases on the outskirts of the village of Tsentoroi. Personnel at first put them in a boiler room on the base, and soon thereafter the base commander took three of the detainees out to a nearby field for questioning. Magomed M. told Human Rights Watch:

“There were three or four personnel there—the same ones who brought us to the base. They kept asking about a rebel fighter from our area—they said we should know him since we are the same age. I knew nothing about the man, but they wouldn’t believe me. They kept kicking me and beating me with sticks; it lasted for five or six hours.”

Magomed M. said that he was taken out for questioning and severely beaten every day during his detention.

Relatives of the five detainees learned of their whereabouts through a contact in Kadyrov’s forces and managed to secure their release; four of the men were released the day following their detention, and Magomed M., several days later. “Before releasing me they warned me not to say a single word about my detention,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise, they said they would take me away again and I would disappear.”

After his release Magomed M. spent more than three weeks in a hospital, where he said doctors documented his injuries, including multiple hematomas on his body, kidney damage, and a concussion.

Thus the meat grinder of asymmetrical warfare continues unabated in Chechnya.