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Russia: Council Of Europe Group Visits Chechen 'Filtration Camp'

  • Sophie Lambroschini

Few Chechens believe a visit to Ingushetia and Chechnya this week of a delegation from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will have any effect on their war-scarred lives. The delegation is expected to provide a report on the results of its visit ahead of the Parliamentary Assembly's winter session later this month (22-26 January), The full assembly could decide to restore Russia's voting rights in the body, suspended last year for human-rights abuses in Chechnya.

Moscow, 16 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Sixteen months of war that have drawn only subdued criticism from the international community have left many Chechens with no illusions about the effect of diplomatic complaints to Russia about their plight.

The visit of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly delegation -- even though it is headed by Britain's outspoken Frank Judd -- is no exception. Last year, Judd was one of the chief supporters of the assembly's suspension of Russia's voting rights for human-rights abuses in Chechnya. He has publicly admonished Moscow for not prosecuting any complaints about abuses committed by Russian soldiers in the republic.

Judd's delegation, which began a four-day trip to Russia yesterday, is due to submit a report ahead of the assembly's week-long winter session (22-26 January), which begins in eight days. The full assembly will then review Russia's suspension.

Judd was expected today to visit the Chernokozovo jail, the most notorious of a number of so-called "filtration camps," pre-trial prisons set up by Russian law-enforcement agencies. Ostensibly, these camps operate to investigate alleged cases of civilian cooperation with the Chechen rebels. But they have been repeatedly denounced by human rights organizations as centers of torture.

Radio Liberty's Chechen correspondent Andrei Babitsky, arrested by the Russians last year, was held in Chernokozovo for more than a week. His experience there corroborated other testimonies of abuses.

Some Chechens are concerned that visits such as that of Judd's delegation may actually do more harm than good. These skeptics say that the Russians already "cleaned up" the Chernokozovo camp several months ago.

Thirty-three-year-old Adam Chitayev spent several months in Chernokozovo after his arrest last year for alleged kidnapping and collaboration with the rebels.

Chitayev yesterday told RFE/RL's Russian Service how evidence of abuses were simply erased during visits from human rights advocates last year.

"The people who had been beaten [and had] broken bones, bruises or bloody wounds were taken away someplace for the duration of the [visits]. They were packed like sardines in a tin into a prison truck, and were taken to the outskirts of a village somewhere. There, the truck stopped and remained during the entire time [the visitors were] in Chernokozovo."

Russian journalists have also reported that Chernokozovo was scrubbed and repainted -- in the words of one "with the walls still wet" -- ahead of a tour organized by Russian officials for human-rights advocates tour last February. A Council of Europe delegation also visited the camp at the time.

Chitayev was released in the autumn and was later found innocent of all the charges against him. But his exoneration came only after he had suffered two broken ribs and several electrical-shock torture sessions in Chernokozovo.

Chitayev says that, while Chernokozovo has been cleaned up, abuses continue unabated in other places, most of them not accessible to foreigners. He asks:

"What is left [to see] there in Chernokozovo now that the whole world knows about [the place]? You see, right now just anyone who's not lazy can go to Chernokozovo. [But international observers] should go to Urus-Martan [some 20 km southwest of the capital Grozny]. Urus-Martan has a military and police station where two to three people a day get killed -- either at the station or in their homes."

A detention camp in Urus-Martan was also mentioned in an Amnesty International report last June that cited several civilian detainees' testimonies of torture and rape. Alexander Petrov, a member of Human Rights Watch in Russia, also warned our correspondent that Chernokozovo should not overshadow other filtration camps where, he and other rights activists say, thousands are still being held. Petrov said:

"The only [important] point about [Judd's visit to Chernokozovo] is that while he is there, the conditions will be -- relatively -- not too bad. Thanks to many controls and visits [by foreigners], the conditions there are better than in other places. [But] Chernokozovo is only one of very many filtration camps.

Petrov said there are several other detention centers that should be inspected. But during a visit last April, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson was not allowed to visit the prisons either in Urus-Martan or in Chernokozovo.

On Sunday (14 January), private television station NTV's weekly current-affairs program "Itogi," in a report from Chechen refugee camps in neighboring Ingushetia, also touched upon Chechens' disillusionment with European human rights monitors. The refugees said that earlier visits by Council of Europe delegations -- which had heard complaints about disappearances of family members in Russian jails in Chechnya -- had produced no results.

Still, the Moscow-appointed human rights commissioner for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, admitted that the real number of people who have disappeared in the republic since the war began was now estimated at about 1,000. That's double the 462 officially registered cases.

Russia has always vigorously denied systematic abuse of civilians during the war in Chechnya, accusing observers and human rights organizations of meddling. And human rights monitoring, as well as help to Chechen civilians, are expected to diminish after international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union decided to suspend their work in Chechnya after last week's kidnapping of Doctors Without Borders representative Kenny Gluck in the republic.

In response to Gluck's abduction, Judd himself remarked that innocent people were now likely to suffer because the kidnapping undermines efforts of non-governmental organizations to bring aid to Chechnya.