Chapter 2. Violation of human rights and International humanitarian law during armed conflict in the Chechen Republic
On the observance of the rights of man and the citizen in the Russian Federation (1994-1995)
Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The President's Commission for Human Rights is unanimously of the opinion that events in the zone of armed conflict in the Chechen Republic constitute the most important and most tragic breach of human rights compliance in the Russian Federation in 1994 and 1995. In the magnitude and severity of the human rights violations, in the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens, and in the brutalities perpetrated against the civilian population, the Chechen events are unparalleled since the era of mass political repressions in the USSR.
A political assessment of the decisions and actions of the leaders of the Russian government and of the Dudayev regime would exceed the Commission's mandate. However, the Commission does consider it necessary to note:
It is also important to note that no attempt was made to declare a state of emergency, a mechanism sanctioned by the Constitution and by a specific law of the Russian Federation which provides a legal basis for restricting certain rights of citizens.
The Commission does not intend to provide a legal analysis of the government directives which served as the basis for sending federal troops into combat in the Chechen Republic. The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, in its Decision dated July 31, 1995, issued its opinion concerning the constitutionality of the President's decrees dated November 30, 1994 (No. 2137) and December 9, 1994 (No. 2166) and the Resolution of the Government of the Russian Federation dated December 9, 1994 (No. 1360). However, the Constitutional Court's Decision did not examine the specific actions of the two sides in the conflict from the perspective of respect for human rights and the standards of international humanitarian law -- the Commission views this as its task. This explains the emphasis on facts in this section, which differs in style from other parts of the Report.
The facts gathered, organized and cited below in no way reflect the whole complexity and contradictory nature of the events in the Chechen Republic, and do not attempt to do so.
In particular, this section does not address the mass violations of human rights and the rights of national minorities residing on Chechen territory which occurred between August 1991 and December 1994 and the virtual connivance in criminal terror by the Dudayev regime, which in peacetime led to a flood of forced migrants from the republic. These facts are well known and cannot be justified.
In similar fashion, the Commission is not reviewing the numerous violations by both sides in the conflict of the laws and customs of warfare regarding actions directed against combatants, the immediate participants in the armed conflict. The Commission has focused its attention exclusively on the plight of the civilian population in the combat zone.
This explains a certain "asymmetry" in this section which discusses violations of international humanitarian law primarily by federal troops. This in no way justifies the actions of the Chechen illegal armed formations (IAF). Furthermore, the tactics chosen by the Chechen IAF -- the establishment of strongholds in cities and villages, with the deployment of military targets close to civilian buildings, including residences -- inevitably subjected the civilian population of Chechnya to heightened risk and also, as a consequence of the massive casualties among civilians, led to a stream of new recruits to the IAF.
The Commission is aware of numerous instances of violations of the laws and customs of warfare and international law by members of the Chechen IAF, including:
The monstrous practice of taking civilians as hostages (in Budyonnovsk, in Kizlyar, and in Grozny, where electricians and construction workers were seized after coming to Chechnya from other regions of Russia to rebuild the ruined city), and the execution of hostages are heinous criminal offenses. These cannot be called a part of warfare and nothing can justify them.
However, the civilian casualties and the material damage caused by federal troops are incomparably greater. Moreover, the actions of federal forces are the actions of lawful and supposedly disciplined armed forces under a single, responsible command. The legal government of the Russian Federation bears responsibility for the actions of these forces. This means that violation of human rights and international humanitarian law by federal forces is particularly ominous.
As has been noted, this report cannot be viewed as any kind of full depiction of the entire human rights situation in the war zone. In the near future a comprehensive report on human rights violations in the Chechen Republic should be prepared and published in collaboration with human rights organizations that continue to work in the Chechen Republic. All missions to the war zone without exception, including the Duma's Commission chaired by Stanislav Govorukhin and the official government Commission headed by Valentin Kovalev, have acknowledged and confirmed numerous and gross violations of the fundamental Constitutional rights of Russian citizens who happened to be in the conflict zone and who do not belong to the warring parties.
In this section, the Commission focuses on the gross violation of international humanitarian law which is meant to protect the civilian population.
The purposes stated in the Decrees of the Russian President and the Resolution of the Russian Government mentioned above allow the events in the Chechen Republic to be interpreted as a police operation. However, the scale of the conflict, the number of casualties, the broad application by both sides of the latest weaponry and military equipment and other circumstances qualify the events in the Chechen Republic as an armed conflict not of an international nature, which is covered by Article 3 in all four Geneva Conventions, dated August 12, 1949, and by the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II). The Russian Federation ratified these agreements and is bound by their provisions regardless of whether they have been incorporated into domestic legislation.
All violations of humanitarian law cited in this section were either personally witnessed by members of the Commission, the Human Rights Commissioner's group, or the NGO Mission Monitoring the Chechen Conflict or else were thoroughly verified by them, or were reported in official documents. In some instances, reports in the mass media were used when they were confirmed by other, independent sources.
1. The most flagrant violation of humanitarian law regarding the protection of victims of non-international conflicts has been the massive assault on the life and physical integrity of the civilian population.
The greatest damage was caused by the use of indiscriminate fire and random bombing of populated areas, from which the civilian population of the Chechen Republic has suffered throughout the entire armed conflict.
Instances of indiscriminate firing by federal troops and the killing of civilians began as soon as troops were sent to the Chechen Republic.
On December 11-12, 1994, during their deployment into Chechnya through the territory of the Ingush Republic, troops clashed with civilians who were attempting to block the roads. In addition, several armored vehicles were burned and in several places, according to the testimony of military personnel, troop convoys were fired upon, although this was not confirmed by the procurator's office of Ingushetia. No military personnel were killed during this period.
In response, soldiers on several occasions opened fire indiscriminately, which led to casualties among the civilian population. In one instance, helicopters fired missiles at the village of Gazi-Yurt. A mosque and 7 houses were destroyed, 2 civilians were killed, including an elderly woman, and 3 persons were injured. (On February 3, 1995, a passing military convoy once again fired on Gazi-Yurt with small arms. There were no casualties.)
In all, 5 persons were killed and 15 were injured during the passage of troops through the Nazran District of the Ingush Republic on December 11, 1994. Among those killed was T.K. Gorchkhanov, Minister of Health of the Ingush Republic.
At the same time it must be noted that the loss of life among the civilian population would have been even greater if not for the selfless actions of many officers of the federal troops who prevented retaliatory fire upon the crowds of people blockading roads during the passage of troops to the Chechen Republic through the territory of Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Incidents of killings of unarmed persons, including children, increased as the federal troops advanced toward Grozny.
On the night of 20-21 December 1994, federal troops fired on the village of Artemovskaya near Grozny and a shell landed on a house with 10 children in it -- 7 from the Musayev family and 3 from the Selimkhanov children. They had fled there from the village of Pervomaiskoye situated on the front line. Five of the children were killed in the explosion, two died in Grozny's Children's Hospital No. 2, and three with severe injuries were hospitalized. The village of Artemovskaya was outside the battle zone and the Chechen IAF did not maintain a permanent presence there.
Daily air strikes were launched against Grozny from December 18 through December 31 1994. Frequently bombs and missiles fell on heavily populated residential areas where no military objectives were located.
The first incident, confirmed by the Commission, of bombing of residential blocks in Grozny occurred on the night of December 19-20, 1994. Two bombs fell in a district of single-storey buildings located near the intersection of Moskovskaya St. and Noah Buachidze St. As a result 18 homes were totally or partially destroyed. Fortunately, most of the residents had left the district; however one man, an elderly woman and two children are known to have been killed and another woman was seriously injured.
It is possible that the television center was the target of this bombing attack, as Russian Air Force Commander-in-Chief Deinekin announced at a press conference on January 11, 1995. However on that day and the days that followed, a great number of bombs fell on residential blocks both near the television center and quite a distance from it.
In particular, on December 22, 1994, 15 people died in the bombing of a district near the Grozny State Petroleum Institute. That same day, a bomb landed at the intersection of Gurina St., Kirova Ave. and Sadovaya St., destroyed 10 cars, and killed at least 12 people. Three one-story houses were totally demolished and 22 severely damaged.
On the same day another district of one-storey houses called Bashirovka was bombed, with 7 homes completely destroyed and about 40 heavily damaged.
On December 22, 1994, 34 civilians with severe wounds were brought to the city hospital for emergency treatment. Eight of them later died (including one woman).
On the night of 23-24 December, three bombs fell on homes on Avtorkhanov Ave. (formerly called Victory Ave.) and Roza Luxemburg St. Most of the residents spent the night in a bomb shelter; however, at least two people -- Mr. and Mrs. Volkov -- were killed.
Air Force officials claimed that the air strikes were aimed exclusively at military targets. These claims are disputed, however, not only by numerous depositions of Grozny residents and other eyewitnesses but also by statements of high-ranking military officials and the conclusions of military experts.
Air Force Commander Deinekin explained the failure to use precision weapons (guided bombs or missiles with laser or television guidance systems) before December 29, 1994 as due to unfavorable weather conditions which obscured the targets.
However, during weather which made it impossible, in the commander's words, "to see the ground at all," dropping gravity bombs and firing unguided air missiles to bomb the territory of a heavily-populated city cannot be viewed as anything but quite deliberate random bombing, inevitably causing substantial civilian casualties.
With the warring sides so extremely closely engaged, and with the jagged front line, federal soldiers as well as civilians were killed by the indiscriminate bombing.
According to estimates by independent military experts, bombing under such conditions caused the federal forces in Grozny losses comparable to those resulting from the mortar fire of the Chechen IAF.
Officials from federal government agencies and the Russian President repeatedly stated that Grozny was not bombed after December 24, 1994.
However, numerous depositions from Grozny residents, journalists, members of the Commission, and members of Kovalev's monitoring group state that air-launched missile strikes on the city continued after that date.
Thus, for example, on December 24, houses no. 16 and no. 18 on Ionisiani St. were struck by air-launched missiles. Seven residents of these houses were injured and one man was killed. The Commission has obtained depositions from the wounded, including G.A. Zhukova, O.P. Zhukov, and their 14-year-old granddaughter.
Air strikes against Grozny, including residential areas, continued up until the storming of the city on December 31, 1994, and even thereafter, during battles for the city in January 1995.
From late December, in addition to the air strikes, Grozny was subjected to artillery shelling; the central districts were hit only rarely, but the suburbs were struck more systematically and intensively, in the first place Zavodskoi District and the village of Staraya Sunzha, and the shelling caused civilian casualties.
Doctors who visited the Central Republic Hospital in Grozny on December 29, 1994 reported that on that day, 10 wounded civilians were admitted, including 2 children and 3 women. Eight people were brought to the hospital morgue, including 2 children and 2 women.
Generally, indiscriminate air-launched missile and bomb strikes and artillery shelling of Grozny before the storm of the city began led to larger losses among the city's civilian population. Among those killed and wounded were many women, children, and elderly men.
However, the greatest number of civilian deaths in Grozny occurred during the battles for the city. The storm of Grozny began December 31, 1994. Battles on city streets continued until early March, when federal forces completed their occupation of the city. During the clashes, both warring sides used artillery and rocket launchers, firing indiscriminately on residential areas.
Federal forces used aircraft for missile and bomb strikes and generally employed far more intensive firepower on the city. Moreover, districts were shelled which contained no significant Chechen IAF presence and no military objectives. Thus, for example, on January 26, 1994 in Chernorechye (a southern suburb of Grozny) blocks of multi-storied residential buildings were fired on by artillery, although they contained no concentration of Chechen fighters or military targets, and many civilians were still living in their apartments.
At the same time it must be noted that the reports of the carpet-bombing of Grozny that appeared in the media have not been confirmed by materials at the Commission's disposal.
Civilians trapped in the battle zone often could not leave the city because of the constant shelling. People were forced to live in the cellars of buildings without heat, light, or medical care and with insufficient food. People died not only from the bullets, bombs, and mortars but from disease, cold, and hunger. All of these factors combined to cause large losses among the civilian population during the battle for Grozny.
The exact dimensions of the civilian losses in Grozny are not known, and official Russian agencies have not examined this question. The only serious attempt known to the Commission to calculate civilian losses was undertaken by experts working for human rights NGOs who based their estimates on a survey of a representative sample of refugees from Grozny who reported the deaths of relatives and acquaintances, which was then extrapolated using official reports on the total number of refugees.
The sum total of war-related deaths in Grozny alone can be estimated as approximately 27,000 people.
The population of Chechnya's rural districts also suffered from bombing and artillery shelling. This practice did not cease with the end of active combat in June 1995.
On October 8, 1995, the village of Roshni-Chu was bombed, and according to various sources, from 6 to 26 villagers were killed. Dudayev, who periodically resides in this village, was reportedly the target of the strike. Although the federal forces command in Chechnya and the Russian Air Force denied involvement in this event, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev admitted that he had ordered the bombing.
It should be noted that on October 16, the Grozny Garrison Procurator's Office opened a criminal case on the bombing and on November 14 the investigation department of the Chief Military Procurator's Office took charge of the case.
The last example in 1995 of indiscriminate firing and air strikes against residential buildings known to the Commission took place during the battle for Gudermes on December 14-18, 1995. According to numerous depositions given by residents of Gudermes, housing blocks where many civilians remained, were subjected to mass artillery shelling and bombing, resulting in many casualties, although it is still difficult to estimate the number.
While fighting in populated areas, federal forces in Chechnya employed types of ammunition and weapons that resulted in indiscriminate firing and especially heavy civilian losses.
In particular, within populated areas, grenades and shells containing explosives and ball-bearings or flechettes were used. It should be noted that the federal forces command issued a statement claiming that such devices were employed only in Grozny and even there no more than sparing use was made of them. However this claim has been refuted by numerous depositions from independent observers and the personal testimony of Commission members.
Both sides widely deployed Grad and Hurricane missile launchers during battles in Grozny, near the village of Bamut and in other places, which the Commission views as actions wilfully ignoring the high probability of massive civilian deaths.
2. Deliberate attacks on civilian targets are a gross violation of international humanitarian law. The Commission possesses numerous depositions confirming such attacks during the entire period of active military operations in Chechnya.
Throughout the winter and spring of 1995, air, artillery and missile strikes were periodically launched against settlements in rural regions of Chechnya far from the line of battle. This led to numerous civilian casualties.
In a number of instances the selection of targets for the attack cannot be rationally explained. In late March in the village of Elistanzhi, a camp for refugees from Shali was bombed, resulting, according to eyewitnesses, in the deaths of 7 persons. A tourist camp inhabited by refugees near the village of Markhty was shelled. A woman and two of her children were killed, and two other children were seriously wounded.
Another tourist building housing refugees near Lake Kazenoi-Am was struck by a bomb and five women and children from the village of Chiri-Yurt were killed. The Commission has information concerning numerous other air strikes against civilian targets.
It is likely that in many cases, the bombing of such targets could have been caused by incorrect information about the location of bases and positions of the Chechen IAF.
However in some instances there is reason to believe that civilian targets were deliberately attacked by federal forces.
Thus, one of the first actions of the Russian army in 1995 was an attack on several Chechen villages outside the combat zone. This attack was launched on January 3, 1995. Several villages were hit by missile strikes, including Melkhi-Yurt (also known as Bamut-1), Shali, intersections in the villages of Bamut and Staryye Atagi and also the village of Arshty on Ingush territory.
More than 2,000 refugees had gathered in Arshty at the time of the air raid, in which the mother and a daughter of the Sultanov family were killed, and the father and two other daughters were seriously injured and disabled. Two other residents of Arshty were killed and 5 wounded. (On April 15, 1995, Arshty was the target of another missile attack which killed 3 women).
Also on January 3, 1995, a market and a hospital in Shali were bombed. According to information from the hospital administration, of residents of Shali alone, 55 people were killed and 186 wounded. The obstetrics wing was damaged. Several times within the course of an hour and a half airplanes dropped bombs near the marketplace. According to eyewitness testimony (including Russian journalists), the second air strike against the market was delivered after people ran to the place where the earlier bombs had exploded to provide first aid to the victims. Ball-bearing and flechette bombs were dropped in the raid on Shali.
On the next day the information service of the federal forces in the Chechen Republic issued an official statement that the strike had been aimed at an armored vehicle three kilometers from Shali; in leaflets later dropped over populated areas, it was claimed that the reason for the bombing was an anti-aircraft weapon located in the hospital courtyard. The leaflet urged that rebels be driven out of the villages under threat of repeated air strikes.
The Commission believes that the killing of people in these instances cannot be attributed to random or mistaken bombing; civilian installations were targeted by federal forces. In the Commission's opinion, the timing of the raid -- in the preceding days no attacks were made against populated areas in the Chechen countryside -- and the large number of civilian casualties give reason to believe that these attacks were meant to intimidate the population of regions loyal to Dudayev.
Separate mention should be made of such deliberate attacks against civilian targets as the shelling of passenger cars on roads in Chechnya and Ingushetia and also firing at them from helicopters.
Such attacks were recorded by independent observers in December 1994 and January 1995. For example, in December 1994, near the village of Novy Sharoy, an ambulance was destroyed by a missile fired from a helicopter, which is a gross violation of international humanitarian law.
On January 4, 1995, a car carrying journalists was fired on from the air.
On January 7, 1995, a small Niva sedan was fired on with automatic weapons near the entrance to the city of Nazran for no reason when it attempted to pass a convoy of armored vehicles on route to Chechnya from North Ossetia. S.I. Arkhelgov, a minor, was killed.
A crime committed by federal soldiers on January 17, 1995, on the road between Assinovskaya and Nesterovskoye received international publicity. A convoy of 10 or 11 cars carrying refugees from Grozny was fired upon, killing 11 people and wounding 3. The cars were crushed by a tank of the federal forces.
According to testimony from residents of Gudermes who fled the city in December 1995, convoys of refugees leaving Gudermes were fired upon from helicopters.
3. Kidnapping, the detention of people without due cause, and execution without judicial procedure are grave offenses.
As of August 8, 1995, on the basis of statements made by relatives, 1,308 civilians were declared missing in action. The majority of them were apparently killed during combat. However, the Commission also has information about civilians held by federal forces and declared missing, but who were subsequently discovered to have been killed.
There are serious grounds to assert that on several occasions unarmed people were deliberately executed by soldiers under the command of the Russian Defense and Interior Ministries.
On April 2, 1995, at the former quarters of the Russian Interior Ministry Internal Troops on Mayakovsky St. in Grozny, in the presence of the medical examiner Masayev the bodies of the brothers M. and S-E. Khamid and of A. Tretyakov were exhumed. Autopsies were performed on the disinterred corpses by a forensic group from the Interior Ministry. Traces of torture were discovered on the bodies. Procurator Dovletmurzayev of the Zavod District of Grozny opened criminal case no. 5010106 on April 17, 1995 regarding suspicion of murder.
A woman who lived near the Mayakovsky St. site testified that she had seen the Khamidov brothers on January 28, 1995, close to the detachment's quarters. They were being taken somewhere under guard. One of the brothers shouted "We are the Khamidovs, and live at such-and-such an address. Tell our father they're taking us to be executed." It was this woman's account to the father of the murdered men that enabled the burial site later to be found.
The buried bodies of A.S. Domayev and A.S. Suleimanov, residents of Shali, were discovered on July 3, 1995 in a field at the Dzhalka Collective Farm in the Shalin District five kilometers outside the city of Shali at the site of the former base of the 503rd Motorized Rifle Regiment. These men had disappeared together with S.L. Tashukhadzhiev on May 9, 1995. The body of Tashukhadzhiev was discovered on July 6, 1995 in a cemetery on the outskirts of Shali. The bodies showed marks of torture and violent death.
The car in which the three missing men had been travelling was also later found at the former site of the 503rd Motorized Rifle Regiment.
Local law-enforcement agencies determined that the missing men had been detained in May 1995 at the 503rd's Blockhouse No. 2. At that time K.I. Reiter, senior assistant to the Chechen Military Procurator, who had come to conduct an investigation, was not permitted on the regiment's territory. Afterward he sent a complaint to the Russian Procurator General's Office.
Criminal cases No. 95620003 and No. 95620004 regarding suspicion of murder were opened by the Chechen Procurator's Office, and were sent to the Military Procurator's Office on July 7, 1995.
One example of gross violation by federal forces of the standards for the treatment of the civilian population is the operation conducted by Interior Ministry units in the village of Samashki on April 7-8, 1995.
On the evening of April 7 and during the night of April 7-8 armed clashes occurred during occupation of this village by a joint force of Russian Interior Ministry troops and OMON and SOBR detachments [special forces of the Interior Ministry]. In various sections of the village, federal troops met with sporadic resistance from scattered groups of the village self-defense unit, and there were casualties on both sides.
Interior Ministry soldiers and police conducted a "cleansing" operation of the occupied village; that is, they thoroughly checked the streets and houses in order to discover, disarm and detain any rebels in hiding and also to confiscate concealed weapons. The "cleansing" of Samashki was accompanied by murders of civilians and abuse of those detained. Most of the villagers' deaths and the destruction of most of the buildings actually occurred during the "cleansing," not during combat.
Reliable information is available about the deaths of at least 103 villagers. The overwhelming majority of those killed did not take part in armed clashes and cannot be considered combatants. Civilians in the village in fact became the object of attack during the "cleansing" by Interior Ministry soldiers and police.
Aside from shelling by artillery and mortars and firing from armored vehicles, civilian deaths were also caused by executions of residents in their homes and courtyards; grenades thrown into cellars, courtyards, and buildings; the burning of homes; and deaths during transport to "screening" at "filtration points." Up until April 10, soldiers at Interior Ministry checkpoints did not allow removal of the wounded from the village nor entrance by doctors and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. As a result, some of the wounded died.
The Russian Procurator General opened up a case regarding the events in Samashki under a number of articles in the Russian Criminal Code, among them Art. 102, paragraph h, premeditated murder of two or more persons under aggravated circumstances. However, until now no one has been indicted.
4. Throughout the armed operations in the Chechen Republic, the federal forces widely applied the principle of collective guilt and collective punishment which is expressly prohibited by Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions.
As a rule, the federal command directs its demand to surrender arms or to expel Chechen fighters to a village as a whole. If the demands are not met, all villagers are threatened with collective punishment.
Thus, in January 1995, leaflets were dropped from a helicopter
over Bamut with the following text:
At the same time a similar leaflet was dropped from the air over Shali:
According to Bachi-Yurt residents, the Russian command ordered the village elders to surrender a certain number of firearms, threatening to bombard the village if they failed to follow orders. The villagers were unable to collect the required amount of weapons and were forced to purchase more. Even so, they were unable to fulfill the demand and the village was fired on.
Similar incidents occurred in the villages of Alleroi, Betti-Mokhke, and Koshkeldy.
5. The unlawful detention of civilians, harsh and degrading treatment of detainees, and the use of torture are serious violations of humanitarian law and ethical principles.
On the basis of available materials, including those gathered during special missions by members of the Commission and the Commission's Council of Experts, it can be asserted that arbitrary and unlawful detention of Russian citizens by federal soldiers and forcible incarceration in special maximum-security facilities without sufficient legal grounds were widespread practices in the zone of conflict.
There are two types of detention facilities:
5. Looting and destruction of civilian property has been widespread in the combat zone.
The extremely poor discipline of the Interior Ministry's internal troops, of soldiers under the command of the Defense Ministry, and of Interior Ministry personnel as well as their inadequate pay and accommodation have given rise to numerous offenses against civilian property. Looting and destruction of private property in the Chechen Republic has reached massive proportions.
In particular, there are many accounts by residents of Grozny and the villages of Samashki, Shali, and Ishkhoi-Yurt describing massive looting after occupation by federal forces.
There are also numerous reports from independent observers confirming these accounts. For example, in late January in Grozny, many instances were recorded of soldiers loading electronic audio and video equipment and furniture taken from abandoned houses into armored vehicles and trucks.
Robbery and extortion is practiced systematically at checkpoints on many roads, something the Commission members themselves have witnessed.
Even Dudayev's opponents, who advocated sending federal troops into Chechnya, for example Salambek Khadzhiev, chairman of the Government of National Renewal, Ruslan Martagev, press secretary of the Provisional Council of the Chechen Republic, and Ruslan Labazanov, an active participant in the armed opposition to Dudayev, have protested the massive looting in Chechnya.
The Chechen Republic Procuracy also has evidence of federal troops robbing civilians.
After the occupation of Grozny, on many occasions military vehicles loaded down with civilian possessions were observed at traffic checkpoints in Ingushetia, through which the goods were trucked into North Ossetia.
In recognition of this problem and in an attempt to combat crime, the Military Council of the Interior Ministry's Internal Troops distributed a leaflet in February 1995, which admitted that "recently there have been instances of robbery, extortion and violence perpetrated by Russian forces against the civilian population." This was a disgrace for the internal troops, the leaflet continued. All commanders and servicemen were ordered to comply fully with the law and "to take the strictest measures against any theft or undisciplined behavior with respect to the civilian population, including filing criminal charges against violators." The appeal noted that "such measures are being taken against a group of servicemen in unit 3709, who committed crimes and sullied the honor and dignity of the internal troops."
At that time, according to the reports of Interior Ministry officials, several military personnel were charged with criminal offenses. It is known that subsequently several criminal cases concerning theft of civilian property were opened by the Military Procuracy.
The Commission is also aware of cases when private property was deliberately destroyed. Many Grozny residents have complained of this, but the best known and best documented example occurred in Samashki.
Many residential and public buildings were demolished in the village. At least 198 homes were destroyed, two schools, and other buildings. Some of this destruction resulted from the bombardment of the village and armed clashes. However, most of the homes were deliberately burned down by internal troops and Interior Ministry personnel.
According to Samashki residents who remained in the village on April 7-8, most of the homes destroyed were set on fire on April 8 during the "cleansing" of the village, in some cases by "Bumble-Bee" flamethrowers.
The villagers' accounts are confirmed by the nature of the damage. In most cases the gates and fences facing the streets are still intact although the homes they guard are ruined and burned. No traces of bullets or shrapnel from grenades, mines or mortars, can be found on the walls still standing.
Independent observers also report that most of the fires in the village broke out on the morning of 8 April, when the "cleansing" was underway. The Russian Procurator General has opened an investigation of the events in Samashki under Art. 149 of the Russian Criminal Code (deliberate destruction or damage of personal property causing substantial damage and committed by arson or other dangerous means) and other articles. However, as of this writing no arrests have been made.
Findings and Recommendations
The Commission notes with regret that the political decision to make extensive use of the armed forces to resolve the Chechen crisis has led to human rights abuse unprecedented in scale and severity since Russia's proclamation of sovereignty on June 12, 1991.
During combat both sides have committed massive violations of the standards and principles of international humanitarian law, although the actions of the federal troops have caused incomparably greater destruction.
The propaganda department of the Chechen IAF portrays all of the federal troop's military actions as implementation of a plan for the methodical genocide of the Chechen people. The Commission believes that no grounds exist for this allegation, although respect for the laws and customs of war and, in particular, the protection of the civilian population were not seriously taken into account in the operations conducted by the forces of the Defense and Interior Ministries. The federal command's attempts to reduce civilian deaths and establish "corridors" by means of which civilians could leave the combat zone were ineffective.
Based on the materials at its disposal, the Commission asserts that unmotivated violence, looting and destruction of civilian property reached massive proportions because of the unsatisfactory state of discipline in the federal army. Not only the federal army command but the Military Procuracy Office have been completely unable or unwilling to influence this situation.
The Commission notes that military personal of all ranks and titles involved in the warfare in Chechnya are unfamiliar with the basic provisions of humanitarian law dealing with the laws and customs of war, and in particular, with the protection of the civilian population during combat. They are also unaware of their responsibility for serious violations of the laws and customs of war characterized under international law as war crimes. Much of what has been done by the federal troops in Chechen falls under that definition.
The Commission considers it necessary for the Russian Procurator's Office to investigate thoroughly all reports of offenses by military personnel in the war zone and to punish those found guilty.