Russia announced the end of its decade long “counter-terrorism operation” in Chechnya on Thursday, claiming that “normality” had returned to the territory.
Amnesty International has warned that normalization is not possible without full accountability for the gross human rights violations of the last 10 years.
“The true benchmark of a return to normality is to give people what they have been wanting for over a decade – they want the truth, and they want justice,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“They want to know the fate and whereabouts of relatives and friends who are among the disappeared, and they want those responsible brought to account.
“Only thorough and independent investigations into past and continuing human rights violations can bring normalization and security in Chechnya. Such investigations will be a deterrent to future violations.
“Opening the region to independent observers and journalists would be a signal that the authorities there are ready for transparency, but a change of status is absolutely meaningless without the political will to change reality.”
Amnesty International has consistently exposed cases of human rights violations in the region, including war crimes committed by both Russian federal forces, forces under the present Chechen government of President Ramzan Kadyrov and Chechen armed groups.
They include indiscriminate killings, excessive use of force, deaths in custody, torture and ill-treatment in custody, alleged unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, secret detention, abductions, enforced disappearances, threats to human rights activists, the targeting of relatives of suspected fighters, and the forced evictions of internally displaced people.
The organization has repeatedly called for impartial investigations and for those found responsible to be brought to justice. The investigations carried out by the authorities are ineffective and have led to entrenched impunity in regards to abuses committed by law enforcement agencies.
Amnesty International understands that only one person has been convicted in relation to a case of enforced disappearance – and the fate of his victim remains unknown.
Investigations into crimes committed by armed fighters have been marred by allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects and a blatant absence of respect for international standards of fair trial.
Victims of human rights abuses fear reprisals if they turn to the authorities, while those submitting cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) have faced reprisals ranging from threats and intimidation to disappearances.
To date the European Court of Human Rights has made rulings in about 100 cases concerning human rights violations committed in the course of the conflict in Chechnya. In most of these cases, the Court found Russia responsible for the death, torture or enforced disappearances of people in Chechnya or for the failure to investigate such crimes.
“It is vital that Russia takes steps to fully implement the rulings of the European Court, in particular in terms of investigations of proven violations and measures to prevent violations in the future,” Irene Khan said.
“Without true respect for the rule of law from all sides, and a genuine commitment to address the festering legacy left by the blatant failure of political will at all levels to prevent and punish a catalogue of grievous abuses there can be no stability and security for the people in Chechnya as well as in the rest of the Russian Federation.
“Victims of human rights abuses in Chechnya and in Russia as a whole have been waiting for years for justice and for the authorities to reveal the truth about crimes committed during the counter-terrorist operation. Now is the time to restore their rights.”