Testimonial on the Situation of Chechens in Russia
The Memorial Human Rights Centre and "Civic Assistance Commitee"
25.Dec.01 - note: This text is also available in german [external link] and in russian [external link]
Moscow - The Memorial Human Rights Centre is one of the biggest human rights organisations in Russia co-operating with a broad network of organisations with similar concerns throughout the country. Since 1995 members of The Memorial have spent a number of months monitoring the situation in Chechnya. Resulting from information gathered inside the program "Hotspots" we published the books "Russia- Chechnya: Chain of Mistakes and Criminals" (Moscow, "Links", 1998), "Direct Hits" (Moscow, "Links", 1999), "The Problems of Victims of Military Action within the Chechen Republic" (Moscow, "R-Valent", 2000), "Discrimination Based on Place of Residence and Ethnicity in Moscow and the Moscow Region Aug 1999-Dec 2000" (Moscow, "Links", 1999). Participants in the program "Hotspots" regularly organise excursions to various regions, monitor local situations and prepare statements about human rights breaches. Members of Memorial constantly observe the situation of victims of military action in Chechnya and other regions of Russia, and gather legal information from some 49 offices of the 'Migration and Rights' network.
The Civic Assistance Committee also provides office space and support for the Moscow branch of the Migration and Rights network. The Committee is the first organisation in Russia to take responsibility in assisting refugees and forced settlers. Lawyers from the Migration and Rights network for the year 2000 made more than 17,000 consultations, wrote 4,500 letters to law enforcement agencies to explain the refugees circumstances (helping many illegally detained refugees to escape police repressions), conducted some 6,000 appeals to government authorities and initiated and followed more than 1,000 legal cases.
From the beginning of 1995 (that is, from the beginning of military action on Chechnia) many people from the Chechen Republic applied to the offices of the network. As well as having lost their homes, way of life, and rights of residence, these people were often wounded and had lost relatives and friends. We can testify that the Russian state does almost nothing to compensate their losses. Victims of the period 1994-96 were granted tiny financial compensation but in practice proceedings in receiving the money is very slow. As a result of the collapse of the ruble in Aug '98 this compensation became insufficient to buy any place of residence. Other people recieved no compensation at all.
Compared with the situation in 1991-96 (before and during the first war in Chechnya) war victims in the period of 1999-2000 are seldom granted 'forced settler' status. The basis of refusal is "absense of signs and circumstances which are in Article 1. Russian Federation Law regarding Forced Settlers"- that is, authorities today interpret the forced settlers definition differently than in 1996. Mass disorder is no longer recognised as sufficient grounds for status to be granted. Important to note is that the first wave of people fleeing Chechnya were ethnically Russian, whilst ethnic Chechens hid in villages which were not under attack. The victims of the second wave of military action in Chechnya are primarily ethnically Chechen. There is a verbal order to migration services from Moscow not to give these people status, which directors of Migration Services have also indicated several times in personal communiques. The state has absolved itself of responsibility for Chechen inhabitants both inside the territory of Chechnya and Russia as a whole.
Human rights organisations declare that in Russia and first of all in Mosow there is a campaign to falsify criminal cases against Chechens. This was even admitted by a representative of the Moscow Prosecutors Office during a meeting with representatives a number human rights organisation. The pinnacle of this anti-Chechen campaign- despite lack of proof of any connection to any Chechen groups or individuals- was in September and October '99 following a series of explosions within buildings in Moscow, Buinaksk and Volgodonsk. The anti- Chechen campaign was invigorated again in August 2000 when for several days police arrested Chechens on the grounds of 'hooligan activity', performed illegal house searches, planted stolen goods, drugs, weapons and explosives.
In April 2001 the testimonies of breaches of human rights of relocated inhabitants of the Chechen Republic were collected during a seminar for lawyers of the Migration and Rights network. There was no member of the network without an example of the new violations. Testimonies of the lawyers were recorded and signed. These documents are stored in the office of the network's leader Svetlana Gannushkina. Copies can be given, some of them translated also into German.
Ethnic Chechens are in the worst situation. They have no possibility for registration for residence from the police because they are deemed a 'danger to society'. The Civic Assistance Committee has a copy of the registration document of Rosa Azeeva in the apartment of her friends. At the top of the document is hand-written "Chechen" in large letters. This is seen by any police officer conducting identification checks and can cause repercussions depending on the police officers particular attitude to Chechens (people have been taken to the police station for several hours or ordered to pay money). Another woman from Grozny, Maryet Torshoyeva was advised she had to pay in order register as a foreigner, the State Committee of Internal Affairs of Moscow feeling no shame in admitting this to the Deputy of the State Duma.
The Civic Assistance Committee quite often hear complaints about refusals of registration from the passport services of Moscow and the Moscow region because of their nationality. Occasionally the refusals are accompanied by insults specifically related to nationality. These refusals are always made in verbal form, if people obtain a refusal in written form the nationality of the applicant is never stated as the reason for refusal. Higher officers within the militia deny having given instructions that Chechen registration must be limited. It is most likely these orders do not exist in printed form, however there are reasons to state that the behavior of workers in passport services is not purely the result of personal feelings, but the result of state policy.
One case that clearly exemplifies this is that in which inhabitant of Chechnya, Zalva Ayeshanova, contacted the Civic Assistance Committee. She is a nurse who had worked in the International Red Cross in Grozny. Several of her colleagues had died tragically and she became unemployed with the closure of Red Cross operations in Grozny. In 1995 her husband was killed during the bombing and her eldest son wounded, becoming an invalid. She has four dependant children. In the Autumn of 1998 Zalva moved to the city of Karalyov, nearby Moscow, to search for work. She started to live in the flat of her friend Halvash Gachaev, who had moved from Chechnya earlier. When Zalva and Havash contacted Karalyov's Militia headquarters they were refused registration on the basis that they are Chechen. Zalva reported this to the Civic Assistance Committee on March 15th, 1999. The next day an employee of the Committee called the head of the local passport service, Nadyeszhka Novichkova, who said she had been previously reprimanded, and her job threatened for registering a Chechen person in the past. She had then written a letter to her supervisor, disagreeing with this reprimand as there was no legal basis for refusal of registration. She recieved no reply but lost the possibility for promotion and her annual bonus. She had the idea that her colleagues refused registration because they were afraid of similar repurcussions and told Chechens directly their nationality was the reason for thier refusal.
The biggest problem for migrants is the growing xenophobia in Russia which is of primary concern to ethnic Chechens. In 1995 at least 70% of the population were against Russian participation in a war in Chechnya but active propoganda by state representatives and mass media successfully influenced public opinion. Now negative attitudes in broader society deprive Chechens the opportunity to find a place within their new situation.
The Mayor of Moscow regularly reports there are are 'Chechen footprints' in all terrorist actions. The President of Russia threatened Chechen rebels they will be "destroyed without any trial", a common criminal expression. Human Rights Centre Memorial attempted to make a criminal case against the mayor Yuri Lushkov for the promotion and incitment national conflicts, however the attempt was not successful. Prosecutors did not find evidence of criminality in activities or statements of Mr. Lushkov.
As a result of anti-Chechen sentiment of the mayor the small- and middle-scale Chechen businesses is being destroyed, so that by the end of 1999 Umar Tyemirbulartov was refused the right to rent a place for business despite already having a contract. The owner of the space explained he had been threatened over regarding the contract by the militia. Mr. Tyemirbulartov did not manage to find a new place and his business folded. Now his family have refugee status in France. At the beginning of 2001 a worker from the airport Vnukovo, Aslambek Sultanovich Beyters contacted Human Rights Centre Memorial. He was fired from his work when the militia security guards at the airport discovered by chance that he was Chechen with an un- Chechen surname. Usually Chechens cannot find employment. Employers occasionally contact the Civic Assistance Committee to ask if it is legal to emply Chechen workers. Often they are sure it would be breaking the law. Some people change their opinion but most employers prefer not to deal with Chechens at all.
On May 29 a group of investigators from the Office of Prosecutions together with employees of the Committee Against Organised Crime (together about 150 people) organised searches of nine houses of Chechens who had moved to the area of Lukovtisky Syelsky Okrug Staritskogo Rayona, Tverskaya region, fleeing the war. One of the investigators pushed a 12 year old boy on the floor and held a pistol to his head and pretended to shoot. The mother of this boy tried to protect her son and was pushed back by the butt of a kalashnikov. This action was only to intimidate, despite claims it was made in repsonse to a report of a stolen sewing machine within the village. This case is quite typical and repeats the types of behavior of the militia and army within Chechnya.
There is another classic example. The small group of Chechens who had moved to the deserted village Spirovo Vishnievolodskogo Rayona and began some small scale farming and foraging in the forest. The Civic Assistance Committe help them regularly with medicines, basic school supplies and a small sum of money. The elected mullah as well as leader of the group Ahmed Arsamakov keep close watch on the behaviour of the Chechens to not have conflicts with residents of neighbouring villages, but still local mitilia refuse to register the group. Local militia regularly organise criminal investigations against local Chechens but never carry them to trial. Nonetheless these investigations create stressful situations. The militia regularly arrest people, beat, threaten and demand money. Ahmed Arsamakov was several times under pressure and provoked by the militia in attempts to get him to strike back, in order that he could be justifiably arrested. Now there is a false criminal case against his son.
Human Rights Centre Memorial and Charity Non- Government Organisation Civic Assistance Committee take responsibility for the statement that ethnic Chechens that have left Russia can be defined as refugees according to Article 1. The United Nations Convention 1951. Unfortunately there is no place in Russia where Chechens can be guaranteed safety.
- Co-chairperson of the Civic Assistance Committee and head of the Migration and Rights network of the Human Rights Centre Memorial, Svetlana Gannushkina
- Chairperson of the Human Rights Centre Memorial, head of the program "Hotspots", Oleg Orlyov
The Civic Assistance Commitee: A charity non-goverment organisation assisting refugees and forced settlers.
Moscow, Dolgorukovskaya st., 33, building No.6
tel. 973-54-74, fax 917-89-61