The “Dirty War” in Ingushetia

dirtywar062508.jpgUsually when we hear the term “Dirty War,” we immediately think of dictatorial Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the military junta dispatched its opponents with extreme prejudice, widespread fear and violence, and unimaginable cruelty (torture interrogations and dropping prisoners out of airplanes over the ocean were just a few methods). In short, it features among the very worst human rights cases in contemporary Latin American history. Whether it is appropriate or not, Human Rights Watch has just produced a new report on the Russian government’s policy in Ingushetia, which uses the term “dirty war” to describe the state’s tactics in fighting the insurgency.

Right on the heels of the harsh Freedom House assessment of Russia’s progress, Tanya Lokshina of HRW says that “The crimes in Ingushetia, although on a far smaller scale, evoke the thousands of enforced disappearances, killings, and torture cases that plagued Chechnya for more than a decade. (…) Russia’s brutal counterinsurgency policies are antagonizing local residents. Far from ending the insurgency, ‘dirty war’ tactics are likely to further destabilize the situation in Ingushetia and beyond in the North Caucasus.“At this blog we’re very wary of casual historical allegories, especially a comparison to something as catastrophically pernicious as Argentina’s military nightmare, which may appear to minimalize the trauma of another people. That said, Russia’s problems in Ingushetia are widely ignored in the media, and further understanding, transparency, and debate are most definitely merited. Read the report here to decide for yourself whether there is a mini-Argentina in the Caucasus. Some excerpts which make the case follow.From the intro:

Abduction-style detentions and killings in Ingushetia often happen during “special operations,” which generally follow the pattern of sweeps and targeted raids seen in earlier years in Chechnya. Groups of armed personnel—security services, local police and federal Ministry of Internal Affairs troops—arrive in a given area, often wearing masks and riding in armored personnel carriers and other vehicles that in many cases lack license plates. They surround a neighborhood or an entire village and check peoples’ dwellings. Because they do not identify themselves, residents can refer to them only as “servicemen.” They do not show official warrants or provide the residents with any explanation for the operations. In the four cases of special operations documented in this report, they forced entry into homes, beat some of the residents, and damaged their property.News of abductions, “disappearances,” killings, and abusive special operations spread quickly among Ingushetia’s population of 300,000. People in Ingushetia voiced their distress at these violations—and the government’s failure to hold anyone accountable—in a series of relatively small, largely spontaneous public protests. With the president of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov, consistently referring to the situation in the republic as normal and stable, by autumn 2007 local authorities did their utmost to prevent further protests from happening and to silence media coverage. Local officials refused to grant protest organizers permission for two rallies, which were subsequently violently dispersed.In a striking move to intimidate independent observers, 16 human rights advocates and journalists were variously abducted, detained, and expelled from Ingushetia by security forces as they attempted to monitor two planned public rallies in November 2007 and January 2008.Counterinsurgency operations in Ingushetia are regulated by Russia’s federal counterterrorism legislation. This legislation allows broad restrictions to be placed on fundamental rights and freedoms with no judicial or parliamentary oversight. It gives special provision for the detention of individuals suspected of terrorism for 30 days without charge. It also allows the security services to establish a “counterterrorism operations regime,” during which the authorities may search homes without warrants and ban public assemblies and the work of the press. The security services may impose these restrictions for any duration of time, in any area they determine as relevant, and without having to demonstrate that the restrictions on rights are proportionate to the threat of terrorism. The law also sets out no terms for proportionality on the use of lethal force in counterterrorism activities.The counterterrorism operations regime is problematic, but often not invoked in Ingushetia. Far more problematic, in practice, is that law enforcement and security forces have every reason to believe they may act with impunity when carrying out any operation related to counterterrorism or counterinsurgency. Law enforcement and security forces responsible for human rights violations in Ingushetia are not brought to justice. If criminal cases into those abuses are opened at all, the prosecutors fail to mount meaningful investigations. Such investigations in most cases cannot even determine which agency—the police, the military, the FSB—is responsible for killings and other violations.Many of those who have sought justice as well as eyewitnesses to the abuses have been subjected to verbal and physical threats. The failure of justice in Ingushetia is evidenced by the rising number of applications to the European Court of Human Rights by Ingushetia residents.

From “Abductions and Enforced Disappearances”

On August 8, 2007, Ibragim Gazdiev (born 1978) was abducted and “disappeared” by unknown security personnel.Ibragim Gazdiev worked as manager of a construction supply shop in Karabulak. Around 12:30 p.m., Gadziev’s colleagues received a phone call from a local resident (witness A., name withheld by Human Rights Watch), who told them that he had just seen Ibragim being taken away by armed personnel. According to witness A., several armed servicemen wearing masks and camouflage uniforms had stopped Gazdiev’s car in the center of Karabulak. They blocked Gazdiev on the road and motioned to him to come out of the car. Witness A. saw the servicemen check Gazdiev’s documents, put him in their minibus, take his car, and drive off in three vehicles.182Ibragim’s colleagues conveyed this information to Gadziev’s father, Mukhmed. Three days after the abduction, another witness (witness B., name not disclosed to Human Rights Watch) told Mukhmed Gazdiev that he not only saw the detention but followed the minibus until it pulled into the yard of the FSB headquarters in Ingushetia’s capital, Magas.183In addition to notifying police and prosecutorial authorities of Ibragim’s abduction, Mukhmed Gazdiev succeeded in speaking directly to Ingushetia’s president Murat Zyazikov, and prosecutor Yuri Turygin several weeks later. They did not tell Gazdiev where his son was, but reassured him that that he was being treated lawfully and that he would be home soon.Mukhmed Gazdiev told Human Rights Watch,184When I worked as a teacher in Grozny [Chechnya], Zyazikov studied with me for two years. So he could not refuse to see me. I explained the situation to him and he summoned Turygin. I told the prosecutor, “Please don’t do my son any harm. We know what kind of methods your people use. Do all the lawful things. If he deserves to be punished, let’s punish him together. I’ll disown him [if he is guilty].” And he [Turygin] replied right away, “We’re not going to do anything unlawful to him. …” Then, Zyazikov explained, “He was taken by security personnel. They are conducting an investigation with his participation. But he’s not mixed up with any dirty dealings—it’s just that he’s got some no good acquaintances.”Mukhmed Gazdiev had an idea what kind of “acquaintances” they were referring to. According to Mukhmed Gazdiev, back in March 2004 Ibragim Gazdiev had been planning to go to Grozny by car and one of his customers185 had asked Ibragim to take him, his wife, and two children along. The man was allegedly wanted by law enforcement on suspicion of insurgency, but Ibragim, according to his father, was not aware of this. On the way back, when they reentered Karabulak, their car was stopped by armed servicemen. The man was shot on the spot, and Ibragim was taken to the local police station for questioning and then released. That day, the Gazdievs’ house was searched by police and FSB officials, but nothing was found.The family was then left in peace for several years. Unexpectedly, on May 31, 2007, the investigation department of the FSB’s Ingushetia branch conducted another search of the Gadzievs’ home. The search was carried out lawfully. According to Mukhmed Gazdiev, in response to a question from his frightened wife regarding any possible problems in the future, the FSB official present at the search reassured them, “No, of course not. After all, nothing was found at your place.” The search report confirmed that no incriminating evidence had been discovered.Mukhmed Gazdiev made a direct link between these events and the abduction of his son. At the same time, he was largely reassured by his meeting with President Zyazikov and Prosecutor Turygin and expected his son to return within several days. When that did not happen, Mukhmed Gazdiev resumed his own search for his son, relying on some personal connections. He shared the following conclusions with Human Rights Watch,186I have lots of evidence, but coming forth with it openly would harm the people [who revealed it]. From what we know, he [Ibragim Gazdiev] was constantly moved from one place to another … We were able to trace him. He was here first, then in Pyatigorsk [Stavropol province], then in Nalchik [Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria], then in Vladikavkaz [North Ossetia] … And he was probably in Chechnya too, and it is probably in Chechnya that his route [life] ended. We have information that he ended up at the [illegal] prison in Goity [a village in Chechnya]187 and was wiped off the ground with explosives.Ibragim Gazdiev’s fate is still officially unknown. A criminal case into his abduction was launched by the procuracy of Karabulak. The official investigation has not yielded any results, despite the fact that Gazdiev was in the custody of state agents who are obligated to keep detention records and record who had contact with a detainee. Security services and police in Ingushetia claim that they did not detain Gazdiev.Through his efforts to have the perpetrators brought to justice, Mukhmed Gazdiev became an active member of the protest movement in Ingushetia.188Abductions of Khusein Mutsolgov and Zaurbek Yevloev and enforced disappearance of Khusein MutsolgovOn May 5, 2007, Khusein Mutsolgov (born 1986) and Zaurbek Yevloev (born 1983) were abducted by unknown servicemen in the Nasyr-Kort district of Nazran.According to eyewitnesses, at around 2:30 p.m., Mutsolgov and Yevloev were standing near Yevloev’s house when a dozen armed personnel in masks sped up to them in a minibus and a few passenger cars. The servicemen jumped out of the car and, without any warning, started beating the two young men and hitting them on their heads with the butts of submachine guns. The attackers put adhesive tape over the mouths of their unconscious victims, wads of cotton in their ears, bags over their heads, and threw them into the minibus and drove off, taking Mutsolgov’s car. Several hours later, at around 8 p.m., Zaurbek Yevloev called his relatives from the Chechen village of Assinovskaya on the Ingushetia border and asked them to pick him up. They were already looking for him. Mutsolgov’s mother told Human Rights Watch that Yevloev could not shed any light on the fate of Khusein Mutsolgov and gave only a brief account of what had happened,189He [Yevloev] said they were in [the minibus] for some time but could not see or hear anything. They were then thrown into some kind of dark basement where they were beaten. And it had something to do with the FSB. The servicemen spoke Russian to them but he [Yevloev] wouldn’t tell us much. He kept saying he was very frightened. He did not say what kind of questions they were asked or anything. He was then put in a car and dumped out at some place in the outskirts of Assinovskaya. He does not know what happened to Khusein.The Mutsolgovs learned from people whom they declined to name that Khusein spent several days at the FSB in Magas. Also, they read on the internet that later he was moved to the Goity illegal detention facility, and killed there.190 While as of December 2007 Human Rights Watch had no further information confirming Mutsulgov’s death, we received further confirmation about his presence in Goity. Magomed Maksharipovich Aushev, who was held at Goity in September 2007 (see below), told Human Rights Watch he saw Mutsolgov’s name, as well as the names of several other individuals abducted from Ingushetia, written on the wall of his cell.191Though the prosecutor’s office of Ingushetia promptly initiated a criminal investigation into the abduction of Khusein Mutsolgov, at this writing the investigation has yielded no result. When Human Rights Watch asked whether the Mutsolgovs had a lawyer working on the case, Khusein’s mother shrugged in despair, “We had one but then gave up on him. Why would we need a lawyer if Khusein is no more?”