EU-Russia summit: EU must address persecution in Chechnya as new report reveals killings of applicants to European Court of Human Rights
Amnesty Internationalâ€™s report reveals that human rights defenders in Chechnya have been tortured and even killed. Many more have been harassed or intimidated. The organisation says that human rights activists have been targeted by agents of the state in order to silence them.
As recently as 4 November this year, Ruslan Susaev, head of the Citizensâ€™ Protest organisation, was detained together with his wife and threatened that his family 'would suffer' if he did not sign a statement in relation to a bomb explosion in Sernovodsk on 1 November. The couple, parents of six Children's rights, were released on 5 November. Armed uniformed men had conducted several searches of their house in August and September 2004. On one occasion, they kicked and hit Mr. Susaevâ€™s mother and some of the Children's rights. On another occasion they took two Children's rights with them, who were later released.
Amnesty Internationalâ€™s report details how Chechens who have sought redress in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for violations of their rights have been the subject of reprisals ranging from harassment and threats to the killing of applicants themselves or close relatives.
One applicant to the Court, appealing over the 'disappearance' of his son during a military raid, had his other son killed after lodging his case. Another man appealing over the 'disappearance' of his brother has himself 'disappeared' since lodging his case with the Court.
Dick Oosting, Director of Amnesty Internationalâ€™s EU Office said:
'The European Union cannot ignore the worsening situation for those who speak out about human rights abuses in Russia, especially when they relate directly to a sister institution - the Council of Europeâ€™s own European Court of Human Rights.
'The EU is not only putting its own credibility on the line if it fails, finally, to engage the Russian Federation on human rights, but also the core institution of human rights protection in Europe.'
The Council of Europeâ€™s Parliamentary Assembly recently concluded that the continued death toll and human suffering in the Chechen Republic was of 'great concern to the common values' of the organisation. The Assembly also addressed EU Member States in its call not to 'remain inactive when people are dying every day in Chechnya and neighbouring Republics through terrorist attacks, snipers, land mines, abuse of force by security services and acts of organised crime'.
Dick Oosting said:
'The EU-Russia Summit is to address the issue of creating a â€˜common space of freedom, security and justiceâ€™ between the EU and Russia.
'Given the increasing threats to human rights protection in Russia, the EU must adopt a fresh approach. It is not just Russiaâ€™s sensitivities, but the EUâ€™s concerns that should set the tone of the talks.
'The 'common space' will remain a vacuum unless the EU lays down non-negotiable principles from the start - that 'freedom' means human rights defenders are free to stand up for the rights of others, â€˜securityâ€™ means journalists and lawyers can speak their mind without being harassed or attacked, and â€˜justiceâ€™ means that victims of human rights violations can freely seek and find redress in courts of law.â€
Throughout the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, the Russian authorities have attempted to restrict information about the human rights situation there. Human rights organisations, activists, lawyers, independent journalists and individuals continue to play a crucial role in documenting human rights abuses.
On 16 January 2004 the mutilated body of human rights activist Aslan Davletukaev, aged 29, was found near the town of Gudermes in Chechnya. He had been working with the Society for Russian-Chechen Friendship, and had reportedly been detained by Russian federal forces on 9 January 2004. On that day about five military vehicles stopped at the house of the Davletukaevs at about 10.15pm. A group of 25 or 30 armed, masked men told the family they needed to check the passports and conducted a search of the house. They forced Aslan Davletukaev out in the courtyard and threatened to kill him and his wife in front of their Children's rights if he would not come with them. When Aslan Davletukaevâ€™s father asked the men if his son had committed a crime he was told â€œhe is guilty of being Chechenâ€. When Aslan Davletukaevâ€™s eight-year-old son tried to cling to his father, he was kicked away by one of the men.
His body was found seven days later outside a deserted cafÃ©. Relatives who spoke to Amnesty Internationalâ€™s representatives said they could scarcely identify him as he had lost all his teeth and his face was covered in bruises. Criminal investigations into this incident have been inconclusive and to date no one has been identified as responsible, let alone prosecuted.
Amnesty Internationalâ€™s report details how the family of human rights activist Luisa Betergiraeva, who was shot dead in 2001, continues to be harassed. The report states: 'In early July 2004 in a raid on their house by Russian federal forces, one of Luisaâ€™s sons, Zelimkhan Betergiraev, 28, was detained and has since â€˜disappeared.â€™'
In a second raid on 20 July, when relatives in the house asked why the soldiers were beating them, they were told: â€œSo that you complain less! All of Europe knows already about you!â€
In line with the EUâ€™s Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by EU Foreign Ministers in June 2004 Amnesty International calls on the EU to:
- Support the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the North Caucasus,
- Raise its concern about attacks on human rights defenders in its dialogue with the Russian Federation, including at the summit with President Putin,
- Insist on the initiation without delay of independent and thorough investigations into all allegations of reprisals against any person in relation to applications filed with the European Court of Human Rights and the torture, killings and â€œdisappearancesâ€ of human rights defenders and activists. The findings of such investigations should be made public and perpetrators brought to justice.