RANDOM SURVEY CONDUCTED BY US MEDICAL GROUP OF DISPLACED CHECHENS FINDS WIDESPREAD KILLINGS AND ABUSES BY RUSSIAN FORCES
By Doug Ford, Barbara Ayotte and Nathaniel Raymond
Contact: Doug Ford, 011-7-8732-2-25460,
Barbara Ayotte, H: (617) 536-1069/W:(617) 695-0041
Nathaniel Raymond, H: (617) 492-3476/W: (617)695-0041 ext 220
Preliminary findings from a randomized survey conducted by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in Ingushetia reveal widespread and systematic abuses of Chechen civilians, including executions, extrajudiciary detention and torture. Almost half (44%) of 326 respondents saw civilians who had been killed by Russian Federal Forces (RFF). Of the 44% who had seen someone killed by the RFF, 8% saw a member of their own household killed. In addition, 4% of the families reported a household member tortured by the RFF. Both the survey and more detailed case testimonies provide evidence of attacks on hospitals, physicians and patients.
The 326 refugees interviewed were selected randomly from separate households. PHR plans on completing interviews with 1,000 refugees early next week.
"Russia’s Federal Forces are brutally and arbitrarily detaining civilians, mostly men but women as well, at checkpoints and community round-ups, torturing them in so-called "filtration" camps. In the past day or two, the RFF is burning and disposing of bodies of civilians. The United States and the international community must call for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these war crimes," said Doug Ford, PHR Senior Program Associate and coordinator of the survey. PHR sent a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today urging her to advocate immediately for such an inquiry.
Physical Evidence of Torture in Filtration Camps
PHR has detailed information on 9 individual cases of torture at the Chernokozovo filtration camp. In six of the cases, the subject was seen by another person interviewed by PHR who also had
been detained in Chernokozovo, specifically corroborating these accounts. Chernokozovo camp officers reportedly tortured two of these men with electric shock and two with gas.
Umar (not his real name) recounted his torture at the filtration camp, corroborated in a physical examination given by PHR physician Dr. Ramin Ahmadi. The young man was examined three days after his release.
"Umar has a broken nose, hematoma on the third and fourth rib on the right side, tenderness of the right kidney, severe muscle swelling and spasms in his neck, and pain on the soles of his feet, symptoms consistent with blunt trauma," said Dr. Ahmadi.
Another respondent, Ruslan (not his real name), told PHR of his severe beating. Nearly all the men in his small village in the northern Tereksky district were rounded up by RFF in a couple of hours in early February. Interior Ministry (MVD) officers came to his house and demanded that he leave. They did not check any of his documents and herded him with 31 other men in one truck and some other men and women in another truck. At the Interior Ministry building in Znamenskaya, they spent a day getting their documents and fingerprints checked in a computer. The next day he and the others were sent to the nearby Chernakozovo filtration camp where they spent their first day kneeling with their heads on the asphalt and their hands behind their heads. Ruslan was beaten unconscious 4 times in 7 days. Two other men from this village told similar and consistent stories.
Most devastating for two of the witnesses was that they were picked up in their home villages after fleeing and then returning after responding to Russia’s publicity for displaced persons to return to areas controlled by Russian Federal Forces because they were safe. Seven of the 8 men reported being released after family and friends paid bribes of several thousand rubles (equivalent to approximately 200 American dollars).
PHR obtained two independent and consistent accounts by former detainees confirming the detention of a prominent activist named Raisa, a 42-year-old mother of four from Tolstoy-Yurt. Hearing her screams, the two believed she was tortured.
Russia’s Federal Forces were responsible for displacing more than 96% according to the accounts to Physicians for Human Rights from 326 interviews of displaced persons now residing in Ingushetia. 71% (percent) reported they left Chechnya for Ingushetia because of the bombing or shelling by Russia’s Federal Forces. 25% reported they left because of fear of harm from Russia’s Federal Forces.
In addition, unconfirmed reports have arrived in the past day or two that Russia’s Federal forces are burning and otherwise disposing of bodies of people killed by their assault.
Attacks Targeting Physicians and Patients
In addition, testimonies received by the PHR team show that RFF troops have violated medical neutrality in the following ways: shooting patients, arresting doctors and patients, and bombing hospitals and clinics. PHR has been told by witnesses about the detention of several physicians. In Tsotsin-Yurt, RFF arrested a surgeon and a 63-year-old patient wounded by shrapnel. About 40 women witnessed the elder man’s detention. The women surrounded the armored vehicle, several lying down in front of it. The soldiers then relented and released the patient. However, the surgeon was forcibly taken by the RFF from the hospital.
Dr. Hasan Bayiev, a plastic surgeon, was detained briefly by RFF and released on February 2. Before his eighteen-hour detention, Bayiev performed one hundred procedures in two days. Sixty of these were amputations on fighters and civilians wounded while retreating from Grozny. Bayiev and a nurse both report that 120 patients were taken from the hospital and detained by the RFF. Upon returning from detention, Bayiev reported seeing the bodies of seven patients, six Chechen fighters, and one 70-year old Russian woman; all shot to death in their hospital beds by RFF troops.
"These were my patients. I knew them and their life stories. I had operated on them. This was devastating to me," said Dr. Bayiev.
Bombing of Hospitals
Dr. Bayiev operated in the basement of the bombed-out Alkhan-Kala hospital before leaving Grozny. Dr. Zainab Estamirova, the head physician at Grozny Ambulatory Clinic #5, reported that the clinic was bombed and she had seen the charred remains of the hospital. One physician reported that Grozny City hospital #4, where she worked, was destroyed by the RFF in the first days of February, after the retreat of the Chechen rebels. Previously, she reported that Chechen fighters had used the hospital as a dormitory, violating international law.
Both in Chechnya and Ingushetia, RFF also endangered the health of civilians. A Chechen engineer, the father of a two-day old boy, left Grozny in January for a Russian checkpoint. There, he was detained and tortured in Chernokozovo. He had only gone to the checkpoint seeking baby formula because his wife could not breastfeed.
The inability for women to breastfeed is reportedly a widespread condition in Chechnya. PHR has documented this condition in interviews with women and local doctors. In Ingushetia, IMV authorities or international agencies are not providing baby formula, forcing displaced families to buy baby formula at inflated prices.
Physicians for Human Rights strongly urges the Clinton Administration to engage in a concerted campaign to condemn Russian war crimes in Chechnya, taking the following actions:
1. Sponsor a resolution at the next session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on March 20 to convene a Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes committed in Chechnya. The Commission of Inquiry, directed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, should establish accountability for the destruction of Chechnya. This is necessary in order to establish an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible. The State Department should contact its European allies now about sponsoring a resolution, or prepare to offer such a resolution itself.
2. Publicly identify and condemn Russian violations in Chechnya for what they are: war crimes. President Clinton, Secretary Albright and other top U.S. officials should unequivocally condemn Russian practices in Chechnya as war crimes, and demand accountability for them. Expressions of enthusiasm and support for Acting President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin are unconscionable in light of his association with the campaign to destroy Chechnya, and should cease.
3. Immediately deploy staff from the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation to Ingushetia to collect testimonies from the displaced Chechen population to document war crimes. To date, the Clinton Administration refuses to send its staff to Ingushetia because of security considerations. However, numerous researchers from U.S. and European non-governmental human rights organizations including Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, have been safely deployed in Ingushetia, some for months, all able to safely collect detailed testimony. The State Department should reevaluate its prohibition preventing officers from collecting human rights data. More information from such official sources is urgently needed.
4. Enlist the U.S. Department of State, in cooperation with U.S. intelligence community, to begin a vigorous data collection effort to document war crimes. All available intelligence information sources should be collected and evaluated, including relevant U.S. knowledge of military and security command control, satellite photographs, and radio and telephone intercepts to identify the perpetrators of war crimes and their commanders.
5. Invigorate the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Monitoring Mission: The Russian authorities permitted the OSCE to monitor abuses in Chechnya during the 1996 war and at the Istanbul OSCE Summit pledged to continue this initiative. Yet Russia has not yet permitted the OSCE’s six monitors currently in Moscow to visit the region. The U.S. should publicly demand that Russia permit the monitoring mission to go forward, and take steps to expand it substantially.
6.Advocate at the highest levels for the release of imprisoned and tortured Chechen civilians now detained in Russian filtration camps.
7. Engage Acting President Putin to address the humanitarian emergency, reminding Russia of its obligation to provide food, shelter, and medical care to the displaced. Additionally, the U.S. and its allies should supply significant humanitarian aid to non-governmental humanitarian groups, including the Red Cross and UNHCR, currently serving the displaced population.
8. Urge Russia to grant access to Chechnya to both human rights monitors and representatives of humanitarian organizations.
9. Demand Russian forces cease their assaults on civilians, providing safe passage for all Chechen refugees attempting to cross the border. The U.S. should also urge Russia to cease its forcible evacuation of Grozny, and permit those who wish to stay to do so.
10. Announce the United States’ intention to oppose upcoming World Bank loans to Russia. In the coming weeks the World Bank will be called upon to make two installments, totaling $350 million, on Russia’s structural adjustment loans. The U.S. should make known to World Bank President James Wolfensohn of its opposition to these disbursements until such time as the Russian Federation has taken meaningful steps to limit the civilian toll in Chechnya, including investigating war crimes and prosecuting those who committed them.
Physicians for Human Rights is conducting a randomized survey of approximately 180,000 displaced persons registered under UNHCR-funded programs. With a standardized questionnaire administered by a team of trained interviewers, the PHR team has done an initial analysis of 326 interviews out of an expected 1,000 total interviews.