Russia’s Human Rights Problem: North Caucasus – OpEd


By Guner Ozkan

Russia comes near the top of the list of the world’s countries as far as human rights violations are concerned. What is currently happening in the Northern Caucasus presents striking evidences about the human rights situation in Russia. The jailing of Mikhail Kodorskovsky, the killing of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and many other examples depend on individual, political or economic causes, but the human rights violations happening in the Northern Caucasus may be put down to security and terrorism. The second Chechen War was started by Vladimir Putin in August 1999 and when the army’s role ended in the early 2000’s Northern Caucasus embarked on a fresh spiral of violence. Terrorist operations by armed radical groups of an Islamic character have spread to Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and North Ossetia as well as Chechnya.

Caucasus Region
Caucasus Region

The terrorist attacks which expanded through the Northern Caucasus intensified the armed struggle the Russian government was having against terrorism, and boosted number of human rights violations originating from the unlawful actions of state security members. It is unlikely that Russia will be able to resolve the problem of terrorism in the Northern Caucasus by simply trying to bring down unemployment and by adopting a moderately Islamic approach to the region. Russia can only succeed in doing this when it puts an end to the human rights violations and deliver justice as injustice keeps yearning for revenge in the region.

Russia’s solution through violence

The violence in the Northern Caucasus, begun in 1991 when Dzhokhar Dudayev declared independence of Chechnya, has continued up to the present day and steadily increasing. Between 1994 and 1996, 50,000 Chechens died in the first large scale war and a further 400,000 were forced to migrate inside Chechnya and to go to the neighbouring republics like Dagestan, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia. In the Second Chechnya War which was started by Putin to ensure peace and stability, thousands of civilian lives were lost and again about 200,000 Chechens were forced to leave their homes. At the start of 2009 Russia announced that it had stopped anti-terrorist operations on the grounds that security had been achieved. But the fact that the level of security in Chechnya was still extremely low and the human rights violations show that the Russian government was not in the right. Kidnappings and torture and other activities by military and police forces attached to both the Central Government and Chechnya turned not just Chechnya but also nearby republics into areas of even greater insecurity. At the forefront of these are Dagestan and Ingushetia and in 2012 Russia has sent 25,000 soldiers there in order to deal with growing amount of terrorism in Dagestan. The buildup of troops in Ingushetia is not as great as in Dagestan, but here, too, violence runs at high levels. According to a report by Amnesty International in June 2012 the dozens of attacks that are carried out in Ingushetia each year, lead to the deaths of scores of people among civilians and state officials.

Apart from the military aspect, Russia is well aware that there is a security problem, and terrorism that has a socio-economic dimension in North Caucasus. It is clear that Russia has struggled to use both military and economic methods in overcoming terror-related security problems there. But, up till now, these methods have not scored a clear cut success and it is rather doubtful whether it will be successful in the future either.

Human rights violations

Russia could only achieve a real success in North Caucasia if it was able to win the trust of the people there. The main examples of terrorist attacks which Russia has experienced are those at Moscow Theatre in October 2002, Beslan School in September 2004, and Domodedovo Airport in January 2011. Among those who carried them out appear to be women. Most of these people are known to be close relatives of people kidnapped, detained, tortured, or killed by police or intelligence units after the wars or as a result of the special operations. These cases show that there are many victims of violence in Northern Caucasus who have not been able to obtain justice.

Any step not taken in the direction of delivering justice is influencing not only the people who demand it immediately, but also the people in the region who are witnessing human rights violations on a daily basis in the hands of both Russian security forces and Moscow-controlled rulers of the republics. Just unwillingness of Russian government to deliver justice, as well as Moscow’s impasse in its efforts to resolve problem of terrorism in North Caucasus is clearly demonstrated by the fact that thousands of people from the same region have regarded European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as the only way out.

Russia’s test with the ECHR

Up to the present the ECHR has accepted more than 40,000 applications from Russia, great majority of which are from North Caucasus accusing Russian authorities of human rights crimes. In fact, they are the families from North Caucasus who had a member lost, tortured or killed at the hands of local or federal security units. For example, one of the cases was concluded by the ECHR in 2005 concerning six Chechens kidnapped and murdered by Russian security units during the Chechen war between 1999 and 2000. In this case, the Court concluded that there were violations of Article 2 (the right to live) and Article 3 (the prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human rights. While other cases are ongoing, the Court has finally recently found Russia guilty in 115 cases of disappearance, torture, unlawful killing and failing to conduct proper enquiry during the war in Chechnya from 1999 to 2000.

The number of applications on the same grounds to the ECHR from the other North Caucasus Republics against Russia is sharply rising. It is estimated that, only in Ingushetia, the number of disappearance at the hands of local and federal security bodies has reached to 200 people since 2002. Although security forces and respective regional prosecutor’s office deny their involvement in the disappearances and other crimes, Yunusbek Yevkurov, the President of Ingushetia has openly confessed the role of relevant units in most of those cases. Indeed, in all of the ten verdicts taken by the ECHR up until February 2012 on cases originating from Ingushetia, Russia was found guilty of involvement in kidnapping, torture, death in detention, and of failing to conduct investigation. So far the ECHR has been able to conclude only 184 of thousands of cases applied by people from North Caucasus against Russia. In all these cases, with only one exception, Russia was found guilty.

Although the Russian government pays fines imposed by the ECHR to compensate the losses of complainants, it has systematically evaded the Court’s demand for proper investigation of, and punishment for, crimes committed the security personnel concerned. The way in which Russia applies the decisions of the ECHR shows that justice is not done insistently and psychological pain of the plaintiffs is ignored continuously. What is more, these actions by Russia embolden security and intelligence officers at local and federal levels to feel free to commit similar human rights crimes. Alongside thousands of cases still awaiting final verdict of the ECHR for long years, the way in which Russia is avoiding full implementation of already taken Court decisions and its visible reluctance to have justice done are among the most important factors causing the continuation of terrorism in North Caucasus. So long as Russia does not take necessary and effective measures to end human rights violations in North Caucasus, it appears that it will unlikely achieve justice, and in a world where justice is not done, success in the fight against terror and terrorism cannot be achieved.

Guner Ozkan
USAK Center for Eurasian Studies


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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